The 2016 election has deepened the understanding of how out of step the establishment political parties are with the people of the United States. The parties have reinforced the rationale for the Occupy uprising, and the uprisings on racism, inequality, poverty wages, mistreatment of students and more that have occurred since 2011; and they have increased national consensus on the dysfunction and corruption of government, the unfairness and inequity of the economy and the lack of concern for the environment and climate change.
In order to understand the election’s relationship to the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice, we need to understand that the roots of this election come from the uprising of 2011. As Paolo Gerbaudo wrote in ROAR Magazine: “The 2011 protest wave will forever be associated with the slogan ‘they don’t represent us’ — a clear indictment of the present form of representative politics and the existing political class.”
The uprisings in 2011 were global and “it can be said that we are now living in a post-2011 world; a world for which 2011 acts as sort of ‘year zero’ — a moment of foundation for a ‘new politics’ that fulfills the promise contained within the caption of a famous Occupy poster proclaiming ‘the beginning is near.’” The response is not just in the United States, where recent movements are impacting politics; as Derek Royden writes the political impact of the movements can also be seen around the world in the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Portugal and more.
Understanding that these political dynamics are the continuation of the movement that started in 2011 also helps us to realize that no matter how the primaries or the General Election turn out, this is bigger than one election. It is the continuation of the building of a mass popular movement; and our job is to ensure that the movement gets stronger and larger by building on this election.
The Glaring Realities Shown By the US Election
The Editors of Solidarity call the new electoral politics of 2016 the politics of the new abnormal, writing “In this strangest of U.S. election seasons, the capitalist class appears to have partially lost control — temporarily at least — of its trusted political parties.”
The political revolt inside the Democratic Party by Senator Bernie Sanders has shown the contradictions between Democratic Party voters and the establishment leaders of the party plus their Wall Street funders. There are numerous examples, such as Sanders’ call for improved Medicare for all, a single payer system supported by 80% of Democratic voters that treats healthcare as a public good and human right, contrasted with Hillary Clinton’s call for an insurance-market based system that protects Wall Street investor-based healthcare. The fundamental platform of the Sanders campaign is to break up the big banks, create a fair economy and tax the wealthy and corporations in a much more progressive tax system. While Hillary Clinton is the ultimate Wall Street candidate who has been made personally wealthy by brief speeches to investors and big business interests, speeches she keeps secret; whose family foundation has received massive donations of more than $200 million in each of the last three years; and whose campaign is funded by the wealthiest Americans associated with Wall Street and big business, taking the establishment side with some rhetorical veils to hide her true positions.
In the other big business party, the Republican Party, the revolt against the establishment has been even stronger. Donald Trump will be the nominee of the party now that his final opponents have dropped out. He has run as a party outsider. His divisive populist rhetoric is effective because it resonates with the fears of the financially-insecure working class. The billionaire has criticized the party for giving people in the US a bad deal for too long. He’s taken a strong stand against the corporate trade agreements that have served transnational corporate interests but have not served workers or communities well.
Opposition to these agreements has also been an issue Sanders has highlighted. This has forced Hillary Clinton, a former cheerleader for “free” trade to oppose the TPP, despite supporting it while Secretary of State. And with Trump as her General Election opponent, she must remain opposed. This week she told the Washington Post that she opposed the TPP “before and after the election.” As the editors of Solidarity write: “If there’s one concrete positive result from the primary season — with high working-class voter turnouts for both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump — it’s been widespread popular revulsion against the cancer of global ‘free trade’ agreements.”
While the US is in the midst of the primaries of the two big business parties, it is important to remember how few people these parties represent and how few party members vote in those parties. As we wrote in To Understand Presidential Primaries Under the Impact of Political Movements, “an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 50 percent of Americans consider themselves independent and fewer than 30 percent align with either major party.” Indeed, only 21 percent identified as Republicans and 29% as Democrats. An earlier 2015 Gallup poll similarly found “a record high number of Americans — 43 percent — consider themselves independents.” The rejection of the two parties has been growing quickly since 2008 as more people recognize they are out of step with traditional US politics. In the 2016 primaries, we are seeing the die-hards, a minority of US voters who feel the strongest attachment to the two parties, and even inside those parties there is a massive revolt.
