Firestorms and Our Future

Solidarity Ecosocialist Working Group

FIRESTORMS IN THE western states, hurricanes pounding the Gulf and East Coast, rising water along the ocean shore and Great Lakes along with the pandemic blanketing the United States all starkly reaffirm that humans are part of nature — and can only attempt to subdue it at our own peril.

Hopefully, more and more people recognize that the scientific predictions of the last 50 years are coming to pass — even sooner than projected — as climate change unleashes its intensified heat and wind upon the land.

Climate deniers and rightwing conspiracy-mongers, still at work with their systematic falsehoods, now accuse social activists of setting the fires. Shockingly, some Oregonian residents built blockades to confront the “antifa” demonstrators they believed were setting fires. But there were none.

Evaluating the destruction of the west coast fires, we see it made up of a combination of several climate factors.

Spring and fall rains now come in the winter, so the rise in the Pacific Ocean’s temperature feeds the winds as they pick up speed over dry land. Heat rises to 115 degrees — reaching 130 degrees in Death Valley — and the electrical grids grind to a halt.

Fire season no longer starts in the fall but begins in late summer as hot and dry conditions allow wildfires to spread faster and further. Compounding the longer and increasingly hotter fire season is its size and intensity.

Retreating to Mountain Homes

Whitman County Sheriff Brett Meyers told at New York Times reporter that the fire burned as if it were jet fuel. “Unless you had a fire truck for every house that was on fire, you just couldn’t touch it. It was that swift.”

Who are the people living in small mountain areas? It is a combination of rich and poor, with two-thirds of this housing built in fire-risk areas over the last two decades.

Particularly given. the prohibitive cost of housing in California, Oregon and Washington, low-income families, seniors and the disabled have moved into these areas, or never left. Some would prefer to live in places that have more services but can’t afford it. They live on narrow and winding roads that are the only way in and out of town. They are the most likely to be trapped and die because they have less opportunity to be notified of the need to evacuate, have difficulty moving quickly, or are without reliable transportation.

Given today’s economic inequality, the fire disaster — just like the coronavirus pandemic — hits the most vulnerable In many areas, the homeless were left to shift for themselves.

Spreading Fires, Narrowing Possibilities

Of course the extent of the 2020 fires goes well beyond these isolated areas, threatening the more suburban towns of several major cities. Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Vancouver in Canada suffered some of the worst air anywhere in the world, with the Air Quality Index reaching 500-700. The smoke traveled to the U.S. Midwest and East Coast, then all the way to Europe.

Mike Davis, the urban theorist and Marxist historian, compared these fires to the equivalent of “endless nuclear war.” He noted that the growing number and intensity of the fires have prepared the ground for the invasion of non-native grasses, shrubs and trees. As these invasive species spread, the ground becomes even more flammable.

All along the west coast the infrastructure of colonialization and industrialization has transformed the natural ecology with its mining, lumber, reservoirs, dams, industrial agriculture and the building of roads.

Firestorms, drying deserts and forests along with rising and warming oceans have narrowed our possibilities. There’s a clear and present global emergency.

Not only the western USA, but Siberia and the Amazon rain forest are burning. The melting of the Greenland ice sheet, we’re informed by climate scientists, is now irreversible.

Meanwhile the racial segregation of our cities means Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities live near toxic fossil fuel sites and incinerators; consequently these communities disproportionately suffer from high rates of asthma, cancer and the daily stress of racial discrimination.

Extracting fossil fuels locks in planet-warming pollution and compounds the problem, placing these communities at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

Around the world clear-cutting forests, expanding industrial agriculture and road building create the conditions for transmitting viruses from animals to humans, as it has done for COVID-19. While know-nothing politicians like Trump call for reopening the economy, 210,000 have died in the United States and the death toll has passed one million worldwide. Scientists are only beginning to talk about the long-term effects for the millions who have survived the virus.

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who calls for making the state a leader in building a livable planet, was hailed for signing an executive order to stop sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035. As if we didn’t know punting programs to the legislature is a delaying tactic, he announced that he will ask the legislature to end new fracking permits by 2024.

Some state governments and even corporations talk about being “carbon-neutral by 2050.” But these are mere pledges. As we have seen from the results of the Paris Accords, they may not mean much.

Clearly we need to focus on moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. But that’s just the beginning. Our transportation system has to prioritize mass transit not the individual car.  With sustainability as our primary concern, we need a moratorium on new construction in fire-prone areas, instead developing green and affordable housing models.

We note that Indigenous communities throughout the Americas have lived in these forests, jungles and mountains before colonialization. They have knowledge in land management and food production that can help us begin to repair the environmental damage.

We acknowledge that human civilization must live in concert with nature in order to survive. It is the fear of creating feedback loops, and not a calendar date, that must set our agenda. But with a certain confidence, we pledge to build an ecosocialist consciousness, for an ecosocialist world.

Originally published in Against the Current 209 November-December 2020

Trump Can Steal the Election and the Left Must Mobilize to Stop Him

Bill Resnick

A Critique of Kit Wainer’s Complacent View

Kit Wainer’s essay “A very ‘American` coup” dismisses as alarmist and very very improbable a Trump success in stealing the election. Wainer bases his confident prediction on several arguments: That when it appears to his Congressional and Party supporters that Trump is losing, they will turn away from him. That the military and key parts of capital will not support him. That his vigilantes, militias, and 2nd Amendment people, while dangerous, are disorganized and weak. Thus that if Trump attempts a coup, he will end up abandoned and alone.

Count the vote protest organized by Protect the Results in Boston, Nov 4, 2020

Though Wainer doesn’t dwell on them, his intelligently argued fantasy has implications as to action by the anti-capitalist left. Namely that since Trump stealing the election is no threat, tactical support for the lesser evil makes no sense. That our task is to support the Green Party in this election, and also prepare for the period ahead resisting the Biden capitalist brand and seeking to build the movements and political party that are necessary to replace capitalism.

To be sure our task is to build the movements and party, but for me Wainer’s analysis is an oblique attack on those who propose that we consider whether to support a lesser evil a question of tactics not immutable principle. In addition, his analysis of Trump is dead wrong, choosing evidence to support his view and ignoring a world of evidence that contradicts it, for example the lack of any mention of the police and federal courts. And his singular focus on voting Green is counterproductive, and not responsive to the challenges we face and the opportunities we have.

Contrary to Wainer, Trump could succeed. But he also could be stopped. Recent coups around the world have been stopped by determined popular mobilization. The anti-capitalist democratic left should have been involved in building that mobilization for at least the last six months.

Still, even for this election it’s not too late. Chances are that we face a considerable period of struggle and uncertainty as the ballots are counted, the battles ebb and flow in the streets and rage in the courts, the police attack the left, and the still President Trump repeats in a concentrated way what he has done over the last period: foment fear and violence, encourage police attack, encourage his armed base into the streets, and order the Federal forces including the military into action. Contrary to Wainer, the military will likely obey, though reluctantly, our best hope in a very measured way with weapons holstered.

In this scenario the anti-capitalist democratic left has obvious short term responsibilities – to build and participate in determined non-violent self-defense and street action. As to the long term we might start rethinking the way we operate in elections and the way we contribute to building movements and a contending left party.

Why Trump Could Succeed

It drives many sane and composed observers into anxiety ridden days and sleepless nights — Trump could win.

For one, Trump could win the election outright through Constitutional if not ethical maneuvers. Trump won in 2016 and he has solidified his base if perhaps alienating independents and some “moderate” Republicans. And not one poll finds a Trump outright victory completely impossible. All polls report the swing states quite close and the red states solidly red, such that Trump could win the election but surely not the popular vote if counting is fair. Though for historians and us it would be tarnished by voter suppression, many of its means now constitutionally permissible under doctrines of state rights to insure ballot integrity.

Secondly, he could outright steal the election, even if way behind on election night for he has substantial assets, few liabilities, and immense personal motivation.

Trumps Actual Assets: These include the police and the Federal Courts, especially the Supreme Court. While “A very ‘American` coup” has not a word on ether the police or the Court, they are now solidly reactionary and will keep him in power unless stopped by overwhelming popular resistance (the resistance to be discussed later).

The police over the last decades have militarized and have intensely politicized, their reactionary conservatism now grown to fever pitch with the BLM protests and the unexpected sudden rise of the abolition and close cousin defund/replace movements. In most cities they have for some time acted with impunity and are still out of control. They are now organized regionally and nationally at both executive and union levels. And they despise the left and its liberal enablers. Last but not least: For quite some time the alt right and militant Christian evangelical warriors have both infiltrated the police and like Trump cultivated them. In Portland the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are buddy-buddy with the officers who protect them when the march.

