Tag Archives: Progressive Politics

Strategies for progressive politics

Reflections on the progressive path forward

Reflections on the progressive path forward. 

The 2018 mid-term election was an astounding repudiation of Donald Trump, and an affirmation of a progressive alternative for the United States. A Democratic Party that has clearly moved to the Left on issues across the board – no doubt stimulated by the efforts of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, in particular – achieved historic gains that were only limited by the extreme gerrymandering that the Republicans have instituted following their successes in 2010. And these clearly remain serious structural impediments to further progressive politics, to a consideration of which I will turn shortly. 

But we can be particularly excited by the racial, cultural, and gender diversity of the “class of 18.” And this achievement itself was built upon the most significant fact of all, namely the unprecedented politicization and mobilization of vast sectors of the electorate, across the country, a mobilization without precedent in modern American history. So many from all walks of life have come to realize that basic aspects of our culture and institutions – including much that we had always simply taken for granted as the gift of “American exceptionalism” – because “God had shed His grace” on us – were not guaranteed, and were directly threatened by the Trump Administration and its transformation of the Republican Party into a willing vehicle of a burgeoning American neo-Fascism. 

In the truly national scope and sustained action of this popular mobilization lies the basis of the exciting electoral success. And in the sustaining and expanding of this unprecedented national mobilization lies the hope and possibility of effectively advancing a progressive agenda that can reclaim American politics through the national elections of 2020, the consequent state-by-state redistricting, and thus for years thereafter.   

Therein resides our legitimate excitement, our organizational challenge, and our potential strategic trap. And it is to that potential “trap” that I want to address the better part of these remarks. For we are engaged in a long-term struggle with the forces of reaction, which, unfortunately, are all too strong across America – as attested to by Trump’s continued support at around 40%. We must build and expand the national constituency for progressive politics. And we must not alienate significant dimensions of that national mobilization by overplaying our hand. We must avoid getting carried away by some of the most remarkable progressive successes, mostly in the liberal bastions of many locations – but not all – in the Northeast, mid-West and West Coast, for example, thus playing into the hands of reaction. 

Let me explicate this challenge by drawing on a few excellent points developed by Michael Tomasky in the current issue of the New York Review of Books to which we need to pay careful attention. He first correctly draws the following two key takeaways from the recent election: 1) the necessity for the Democrats to increasingly mobilize their base to counter the Trumpian mobilization; and 2) the need to address the increasingly dramatic split between, on the one hand, the expanding urban and suburban base of the Democratic electorate and, on the other hand, its drastically shrinking support in small town and rural Americas, the base of the Trumpian Republican Party. 

Here, Tomasky observes that “there is no clearer sign of the changing shape of the Democratic coalition than the fact that going into the 2018 midterm elections, six of the 20 richest congressional districts were represented by Republicans but that when the new Congress is sworn in, all 20 will be represented by Democrats…. But by 2020, the Democrats will have to find ways to improve their performance in exurban and rural areas. This is not only for the sake of defeating Trump, but also to have any chance of recapturing the Senate.” 

Here, “a look at the Beto O’Rourke’s defeat in Texas, compared with Sherrod Brown’s victory in increasingly Republican Ohio, … is instructive.” While O’Rourke only lost by “around 220,000 votes out of 8.33 million cast, (he) carried just thirty-two of the state’s 254 counties, … (he) got walloped (in most of the rest). For example, … in six of the seven counties that surround (the city of Fort Worth), Cruz won 54, 68, 76, 80, 81, and 82 percent. And he won 70 or 80 percent of the vote in dozens of the smaller rural counties.” In contrast, Brown was victorious by being able to keep his deficit in similar rural and small town Ohio to around 60%.

Tomasky then observes that “the electoral consequences should be clear. Consider the Senate map of 2020. Thirty-four senators will face reelection (except for those who choose to retire). Of those, twenty-three will be Republicans, and just eleven Democrats. That sounds favorable to Democrats, but if you look closer, about fourteen of the Republicans represent deep-red states where they should cruise to reelection. The other seven will not be easy to flip. The fattest target is probably Maine incumbent Susan Collins. Maine just elected a Democratic governor, who is also the state’s first female governor. But beating an incumbent senator is always hard (though some believe Collins may retire). The other states where Democrats may have a shot include Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, and Texas. Donald Trump carried five of those six. All have major cities, but all are states where it’s hard to win by carrying only the most populous counties and doing poorly in the rural ones.”

“As for the presidency,” Tomasky continues, “there are a number of states—the Great Lakes states, North Carolina, Florida, and even Arizona and Georgia—where the pro-Trump vote in the rural counties will be so amped up that the Democrat, while winning the big counties, will have a tough time overcoming it.“

While not exploring the causes of this electoral divide, which bears on the political and economic failures of both parties over the last 50 years, to which I will turn shortly, Tomasky offers the following “stunning statistics. The United States has experienced three recessions since 1990(:) … after the early 1990s recession, 71 percent of the new business growth occurred in counties with fewer than 500,000 people (and within that, 32 percent in counties with fewer than 100,000 people). After the 2002–2003 recession, that 71 percent shrank to 51 percent. And after the Great Recession of 2007–2009, the number was 19 percent—and in counties under 100,000 growth was literally zero.That is a crisis. It’s at the root of the opioid epidemic, and it’s why so many young people leave these towns.” And those most recent numbers happened under the neo-Liberal Obama Administration. This highlights one of the central reasons these regions are so desperate for change, and so angry at all political establishments, but especially those they see as aligned with urban cosmopolitan interests and values, which they primarily identify with the Democrats.

There is so much more than can and should be said about the causes and scope of this problem which I cannot address here, except to note that this economic situation and political divide is a direct result of the process of Neo-Liberal Globalization that has dominated the Western World since at least the arrival of Thatcher and Reagan. And it has had similar results across the “advanced West,” not to speak of its more global consequences. For example, it is the essential background for the almost unprecedented nation-wide mobilization of the French people against the Neo-Liberal policies of the Macron Administration, that has effectively brought that government to its knees.

But I only want to underline here the fact that a progressive Democratic program, if it is to be successful, must begin to address this economic and cultural divide. And to do that, it must break from the Neo-LIberal orthodoxy of its Clinton-Obama establishment, that has left behind so much of America. Here, Tomasky highlights “the Democrats’ two big electoral tasks as they head into 2020: to invest in maximizing turnout among their base voters in cities and diverse suburbs, and to take steps to ensure that they can become more competitive in the exurbs and the countryside. These goals may seem as though they contradict each other, but they need not; both constituencies would be open to an agenda emphasizing public investments that help middle- and working-class people. There will be some tension on cultural issues, and Democrats shouldn’t go overboard in pandering for rural votes. After all, they’re not trying win those areas; just to perform about 10 or 15 points better—at Sherrod Brown’s levels rather than Beto O’Rourke’s.”

But here’s where the “trap” of potential Left-wing overreach emerges. The danger that the Left will get carried away with its political enthusiasm and ideological rhetoric. I think of talk I have heard that speaks of an ascendant Left that should direct the Democrat’s national program. Or a recent program of MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” for example, on which Lawrence O’Donnell assembled a panel of “experts” to propound that Trump’s most recent series of tweets makes it incumbent on the New Democratic House of Representatives that they immediately begin impeachment proceedings. However desirable both of these goals may well be, they overreach the currently politically possible, and threaten to energize a popular backlash.

