Monday, April 25, 2016

245.5 - What now for progressives?

What now for progressives?

Back in February, I made what I said at the time would be one of a very few few and perhaps my only comment on the Democratic primaries. It turns out that "few" rather than "only" was the correct description, because here's another one.

So, as predicted, Hillary Clinton won the New York primary handily, in fact by a slightly larger margin than the "poll of polls," the average of all the polls, had predicted.

Obviously, I'm disappointed since in February I made clear my reasons for preferring Bernie Sanders over Clinton, but I'm not surprised: Contrary to Sanders' strongest partisans, I never expected him to win this primary (although it was pleasant imagining it if only for the uproar it would cause). My real disappointment is that I had hoped the result would be closer than it proved to be; I was actually hoping it would be in single digits.

The reason I never expected Sanders to win is that it was a closed primary; you had to be a registered Democrat and in fact registered as such some time in advance.

Parenthetically, apparently making sure you were registered and registered in the party you intended was a problem. Some 126,000 voters in Brooklyn alone had been purged from the voter rolls and about 10% of voters in the borough who turned up to vote were unable to. The city Board of Elections dismissed the whole thing as problems no different than in any other election - which is kinda creepy when you think about it.

Meanwhile, however, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's voter complaint hotline had "received more than 700 complaints from voters across the state" before 4 pm - which meant that, even with a few hours of voting still to go, there were nearly five times more complaints than the total number of such complaints for the 2012 general election.

But getting back to results: Again, I never expected Sanders to win because it was a closed primary; you had to be a registered Democrat. Across the campaign to date, Sanders has done best in open primaries, where independents can vote. According to exit polls, he beats her among independents by margins ranging from 15 to 40 percentage points. She, on the other hand, easily outdistances him among voters who consider themselves Democrats, period. So: open primary, good shot for Sanders, depending on how many independents vote in that primary; closed primary, pretty confident of a Clinton victory.

You can argue about the merits of open versus closed primaries, with supporters of the former saying we should encourage the widest involvement in voting that we can and supporters of the latter saying that candidates of a party should be chosen by the members of that party - but that isn't the point here. The point is that Clinton had a big advantage going in, and that was reflected in the results.

What this means is that while it's still mathematically possible for Sanders to win the nomination, as a practical, political matter it's just ain't gonna happen.

Which is, really, the reason I bring all this up. Because the question becomes, what now?

The Clinton sycophants have an easy answer: Sanders should concede, withdraw, kiss the ring, and on bended knee pledge fealty to all things Clinton, forgetting all this "political revolution" crap and devoting himself to upholding the status quo.

Which I don't expect will happen and more to the point should not happen. The primary fight should go on because the fight itself should go on. This is where it gets important: Bernie Sanders has said far more than once that his political revolution is not about him. It's about - these are now my words, not his, but I think a fair reflection of the idea - it's about changing the nature and the structure of political, social, and economic power in our country, in our society.

It is about racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, equality and freedom. It is about the economy, about an economy for the many, not the few, for the workers, not the bosses, banks, and billionaires. It is about education. It is about health care. It is about housing. It is about peace.

It is about justice.

Justice, as I put it over 30 years ago, in its truest sense: economic, social, and political. It is about a justice that rejects the ascendancy of bombs over bread, of private greed over public good, of profits over people. It is about a justice that centers on the preciousness of life and will fight to maintain and even expand that preciousness. It is about a justice that affirms and embraces the right of every human being to a decent life free of hunger, fear, and oppression.

The political revolution is not about Bernie Sanders.

It is not and we must not allow it to be. But right now he is the biggest symbol of that movement, a political epicenter of the hope, the fight, the drive, for that justice. Which is why the fights in the primaries must go on, right through to the convention. Then at the convention, take the fight to the rules committee, take it to the platform committee, take it to the floor, even to having to go through the actual roll call and no, when Clinton gets a majority in that roll call, do not agree to a measure to make it unanimous.

Let the convention be contentious. Let it be chaotic. But let it be clear that this is not the end. Let it be clear that as he himself has said, this is not about Bernie Sanders. This is about change. This is about, again in his phrase, political revolution.

So what we need to be thinking about now is how to carry on beyond the convention. When the powers-that-be have prevailed, as I unhappily expect they will, what then?

An immediate question, of course, is how we deal with the general election. I think first that all Sanders supporters will have to deal with the fact that yes, he will endorse Clinton and yes, if she wants, he will campaign for her. It's a little hard to imagine what he would say on her behalf since she represents exactly the sort of compromised, untrustworthy model of an establishment-favored and flavored candidate that he has slammed for 40 years, but I suppose they could find something.

Anyway, we each of us have to decide how we will relate to the general election. But that brings up something else, so I'm going to go off on another tangent here. I've never thought of myself as a Bernie-or-Bust type; in that earlier comment on the primaries I said that if Clinton is the nominee and I lived in a toss-up state - which I decidedly don't; we usually don't even see much presidential campaigning here - I would "have to choke back my bile and vote for her" because despite all the reasons I gave for saying "a solid case can be made that Hillary Clinton does not deserve the support of progressives," she was still clearly preferable to any possible GOPper opponent and unlike some years, this is a year when the Supreme Court is very much on my mind. However, since I don't live in a toss-up state, I said, I will vote third party. (Note to nit-pickers: This has nothing to do with how I might or will deal with down-ballot races. This is about the presidential level.)