As to the Federal courts, the District and Circuit Courts of Appeals are split, sometimes handing down a pro-democracy opinion. As to the Supreme Court, it is now 6-3, and its militant conservative majority well experienced in the role of super legislator, making law as they see fit. They will have plenty of opportunities to do that. For Trump is probably the most litigious person on earth (in 2016 he was either plaintiff or defendant in 3,000 open cases in this country). He, the Republican Party, and his loyalists at the U.S. Justice Department have already filed hundreds of cases all over the country. Expedited they have quickly mostly won in the Supreme Court. The only progressive victories were very partial and appear issued for the purpose of protecting the court’s legitimacy.

Just as worrisome, there’s of course the case Bush v Gore 20 years ago, when the Court reversed the Florida Supreme Court orders that the votes be counted, thus handing the Presidency to Bush. The decision was legally absurd, relying on a very odd reading of an odd doctrine that had been rejected for 200 years. But decision was made and the court and country survived. The Court is likely to do it again. Though twenty years ago the Republican case seemed so ridiculous that no one expected the Court to rule in their favor. Now we know better and have time to organize.

Trump’s liabilities according the Wainer: Wainer contends that the military and capitalist elite will likely impede Trump and that his armed supporters are weak and disorganized. I find this assessment to be superficial, that it relies on trivial evidence and ignores the situation, the facts on the ground, likely to exist.

As to the military, Wainer concluded that it was likely to stay in their barracks, ignore Trump’s order to dominate the streets in the various places Trump found required them, basing this assessment on reports that the Officer Corps including camp commanders despised at least disliked Trump.

Yes, the military might split, they might stay in the barracks, if the orders were given on January 21st, 2020, if Trump had not been sworn in as President and Commander in Chief. But in conditions prevailing in the aftermath of the election, with Trump still President, with chaos and violence in the streets (probably greatly exaggerated in the media), with the majority of the people fearful and craving stability, the military will very likely obey the President’s orders.

The military Officer Corp is deeply committed to the military chain of command, especially the duty to obey the Commander in Chief. We can expect them to obeying orders from the elected President serving out his term. As Garrett Reppenhagen, the head of Veteran’s for Peace, told me in an interview: So, you know, it’s not an ethical, moral institution to begin with, so don’t think they’re going to … do the right things and follow their conscience when ordered to do something.  Be prepared for that. And, if it’s possible and it serves the purpose of the military, I think that they’ll occupy American streets if the opportunity arises.” 

Finally, Trump remains President till Jan 20, 2021, and he might try to reshape the high command in the two and one-half months remaining in his term, as he would certainly do try if he wins his second term. For near are whole history the U.S. military high command has been comfortable in a bourgeois top down system with the trappings of democracy. If Trump steals the election, we could be living under a fully committed Trump supporting military force.

As to the capitalist class, most may despise Trump. But in the situation at the moment — the cities in chaos, the pandemic advancing, economic activity plummeting — they may come to welcome a law and order response, to stabilize, to return to business as usual. In addition Biden might well declare a national lock down to stop the pandemic, killing the economy if temporarily. And Trump will likely fulfill his campaign promise to support s big stimulus/COVID relief package, as will Biden, but under Trump much more generous to corporate America and especially real estate interests.

As to the armed vigilantes, militias, and Trump’s Second Amendment people, yes they are poorly organized but they will very likely show up, conspicuously armed, in the swing states and maybe other states to intimidate voters and vote counters. And in every state, if Trump attempts to steal after the election and protests erupt, the they will do what they can to instill fear in prospective protestors, especially those older or in families. Importantly, Trump’s armed forces include provocateurs of various stripes bent on provoking violence, sufficient amounts to give an excuse for the police to descend on the protestors and then prevail on mayors and governors to call in Federal help.

Many will particularly the Republicans. Wainer’s rosy prediction that most formerly loyal Republicans will break from Trump if he seems to be losing is a wish unlikely to come true. For the same reason that many have stuck to him now, that Trump and his base will massacre her, him, or they in the next Republican primary.

Finally in assessing Trump’s possibility of maintaining office, one can’t ignore, as Wainer has, his personal motivation. For Trump is cornered and without options. If he becomes a private citizen, he will face multiple prosecutions, law suits, possible bankruptcy, even convictions, and humiliation. Though some have speculated that he will shepherd his family into an airplane and fly off to a country without an extradition treaty with the U.S., where he can live high off his secret bank accounts. Others argue that for Trump this would be worse than death, depriving him of the adulation and reassurance that he so needs and has come to expect, first on his TV show and then as President.

In considering all this, could Trump succeed in stealing the election? Sure, several clear paths to Trump’s victory are easily discernable. He could win it outright through voter suppression. He could win it in the Supreme Court. And he could win if he and his supporters and the provocateurs and the police generate sufficient violence and chaos and fear so that a majority of people come to crave stability and order and hunker in their homes as the police, army, and sanitation crews clean up the mess and restore order.

What Could Still Be Done

This piece was completed on election day. We will soon have a lot more information on how the various forces are maneuvering.

As to immediate action, unless Trump does what no one expects, concedes on election night we must join with the people, groups, and movements building local coalitions across the country to mobilize to stop Trump and protect the election. In Portland the Defend Democracy Coalition is circulating a national pledge:

  1. We will vote.
  2. We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
  3. We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted.
  4. If we need to, we will shut down “business as usual” to protect the integrity of the democratic process.

The Portland coalition seeks to reproduce the forces of the George Floyd/BLM protests that marched and resisted the police and Federal troops in Portland for close to three months. Though this time around with one important difference, that the Coalition is insisting on radical non-violence including non-violent self-defense to disable the various provocateurs. The Coalition’s opening action is scheduled for the afternoon and early evening of November 4th — a non-violent rally and march, as a start for what will likely be a protracted campaign to stop Trump’s coup and prepare our forces to struggle for what amounts to a radical Green New Deal.

In working in these local coalitions we can discuss further action challenging Trump autocracy if he prevails and also discuss how a united left can fight and force a Biden administration to take meaningful action on racism, climate change, public health, jobs, poverty, and labor, reproductive rights among others.

Over the longer term the anti-capitalist left, certainly Solidarity, need rethink its strategies for building the movements and political force/party necessary to achieve that better possible democratic and sustainable world. (Proposals for rethought strategy are discussed in my essay “Dump Trump, Fight and Force Biden: An Electoral Strategy for the Left” that can be found in the Solidarity webzine at solidarity—us.org.)

Mobilizing Veterans in Labor to Beat Trump and the GOP

Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon

vets against trump

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump dissed a Gold Star family that lost a son in Iraq. He called Senator John McCain, America’s most famous prisoner of war, a “loser” for being captured in Vietnam. When asked about widespread sexual assault in today’s military, he dismissed it as a problem. He had to be publicly shamed into making a promised donation to veterans’ charities.

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, was backed by more than 100 former high-ranking officers. Trump was endorsed by only a few. Nevertheless, on election day four years ago, most military veterans ending up voting for a wealthy recipient of five draft deferments. Among former military personnel, Trump beat Clinton by a 26-point margin, a bigger percentage of the “vet vote” than McCain’s own share when he ran against Barack Obama in 2008. 

A Pew Poll conducted last fall showed that Trump remained popular among veterans, even as his ratings began to sink among other constituencies.  U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan– which Trump criticized as a candidate in 2016 and, again at West Point this year—is now viewed unfavorably by a majority of the vets surveyed.  In blue collar communities in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin which suffered some of the highest post 9/11 combat-casualty rates, veterans and their neighbors helped Trump carry those decisive swing states four years ago. 

To repeat that regional sweep next month and give Trump a second term, the Republican Party has again targeted the nation’s 20 million veterans as a key voting bloc. Among the groups trying to prevent the GOP from out-organizing the Democratic Party among veterans and military families are the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Common Defense, a national organization of progressive veterans.

Veterans for Social Change   

CWA and Common Defense unveiled their joint initiative in the fall of 2019, when CWA President Chris Shelton, an Air Force veteran and former telephone worker, launched a “Veterans for Social Change Program.” Its purpose is to “develop and organize a broad base of CWA activists who are veterans and/or currently serving in the military.” As the union notes, veterans, active duty service members, and military families “are constantly exploited by politicians and others who seek to loot our economy, attack our communities, and divide our nation with racism and bigotry so they can consolidate more power amongst themselves.”