Just to note two salient points from the 2018 election in support of this caution. First, a significant majority of the Democrats’ 40 seat shift in the House of Representatives was accomplished with quite narrow electoral margins. Several were not even decided for several weeks. Second, as Michael Tomasky points out – a fact too many Left-wing advocates have ignored – “left-wing candidates did not do well overall in this election. The three major left-wing groups that endorsed candidates this year flipped no House seats from red to blue, while the more centrist New Dem PAC flipped twenty-eight seats.” To which he adds, challengingly, “what the Democrats will need in 2020, far more than a candidate of the left, or for that matter of the avowed center, is one who can withstand what will undoubtedly be the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign in the country’s modern history and provide the clearest moral contrast to the incumbent.”

He then concludes, quite on the mark as far as I am concerned, “the party now has the power to hold Trump and his administration accountable. They shouldn’t overreach and carry on about impeachment. Removing Trump from office would require the assent of about twenty Republican senators and is therefore basically impossible. They should just expose the corruption through holding aggressive oversight hearings and trust the American people to reach the right conclusion. Trump’s partisans are fierce, but the election showed that they are, however narrowly, outnumbered.”

So where is the danger of overreach? Clearly any attempt to immediately move for impeachment, for which much of the Country is clearly not ready, and on which platform few successful Democrats ran, would not be well received. Before any such effort might become practicable, there will need to be an ongoing series of quite legitimate public investigations by the New Democratic House, plus continual revelations by the Justice Department. That might “soften up” the terrain for an impeachment inquiry. But that’s at best down the road. 

Even more challenging and potentially destructive in the short run, is the emerging progressive strategy to advance a Green New Deal. Clearly, such a program can embody an exciting vision of a potentially transformative progressive program to address both the challenge of global warming and offer an effective alternative to that Neo-LIberal abandonment of large sections of American society. It is essential, of course, that we have such a program – and develop a consequent movement – to promote the comprehensive structural changes in the US economy that addresses both the profound dangers to civilization posed by Global Warming, and the vast destabilizing income inequalities and regional disparities that have been caused by Neo-Liberal Globalization. Let me be quite clear about that.

At the same time, however, the proposed Green New Deal, embodies a practical trap of political overreach for the Democratic Party, driven by an excited progressive movement that is well ahead of where much of the Country is at present. The danger is that the excitement of electoral successes and the real need of systemic change, will drive ideologically committed progressives to mistake a necessary directional goal for a non-révisable and achievable short-term political program. That is to make a two-fold basic strategic error, one methodological, and one political.

Methodologically, it is to mistake a projected and necessary end-in-view with the short term programs that can begin to move us in the desired direction. An end-in-view should be seen, not as a final goal that we are to insist be imposed upon our politics here and now. Rather, it should be seen as a “means to present action.” It is a necessary marker of a direction for our politics to take. It sets forth a needed theoretical frame and political direction to guide our short-term policies and programs. As we proceed with their practical implementation, reality itself is changed, and that will inevitably require us to continually revise and update our guiding vision and its on-going practical enactment.

Politically, the way that that general methodological point bears upon the present situation, is that presentation of, and the consequent public campaign on behalf of, a Green New Deal will not only direct present programs, but can begin to raise public consciousness and to move the public debate. Thus it can increasingly gain the support of increasingly wider sections of the public, thus making its radical programs more palatable to the general public. This is a campaign of several years duration, similar to that that was begun about a decade ago on behalf of Medicare For All, which campaign has now achieved far more general popular acceptance. 

These remarks may not sit well with some of my progressive allies, who I feel may have fallen in love with their own rhetoric and have confused their quite legitimate hopes for a decent America with the practical limitations placed on current poltical possibilities by the vast, complex, and diverse makeup of the American electorate, and the structural impediments to implementing systemic progressive economic, racial, and social transformation. It is, of course, quite essential to hold to that vision, and to try to effectively advance it as much as possible. But we have learnt in these last few years, if we needed that education, that any short term gains can easily be completely undone if we cannot secure a lasting base, both ideological and structural, for progressive politics through 2020 and beyond. And we must acknowledge the current limitations of national support for the complete progressive agenda to which even the remarkable nation-wide popular mobilization and electoral success are convincing testimony. 

“In our increasingly polarized environment, success is not had by moving to the vanishing center and trying to appease the “moderates,” but by energizing and mobilizing … our base to turn out to vote. And that requires attractive candidates that can present programs that speak to the concerns of their constituents. But … this is a large and diverse nation, and that what will speak to their constituents’ issues and concerns, and in a language that communicates, will be significantly different in different parts of the country.” Back Bay Boston is not Southern California. Queens and The Bronx are not Colorado, Arizona, or even Western Pennsylvania.

We have a remarkable opportunity to turn back Trumpian incipient neo-Fascism, and to begin building a progressive future. This is actually a life and death struggle to preserve even a modified democratic future for this country. It is a vital struggle. We must be careful not to overplay our hand and screw it up.

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My public talks currently scheduled for 2018

Public Talks for 2018

“American Philosophy: it’s originality, and practicality, from progressive education to science, law, and democracy.” Gold Coast Library, 1/17 7pm.
There is much that is unique about the development of the United States of America, as well as much that is not. Original visions have struggled with quite traditional values and attitudes throughout our history. American Philosophy, in giving voice to the possibilities of America has made original contributions to Western Philosophy, developing our ideals while critically analyzing our limitations. Touching on a wide range of areas, from education and politics, to religion and science, we will provide a perspective on this development, and suggest some of the fault lines that mark contemporary experience.

“Making Sense of Recent Elections: what can we learn from the unexpected election results in America, Britain, and elsewhere?” South Huntington Library, 1/24 7pm
First the British vote to withdraw from the European Union, then the American election of Donald Trump startled experts and deranged established political expectations and institutions. Similar forces have seemed to be at work at other European countries, though with modified results. What are we to make of these election results, and what do they portend for the future of Western liberal democracies? These are the kind of issues we will seek to address.

“Trump’s America: what is its vision, program, and the nature of its support.” Gold Coast Library, 2/7 at 7pm
We will explore the significance for America of the election of Donald Trump. What were the conditions that laid the groundwork for his election? Who voted for him, and why? And what are the possible consequences?

“Fantasyland: Reflections on America’s Character and Culture”
3 lectures at Hutton House, LIU Wednesdays 2/14-28 from 1-3pm.
In these Reflections on America’s Character and Culture, we will explore:
Who we are. The cultures, ethnicities, and belief systems that have built the U.S. How we developed. Some of the major challenges we have faced, and how we addressed them. Our growth, expansion, and Manifest Destiny. The emergence of the “cultural Cold War” that has come to dominate our politics. The Trump phenomena. And the divergent paths now before us.

“Manifest Destiny and the Meaning of America: thinking about our history and its contemporary relevance.” Syosset Library, 3/1 at 2pm.
Americans have always believed that we are an exceptional people. From the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock, seeking to build “a city upon a hill” that all the world would view as an example of how all should live, through the 19th Century notion that we had a “manifest destiny” to occupy the entire North American continent “from sea to shining sea.” As a nation, we continue to believe “that God shed his Grace on thee.” We joined WW1 “to save the world for democracy,” and continue to believe that we are the beacons of “The Free World,” with an obligation and responsibility to preserve the values that have made us great. What is that belief system? What are its origins? How has it operated to guide our history? And what are its implications for us as a nation today? These are the issues I hope to address.