In the end the primaries have produced the two most unpopular candidates in US history. As Five Thirty Eight reports: “No major party nominee before Clinton or Trump had a double-digit net negative ‘strong favorability’ rating. Clinton’s would be the lowest ever, except for Trump.” Trump is disliked by half of his party, the last two presidential nominees and the last two Republican presidents will not be attending the convention. Even though Clinton is winning the nomination, only half of Democrats support her. Among the plurality group of voters, independents, the evidence from the primaries indicates they support the outsiders, especially Bernie Sanders. Some describe the election process as rigged. Hamid Dabasi writes:
“At the heart of this imperial republic that effectively rules the world with its military might (not with any moral courage or political legitimacy), we have an electoral process that systematically bars any critical judgment of its own citizens to disrupt its mindless militarism. American citizens are as much trapped inside this corrupt system as people around the globe are at the mercy of its fighter jets and drone attacks.
“These two parties, Republican and Democratic, are today functioning like two identical but competing Orwellian Ministries of Truth – systematically, consistently, unabashedly disallowing any critical thinking or nonviolent democratic action to enter and disrupt the always-already rigged election.”
This election year is heightening the Crisis in Democracy, and highlighting the illegitimacy of a government that is out of step with its people.
The global uprising of 2011 has impacted more than electoral politics, indeed that was never its intent. What was 2011? The editors of Solidarity describe it well: “2011 has been the year that ‘fear has changed sides,’ to use an expression adopted by Spanish activists. It was the moment when protest movements shed the psychology of defeat — that obnoxious feeling that they were somehow on the wrong side of history — and have once again started going on the attack.” People learned to stand up together, that they were not alone and together they had power. How?
“by reclaiming public space and involving the citizenry in public discussions about economic and political inequality have facilitated a profound cultural change in society towards more progressive ends. They have informed the creation of new campaigns, initiatives and organizations that are now starting to pose a serious challenge to neoliberal order.”
These new campaigns continue to grow and build power individually and for the collective movement. A local group in the Northeast recently stopped the pipeline and wrote We Are Changing The World saying: “We have achieved a great victory over the tyranny of huge multi-national corporations and a system that is rigged to create more and more wealth and more and more power for the already wealthy and powerful. The individual citizens, the people of Western Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, working together, in a just cause, have won a stunning victory. We said NO PIPELINE and we meant it.”
This is not one isolated example, but in fact all across the country pipelines and carbon infrastructure are being stopped as people stand up together and see themselves as a climate justice movement that not only confronts the climate issue but justice for their own communities, which are being subjected to carbon communicide. It is a growing movement that is winning. And, like the other fronts of struggle, this movement is international. This week began two weeks of Break Free protests that will result in the largest global environmental series of actions.
We have seen the same type of developments in other campaigns: the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, student debt, stopping rigged global trade, the current Verizon strike and more. The 2011 uprisings resulted in resistance campaigns around long simmering problems. People are educated and mobilized and taking strategic approaches to achieve victories while growing their power for even bigger victories ahead.
The Greatest Victories Are Ahead If We Stay Mobilized
Despite the growing power and organization of the movement, we still have a long way to go to achieve the transformational changes we seek. Many important issues are still not being discussed in the political dialogue and the presidential primaries. We need to avoid the result of past presidential campaigns: “The ‘normal’ pattern of the U.S. political cycle is that election years derail social movements, draining their energies into whatever looks like the lesser evil. Perhaps this most abnormal of elections will prove to be an exception.” There is still work ahead to grow the movement and build on the growing national consensus to break “through the fundamental contradiction between the potential of this movement, and the political structure within which it’s currently ensnared. . .”
We are hearing calls from both parties for ‘political unity.’ Now that it looks impossible for Sanders to win, the establishment Democrats are urging him to drop out and stop his challenge. Others are calling on Sanders to fight on through November by joining Jill Stein of the Green Party and running together. We know what ‘political unity’ means; as the editors of Solidarity write, it means “channeling the ‘political revolution’ into the cynical triangulation that shoves the needs of working people, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter — and everything else that matters too — to the back of the Clinton campaign bus, in exchange for some meaningless convention platform verbiage and empty promises.” It is no political revolution for Sanders supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton, who stands for the opposite of Bernie Sanders.
As Mark and Paul Engler write, we are in a moment of “momentum-driven organizing” which . . .goes beyond transactional goals by also advancing a transformational agenda, and it wins by swaying public opinion and pulling the pillars of support.” This means we need to keep building on the success of the movement, supporting new fronts of struggle and keep the positive cycle of building movement power growing.
The next opportunity to build a broad power base for the movement is the #NoLameDuck Uprising to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Click here to sign up and participate. Obama is still making the TPP his highest priority and pushing to ratify it this year, probably in the Lame Duck session after the election when elected officials are unaccountable to the people. We can stop the ratification if we join together to stop the lame duck. This would be a people-powered victory over transnational corporate power.
When the new year begins, we are urging no honeymoon for the next president, with protests before, during and after the inauguration. If we come together as a ‘movement of movements’, people power can set a people-and-planet-centered agenda for the next government.