CWA seeks to counter Trump-era threats by encouraging veterans in its own ranks to engage in grassroots campaigns with community allies

CWA seeks to counter these Trump-era threats by encouraging veterans in its own ranks to engage in grassroots campaigns with community allies and increase awareness of veterans’ issues within CWA, like the need for a strong fully funded veterans’ healthcare system.

Last October, CWA local leaders who served in the military joined veterans from around the country at a Common Defense sponsored Veterans Organizing Institute (VOI). Previous weekend sessions of the VOI had helped train a network of hundreds of younger veterans to organize more effectively in their own communities, counter the influence of big money in politics, and make politicians more accountable to poor and working-class people.

At the training conference attended by CWA members, union activists from swing states like Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas shared organizing experiences and learned new skills useful in electoral campaigning and day-to-day advocacy for fellow workers and veterans.

“The VOI provides a great introduction to getting a grassroots movement started and getting veterans, labor, and the community all working together,” says John Blake, a Brick N.J. electrician  who attended the training. 

After Blake left active duty in 2004, he used the GI Bill to go to vocational school. His step-father is a union electrician so he also got strong family encouragement to join the apprenticeship program of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Blake is now a member of IBEW Local 400, where he chairs  veterans’ committees in his own local and the AFL-CIO central labor council (CLC) in his area.

 On the organization chart of the AFL-CIO, its national affiliates, and local CLCs, the dual identity of union members who served in the military has long been acknowledged via the existence of such committees. But their level of activity may be low unless an activist like Blake takes the lead in “making our union brand more appealing to vets coming out of the service.” His Local 400 does this by participating in local events like “Operation Ruck It,” an annual fundraising walk to raise awareness about veteran suicide,

Vet Organizations, Old and New

According to the Economic Policy Institute, about 16% of all veterans—1.2 million men and women–are covered by a union contracts (compared to 10.3% of all workers). They are most heavily represented in the American Federation of Government Employees and American Postal Workers, where veterans have a strong collective identity and internal union presence. On an individual basis, union members who are veterans may also belong to local posts of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or AMVETS.

But these old-line groups tend to be conservative on military and foreign policy issues and not much engaged with issues affecting veterans as workers. Common Defense, in contrast, proclaims its commitment to “progressive values” and seeks partnerships with like-minded unions working for social and economic justice.

Last year, Will Attig, who leads the AFL-CIO’s Union Veterans Council, invited both Common Defense and VoteVets, an advocacy group more closely aligned with the Democratic Party, to discuss their work at a meeting of national union political directors. Attig is a combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who joined a southern Illinois local of the Plumbers and Pipefitters after he left the military.

He did legislative/political work for his own union and then the Illinois state fed before moving to AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. After the presentations he helped arrange, both CWA and the IBEW contacted Common Defense about sending members to VOI training.

During Trump’s first term, Common Defense rallied its 20,000 supporters to call for his impeachment.

Common Defense grew out of anti-Trump organizing in 2016. Co-founders of the group first met during protests over Trump’s failure to donate money to veterans’ charities, as promised during a campaign event in Iowa. One of the protestors was ex-Marine Alex McCoy, then attending Columbia University on the GI Bill. He and a group of like-minded vets “felt really strongly about Trump was constantly using veterans as props while running a campaign that was so founded in hate and division.”

During Trump’s first term, Common Defense rallied its 20,000 supporters to call for his impeachment. The group endorsed Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for president, during the 2020 Democratic Presidential primaries, after both helped solicit other Congressional signers of a pledge to end “forever wars” in the Middle East. One particular target of Common Defense lobbying is military veterans now serving on Capitol Hill after mid-term election victories that gave Democrats control of the House in 2018.

Veterans Organizing Institute trainings, conducted by Common Defense staff members like McCoy, are designed to hone the political skills of veterans involved in unions, community organizations, and electoral campaigns.  Four months after his VOI training, Frank J. Cota, a Marine Corps veteran and vice-president of CWA Local 7026 in Tucson was in Washington, DC., as part of a group of CWA veterans urging Congress to pass the PRO Act, legislation that would strengthen private sector organizing and bargaining rights.

McCoy believes that Common Defense can play a key support role in workplace organizing, particularly at firms like Amazon and Wal-Mart which brand themselves as “veteran friendly” and hire tens of thousands of former military personnel, while pursuing “anti-worker policies,” which often violate federal labor law.

For Racial Justice

When nationwide protests developed last June, after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, Common Defense leaders vigorously opposed military deployments in Washington, DC and other cities. Kyle Bibby, a former Marine Corps infantry officer and graduate of Annapolis, urged fellow veterans to stand against “Trump’s authoritarian plan to use the military as his personal storm troopers to suppress dissent.”

A co-founder of the Black Veterans Project, Bibby condemned the “use of force by uniformed police and a culture of violence that seeks to dominate communities rather than serve and heal them.” Recalling his own past interactions with law enforcement, in and out of uniform, Bibby declared that “the police don’t care that I’ve gone to war to protect this country — I could be the next George Floyd solely due to the color of my skin.”

Common Defense activists, including Bibby, launched a new campaign, called “No War On Our Streets,” against police department use of $7 billion worth of hardware obtained from the Pentagon. “It was our equipment first,” says Bibby, who served in Afghanistan. “We understand it better than the police do … It’s important that we have veterans ready to stand up and say: ‘These weapons need to go.’”        

The educational efforts of veterans’ advocates allied with labor, like Common Defense and VoteVets, appear to be paying off. Not only is Trump faring poorly in presidential preference polls conducted among all likely voters. His stock is dropping among military personnel who helped him gain office in 2016.  Forty-one percent of the active duty personnel surveyed by Military Times said they were voting for Biden, while 37 percent still favored Trump.  In 2017, 46 percent of the troops polled by the same publicationhad a favorable opinion of the president. 

Three years later, half of the respondents (49.9 percent) now held an unfavorable view of him, compared to just 38 percent who still liked him.  Among officers, the disapproval rate was even higher—59%–with more than half expressing strong disapproval. Nearly ¾ of those surveyed—officers and enlisted personnel—opposed Trump’s threatened use of the military to help police American cities during their civil unrest.

Progressives wooing the “vet vote” saw a similar shift in political sentiment in other states As Nov. 3 neared, the Biden campaign was clearly making inroads among post 9/11 veterans who are younger, female, and non-white, while ex-soldiers who are older, white males living in longtime Republican strongholds remained a harder bloc to crack.

Angel Wells, an African-American Army veteran who works for AT&T in Arizona and belongs to CWA Local 7050, was among those union members protesting White House efforts to suppress voter turn-out by discrediting mail ballots and undermining Postal Service capacity to deliver them.

As she pointed out, in an election year when 800,000 service members and their families stationed abroad were scheduled to vote that way, “mail in ballots for veterans is not that foreign a concept.”

With a pandemic still raging, the economy cratering, and millions of workers, including veterans, finding their jobs, unions, or health care at risk, there were many reasons for voters who served in the military to choose a new commander in chief.

This was originally publish in LA Progressive

Justice Is Indivisible

Dianne Feeley

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi gave this presentation on the situation in Palestine and the growth of the global solidarity movement to a webinar on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 sponsored by the Detroit branch of Solidarity, Jewish Voice for Peace – Detroit, U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) – Detroit and Palestinian Youth Movement – Detroit. Dr. Abdulhadi emphasized the importance at this critical time of movements coming together to oppose racism and colonialism everywhere, from the USA to Palestine. She particularly noted the solidarity and mutual support shown by #Black Lives Matter and Palestinian struggling under Israeli occupation, and the growing support for Palestine in the progressive sectors of the Jewish community, among organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace as well as Queer Jewish activists.

The brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, made even worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, is a point of special concern as are conditions in U.S. prisons and the horrific situations in immigrant detention centers.

The presentation was preceded by brief welcoming remarks from the sponsoring groups, and followed by a question and discussion period. Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi directs the center at San Francisco State University that she organized, AMED (Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies).

On the Attack on Robert Cuffy at the Mass March to Defund the NYPD

Solidarity National Committee

Statement of Solidarity, 
Call for Information Accountability and Action 

Foley Square, New York, NY, 8:55 pm –

While leading Monday June 29th’s  Mass March to Defund the NYPD & Abolish the Police from Washington Square to Foley Square Robert Cuffy was filming the march, when he was blindsided and tackled by an unidentified man who then slammed Robert into another car, dislocating his shoulder. Prior to this moment Robert was straining his voice by calling out to marchers “We’re going to City Hall!” but he was not able to continue due to the severity of his injuries.