“The American Dream: what it means and what are its prospects.” Elmont Memorial Library, 4/6 12:30 pm
Since its inception, one of the central meanings of America has been the opportunity to make something of one’s life. America offered the promise, and quite often the reality, of a continually improving standard of living for oneself and for one’s children. This sense of individual possibility, rooted in personal freedom and basic human rights became a beacon for people across the world. That became the wider significance of the claim that we were « as a city upon a hill » for all the world to see what life could become. In recent times, however, this vision has become increasingly uncertain. What has been happening to the American Dream? Why is that? And what can we do about it?

On The Russian Investigation

I am concerned and even saddened to see the way many long-term leftists, often with quite reputable histories, joining the chorus of those treating claims of Russian interference in our recent election as “fake news,” or only as a conspiracy of foreign policy Hawks to reignite the Cold War, or but an attempt by the Democratic Establishment to explain its electoral defeat and justify its continuing policies and hold on power. For example, the left-wing Real News Network speaks of Trump’s “One Good Policy” in criticizing ongoing efforts to investigate both the Trump campaign and now the Trump Administration. Such analyses often go so far as to justify their position by documenting US interference in the elections of other countries.

But regardless of past — and probably continuing — US interference in other countries (which should be addressed on its own terms) — the public is right to insist upon a full investigation and action to impede as much as possible any future Russian interference for many reasons, not the least of which is the preservation of what’s left of US democracy.

But more to the immediate point, such investigation is crucial to the mobilization of sufficient Republican opposition to the Trump Administration, which alone in the short run can incapacitate it from its destructive political path (and I’m quite confident that there’s a vast Mafiaesque corrupt underbelly that Trump will do almost anything to protect).

Unfortunately, there is no way in the US constitutional system to remove an Administration, as there is in parliamentary systems, so the best that we can do is incapacitate them, push Trump to further outrageous actions, and mobilize an opposition that hopefully!!!! can be electorally successful in 2017, 18, & 2020 — in spite of the immense power of the yet to be fully unleashed financial power, an empowered right-wing media and the growing right-wing influence on the courts. And that will of necessity require us to a limited extent to make common cause with people whose politics on a wide-range of other issues may be anathema to ours. We must appreciate the very palpable fact that our democratic institutions hang by a thread, and all who care about those institutions should NOT contribute to undermining the most effective and potentially successful opposition to the Trump Administration that a mobilized populace can bring about.

The dangers for Progressives in Prioritizing an Anti-Racism Strategy

The dangers for Progressives in Prioritizing an Anti-Racism Strategy

The following brief comment has come to my attention, one of many that has emerged as a response to the recent election, that argues that Progressives must place in the forefront of its program an anti-racism strategy. While addressing problems of racial discrimination remains a vital necessity, I believe that prioritizing anti-racism, while morally satisfying, is a losing strategy for the Left. I’m sure my position is quite controversial among Progressives, and I intend to spell it out in greater detail in the near future. But here, I present that brief statement, followed by my response, in the hope of generating constructive dialogue.

The brief statement:

“The central strategic argument is that colorblind struggles against class inequality and class-blind struggles against racism are both doomed to fail. For the sake of ending racism, it’s essential to have good class politics — both for strategic reasons (it’s necessary to amass the movements needed to actually beat racism) as well as substantive ones (undoing class inequality would help undo many, although certainly not all, of the material underpinnings of racism). But it’s just as true that ending class inequality in the United States requires good antiracist politics. History bears this out. The struggle of black people against racism in the United States has, for decades, been an explosive source of energy and initiative for the class struggle more broadly. The civil rights struggle of the 1950s and ’60s sparked a variety of other left-wing social movements and increased the size and militancy of many trade unions, especially in the public sector.”

My Response:
To my mind, the civil rights struggle of the 50s and 60s was not against racism, but against segregation, esp in public accommodations, and for the right to vote. MLK said it well when he said that he was not focused on white people’s attitudes, but on their behavior. It was not how they “feel” about black people, but how they “act” with respect to them, especially in matters of political and economic rights. I think that point remains critical. Racism is a moral judgement of peoples character and attitudes, as well as a moral indictment of those people. But how do you know how people feel? Can one even be so sure about how one feels? But you can be pretty sure that such charges will not be well received, and will place the targets of such charges on the defensive, and much less likely to be prepared to listen to you and to work with you. But it is not their feelings that should be the object of public policy. Those are matters for psychotherapy. Our job is to mobilize the public — to build a movement — to effect changes in public policy. And we should not begin by attacking needed allies, and calling them names. That’s why I think it is important to clearly distinguish claims of racism from education about the structural disadvantages occasioned by race, by racial policies both intentional and unintentional, or unappreciated, as is obviously the case in housing segregation so well documented by Ta-Nahisi Coates in his article on Reparations in the Atlantic magazine. We need to build an inclusive progressive movement that can speak to the serious concerns of all Americans who have been systematically undermined by prevailing Neo-Liberal economic policies.

Don’t be Deluded into Voting for the Green Party.

Don’t be Deluded into Voting for the Green Party.

Being a party to discussions among disaffected Bernie supporters or Green Party advocates is like living in an alternate universe. They act as if there is no significant difference between Hillary Clinton and the Democratic program and Donald Trump and the Republican program. And they claim that their vote for the Green Party will make an important statement about their rejection of mainstream politics, thus advancing their vision of a progressive agenda. When pressed on these issues, they often make the claim that if enough of those similarly disaffected can be reached by their campaign, Jill Stein has a chance of being elected. To be quite precise, I heard Jill Stein make precisely that claim at this year’s Left Forum, and Cornell West made the same claim on a recent Bill Maher program.

Besides the evident absurdity of that claim – by any realistic assessment, she would be “lucky” to obtain 5% of the vote, and most likely will be closer to 2-3% — one must wonder at the purposes hidden behind their absurd claim. Cornell, for example, is far too intelligent not to know that what he is saying is absurd. So one can reasonably wonder at the psychological motivations hidden behind his expressed views. But speculation about such psychological motivations are beyond my immediate concern. What could possibly be a rational argument for voting for the Greens? One would have to believe that there is no significant difference between electing Trump or Clinton, or that the Green “protest vote” will significantly influence the future behavior of American politics. But is either position tenable?

One might argue that Nader’s 2000 campaign did influence the future of American politics, but only by denying Gore the Presidency. That certainly did not advance progressive politics, but it did give us the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq war, and the Right-wing Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United and the evisceration of the Voting Rights act, to mention just a few of the most obvious results. Just think of the difference in future Supreme Court nominees between a Clinton and Trump administration, to understand the inevitable disaster that could be awaiting us.