The thing is, in the weeks since I have become so disgusted with the Clinton campaign that I am feeling pushed toward a Bernie-or-Bust attitude. The utter ruthlessness has been astounding. And I am not referring to her supporters on social media, who have frequently gone way over the top with lies, sneering, and mockery about Sanders and his supporters - and yes, I would say that Sanders supporters have been sometimes almost as bad, although I would say not as often or as bad. But no, not her social media supporters, I mean her campaign - in which I include big name supporters like Paul Krugman, Charlie Rangel, and Barney Frank.

For example, Bernie Sanders said before the New York primary that the reason he is as far behind in delegates as he is, is because she did so well in the deep South, which is a very conservative area and unlikely to be carried by a Democrat in the general election. All of which is true. But to the Clinton campaign, this is proof that Bernie Sanders is a racist! who dismisses the votes of southern blacks and says they're not real democrats.

During a debate, he says to her something like "let me finish" and this proves that Bernie Sanders is a sexist! In fact, pretty much any criticism he makes of her is called sexist by some Clinton surrogate or another.

A Sanders surrogate uses the term "Democratic whores" and the world explodes even though the meaning - referring to people beholden to big money interests - was perfectly clear and some even pointed out that if this had been a contest between two men no one would have raised an eyebrow at the phrase. No matter. It's a sexist dog whistle!

During a debate, she is asked a question about his positions on guns and he gives a chuckle that any sane person would read as "Oh, here we go again." But in Hillary world, it means He thinks guns are a laughing matter! and He has no concern for the victims of gun violence!

It's really getting harder and harder for me to imagine myself voting for her. Happily, I still won't have to make that choice. Others will. Best of luck to you in making it. I would say that you should never forget that it is never a "waste of your vote" to vote for what you believe in. As Eugene Debs said, "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don't want and get it."

Still, know that for what it's worth, whatever choice you make, I understand and I'll have your back either way.

But that bring us back full circle to the question of "What now?" Because not only is this not about Bernie Sanders, it's also in exactly the same sense not about elections. It's not even about voting. It's about the process of change. Voting is a part of that process, which is why, in a sense, for the moment, it is about Bernie Sanders because right now he is the vehicle, using electoral politics, to push for that change. But after the convention, that campaign will be over and he may in fact disappoint supporters by embracing, at least for the election, Clinton. But then after November, the elections, the voting will be over. Then what? Where do we go? What do we do? How do we keep pressing?

The last time we allowed ourselves to get suckered into believing that "change" was all about a particular election, we got the Amazing Mr. O and spent the next years wondering when and how "Yes we can" got turned into "Yes I might if it's not too difficult and the rest of you shut up and get in line." We can't let that happen again if we don't want to have to spend the next four years explaining away new wars and new "grand bargains" with GOPpers and why big money in politics is really really bad unless it goes to Hillary Clinton's campaign fund. We have to find ways to keep pushing.

And I have to tell you something: Tweets and Facebook posts and the rest are not gonna cut it. Period. Oh, they can be great for circulating ideas, for passing on information, for keeping each others' spirits up, for organizing, but they themselves will not change anything. Oh, sure, they can affect little bits here and there; they can embarrass a restaurant into changing a policy or an individual store into apologizing for something, and I'm sure someone could come up with some more significant example of a more significant effect, but change the fundamental nature of power in the US? Not a chance.

Way, way, back in the dreaded '60s, I said something along the lines of "the system can withstand any number of people just saying 'No' to that system. That won't change anything. We have to do "No," we have to act on our beliefs."

It's still true. We need to act on our beliefs. If we are going to see the kind of change we talk about, if we are going to see that political revolution, if we are going to change the nature of social power in this country, we have to act. We can't just talk - have to act. And we can't just vote - we have to act. We can't even just campaign for a favored candidate, even though, yes, that is a form of action, but it is not near enough - we have to act outside of and beyond electoral politics. We have to be in public, in the streets, even filling the streets, in the jails, even filling the jails.

We have to be loud, noisy, disruptive, but most of all creative; we have to be impolite, rude, to power; and we have to not care what they call us - because they will call us all sorts of things - but keep on going anyway.

Look, this has all been rather rambling, based on some things I threw together about 3am one morning. And I know I haven't offered any concrete proposals, proposed any specific actions, which is because I don't have any to offer although I would cite Democracy Spring as one recent example. What I want to press home, the whole point of this is to press home, is that if we actually believe in this political revolution, if we actually want to see, in that wonderful Biblical phrase that Martin Luther King quoted in his I Have a Dream speech, if we want to see "justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream," if we actually believe what we say, then it's time we looked beyond the next primary, beyond the convention, beyond November, beyond political candidates, beyond voting, and ask ourselves "What  now? And what then?"

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