Police nearby observed the assault, and joked with the attacker before walking him to the Foley Square subway station, where they released the attacker without charges. NYPD  didn’t even document the attacker’s identifying information. 

Robert is a well-known revolutionary socialist in NYC, and an effective organizer for Black Liberation. He is a member of the DSA Afrosocialist Caucus, a leader of the NYC Fight for Our Lives Coalition (which is part of People’s Strike, a National coalition organized by Cooperation Jackson), and a founder of the Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana. He is also a leader of the DSA Labor Branch. This made him a target. 

Robert was put into an ambulance, and was told that he would be taken to New York Presbyterian. Instead, he was driven a few blocks away where Robert waited over an hour inside the ambulance, which did not budge from its location at Spruce and Nassau Streets. Fearing for his own safety, Robert texted marchers to gather at the intersection for support and to enforce transparency. Robert was provided no pain control for his injury. This punitive and callous treatment of Black patients, especially of movement fighters, is all too common. 

Robert had every reason to be afraid that medical neglect or overt violence at the hands of police could be life-threatening; from Ferguson to Baltimore to here in New York, incidents like this have ended with the deaths of far too many Black Liberation activists and of other working class people of color. Even when treatment is provided, individual EMTs who are aligned with police will often take activists and other Black patients past the closest hospitals, going out of their way to drop them off at the most overcrowded, underfunded, and dangerous facilities, as a particularly isolating and potentially lethal form of racist abuse and punishment. Robert was lucky to have a caring EMT named Nancy who kept him safe and even got Robert a blanket upon his request after arriving at the hospital 

On the short ride to the hospital, his fear, horrifyingly, began to come true; he had been left without a seatbelt and was nearly subjected to a “rough ride” of the kind that notoriously ended the life of Freddie Gray in the back of an ambulance in 2015. Without the use of his arm, Robert (just as Gray, handcuffed) wouldn’t be able to physically protect himself from being slammed into hard, sharp metal surfaces inside the vehicle. 

By responding quickly and collectively, activists can protect ourselves and each other from this treatment by disrupting that isolation. When dozens of  supporters mobilized and gathered outside the ambulance, the police were forced to take a statement from Robert, rather than ignore the attack, or worse—spuriously charge Robert, potentially making good on the continued threats spewed by his attacker immediately after the assault. That collective support gave force to Robert’s demand that his seatbelt be buckled.

Too often, and for too long, Black victims of violence have been routinely subjected to exactly this sort of revictimization by cops and vigilantes, even in death. It is impossible to forget that Trayvon Martin was branded a “thug” by his killer, or that Mike Brown, described there as “no angel,” was blamed for his own murder in the press.

The ambulance eventually transported him around the block to the hospital where his partner, mother, and other comrades were waiting for him. NYC Fight For Our Lives Coalition, Peoples Strike, and the DSA are SEEKING FOOTAGE AND DOCUMENTATION of the attack, the attacker, the license plate of his car, cars parked in that location, the ambulance, and its driver/EMT, as well as badge numbers and identification of the police involved. Any information, including witness statements, may be useful

The attack on Robert Cuffy was not an isolated incident. Police and far-right vigilantes are threatening coordinated attacks on protestors, particularly as the calendar nears July 4. As the #GeorgeFloyd Uprising continues to flourish, and as protests and rallies nationwide call to defund, dismantle, and disarm police, law enforcement and their backers have been stoking the fascist fire, encouraging lone-wolf attacks to terrorize supporters of the fight against police brutality. 

This is a reminder that the movement will need to increase security measures and step up our game. We have to collectively prevent further attacks and protect ourselves as the movement grows, continues to win reforms, and pick up steam. Go out into the streets with your friends and comrades, use the buddy system, and coordinate security to protect the movement’s leaders as we continue this rebellion. Remember that we are all leaders in the fight to get free.

We call on the NYPD to identify and to immediately fire and hold accountable the officers who not only ignored this attack, but aided the attacker. 

If you have any relevant information, or to connect with and support the work that Robert has dedicated himself to, contact NYC Fight For Our Lives Coalition at: 

Phone: (347) 433-8652

Email: GeneralStrikeNYC2020@gmail.com

Twitter: @fight_nyc

Instagram: @fightforourlivesnyc

Hashtags: 

#FireAndThunder
#DefundNYPD
#DefundDisbandDisarm
#AbolishNYPD
#WeKeepUsSafe
#FireFranciscoGarcia
#ChargeVincentD’Andraia
#WeCantBreathe
#NoWorkNoRent
#BlackLivesMatter
#BlackLiberation 
#BlackPower 
#FightForOurLives
#PeoplesStrike
#GeneralStrike
#FreeThemAll
#StrikeForOurLives

Join Us, July 4th: 
Fire and Thunder: Movement for Liberation Broadway Junction, Brooklyn, July 4th @ 4pm

Event Intention:
Inspired by Frederick Douglass’ famous speech “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, the NYC Fight for Our Lives Coalition is calling a march for freedom on the 4th of July. It will begin with a meditation and community grounding in recognition of the history of the U.S. as a nation founded on the systematic murder abuse and exploitation of Black people.  

Reimagining Schools Post-Covid

Ann Finkel

I am a 7th grade teacher in Boston Public Schools, a member of the fledgling BTU Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a member of the PUEBLO neighborhood coalition of East Boston, a DSA member, and a member of Solidarity. 

The Covid crisis has upended the lives of students and their families across the country and world, and has forced teachers to reinvent curricula and teaching methods within days. On top of that, schools are going to enormous efforts to provide food, rental support, cleaning supplies, health supports, and critical information in a family’s native language to not only students but families as well. To the outside observer it may appear as if schools are taking on entirely new roles, but in fact these are roles that schools have always been expected to fill. But now, the need is higher, the resources are fewer, and the methods of support are more challenging than ever. And as in all crises, the inequities between low-income and high-income cities are being laid bare and exacerbated, and the inequitable impact on students’ access to education is tremendous.. Although the education system is more broken than ever, and morale is especially low (anecdotally, we rarely have any kind of staff meeting without at least several people winding up in tears), this situation presents a somewhat unprecedented chance to rethink what schools could, and should, look like in the long run. It is important that teachers, students, families, and unions  determine what the new normal in education will be, before corporate reformers do it for us.

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School’s Role in Mutual Aid Efforts

To my knowledge, none of my 105 students have parents who are “working from home.” They are either laid off and running out of money, or working, highly exposed, and in many cases, getting sick. Further, due to immigration status, many were ineligible for a $1,200 stimulus check. 

As a touchstone for many families, particularly among the largely Spanish-speaking population of East Boston, my school is situated to provide an important information-sharing and coordinating role in the East Boston Mutual Aid network (EBMA). EBMA is coordinated by various community groups and neighborhood leaders. There are two sides to the network: the food and resources side, and a substantial educational component. In order to provide for our school’s families, the Family Support Team has been working with EBMA, as well as tapping into our own staff’s resources. For the last several months, we’ve coordinated the efforts of 50 staff who have volunteered to buy and deliver groceries to the 100 families that we know of (there may be many more) who are facing food insecurity. We have also partnered with EBMA and particularly an urban farm in East Boston who, for about six weeks, provided us with 50 hot meals each week, which teachers spend hours delivering. (It should be noted that BPS does have meal sites set up for students to pick up food daily. However, these BPS meals are pre-packaged, small portions, not particularly nutritious or appetizing, and impossible for quarantined kids to pick up).

As staff have been providing grocery support to families, it has also been important to us to empower the neighborhood organizing as best we can. One way we are doing this is by connecting families to the educational and informational side of the mutual aid. There have been various teach-ins and webinars about tenant rights and other topics run by the neighborhood groups in East Boston and Greater Boston, including City Life/Vida Urbana. As teachers it is easy to contact families quickly to connect them to these resources – I can text 105 parents in 30 seconds – so that is a power we are trying to make good use of. While some (probably less than half) of these resources are sent in emails to BPS, this is grossly inadequate communication. The vast majority of our families are more comfortable communicating via phone calls and text messages in Spanish, which is how teachers communicate most effectively with parents throughout the year.

Reimagining Schools: A Return to Normalcy is Not the Goal

Where do we go from here? How do we harness this collective energy and organizing capacity to create more radical demands and actions? It is important to keep in mind that many people were living and learning in horribly stressful, inadequate, and unstable conditions before the COVID crisis hit. 

Right out of the COVID gate, our Boston Teachers Union created a Common Goods platform. This included calls to cancel MCAS – our high-stakes end of year test – and to put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Both of these demands did pass at the state level, and soon thereafter our CORE group successfully pushed BTU to sign the Housing Guarantee petition that would cancel rent outright for those unable to pay. But these are just some first steps.