As for the United States Green Party providing a progressive alternative to anything, that belief flies in the face of everything that the Green Party has actually done over the last 50 years. They talk a good game, but they do not do anything effective. I have for years watched them operate on Long Island, and they spend their time attacking “the System” and the Democratic and Working Families Parties as “sell-outs” – while rarely ever attacking the Republicans. But they devote little energy to building an effective political party on a day-to-day basis. Only mobilizing energy in political campaigns where they can run a candidate “to the left” of Democrats in districts where the Democrats could beat the Republicans, thus effectively drawing support away from the Democrats. The best that can be said of those campaigns is that they have been historically totally ineffective. Other than that, they engage in random and almost universally random acts of ineffective protest, but have had no significant influence on the political process and are generally not paid any attention to. I can think of no significant policy result to which they have contributed, even the successful opposition to fracking in NYS was accomplished primarily by more “establishment” opposition, such as that of the WFP, Citizen Action, the Sierra Club, etc. I could go on at length about the destructive nation of the Green Party – which talks a progressive game, but only effectively weakens the progressive movement – but I will rather reproduce a recent article from The Nation Magazine which does an effective job in making the national case against supporting the Green Party from one who used to be a member.

Your Vote for Jill Stein Is a Wasted Vote

If you want to join a party that has no chance of effecting progressive change, the Greens are for you!

By Joshua Holland

The Nation, SEPTEMBER 21, 2016

If the last three presidential elections are any guide, 75 to 90 percent of those who say that they’re planning to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November won’t follow through. Yes, there are some dedicated Green voters, but much of the party’s support is an expression of contempt for the Democrats that evaporates in the voting booth. I’m a registered independent and a supporter of the Working Families Party, and my disdain for the Greens springs from my own experience with the party. I agree with much of the Greens’ platform, but when I went to Green Party meetings, I found a wildly disorganized, mostly white group that was riven with infighting, strategically inept, and organized around a factually flawed analysis of American politics. There are effective Green parties in Europe, but ours is a hot mess. And while the Greens’ bold ideas are attractive, what’s the point of wasting one’s time and energy on such a dysfunctional enterprise?

The Green Party claims to have “at least” 137 members in elected office. That might sound respectable, but that’s 43 fewer than it had in 2003. And there’s a reason that number is shrinking: The Greens focus the lion’s share of their limited resources on getting their quixotic presidential campaigns on the ballot rather than on building the party from the bottom up. One could argue that running presidential campaigns earns candidates like Stein and David Cobb (for whom I voted in 2004, in a safe state) more media attention, but that hasn’t resulted in a growing number of seats for the Greens. The hyper-local Working Families Party, which backed 111 candidates in New York State alone last year—71 of whom were successful—makes headlines by winning fights over things like minimum-wage hikes and school funding rather than running symbolic presidential campaigns.

The Green Party’s primary pitch to voters on the left is that there still isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties. When Ralph Nader made that claim in 2000, there was a kernel of truth to it. Today, that claim requires a great deal of dishonesty to make. By every measure, Democrats and Republicans have moved toward their respective ideological poles since the 1990s. According to Pew Research, since 2011, the most conservative Democrat on Capitol Hill has still been more liberal than the most liberal Republican, based on their aggregate voting records. It’s also true of the Democratic base—according to Pew, the share of Democrats who hold “mostly or consistently liberal” views almost doubled between 1994 and 2014. And it’s true of the 2016 party platform, which Bernie Sanders, among others, hailed as the most progressive in the party’s history. Today’s low-information voter is as likely to be aware of the major-party candidates’ differences as a highly engaged voter was in the mid-1970s.

You might notice that Greens tend to steer the conversation away from the myriad issues—health care, education, abortion, gun control, climate change, and on and on—where the Democrats and Republicans are diametrically opposed, and toward foreign policy and national security, where there really is significant overlap between the major parties’ policies. I agree with the Greens on many of those issues. But they’re not sufficient to substantiate the claim that there’s no difference between the Democrats and Republicans at all.

And the Greens’ critique of the Democrats is often unmoored from reality. Stein goes beyond (rightly) criticizing the Obama administration’s strategy in the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras by charging that then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave it “a thumbs-up.” (Not only did the US oppose the coup, American embassy personnel tried to talk Honduran military officials out of it.) During her 2012 campaign, Stein consistently claimed that the 2009 stimulus plan “was mostly tax breaks for the wealthy.” The truth is that tax breaks accounted for 38 percent of the plan, a majority of them targeted toward low- and middle-income households. That’s not criticism from the left; it’s a dishonest, scorched-earth campaign against the only party that can keep Republicans out of the White House. (And if you think that Stein wouldn’t have attacked Bernie Sanders with the same vigor if he were the nominee, then it’s a safe bet you’ve never attended a Green Party meeting. Remember that the Greens ran candidates against Ralph Nader in both 2004 and ’08.)

Two disastrous wars and a few Wall Street–precipitated recessions have helped push the Democratic Party leftward. Demographic changes in the electorate have made it less reliant on courting white swing voters. But the shift in the party was in large part a result of tireless work by the Democrats’ own base, passionate progressives who pushed the party to change.

Many Greens think that their vote isn’t wasted because it sends a powerful “message” to Washington. But why would anyone in power pay attention to the 0.36 percent of the popular vote that Jill Stein won in 2012, when 42 percent of eligible voters just stayed home? Political parties are merely vessels. The Green Party provides a forum to demonstrate ideological purity and contempt for “the system.” But the Democratic Party is a center of real power in this country. For all its flaws, and for all the work still to be done, it offers a viable means of advancing progressive goals. One can’t say the same of the perpetually dysfunctional and often self-marginalizing Greens.

The Sanders Endorsement and the Political Revolution

I have chosen to reproduce the following article by Robert Borosage because it beautifully sets forth the context within which we need to understand what’s involved in building an effective political movement that can bring systemic progressive social change to the United States. Building a movement cannot be done overnight, nor by the election of any one person, no matter how intelligent, dedicated, visionary, and honest. And it can not be successful simply by believing, and evening advocating, the most ideal policies. It requires working cooperatively with a wide range of allies, effectively addressing the concerns and needs of its actual and potential constituencies, creating and linking together an effective web of progressive organizations, and building one’s supporters into the institutional fabric of the society in a way that provides them with the power to bring about the desired systemic progressive social change.

What is most dangerous for the building of that truly effective social movement, is the siren song of those who advocate the ideal progressive programs and will refuse to work with any groups or individuals who do not share their “correct”agenda. The best and most dangerous version of that for building the progressive movement that we desperately need are those who say “Bernie or Bust,” for then, bust it will be. Even more destructive are those who follow Jill Stein and the Green Party, and by so doing drain vital support from the forces for effective progressive change. We will no doubt suffer for years to come, in untold ways, for the disaster perpetrated on the US — and on the world — by Nader’s destructive 2000 Presidential campaign. His efforts effectively brought us, among much else, George Bush’s election, the Iraq invasion, the Bush tax cuts, the Citizens United Supreme Court, and the Great Recession of 2008. That will be Nader’s enduring legacy. We must not let it happen again. And well meaning progressive idealists must not confuse their ideals with the effective policies that can build a progressive political movement. Fortunately, Bernie Sanders understands that quite well. So must we all.    Here’s Borosage’s article.

“The Sanders Endorsement and the Political Revolution

Even as Bernie Sanders was endorsing Hillary Clinton Tuesday in New Hampshire, expressions of dismay and outrage from his supporters flooded social media. Naturally, Donald Trump piled on, tweeting that Bernie Sanders “has totally sold out to corrupt Hillary Clinton,” and that his supporters are “not happy that he is selling out.”

