Newsletter: On To The General Election, Create Surprises
Above: Hillary has blood on her hands protest DNC from PhillyMag.
The make-up of elections are almost complete with only a few primary races and the Green Party National Convention (August 4-7 in Houston), where Jill Stein’s running mate will be announced, remaining. Otherwise we know the candidates that will be with us for the next three months and the potential presidents who will almost assuredly be the focus of mobilizations for the next four years.
While Bernie Sanders is no longer running for office and has shifted his energy to working to elect Hillary Clinton, many in the Bernie or Bust Movement have shifted to Jill or Bust, with the initial goal to get Jill Stein into the highly restrictive (and anti-democratic) debates.
The Conventions Show Two Divided Parties Pretending to be Unified
The nominations showed that the two establishment, big business parties are fracturing. The social movement mobilized for both conventions, but especially at the DNC, where there were constant protests inside and outside of the convention.
The big news of the Republican Convention was that the divide between establishment Republicans and populists, represented by Donald Trump, has become a chasm. All living Republican presidents and presidential candidates refused to attend the convention except for Bob Dole, who lost in a landslide in 1996. Many members of Congress, especially those running for re-election, also did not attend and many traditional big donors did not attend. Even the social conservatives were divided with Ted Cruz, their elected leader, refusing to endorse Trump. The poorly run RNC showed a party in crisis with amateurish leadership.
The Republican Convention had a smaller turnout for protests than the Democrats, but the RNC began with protests and many showed a lot of creativity, including 100 naked women responding to Trump’s anti-female comments, throughout the RNC. Medea Benjamin of CODE PINK, which was active at both conventions, was able to interrupt Donald Trump’s speech and was removed from the convention. Protests outside of the RNC mocked Trump and focused on a range of issues. Immigration was a big issue because of Trump’s anti-immigrant record. One of the protests was a banner drop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and another focused on building an anti-Trump wall. A People’s Caravan, for immigrant rights, traveled from Cleveland to Philadelphia to participate in both conventions.
The DNC was a much more well-orchestrated event, putting forward a more effective mainstream sales pitch. The Democrats continue to heighten fear of Trump as their primary selling point, but also tried to re-introduce the widely disliked Hillary Clinton and emphasize the historic nature of the first female president. They sought to project unity, but divisions among Democrats were evident. The DNC was shaken by Wikileaks’ disclosures of DNC emails and voice mails which enraged Sanders supporters who were already angry by the mistreatment of Sen. Sanders in the primaries. The leaks caused the DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign and play no role in the convention.
While Sanders did all he could to convince people to support Clinton, in a speech that many saw as selling out the ‘political revolution,’ his supporters protested inside and outside of the convention. They booed the mention of Hillary Clinton, shouted anti-TPP slogans, drowned out former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with chants of “No More War“, wore neon Green to show support for Stein, walked out and took over the media tent and more. Protests were a constant concern of the DNC and on multiple occasions Sandernistas, many of whom now support Jill Stein, were evident with their protests inside the DNC making it on corporate television.
The Sanders supporters were joined in the streets by a wide range of movement activists including Black Lives Matter, opponents of the TPP, advocates for climate justice, gun regulation, marijuana legalization, advocates for Palestinian rights, democracy activists and more. Targets were not only the DNC but their funders, as in a protest against the oil and gas industry. Every day and night, thousands of people protested at the most contentious convention since 1968. The police gave protesters room but when the perimeter of the DNC was breached or threatened arrests were made.
The Democrats persisted in their effort to create the illusion of a unified party with Clinton saying to Sanders supporters “Your cause is our cause” – a statement inconsistent with her selection of corporate-Democrat Tim Kaine as vice president. The Democrats also did their best to shut down dissent inside the arena and no doubt their $67 million propagandistic marketing effort fooled many with unity dutifully reported by the corporate media, but anyone watching knows the Democrats have major fractures in their party. Polls continue to show that people who are supporting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are mostly voting for them because they dislike the other corporate candidate. There are enthusiasts for each, but fear and loathing of the alternative choice dominates the thinking of voters.
The Popular Movement at the Conventions and Beyond
After five years of social movements pressuring the government to confront multiple urgent crises, such as the wealth divide, living wages, global trade, racial justice, climate change, student debt and healthcare, among others, the fact that the two parties ended up with candidates who are very unpopular and offer no solutions to these issues shows the weakness of “democracy” in the United States. Whomever is elected will not confront these critical issues, with the inevitable result being a growing popular movement.
While protests at the two conventions were the most evident forms of mobilization, there was more than that going on. Thousands of people gathered together at multiple conferences to discuss where the movement goes from here. Discussions of electoral actions and non-electoral actions were debated and discussed.