We (several like-minded teachers and I who are coordinating the Family Support Team) are also trying to use this moment to push thus far well-meaning but politically disengaged teachers to take the next step beyond just donating money. These teachers are willing and eager to help students that they know. The question is how to get them to see the larger systemic injustices facing BPS students (fight for someone they don’t know, if you will), and understand the underlying problems that are creating these financial crises for our families. How do we turn this often well intentioned charity into an organized resistance aimed at the root of the problem? As a small part of this effort, I plan next week to host a zoom-action-party where staff can come and work together as we sign the Housing Guarantee Petition, call our State Representatives to push for a bill that would give stimulus checks to people regardless of immigration status, etc. I believe this is also where CORE becomes especially important, as a body of teachers dedicated to pushing our union to the left. 

This is a chance for educators and parents and students to rethink schools and what our priorities are. Some concrete initial ideas are as follows:

  • Educators pushed to get MCAS canceled, and we were successful in that. Year after year, we have always been told that cancelling MCAS is impossible, and yet here we are. Permanently cancelling (or significantly restructuring/reducing) MCAS is no longer a pipe-dream. 
  • Parents are getting a chance to homeschool their kids, and largely determine the curriculum for themselves. We are seeing parents spending more time outside, gardening with their kids, talking about culturally relevant ethnic studies, allowing more play time for kids of all ages. When we return to school buildings, it will be important for educators to gather this data from parents, and ask parents and students what they want emphasized in our curricula. We should also go a step further by inviting family members in to school as guest speakers, particularly when it comes to teaching students the history of their own countries, cultures, and immigration stories.
  • Within two weeks of school closure, BPS ordered 20,000 chromebooks and many internet hotspots (let it be noted that we spent days driving around and delivering these chromebooks and hotspots, while teachers and students in wealthier and whiter districts spent that time starting their online learning routines). Chromebooks and internet access are incredibly important learning tools for students, especially high schoolers applying to jobs and colleges (not to mention their parents needing to apply to receive gift cards from the soup kitchen, apply to the Rental Relief Fund, etc.) If Boston was able to get computers and internet access to all students within a couple of weeks, it should have happened a long time ago. And at the end of the COVID crisis, these resources should not be taken away. 
  • When we return to school buildings, it is likely that there will be significantly reduced class sizes. This could revolutionize teaching strategies and community building within a classroom, and we may need to fight for class sizes to remain small (with increased numbers of school buildings and school staff, of course).
  • Although online platforms have been important in these last several months, it has become clear to any parent, student, and teacher in doubt that online school is a wholly inadequate replacement for the real thing. Many teachers are worried about corporate online schooling, and all kinds of ed-tech companies swooping in and chomping at the bit to turn a profit and take advantage of this crisis. It will require concerted organizing to keep the corporations at bay. 

Closing Thoughts

Teachers, counselors, administrators, and nurses are working around the clock to not only educate our students, but to make sure they are healthy, housed, and fed. While these efforts have reached incredible new heights as more and more students are in crisis, it is a job that school staff are well-versed in even in the best of times. With physical schools closed, the extent of services that teachers and other school staff normally provide has become increasingly clear to the public. As we re-open, schools need to be properly funded as the social service catch-alls that they are, school communities need to continue to be integrated with neighborhood organizing efforts, and teachers need to organize and fight for the re-imagined schools we know our students deserve.

Mutual Aid and Labor Organizing in New Orleans

Michael Esealuka transcription

I’m going to talk about mutual aid and labor organizing, out of my experience with unemployment workshops and tax clinics that New Orleans DSA has been doing as a part of our Fair Fund campaign.

DSA New Orleans launched the first Brake Light Clinic project which got taken up by other DSA chapters. We basically fix brake lights for free in an agitational way of raising awareness about police violence and state violence.

At first, we got a lot of criticism and a lot of blow-back that said our project was a form of charity and this led us to do some internal struggling and political development. We’ve come out of that with an understanding that mutual aid is a tactic and as a tactic, it can only really be evaluated within the framework of a larger campaign–how effective it is in advancing your campaign’s goals.

As socialists, you know, we’re fighting for more working-class power, we’re fighting to capture the state, and services can be a way of building trust with the communities of people that we’re trying to bring into our fight. But we can’t evaluate whether mutual aid is good or bad on its own. That’s like saying is canvassing good or bad; are petitions good or bad.

I’ll just talk a little bit about our campaign right now. In New Orleans, we were really, really hard-hit by the Covid crisis. For a while we had the highest per capita rate of cases in the country. Our neighboring parish, St. John the Baptist, has the highest per capita rates of death from COVID-19 in the country. And, of course, our economy is very heavily reliant on service and tourism. We estimate there are between 85,000 and 100,000 restaurant workers in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area, so they constitute a massive section of our workforce.

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The New Orleans convention center oversees a reserve fund that is made from hotel and tourism taxes. They have an annual revenue of at least $30 million a year and right now they are sitting on $186 million of unrestricted funds, like a rainy day fund.

Community organizers in our city have been trying to get our hands on this money for a long time; that money is made from the work that restaurant workers do in our city. So, DSA did some research to figure out who is our target and we came up with a demand that we wanted $100 million of that relief fund to be allocated evenly, with no means testing and no restrictions, to every single restaurant worker in the city. That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s actually only $1,000 per worker.

We teamed up with UNITE HERE and other local unions, working class community groups and labor organizations to build a coalition around a campaign for $100 million in relief that now includes around 37 organizations. Our coalition included sex workers’ organizations and immigrants’ rights organizations.

In the first phase of the campaign we used unemployment trainings and tax clinics as a way of bringing people in. Tourism involves not only restaurant workers and hotel workers but also taxicab drivers, Uber drivers and gig workers like dancers, sex workers, psychics, musicians, all sorts of things. These are people who fall through the cracks. Separate from this campaign, we also set up a mutual aid Facebook group that our members bottom line. There are about 6,800 people in that mutual aid group. We also organized a petition drive and got about 1,800 signatures—most of them (about 1,200) unemployed hospitality workers, so we had a base of about 8,000 people for our campaign.

We began the campaign by hosting regular tax clinics for independent contractors to teach them how they could file a simple tax form so that they could qualify for the $1200 relief check. And then we also were setting up unemployment workshops. We partnered with a local, nonprofit organization called the Southeastern Louisiana Legal Services, so they were able to provide expertise and we provided access to workers. These workshops were organized by laid off restaurant workers teaching other hospitality workers how to file for benefits. And we pulled participants from those workshops into helping us set up future workshops. And all of these people became part of the mutual aid Facebook group.

And we used these trainings as an agitational tool. We said, you know, why is it that the people who need this money most are always the people who fall through the cracks? How is it that we are the people that keep this city running and we know that the city of New Orleans runs because of the work we do and yet we’re getting left in the gutter by the people who’ve gotten rich off of our work?

Our coalition did win $1 million from the reserve fund to be given to workers in the city, and we also won an additional $1.5 million in grant funding that our coalition is going to be distributing to members of our organizations however we see fit. So, we won $2.5 million; though we didn’t get all the way to the $100 million we demanded.

Our tax clinics were really effective in the first stage of the campaign. Now, most people have filed for unemployment and so we have shifted to partnering with the many mutual aid organizations that have sprung up in the city, organizations that just provide services without political education. For example, the Greater New Orleans Caring Collective started around March 15th and they’ve really quickly established this incredible infrastructure. They’ve been able to distribute fresh food and other services to a thousand working class families across the greater New Orleans area, and they have this desperate need for volunteers. So, rather than set up our own mutual aid system, we partner with them. They get access to our volunteers and we get access to working class families that we can work with around political education.

Just to reiterate, mutual aid is a tactic; it has to be understood within a framework of a broader campaign around demands. It is a way to bring working class people into your struggle and to build trust; but it’s not enough on its own.

Michael E. was a restaurant worker for eleven years and is now an environmental organizer. She is a member of the New Orleans DSA chapter and on the steering committee of the DSA labor commission.

Webinar: Workers’ Self-organization, Mutual Aid and Socialist Politics—Audio

Solidarity Education Committee

(Pictured from top going clockwise) Ann Finkel, Kali Akuno, Micheal Esealuka, and Ted McTaggart

On April 30th we hosted a webinar discussing how acts of solidarity, workers’ self-organization, and mutual aid can be building blocks of social power and pre-figure the human relationships of a democratic socialist society. In our discussion among panelists and questions from those attending we sought to answer: How do we connect organizing mutual aid to building the power to challenge the capitalist state’s neo-liberal austerity policies? How do we connect workers’ self-organization to a movement for revolutionary change? 