Those gathering under #selloutsanders are, of course, a small minority of activists. Polls show that 85 percent of Sanders voters are ready to support Hillary Clinton, and that number will surely grow when the Democratic Convention launches her formal candidacy. But the sentiment is real. The Sanders insurgency was fueled by a revolt against the big-money politics that Clinton personifies. Clinton delivered one of her most populist speeches in response to the Sanders endorsement, but doubts about her commitments are widespread, even among those intending to vote for her.

Sanders, however, did not “sell out.” His endorsement was carefully framed. He began by celebrating the extraordinary movement that grew behind his candidacy – 13 million votes, hundreds of thousands of volunteers, 2.5 million small donors, victories in 22 caucuses and primaries and 1,900 delegates. “Together, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution continues. Together, we continue the fight to create a government which represents all of us, and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

Sanders has it right. It will take a political revolution to transform our politics, revive our democracy, and make government the instrument of the many and not just the few. That is not a task of one campaign or one presidency. The movement has to build – in fits and starts, waves and tides – over time. And Sanders is right: The next step in building that movement is defeating Donald Trump and electing Hillary Clinton as president.

The Movement Must Work To Crush Trump

Populist movements in this country have often floundered on the shoals of race and nativism. The established are quick to play on racial division or fears of the other to divide working and poor people. The South perfected this politics, but it works, sometimes with greater subtlety, across the nation and across party lines. Clinton fended off Sanders’ surge in part by contrasting her social liberalism – “breaking down barriers” for people of color and women – with what she termed Sanders’ “single issue” focus on the economy. Sanders succeeded in winning the majority of votes of African Americans under 30, but the political revolution has work to do to consolidate a powerful multiracial movement for fundamental change.

Thrashing Donald Trump is the next step in that process. Trump has risen as a fake populist, preying on racial and nativist fears. His slurs against Mexican immigrants, Moslems, blacks and women are classic, if raw, politics of division. His bet is that he can profit from consolidating the votes of white working and middle-class men by stoking their fears and anger.

The Sanders political revolution – the activists, the volunteers, the young, the independents looking for a new politics – have to be central to making November a resounding rejection of the politics of division. There is no way to consolidate a broad multi-racial populist majority without standing up shoulder to shoulder with the people of color who are the targets of Trump’s venom. It is not enough that Trump is beaten; he needs to be routed, repudiated. And that can only happen with the energy of the movement that Sanders has helped to build.

Fighting on Our Agenda

For the movement, there is a profound difference between a Clinton presidency and a Trump presidency. One needn’t harbor hopes that there is a populist Superwoman hidden beneath Hillary Clinton’s Clark Kent pantsuits to see this.

If Trump is president, Republicans surely control the House and most likely the Senate. They set the agenda. We will spend the next four years fighting against reaction – austerity budgets, massive increases in defense spending, attacks on choice, civil rights, environmental protection. They’ll seek to repeal Obamacare, financial reform and President Obama’s climate initiatives. As Sanders noted, Trump carries the right’s agenda – against the minimum wage, against extending Medicaid, denial of climate change and more. And of course, there is the Supreme Court.

The populist movement will be forced to fight battles that have already been won, to defend half-measures – like Dodd-Frank financial reform and Obamacare – from getting rolled back. In those defensive battles, virtually every Democrat looks like a hero. Against the nightmare, even the dimmest bulb seems like a dawn. Corporate Democrats gain cheap grace by standing up boldly for Dodd Frank or Obamacare. The space for left alternatives – and for education about those alternatives – virtually disappears.

If Clinton is president, the political revolution will not have won. But we will fight on our agenda – sometimes with and sometimes against the president. Sanders made that clear in his endorsement, focusing on the promises exacted from Clinton in the course of the campaign and the platform fights: a $15 minimum wage, commitment to rebuild America, further health care reform – opt-in to Medicare at 55, a public option, Medicare empowered to negotiate bulk discounts on prescription drugs, a more than doubling of resources for community health care centers, progressive tax reform, tuition-free college for over 80 percent of students, action on climate change, comprehensive immigration reform, reform of our broken criminal justice system. Clinton responded by pledging to push for populist reforms, including opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Clinton will be looking to cut deals with Republicans, and her foreign policy team is likely to be an utterly terrifying combination of neo-conservative and indispensable nation interventionists.

But the terrain of the debate will shift. The Sanders movement can challenge Clinton when needed – beginning with Obama’s lame, lame-duck session attempt to cram through the TPP, challenging Clinton appointments if she seeks to revive the Wall Street-Washington revolving door, exposing the tax bribe to global corporations to gain funds for infrastructure investment, etc. Clinton will forward an increase in the minimum wage; the Sanders movement can demand $15.00 and push for it in states and localities across the country. She’ll call for paid family leave and paid sick days; the Sanders movement can support, and push at the state and local level. The political revolution can challenge any backsliding the promise for tuition free education or real action on climate change. It can join with her to push comprehensive immigration reform and criminal justice reform.

In these battles, the difference between the Wall Street wing of the party and the Sanders-Warren wing of the party will be stark. The political revolution can challenge corporate Democrats, and create space for real populists to challenge them. The battles will help deepen the understanding of Americans about the core issues at stake.

Time to Build

A Clinton presidency will be a reform presidency, but it won’t be nirvana. She’ll have no mandate for the radical economic changes this country needs. She’ll face a Republican Party, hopefully chastened, but certainly rabid in its hatred for her. The tepid economic recovery is already slowing. There is no sign that Clinton’s predilection for intervention abroad has been sobered by experience. In 2020, the reapportionment election year, the Republican money establishment will gear up for a swing election, a reaction that could consolidate their hold on state legislatures and statehouses.

The political revolution that fueled the Sanders campaign must continue to build. It must use the battles during Clinton’s first term to deepen popular understanding, to consolidate a multi-racial movement, to reach out to disaffected working and poor people to show there is an alternative – and it is not on the right. It has to mobilize to demonstrate that business as usual cannot continue. The massive, non-violent demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter illustrates what can be done. The entrenched interests must be challenged frontally, uncomfortably, so they too understand that something must be done. The political revolution can then capture the energy for change to challenge those in both parties who are standing in the way.

Sanders has it right: The next step is to work to ensure that Donald Trump is routed in 2016, and to use the Democratic platform as the minimum standard that all Democratic candidates must endorse. Sanders isn’t selling out; he is staying in, loyal to the political revolution that he has helped to build.”

Bernie Sanders, Labor, Ideology and the Future of American Politics

The following is a superb article by Bob Master, Legislative and Political Director for CWA District One of the Communications Workers of America and a co-chair of the New York State Working Families Party. I thought it deserves wide distribution.

Bernie Sanders, Labor, Ideology and the Future of American Politics

by  Bob Master

The Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, contrary to all expectation, has become the most important left insurgency in the United States in nearly half a century. A year ago, even his most optimistic supporters might have hoped that Sanders would enliven the presidential debates by challenging Hillary Clinton on issues of Wall Street power and big money corruption, and perhaps garner a quarter to a third of the primary vote. Instead, Sanders won primaries and caucuses in 23 states, and amassed over 12 million votes and nearly 43% of the pledged delegates. And all this while unapologetically and unabashedly proclaiming himself a “democratic socialist,” re-legitimizing a systemic critique of US capitalism for the first time since the one-two punch of Cold War reaction and neoliberal triumphalism froze the left out of mainstream American discourse two generations ago.

