Democratic Left Magazine - Winter 2015

Elections in Popular Culture

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The Campaign and The Manchurian Candidate are among the films that can help us understand the comic-but-grotesque character of American politics.

By Neal Meyer, et. al.

From the fictional portrayal of Huey Long in All the King’s Men to Election with Reese Witherspoon or Bulworth with Warren Beatty or The Candidate with Robert Redford, U.S. culture has plenty to say about elections. Here are some favorites from DSA activists:

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Changing the Conversation: Socialist for President

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By Maurice Isserman

“It is very probable, especially if you are a young person, that you have never heard of Eugene Victor Debs.” Those are the first words spoken in a 1979 documentary (you can find it on YouTube) about the man who, running on the Socialist Party ticket in 1912, won nearly a million votes. Debs’s 6% of the total vote was, at least electorally, the high-water mark for U.S. socialism. The producer of the half-hour educational film intended to restore Debs to his rightful place in U.S. historical memory was one Bernie Sanders of Burlington, Vermont. At the time a marginally employed 38-year-old radical organizer, he would enjoy his own electoral triumph two years later by being elected Burlington’s mayor. Sanders’s documentary about Debs is earnest and informative, and distinctly low-budget. He wound up voicing the famous bits from Debs’s speeches himself (“I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out”), which can be entertaining, given the Brooklyn transplant’s still very pronounced accent.

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Creating a Culture of Reproductive Justice

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By Jean Peterman

PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights
By Katha Pollitt
Picador, paper, 288 pp., 2015

Grandma, a film by Paul Weitz, starring Lily Tomlin, Julia Cox, Marcia Gay Harding, Judy Greer, Laverne Cox, Elizabeth Pena, Sam Elliott, 2015

Katha Pollitt’s compelling and necessary book PRO: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, is now out in paperback. This is good news in a very bleak season for reproductive justice. Pollitt, who writes frequently in the Nation about these issues, makes a clear case that the right to abortion is an economic issue as well as a moral one. Reproductive control “didn’t just make it possible for women to commit to education and work and free them from shotgun marriages and too many kids. It changed how women saw themselves: as mothers by choice.”

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Mass Incarceration: Is Change Gonna Come ?

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By James Kilgore

Mass incarceration is trending. Criminal justice never even got on the radar during the 2012 presidential election; now it’s big-time news. The president and the pope have ventured behind bars. Politicians from Rand Paul to Cory Booker have sounded off on the need to end the War on Drugs and de-racialize criminal justice. The Koch brothers are on board, too. For those of us who have spent years in prison and many more campaigning for an end to mass incarceration, people in high places paying attention raises all kinds of possibilities. Yet even with all this change of heart, it’s hard to keep faith in a change of system.

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Welfare Rights, Wrongs and Attacks on Women: Michele Rossi speaks with Frances Fox Piven

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 National Welfare Rights Organization 1968/Jack Rottier

Right-wing talk-show host Glenn Beck has called her “one of the nine most dangerous people in the world.” DSA is proud to call her an honorary chair. Political scientist and sociologist Frances Fox Piven has inspired and angered political activists for decades. Almost 50 years ago, the Nation published an article by her and her colleague and husband Richard Cloward in which they argued that, with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress, poor people should claim the welfare benefits to which they were entitled. The result would swamp the system and lead to something new, a guaranteed annual income, which would end poverty as we knew it. The Cloward-Piven strategy, as it became known, was seen as a way for powerless people to take advantage of disruptive moments to make more than incremental gains. Later, the strategy was expanded to include massive voter registration drives. Cloward and Piven, with George Wiley, helped found the National Welfare Rights Organization, which, for a few years, was the militant voice of heretofore voiceless welfare clients. Michele Rossi talks with Piven about the impact of Bill Clinton’s so-called welfare reform and its enduring impact on the poor—Ed.

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Talkin’ Bernie and Socialism

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Portland DSA Collecting Signatures For Bernie

 

By Dustin Guastella

Scene I: You’ve set up your table. The Socialists for Sanders sign can be seen from ten feet away. You’re wearing a DSA T-shirt. The table is stocked with flyers on Bernie’s positions. The sign-up sheet is in front of you. You’re building DSA and Sanders’s campaign. Someone walks up to the table.

Scene II: You’re at a party and somebody notices your Sanders button or T-shirt. “He seems like a nice guy, but what does he stand for?” “I like his ideas, but I really want a woman president.” “He doesn’t have a chance.”

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All Out for Bernie

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Metro Atlanta DSA members (from left to right) Barbara Joye, Minnie Ruffin, Barbara Landay, Brandon Payton-Carillo, and Adam Cardo marching to a Bernie fundraiser in Atlanta in September. Photo: Reid Jenkins.

By Elizabeth Henderson

From Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia, to New York City and Washington, D.C., DSA locals and organizing committees are recruiting members, developing leaders, and connecting with new communities through work on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Conversations with local leaders from around the country show that people are more receptive to talking about socialism as a result of Sanders’ candidacy.

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Building a Political Revolution: The Sanders Campaign and the Future of the Left

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Credit: Frank Reynoso

By Joseph M. Schwartz

Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination offers the biggest opportunity for growth that U.S. socialists have had in decades. In a few months he has transformed the Democratic Party primary into a debate about the causes of rampant inequality and possible solutions. But the political revolution he talks about can only happen if activists in the Sanders campaign broaden its social base among voters of color and the non-college educated and build local multi-racial progressive coalitions. Stronger DSA locals must play a central role in such coalitions if they are to offer a coherent alternative to corporate domination.

These state and local formations should link social-movement activism to electoral politics and develop a diverse array of viable Sanders-type candidates in their communities. If they do that, the Left can both challenge pro-corporate Democrats and change the game in the 25 states where Republicans rule all three branches of government.

Sanders hesitated to run for fear of being a marginal candidate. But hundreds of thousands have joined his campaign, disgusted by the bipartisan corporate control of our politics. Who would have thought that the first Democratic presidential debate would focus on whether democratic socialism is a superior system to capitalism? 

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Seize the Day!

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Nadia James, Dustin Guastella, Adam Goldman, and Phillip Logan tabling for Philadelphia DSA at First Friday this summer. (Credit: Elizabeth Henderson)
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