Featured speakers included Solidarity comrades Ann Finkel, a Boston school teacher, and Ted McTaggart, a Michigan nurse, who were joined by Michael Eskeula, restaurant worker and DSA member from New Orleans and Cooperation Jackson co-founder Kali Akuno from Jackson, Mississippi. 

Back to basics: A critical balance sheet of the Bernie Sanders campaign

Peter Solenberger

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have formed a Democratic Party “Unity Task Force.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and John Kerry, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. will co-chair the climate change group. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Like Stephen Mahood and Promise Li, authors of Socialism from below after Bernie: Local organizing and rank-and-file militancy, I’m a member of Solidarity and the Democratic Socialists of America. I helped found Huron Valley DSA (HVDSA) and Northern Michigan DSA (NMDSA).

Most Solidarity and DSA members would agree with the article’s proposal to encourage Sanders supporters to turn from his now-ended campaign to local organizing and rank-and-file militancy. Other points in the article are subjects of debate in both Solidarity and DSA. My goal in this article is to address some of the points of debate and to draw a critical balance sheet of the campaign.

The 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign

The 2020 Sanders campaign was once again an electoral campaign in the Democratic Party. Its platform was the New Deal, the old-time religion of the party, updated to the 21st century on matters of race, gender and the environment.

Articles in DSA publications and Jacobin describe the campaign as “socialist.” For example, the April 9 DSA leadership statement Socialism is the Best Path Forward, issued immediately after Sanders dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden, describes it as “the most successful socialist electoral campaign in U.S. history.”

But the campaign wasn’t socialist. It wasn’t anticapitalist. It wasn’t anti-imperialist. It was New Deal. On the Sanders campaign website the only reference to socialism by Sanders himself is a June 12, 2019 speech, Sanders Calls For 21st Century Bill of Rights. In it he equates his brand of socialism with the New Deal. Here’s its most developed passage:

In a famous 1936 campaign speech Roosevelt stated, “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

“They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.

“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Despite that opposition, by rallying the American people, FDR and his progressive coalition created the New Deal, won four terms, and created an economy that worked for all and not just the few. 

Today, New Deal initiatives like Social Security, unemployment compensation, the right to form a union, the minimum wage, protection for farmers, regulation of Wall Street and massive infrastructure improvements are considered pillars of American society.

But, while he stood up for the working families of our country, we can never forget that President Roosevelt was reviled by the oligarchs of his time, who berated these extremely popular programs as “socialism.”

To his credit, Sanders never renounced the socialism of his youth. He redefined it as the New Deal, but he didn’t renounce it. This encouraged many of his supporters to go beyond the inspiring but vague slogans of the global justice movement (“Another world is possible”) and Occupy (“We are the 99%”) to speak directly of capitalism and socialism.

After forty years of Democratic Party capitulation to neoliberalism, putting the New Deal on the party’s agenda again and making socialism a topic of conversation among activists were big accomplishments. There’s no need to exaggerate. The campaign wasn’t socialist.

Us, not him

Articles in DSA publications and Jacobin confuse cause and effect in their enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign. A prominent campaign slogan was, “Not me, us.” The slogan should be inverted, viewed from the bottom up. “Us, not him” more accurately describes the dynamic.

For 25 years Sanders did his thing in Congress and got little hearing in the Democratic Party or anywhere else. In the 2016 Democratic presidential primary he caught a wave of worker and youth enthusiasm for New Deal policies. He rode the wave skillfully, but he didn’t create it.

Waves of rebellion had been rising and falling since the mid-1990s, when “There is no alternative” began to give way to “Another world is possible” among activists.

Some of its pre-2016 highlights in the U.S. were the 1997 UPS strike, the 1999 Battle of Seattle, the 2000-2002 global justice movement, the huge rallies against the 2003 Iraq war, the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the 2005 Katrina solidarity, the 2006 marches and strikes for immigrant rights, rejection of austerity during the 2007-09 Great Recession, Barack Obama’s 2008 election, the Dreamers, Wisconsin 2011, Occupy 2011, the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike, the 2013-14 Black Lives Matter movement, the 2014 calling out of campus rape, the campaign for same-sex marriage culminating in the 2015 Supreme Court decision, and Fight for Fifteen.

The rebellious sentiment found an electoral expression in the 2016 Sanders campaign. To the surprise of almost everyone, including Sanders, his campaign attracted tens of thousands of activists and millions of voters, transforming it from a marginal protest into a challenge to the Democratic Party establishment.

The 2020 Sanders campaign was a reprise of 2016. Not as inspiring, because it wasn’t new and its more clear-eyed supporters knew it would end with Sanders defeated, endorsing the establishment candidate. But it showed that support for New Deal politics had become endemic in the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Articles in DSA publications and Jacobin credit the 2016 Sanders campaign with resurrecting DSA. Again, more credit should go to ranks, the youth and workers who flooded into DSA. Many of them had campaigned for Sanders, and some joined during the campaign. But more were inspired to join by the defeat of the campaign and then the election of Donald Trump. If the campaign had won, they’d have joined the Democratic Party, not DSA.

Again this year, the Sander campaign and, even more, its defeat seem to be leading to an influx of new DSA members.

The Democratic Party

Historically, DSA and its predecessor organizations have located themselves in the left wing of the Democratic Party. Historically, Solidarity has refused to locate there. Here’s a passage from the 1986 Solidarity Founding Statement.

The necessity for autonomous class action is at the root of our conception of independent political action. Class independence is at the heart of revolutionary socialist working-class politics, which emphasizes workers’ self-organization, self-activity and reliance on their own strength — including building their own alliances with the oppressed. In the electoral arena, the principle of working-class self-organization requires an independent party.

Lacking such a party, the working class and other progressive movements are reduced to pressure groups on bourgeois politics, no matter how militant their activity. This is the trap from which labor in the U.S. has yet to escape.

Just as we believe that workers, through their class institutions (the unions) should have a policy of challenging the employers rather than of accepting collaboration, we believe the same principle should apply in the arena of politics. Unlike reformists, we do not see ourselves as “critics” of the bourgeois parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, but as opponents. Indeed, in the U.S. the question of the Democratic Party is the most important principled and practical divide between the politics of reformism and revolutionary socialism…

In fact, the Democratic Party is the graveyard of movements for social and political change. It is a party controlled by and thoroughly tied to corporate capital, and for that reason is irrevocably committed to the maintenance of the world U.S. economic empire…

No matter how often the quest to capture the Democratic Party for progressive politics fails — as it always does and always will — the argument for “giving it another try” constantly revives in the wake of each defeat…

It is therefore essential that socialists continue to make the case for an independent party based on the labor movement.

The specific form of DSA’s current attempt to “give it another try” is to support left candidates running in Democratic Party primaries and, if they’re nominated, running as Democrats in the general election. Some in DSA still seek to reform the Democratic Party. Others see the party as just a “ballot line” that they can use.

The Sanders experience shows why the 1986 Solidarity position remains correct. The point isn’t to criticize Sanders. He’s a New Deal Democrat. His strategy flowed from his politics:

  1. Run as a Democrat, because that’s the only way to get millions of votes.
  2. Play by the Democratic Party rules, because that’s the only way to run as a Democrat.
  3. Play nicely, because that’s the only way to be listened to.
  4. Support the Democratic nominee, because that’s the only way to beat Trump.
  5. Within that framework, campaign as well as possible.

With a higher level of class struggle, Sanders might have won. The ruling class might have decided that they had to make concessions to the working class to contain the upsurge, as they did with Roosevelt and the original New Deal. But not with the current level of class struggle.

Sanders is out, but the wheel is still in spin with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Rashida Tlaib, the two open DSA members in Congress. AOC won her 2018 Democratic Party primary because she faced a self-satisfied, lazy, white male opponent who misjudged the voters. Tlaib won hers because the Black community and Democratic Party establishment failed to narrow the field to a single candidate to represent them.

AOC and Tlaib face a dilemma. If they cause too much trouble, the Democratic Party machine will primary them out, as it did Cynthia McKinney, first in 2002 and then definitively in 2006. If they don’t cause trouble, why are they there?

Under such pressure, not surprisingly, they’ve voted upwards of 95% with their party, including on bills to approve the imperial budget. They’ve proposed few measures of their own, and the few they’ve proposed have gone nowhere. In particular, AOC’s February 2019 resolution “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal” generated public discussion but went nowhere.