The power of Big Banks, job-killing trade deals, ending the corrosive influence of big money in elections, eliminating private insurance companies from the health care system, and the merits of a “political revolution” became staples of prime-time presidential debates. Once stunning poll numbers now seem commonplace: 43% of Iowa caucus goers, including roughly a third of Clinton supporters, describing themselves as “socialists”; a New York Times poll late last year which said that 56% of Democratic primary voters had a “positive view of socialism;” and Sanders’ overwhelming support among young voters, by margins as high as 84% in Iowa and New Hampshire, but even reaching the low 60s in states like South Carolina, where he was otherwise crushed. Indeed, Sanders’ remarkable popularity among “millennials” prompted John Della Volpe, the director of a long-running Harvard University poll of young people, to tell the Washington Post that Sanders is “not moving a party to the left. He’s moving…the largest generation in the history of America…to the left.”[1] Something significant is definitely going on.

At this writing, just after the California primary, it appears virtually certain that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and despite her historically high unfavorable ratings, she is likely to defeat Donald Trump in the November election. But the unexpected breadth and fervor of the Sanders movement signifies that the shifts in US political discourse engendered by the financial collapse of 2008 and the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 are enduring. Bernie Sanders did not produce this moment—after all, he has been saying literally the exact same things about American society for over 40 years. But as in any movement moment, when the zeitgeist shifts and a leader’s vision gives voice to the hopes of tens of millions of people, the unthinkable suddenly becomes possible.

Despite its enormous promise, the movement has displayed critical limitations. Although Sanders worked hard to enrich his campaign’s analysis and message on issues of concern to people of color, the primacy he gave to questions of class, economic inequality and corporate power evidently prevented many African-Americas and Latinos from seeing themselves in his campaign. This is confounding given that African-Americans were especially hard hit by the ravages of the neoliberal, trickle-down economics Sanders attacks. Black family wealth, already only a fraction of their white counterparts, was halved after Wall Street melted down in 2008, and poor people of color were disproportionately victimized by the predatory loans which fed Wall Street’s speculative bond machine.

But African-American primary voters overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton. One leading Pennsylvania African-American faith leader explained to me that many black voters, especially older women, viewed their support for Hillary as upholding a “social contract” that was forged in 2008: after they abandoned Hillary for Obama that year, it was understood that eight years later she would have “her turn.” Younger activists of color, even some who support Sanders, say they didn’t “feel the Bern” because of his initial stumbling response to the challenges of Black Lives Matter protestors. And Michelle Alexander, who eviscerated the Clinton policy legacy in a Nation magazine article entitled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” attributed African-Americans’ 2016 allegiance to the Clintons to a widely held feeling that Bill Clinton was the first President “who actually treated black folks like they were real people, who could be viewed and treated as human beings…who actually would sit down to eat with them and sing in their church and acted like he enjoyed it, who recognized us as human beings.”[2]

Race remains at the core of the American tragedy, and the struggle for Black Lives will not be subsumed in a broader movement. The future potential of a continuing post-Sanders’ radical mobilization for economic justice, racial justice, and democracy will only be realized if it integrates the social critique and constituencies mobilized by BLM and movements for immigrant rights. The support Sanders received from leading black intellectuals, artists and elected officials, like Alexander, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Cornel West, Ben Jealous and Keith Ellison suggest that bridging the gap between the Sanders campaign and the emergent black mobilization is by no means out of the question. Here the labor movement, which despite all its flaws and limitations, remains by far the largest multi-racial institution of working people in our society, could play a crucial role in ensuring that whatever movement building effort that follows the Sanders campaign reflects the increasingly diverse face of American society.

* * *

Today’s labor movement has been largely shaped by its experiences of defeat, on multiple battlefronts over the last 30 years—at the bargaining table, in State Houses, in the courts.  In recent years, this prolonged existential crisis has bred some innovation and success, most dramatically in SEIU’s four-year old “Fight for $15 and a Union,” which has sharpened and politicized the discourse about income inequality and stagnant wages that erupted in Occupy Wall Street (not to mention delivering billions of dollars in raises to tens of millions of low-wage workers across the country).

The broad acceptance of $15 an hour as the new standard for the minimum wage – a notion that was ridiculed by many of its current proponents just two years ago—illuminates the critical power of ideas in opening up space for organizing and political and legislative advancement. When fast food workers and their supporters won the ideological battle about what constitutes an adequate minimum subsistence level of compensation, change came with surprising suddenness.

Historian Nelson Lichtenstein has written that “trade unionism requires a compelling set of ideas and institutions, both self-made and governmental, to give labor’s cause power and legitimacy. It is a political project whose success enables the unions to transcend the ethnic and economic divisions always present in the working population.”[3] But labor’s ideological breakthrough in the “Fight for $15” is an exception that proves the rule. By the time the Corporate Right fashioned its relentless and well-planned ideological and practical attack on the labor movement, starting in the mid-70s, decades of complacency and anti-communism had stripped the labor movement of its capacity to respond on an ideological plane.

In his famous letter in 1978 resigning from the “Labor—Management Group” after the Business Roundtable-sponsored filibuster buried “Labor Law Reform” in an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, UAW President Doug Fraser lamented the outbreak of a “one-sided class war” waged by a politically resurgent corporate elite. The unspoken and probably unintended implication was that class war was an alien concept to a labor movement that had come to see itself as the junior, but accepted and well-established, partner in a long term “social compact.”

Missed Opportunities

Thus, it was hardly surprising that when the Sanders campaign’s stunning success confirmed the existence of a mass base of tens of millions of Americans for a new brand of radical, oppositional politics, most of the labor leadership was unmoved. This was the legacy of three generations of labor political pragmatism, even as tens of thousands of rank and file union activists flocked to support the first politician in many years who so clearly articulated a class-based attack on the prevailing order. Sanders’ adherents are a politically diverse and sometimes contradictory group, but at the heart of his campaign lies a deeply felt rage against a political system rigged to serve the interests of Big Banks, Big Carbon and the rest of the corporate elite. This movement is instinctively supportive of the struggles of unions and working people against their employers, as evidenced in the warm welcome Verizon strikers received at Sanders rallies across New York City in the days before the New York primary.

And, as it turns out, language matters, a lot. Before the Sanders campaign, I minimized the significance of candidates or elected officials explicitly describing themselves as socialists. After all, many of the “progressives” on the New York City Council, in the NYS Legislature, and elsewhere across the country, hold views on issues that are virtually indistinguishable from Sanders’ and could be counted on as equally reliable allies and champions. But calling these views as a whole “socialism” makes explicit a critique of capitalism and its shortcomings that cannot be grasped when the word itself is absent. It suggests that the reforms for which we fight are more than just an attempt to ameliorate the ills of a market-driven society; it says that it is the very system which is the problem, and which must be changed. It begs the question of what precisely an alternative system might look like. But the invocation of “socialism” opens the social and political imagination to dreams of real alternatives. Historian Steve Fraser has written that “language, as a philosopher once put it, is the house of being.” Decades of Cold War and neoliberalism rendered the American left homeless, unable to muster the radical hope that Fraser argues was the driving force behind the great reforms of the Progressive Era and New Deal[4]. Bernie Sanders has begun to erect the scaffolding for constructing a new radical imagination.