On the Saturday before the DNC began, the People’s Convention was held in Philadelphia. It was attended by 400 people and had a number of components. In a participatory democratic way, the convention worked on the initial planks of a platform for the movement which included racial justice, wealth and income inequality, getting money out of politics, climate change and healthcare as a human right. There was also a world café where hundreds of activists discussed issues and next steps for the movement and issues like how we relate to the two establishment parties. The convention also included workshops on various issues. We led a discussion of next steps for building movement power which included our continued effort to stop the TPP with the #NoLameDuck for the TPP campaign and a campaign of protests in 2017 we are calling #NoHoneymoon. (See video of workshop.)
The final speech of the day by Jill Stein began a process seen throughout the week of Sanders supporters switching their support to the Green Party candidate and cheering her with multiple ovations. Stein said she would work with the people to continue the political revolution through November.
There was also a four-day Socialist Convergence which was organized by a coalition of local and national socialist organizations. It took place alongside the DNC every night focusing on education and debate about where the left movement goes from here. Jill Stein was the only presidential candidate to speak here as well, garnering rousing support from many in the room.
A constant issue of discussion was whether to #Demexit or stay in the party. The dominant mood of the moment was to leave the Democratic Party to continue to build a left alternative party or coalition of parties. Stein described the Green Party as using its ballot lines to help put progressive, socialist and left candidates on the ballot serving as a political organization open to people independent of the duopoly.
Some argued that people should work to take-over the Democratic Party, claiming that the Sanders campaign showed how close we were to doing so. Others took the opposite lesson from the Sanders campaign saying it showed that the party, which Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report described as the home of big finance capital, would never allow a nominee who challenged Wall Street or war to be their candidate. Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative called for building a new party as the only way to challenge the system. Sawant and Ford expressed the dominant view in the room but everyone understood we are in a challenging political system in the United States and should not allow these different views to divide us.
Author, Chris Hedges, read a prepared statement that eviscerated Sanders for not leaving the Democratic Party and running independent of it with Jill Stein, bringing the momentum and political organization he built with him. His harsh repudiation of Sanders upset many Sanders supporters who strongly disagreed but led to applause from others who saw it as Hedges reporting the truth. Hedges also reminded people that Syriza was polling where the Greens are today and now they are ruling.
Announced at the convergence was that Left Elect was organizing a meeting in Chicago on March 3-5, 2017 to bring people and organizations together who seek to build an electoral alliance in opposition to the two-party system.
What Can be Accomplished in the General Election
The rising political movement has helped to create confusion in the 2016 primaries, opening up the political culture to allow the Sanders campaign to take-off, and encouraging divisions in the two parties. During the primaries the social movement protested every candidate running in the establishment parties, including Bernie Sanders, and advanced its issues in both party platforms.
What can the movement do in the General Election? There continue to be opportunities to raise all of the movement’s issues at candidate events. The establishment party candidates should be protested for failing to face up to the issues the social movement has highlighted. Libertarian Gary Johnson can also be protested for his support of the TPP and libertarian economics which will cut the social safety net and business regulation and taxation; he can be applauded by the movement for supporting marijuana legalization. Jill Stein, who shares the views of the social movement, is the Sanders of the General Election to make sure our message gets out through her campaign.
One democracy issue that could move to the center of consciousness this year is the anti-democratic closed debates. A lot of education will be needed to explain that the National Commission on Presidential Debates is not really a commission; it is a corporation created by the two big business parties to limit debates to their parties. Then, the movement can mobilize to protest the fake commission and open the debates. Discrediting the corporation, disguised as a commission, is a tremendous opportunity in a year when the independent parties are running strong campaigns, and a year when up to 50% of voters consider themselves independent of the two parties.
Senator Sanders awakened millions to electoral politics and while he has backtracked and endorsed Hillary Clinton, many of his supporters are not following. They are continuing the political revolution outside of the two parties. Nathan Fisher wrote: “Sanders is going through his endgame. We are going through an opening.” Many are following Cornel West and Kshama Sawant, who were important supporters of Sanders and are now important supporters of Stein.
How successful will the movement be in the General Election? We could open the debates and create a massive educational opportunity for tens of millions of Americans. Who knows what we can accomplish? The support for Sanders’ political revolution surprised everyone. Black Lives Matter’s impact has surprised everyone. The Fight for $15 has as well, as did the 2011 Occupy Movement. Indeed, on these and other fronts, the movement has surprised itself, commentators and the country. The movement is better organized, stronger and winning bigger battles. The future is ours to make, let’s work at it and surprise ourselves again.