The two-party system

The Democratic Party can’t be understood in isolation. It’s a component of the two-party system. It works together with the Republican Party to make sure that the government does only what a consensus of the ruling class wants. This is true, whatever self-conception its politicians may have.

The two parties are funded by large donors and circumscribed by the media. Their politicians pass through the revolving door between government and business, including NGOs. The less scrupulous enrich themselves, and nearly all prosper.

The two parties agree on the fundamentals of capitalist property, state power and empire. That’s why the military budget passes almost unanimously every time. But they’re not exactly the same. Historically, the Democrats have presented themselves as more caring, while the Republicans have presented themselves as more realistic.

Half the voting-age population generally doesn’t vote, seeing no point to it. The other half is divided between Democrats and Republicans, with somewhat more Democrats than Republicans. Workers, women, people of color, and youth tend to vote Democratic, if they vote at all. The affluent, men, whites and older folk tend to vote Republican.

The levels of support for the two parties are close enough to lead to an alternation between them at the federal level. The Democrats win, fail to deliver, disappoint their base, and energize the Republicans. The Republicans win, fail to deliver, disappoint their base, and energize the Democrats. In the post-World War II period the presidential alternation has been Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy/Johnson, Nixon/Ford, Carter, Reagan/Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, Trump.

The base might not like the party’s candidate, but they’re herded to the polls to vote for the lesser evil. This year, Democrats are told, “If you don’t vote for Biden, you’ll get Trump.” Republicans are told, “If you don’t vote for Trump, you’ll get Biden.”

The capitalists prefer a situation of divided power like the present one, in which the Republicans have the presidency and a majority in the Senate, and the Democrats have a majority in the House. Most politicians of both parties prefer divided power too, whatever their protestations, so they can blame each other for the gridlock.

The outcome isn’t always gridlock. The military budget always passes. Wars are approved. In the past six weeks the federal government has allocated nearly $3 trillion to prevent economic and social collapse. The legislation included assistance to workers, but only what the ruling class thought was necessary.

At the state and local level the two-party system may not involve an alternation of administrations, but the party machines, donors, media, and “lesser evil” manipulation — plus the requirement that states and municipalities balance their budgets — limit what even the best-intentioned elected officials can do.

In 2020 the two-party system has worked quite well. A majority of Democratic Party voters favor New Deal measures, but a majority still voted for neoliberal Biden as best able to beat Trump. Forty percent wanted Sanders, but most of them will vote for Biden as the lesser evil.

DSA probably won’t endorse Biden, since it’s bound by a 2019 convention resolution made back in the heady days when many DSAers thought Sanders might win. But most DSAers, especially in “battleground states,” will probably vote for Biden as the lesser evil to Trump.

Even Solidarity is divided, with some members favoring the Green Party and our comrade Howie Hawkins, some planning to hold their noses and vote for Biden, and some wanting to forget the whole mess.

Class struggle and electoral politics

In the 1990s Labor Party Advocates (LPA) had a great slogan, “The bosses have two parties. We need at least one.” LPA attempted to launch a Labor Party in 1996. The party had backing from several leftwing unions, many movement activists, and most of the socialist left.

The AFL-CIO leadership tolerated the Labor Party on one condition: The party would not run candidates against Democrats. Not running candidates made the Labor Party ineffective and superfluous. It held another convention in 1998 and expired.

The Labor Party was a good idea whose time had not yet come. The recovery of working-class consciousness and activity had just begun. The class struggle was still at a very low level. If the Labor Party had decided to run candidates against Democrats — impossible with its governing structure — the unions would have left, and the party would have collapsed by a different route. The Labor Party was damned if it did, and damned if it didn’t.

DSA is in a somewhat similar situation today. The class struggle and working-class consciousness are not at a high enough level to allow DSA to split the Democratic Party and build a mass alternative. It could only take steps in that direction. But which steps?

Most DSA members see the need for a working-class party independent of the Democrats. But few are ready to make the break. They see winning office as “power” and running as a Democrat as the way to win office. They want to use the Democratic Party ballot line to get elected and carry out their own policies.

That’s not how the game works. To run as a Democrat you have to follow the rules of the party. You have to support whoever wins nomination. If you’re elected, you have to work with your colleagues. Hence, Sanders endorses Biden, and Sanders, AOC and Tlaib mostly vote with their party.

An alternative is the third-party route, that of the Greens. The Greens have a program much superior to that of Bernie Sanders, on a par with DSA. The Greens are explicitly ecosocialist and anticapitalist. Sanders proposes reforming capitalism. The Greens propose doing away with it.

By running a presidential candidate, the Greens popularize their ideas far more than they could if they held back. They keep ballot status in many states by running statewide candidates who lose but get large numbers of votes doing so. For example, a socialist who wants to run for office in Michigan can do it as a Green, no problem, at least for now.

The price of running as a Green, rather than as a Democrat, is that you’re unlikely to win above the local level, and often not even there. Green campaigns are mostly educational campaigns. Green votes are mostly protest votes.

Another alternative is to run as an independent. Kshama Sawant in Seattle and  Rossana Rodríguez-Sanchez in Chicago show that at the local level it’s possible to win as an independent. But these victories are exceptional and bring no real power. Again, they’re mainly educational.

The Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) showed that it’s possible to run a slate of independent candidates and win. The 2013 election of Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, was more complicated. He ran as a Democrat but described himself as a Mississippi Freedom Democrat. He had the backing of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and community organizations, which gave his campaign exceptional independence.

The Richmond and Jackson efforts made some important gains and then fractured under the pressures of governing, the Jackson effort after the premature death of Lumumba in 2014.

Where to go from here

With the current level of class struggle, electoral activity can have only limited and ambiguous success. It’s great that Sanders did as well as he did in the Democratic Party presidential primaries. I hope that Biden beats Trump in November. But Sanders’s success and Biden’s, if he succeeds, strengthen the Democratic Party and reinforce the two-party system.

That’s not a reason to deny the advantage of their success or to wish for their failure. But it is a reason to consider whether electoral campaigns in the Democratic Party are what revolutionary socialists should be doing.

I agree with the 1986 Solidarity view, held by many other revolutionary socialists, that we should try to relate positively to the ranks of progressive Democratic Party campaigns. We should sympathize with their aims and acknowledge the superiority of their candidate’s platform and practice.

We should say that we’d support the candidate running as an independent, but not running as a Democrat. We should explain that our principal concern is to promote working-class political independence, and supporting a Democrat, even a Jesse Jackson or a Bernie Sanders, would undercut that goal.

That leaves plenty of space for supporting socialists and other leftists running as Greens or independents. Revolutionary socialists should do so where we can. But we should understand that electoral campaigns are mainly educational at this point, auxiliary to class struggle. They’re not power.

The way forward is to raise the level of class struggle, beginning with local organizing and rank-and-file militancy. Draw lessons about the Democratic Party and the two-party system from the Sanders experience, and then move on.

Thanks, Bernie!

Joanna Misnik

Photo: Gage Skidmore

Since Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign, there has been a steady stream of articles assessing it. They range from more mainstream progressive political analysis citing his inability to compromise and soften his message, problems within the staff, etc. to some on the socialist left decrying Bernie’s contesting in the Democratic Party as a breach of principle and misleadership of the working class.

This discussion will continue for a time. Meanwhile, I suggest closing your eyes and visualizing what U.S. politics, electoral and social movement, would have looked like if Bernie Sanders, democratic socialist, had not launched his campaigns for President.

At the outset of the primary season, Bernie Sanders’ ratings and his substantial wins in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire made his nomination seemed like a surprising, but distinct, possibility. His popularity had moved other progressive candidates to adopt some form of support or lip service for Medicare for all, fixing student debt, a fair tax system which makes the billionaires pay their fair share, an end to corporate and oligarchic campaign financing, ending the immoral income gap between rich and poor, raising the minimum wage to $15, immigration and criminal justice reform, and more.

Bernie revolutionized funding for campaigns, refused to take billionaire donations or money from corporate super-PACs. He raised over 100 million from millions of small donations at an average $18.50 per donation. This was unprecedented in big-dollar presidential campaigning. Message received: working people are in this and will band together to finance their political message. The wealthy do not monopolize our elections. Candidates will now forever be judged on how they are financed and by whom.