This ideological reorientation is far more important to the possibility of reviving the labor movement than most labor leaders would acknowledge. Only such a shift offers labor the “compelling set of ideas and institutions, both self-made and governmental, [that could] give labor’s cause power and legitimacy” again. This was the missed opportunity of the 2015-2016 election cycle. As Sanders’ crowds grew across the country, and his forthright critique of trade deals, bank bailouts, and campaign finance corruption attracted millions, most of the labor leadership—ever the conscientious custodians of pragmatism—elected to “go with the frontrunner.” There were a few exceptions of course, including my union, the Communications Workers, as well as the National Nurses union, the Postal Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, later the west coast Longshore union and New York’s Nurses Association and Transport Workers Union. And Sanders succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations in shifting the national discourse in the direction of labor’s concerns, despite the lack of support from most of the labor movement. How much more seismic would his campaign have been if even a handful of other major unions had joined the cause, creating greater credibility, providing additional resources, and perhaps helping to establish, most importantly, more organic connections to workers of color. 

What’s Next?

The Sanders campaign unleashed a remarkable upsurge of decentralized, largely self-organized, progressive activism. In so doing, it kindled hopes that a post-Sanders movement could lay the foundation for a reinvigorated new left in U.S. politics, both inside and beyond the voting booth. But translating the energy, excitement and activism of a presidential campaign into a new political formation or movement will not be easy. Recent experiences confirm this—from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition to Howard Dean’s brief insurgency, to the hopes aroused by the Obama campaign. None of these endeavors actually built an independent, democratically accountable organization that could provide a durable platform for independent issue campaigns or candidacies.

The Sanders phenomenon, however, differs from these predecessors in important ways. For one thing, the radicalism of the candidate’s politics and the historical context of his candidacy—in the aftermath of one of the great global crises of capitalist legitimacy—point towards ongoing mobilization outside normal political channels. Second, the candidate himself has resolutely reinforced the necessity of building such a movement, repeating at rally after rally that the “political revolution”—those words in themselves a remarkable addition to the conventional U.S. electoral lexicon—can only be achieved through the creation of an ongoing movement. Third, the disappointment in Obama, whose campaign felt at times like a movement even if its politics were inchoate, suggests that the mistaken demobilization which followed 2008 may be avoided.

The Sanders campaign has made it possible to imagine building a movement powerful enough to end oligarchical control of our democracy, to avert the planet from climate disaster, to wrest control of the economy from the stranglehold of Wall Street, and to implement the criminal justice reforms and jobs and education programs that will begin to repair the damage inflicted by 400 years of institutionalized racism. What follows are thoughts about questions that should be considered as we enter the next phase of the Sanders movement.

1 A new national left party or a single unified organization is unlikely to emerge from the Sanders movement, but let’s build something.

The Occupy encampments changed the global political discourse, but the movement’s longer-term potential was squandered by its rejection of organization-building, an anti-leadership obsession with “horizontality,” and an aversion to program. Preoccupation with “holding space” and with decentralized direct action made it impossible to create the Occupy equivalent of SNCC or SDS—an organization that could have carried forward the anti-Wall Street mobilization even after state violence dismantled the encampments. We shouldn’t make those mistakes again.

On the other hand, some optimistic Sanders partisans express a hope that the multiple organizations and individuals which have been galvanized by the campaign can coalesce into a single new progressive organization that unites the left and takes it to a new level. But in an era when institutions from Congress to the labor movement are deeply distrusted, and when the notion of struggling towards ideological unity seems foreign, if not archaic, trying to coalesce the heterogeneous forces backing Sanders into a single organization could prove to be a daunting and possibly counterproductive project. Existing organizations will be reluctant to relinquish identities and infrastructures which have been built up over decades of work.

Our goal should be a new level of coordination on the left, in terms of both issue mobilizations and key electoral races. Sanders or key campaign leaders should convene a new “coordinating committee” comprised of the unions and other organizations which endorsed him: CWA, NNU, ATU, MoveOn, DFA, the Postal Workers and West Coast longshore union, the Working Families Party, Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America, and a host of local unions and local groups. The various self-organized networks which sprang up in support of the campaign—Labor for Bernie, People for Bernie, Millennials for Bernie—would be there. Representatives of unions and social movements, as well as leading independent of-color intellectuals and activists—including those who might not have endorsed Sanders—should be invited. These groups could provisionally unite around a limited number of national campaigns or mobilizations which would build on the progressive political momentum ignited by the Sanders campaign.

2 The question of race must be dealt with upfront.

In order to gain credibility among constituencies of color which were reluctant to back Sanders, the new formation must unify the agendas of the Occupy, Black Lives and immigration rights movements. It must prominently engage key community and political leaders of color like Representatives Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and NYC Councilmember Jumaane Williams (who led the legislative fight against “stop and frisk”), former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, and intellectuals like Michelle Alexander, who is probably the most significant intellectual influence on millennial activists, both white and black. And from the start, the post-Sanders formation must take up issues that are immediately relevant to constituencies of color—police accountability, stopping the attack on Voting Rights, or comprehensive immigration reform, to suggest just a few examples.

3 The new movement should mobilize around a limited agenda that takes on issues of economic and racial exploitation on the one hand, and the reclamation of our democracy on the other.

Such an agenda should be clearly understood as an effort to hold the new President and elected Democrats at every level accountable to the yearnings of tens of millions of Americans for racial and economic justice. This issue mobilization must begin—starting at the Democratic National Convention—by uniting forces both inside and outside the Sanders campaign to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) once and for all. This is not only the right policy, but critically important for the electoral success of the Democratic Party. So called “free trade” embodies the deep contradiction between the neoliberal bankers and technocrats, on the one side, who have dominated Democratic Party economic policy-making since the Clinton Administration, and its traditional working class base, on the other. It is also now the Party’s most vulnerable Achilles heel with white working class voters, whose sense of betrayal and economic hopelessness drive Trump’s right-wing, nationalistic populism and reduce Clinton’s support among these voters to abysmally low levels. Sanders has already pushed Clinton to rhetorical opposition to the TPP; in the run up to the convention, Sanders and Clinton should work together to extract a promise from Obama that the treaty will not be taken up in the lame duck session.

In 2009, rather than mount mass mobilizations that would have invested Obama’s “hope and change” with real progressive content, labor substituted visits to the White House for street heat. The test of the post-Sanders movement will come in 2017, when it will face the challenge of pushing Clinton to the left and charting a new political agenda for the Democratic Party. It is not hard to imagine a short list of issues around which a new left could organize. A national campaign for a Wall Street Speculation Tax to fund free public higher education or investment in tens of millions of infrastructure jobs would extend the challenge to Wall Street power that lies at the heart of Sanders’ narrative. Communities of color could be galvanized by a national campaign to restore Article 5 of the Voting Rights Act, echoing and broadening Sanders’ demand for a renewed political democracy.