Centrist alarm

The popularity of Bernie’s platform alarmed corporate centrist Democratic Party leaders, who launched a campaign known as ABB – anybody but Bernie. Senator Elizabeth Warren was their first weapon – a radical progressive often allied with Sanders and a woman to appease the loss of Hillary Clinton felt so keenly among upper middle class suburban women, the sought after base of the Party. But Warren failed to attract voters away from Bernie. The back-up plan was flooding the contest with a clown car full of candidates, something for everybody, so as to take votes away from Bernie in the primaries.

And then there was Joe Biden, Obama’s Vice President who had traction among the Party’s Black voters that could deliver victories for a return to life before Trump, the Obama days. The appeal played on the abject fear that Donald Trump might be re-elected and the Democratic candidate had to be someone who could vanquish him. The Democratic leadership insisted the idea that Bernie’s democratic socialist program made him a long shot. That worked, and Bernie’s lead was pushed back, never to return, after a stunning Biden victory in South Carolina. Other candidates dropped out one by one, sheepishly endorsing Joe Biden, knowing that there was a real issue about his diminished capacities.

Medicare for All

One attack that backfired was the constant question during the debates and in interviews about Medicare for All: Sanders was accused of not having a plan to pay for Medicare for All. Workers really love the health coverage they get from their employers and they do not want to give it up; the government should not force them.

Again and again, Bernie explained how Medicare for All would save money, be more efficient and fulfil what is a human right for all. But it never stopped – until Covid 19. The life-threatening chaos of the botched response to this pandemic has made the case for Medicare for All. With 17 million and rising suddenly unemployed, the virtues of employer furnished health care have evaporated. As one author put it; “Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders.” Even before the pandemic, Medicare for All enjoyed majority support in most polling.

Bernie Is Not Just Running for President

Bernie ran for President to jumpstart and focus much-needed resistance in this country to the inhumane plunder by billionaires, the oligarchs that create obscene income inequality and exploitation. He railed against corporate greed, the seizure of our government by the corporations, the destruction of anything like a humane society that cares for everyone.

He gave hope to people ground down by the extreme individualism of neoliberalism, called out the profit system as the cause of this deep inequality and urged a political revolution, a movement to take back our society. To emphasize that he was not a savior candidate, Sanders popularized the phrases ‘Not Me, Us!’ and ‘A Movement, Not a Moment!’

He explained that even if he were elected, it would take this mass movement to bring about needed change. And it would take time, nothing overnight. This message was heard by millions of young people, anxious to fight for a vision of a just society on a planet that can sustain life.

Socialism was back in the U.S. lexicon, running ahead of capitalism in poll after poll – even if this was the socialism of post-war Europe, of catch-up with social measures in other capitalist societies, our working class had been denied. The special urgency was the need to defeat the most dangerous President in the history of our country – Donald Trump had to go.

From the beginning, Sanders pledged to support the Democratic nominee and help beat Trump. The pandemic, social distancing and uncertainty about the election calendar, combined with Trump’ s utter inability to lead the  response or even assemble the facts at hand must have been a factor in suspending his campaign and closing the Democratic Party ranks.

A Democratic Election in the Time of Pandemic?

April 7 was primary election day for Democrats in the state of Wisconsin. The voting took place the day that a record 1,200 Covid19 deaths occurred in a 24 hour period and 97% of the US population is officially under what is imaginatively called social distancing, or lockdown. The Democratic Governor of Wisconsin tried to postpone the primary but was overruled by Republican-dominated state legislature as well as a US Supreme Court ruling (strict partisan vote of 5 to 4) that will not allow any mail in ballots to be counted if postmarked after April 7.

The city of Milwaukee managed to open only five of its 180 polling places as poll workers, many elderly, opted not to risk it. Lines were intolerably and undemocratically long and severely dangerous.

More than 20 states and territories have yet to hold primary elections. Fifteen have already postponed them. And the Democratic Party has optimistically pushed its national nominating convention to mid-August from mid-July. In addition, social distancing severely restricts face to face campaigning, door to door neighborhood canvassing, and the mass rallies that gave the Sanders political revolution its reality and energy as a movement.

The recently-passed Congressional $2.2 trillion relief package number 3 contains a hard fought for $400 million for states to implement balloting by mail as opposed to in-person voting. But the United States is a federated system, not a federal one. And Republicans control a majority of state legislatures that have the power to accept or reject the “suggestion” of reliance on mail-in balloting. Prior to the pandemic, some Republican-controlled states had removed around one million voters from eligibility under various pretexts to damp down the Democratic voting base. Donald Trump tweeted his opposition to a national mail-in ballot because it would advantage a Democratic victory

From the beginning, Bernie Sanders has emphasized that in order to beat Trump there must be record-breaking voter turnout. This did not happen in the early primary contests; a disappointing 20 percent of young voters came out. The fight for mail-in balloting and funding to implement it continues in Congress. In the end, the pace and depth of the Covid 19 crisis and the economic collapse are decisive factors in the democratic conduct and timing of the US presidential election and its outcome.

The Cycle of Rebellion From Within

The Democratic Party leadership is adept at pushing renegade leftist nomination-seekers off a path to victory. The cycle of these attempts is about every 15 to 20 years, as social unrest rises to a pitch seeking “political”: power but does not look to the near unthinkable strategy of a third political party in an anti-parliamentary system. Thus far, the ruling class has been able to contain deep divisions within the duopoly.

Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 campaign, under the slogan ‘Clean for Gene’ reflected deep opposition to the war in Vietnam and a general radicalization against the “system.” McCarthy’s nomination was defeated as thousands of young people demonstrating outside the Chicago convention were attacked in a police riot.

The next defiance came in 1984-88, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson, an aide to Martin Luther King at his side when King was assassinated, twice sought the nomination. Jackson surfaced the deep anger within the working class suffering from the recession of the 1980s, stagnant wages, and unemployment – the full reality of the end of the American dream.

Jackson ran in the social democratic spirit of Martin Luther King. Broad scale support to his campaign was multiracial and working class. In 1988 he came in second to Michael Dukakis, winning 13 primaries and 7 million votes. This was probably the final offensive struggle the Black civil rights movement waged within the national Democratic Party for equality and political inclusion of an MLK trajectory.

Jackson’s campaign vehicle, the Rainbow Coalition, basically disappeared after 1988. And the near unanimous loyalty of the Black vote since to the Democratic Party is a defensive one as neoliberalism ravages large sections of Black America.

The New Socialist Movement

Unlike the previous radical rebellions in Democratic presidential politics, the Bernie candidacy inspired the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This organization now has some 56,000 members in 170 chapters spread all over the country. They were a boots on the ground army for Bernie, knocking on over one half million doors and making untold phone calls. Over the past several years, DSA has been studying Marxism, history of socialism, and has adopted a firm commitment to a rank and file strategy of building a working class movement from below.  The group is a big tent, open to all radical points of view operating within a democratic framework.

DSA is overwhelmingly young. At the time of the last rebellion in the national Democratic Party in 1988 some were not yet born and others were in grade school. It was not surprising that many believed Bernie would win, underestimating the obstacles to his campaign not just in the corporate centrist Party leadership but the actual level of class consciousness and readiness for struggle, particularly with the acute weakening of the organized labor movement in the U.S and its inability to lead resistance as a national movement. Lesson learned.

A plurality, if not a majority, of the DSA holds a position of opposition to taking over the Democratic Party and supports an eventual building of an independent workers’ party. Various tactics attempt to cope with the failure of any left force to build a durable mass working class third party in this country. Propaganda for such a party combined with abstention from elections or running strictly symbolic campaigns is not an attractive strategy for most new socialists born of the Bernie effort.

Involvement in local struggles, building coalitions with other organizations fighting for a minimum wage, against police brutality, housing for all, rent control, decarceration, immigrant rights and strike support have deepened the ability of the DSA to play a role in real time in the real world. Close to 100 DSA endorsed candidates, most members of the group, have won election to become tribunes of the people. In Chicago, DSA elected six members of the City Council, the first socialists in that body for over 100 years.

The eruption of the new socialist DSA and Bernie’s campaign has placed pressures on the small groups that remain from the deep decline of the 20th Century revolutionary left. Even DSA, which voted as its convention not to endorse any Democratic nominee but Bernie, has some further thinking and discussion to conduct.  Everyone understands the need to rid this country and the world stage of Donald Trump, the “most dangerous President ever”: as Bernie repeatedly said. (For the flavor, rent the 1990s film “The Madness of King George.”) The discussion of left strategy toward that end in the time of pandemic and looming economic depression is continuing – electronically of course.

Joanna Misnik is a member of Solidarity, affiliate of the Fourth International in the U.S. and the oldest member of the Chicago DSA chapter. This article appeared on April 15, 2020 on the Socialist Resistance website here.