And at the local level, let’s mount state-based campaigns for the public financing of elections of District Attorneys—the elected officials who are at the heart of the pitched debate about the unfairness of the criminal justice system. Such a campaign might have huge appeal to grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter. The details of the issue agenda should be vigorously debated, and I claim no monopoly on the correct answer. What is critical is trying to bring together the organizations and constituencies which supported Sanders, along with those who didn’t but also seek a leftward shift in the American political discourse, around a limited set of campaigns that can build on the gains of 2016.  By going on the offensive—and thereby defusing a likely Right-Wing counteroffensive to set the terms of debate in 2017—a broad progressive formation can redefine the national agenda around issues of race and class inequity and inaugurate a new era of progressive reform.

4 Launch a massive program of grassroots political and economic education.

In the waning decades of the 19th century, the Populist movement deployed a small army of “lecturers” who traveled across the Plains talking to farmers about issues of debt, credit, monetary policy and the power of Wall Street over their lives. This popular education helped build the mass base for a reform agenda that ultimately culminated in the sweeping changes of the New Deal. Our movement requires a similar commitment to mass popular education.

In recent years, a number of organizations have experimented with various grassroots popular education programs: Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, various affiliates of People’s Action, and my own union, the Communications Workers of America, are good examples. In the CWA, we have worked with author and activist Les Leopold to develop a participatory curriculum that explains the hyperfinancialization of the neoliberal era, and explores how those developments intersect with institutional racism. Relying on the “small group activity method,” the union has trained 60 rank and file activists—including some from allied groups like NY Citizen Action and Make the Road New York—to lead these workshops. The anti-Wall Street curriculum complements two-day Boot Camps led by the union’s national political department, which aim to develop politically aware activists at the grassroots level across the country. In Minnesota, the vibrant Fair Economy coalition has used popular education techniques to reveal the institutional connections binding together the Twin Cities ruling class. These simple exercises—using networks of string to illustrate these links—can be conducted with literally thousands of activists at a time. This program has helped activists from multiple organizations and struggles to unite in significant challenges to the city’s major power brokers.

One major initiative of any post-Sanders formation should be the convening of groups that are engaged in, or interested in, creating these programs of mass popular education. Curricula and teaching methods can be shared and debated. Funding from unions and foundations for such an effort should be sought. Historically, this kind of education was a function of the parties of the Left. In their absence, other forces will have to assume responsibility.

5 An openly socialist current should be built within the new movement.

Senator Sanders’ refusal to retreat from his identification with democratic socialism certainly ranks as one of the most remarkable features of the campaign. To those of us who can remember “Commie” as a schoolyard epithet and “duck and cover” air raid drills, let alone labor’s bitter internecine battles over U.S. imperial misadventures in Vietnam and Central America, Sanders’ open embrace of socialism and the absence of “red-baiting” in the campaign has been almost beyond imagination.

The grassroots organization which appears to have experienced the greatest membership growth as a direct result of the Sanders campaign has been the Democratic Socialists of America, which traces its roots to the breakup of the old Socialist Party in the 1970s and is the largest remaining socialist organization in the country. In his account of the decline of American resistance to organized wealth and power in the “second Gilded Age,” The Age of Acquiescence, Steve Fraser argues that “the capacity to envision something generically new, however improbable, has always supplied the intellectual, emotional and political energy that made an advance in civilized life, no matter how truncated, possible.” In this telling, the reforms of the New Deal were driven by the utopian dreams of millions of Americans who believed capitalism must be transcended, and would have been impossible absent the presence of a “multi-faceted and long-lived culture of resistance that was not afraid to venture onto new terrain, to question the given.”[5]

In this new moment, while progressive unions and their allies fight for a “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act,” socialists would demand nationalization of banks. While more mainstream progressives call for a Wall Street Sales Tax, socialists might demand a maximum wage or a wealth tax. More mainstream activists will demand debt-free college education, while socialists would demand free tuition and free mass transit. Whether socialism exists today as a practical alternative form of social organization, or simply as a compelling moral critique of a racialized, financialized capitalism that is leading us to climate disaster, the revival of the idea of socialism facilitates the imagination of radical alternatives to the status quo. For the resuscitation of that hope, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders.

6 The “political revolution” must be driven down to the level of school boards, city councils, county legislatures, state government, and Congress.

The goal is not to take over the Democratic Party, but to build an infrastructure—an independent political party—comprised of activists and elected officials, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, which can carry the agenda of the Sanders campaign forward. For the last two decades, the Working Families Party, now operating in 11 states, has worked to build the political capacity to challenge corporate, right-wing Democrats, and to help defeat right-wing Republicans in general elections. Operating as a coalition of unions, community organizations and independent progressives, a model which can leverage substantial resources, the Working Families Party has had its greatest success at the state and local level. The Party’s endorsement of Sanders was its first such national endorsement, and created some tension with several of its labor affiliates, most of which had endorsed Clinton. Nevertheless, the WFP’s political and ideological agenda is tightly aligned with that of Sanders; in a sense, Sanders is the national candidate who embodies the Party’s foundational aspirations.

 

The WFP is not entirely unique. The Maine People’s Alliance, California Calls, Take Action Minnesota, the Richmond, CA Progressive Alliance, similarly pursue an ideologically driven electoral agenda in their respective communities. No one expects the Sanders campaign to morph into the Working Families Party at the state and local level. But the critical races that determine progressive power at the state or local level are fought out far from the glare of the media attention that accompanies a presidential campaign; the euphoria of the 25,000 person rally and the superstar candidate give way to the unglamorous realities of knocking on doors, raising money, and soliciting endorsements. In the long run, something like the Working Families Party, if not new branches of the party itself, will have to be created in localities and states across the country to conduct the hard work of electing progressives, running winning issue campaigns, and then electing more progressives based on that issue success.

Conclusion

Forecasting historical opportunities is a risky business. But taking the long view, it is arguable that the Sanders campaign signifies a critical political crossroads. The 40-year neoliberal ascendancy imploded in the financial meltdown of 2008. An unprecedented level of mass rejection of the political establishment expressed itself in the populist revolts which roiled both major parties in the 2016 primary season. Elites and their policy prescriptions confront a sweeping crisis of legitimacy.

Movements, Frances Fox Piven, has argued, do not move in straight lines. They ebb and flow, sputter and erupt, unpredictably. Five years on, we continue to live in the Occupy moment, and the breadth of Sanders’ appeal reveals that anger at the economic and political status quo seethes like a lava flow across the landscape. Until now, with the notable exceptions of the Fight for $15 and the intense mobilization against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, labor has contributed relatively little to stoking the flames of insurgency. But it is out of precisely such moments that workers’ revolts acquire the force and legitimacy that enable new movements to be built. It is impossible to predict what lies ahead, but a withering labor movement must seize whatever opportunities now present themselves, thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders.

[1] Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post, “Bernie Sanders is profoundly changing how millennials think about politics,” April 25, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/25/bernie-sanders-is-profoundly-changing-how-millennials-think-about-politics-poll-shows/

[2] Michelle Alexander, interviewed on “All in with Chris Hayes,” April 1, 2016, http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/extended-interview-with-michelle-alexander-657082435530.

[3] Nelson Lichtenstein, State of the Union—A Century of American Labor, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), p. 43.

[4] Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence, (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015), p. 201.

[5]Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence, pp. 411, 419.

http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2016/06/12/bernie-sanders-labor-ideology-american-politics/