By Christine Riddiough
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. DSA’s perspective on the 2016 elections can be found here. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.
The Sanders campaign had a tremendous impact on U.S. politics – democratic socialism has never been this much in the media in any of our lifetimes. Why should those of us on the Left even be thinking about Hillary Clinton?
Because the nominees of the two major political parties are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. As democratic socialists we need to think seriously about what is going to move our country in a positive direction; what is going to result in better lives for more people. And that’s not Donald Trump.The Sanders campaign had a tremendous impact on U.S. politics – democratic socialism has never been this much in the media in any of our lifetimes.Why should those of us on the Left even be thinking about Hillary Clinton?
In May the National Political Committee passed a set of talking points on DSA’s electoral work going forward:
Organize against a Trump victory
Criticize the Clinton administration if she’s elected
Support left-wing candidates
How do we do that and build a progressive movement, democratic socialism and, specifically, DSA? Dustin Guastella and Jared Abbott recently described their strategy in a post. I agree with some of what they say, but I think they are both too optimistic about Trump’s likely defeat and too lacking in specificity in regards to alternatives.
Organize against a Trump victory
A year ago Trump was a joke – every respected commentator, including Nate Silver, the doyenne pollster for liberals and progressives said he would fade. He didn't. A narcissistic, racist, xenophobic, misogynist liar is leading his party even further to the right. Trump fans the flames of extremism, using memes from neo-Nazis and alt-right groups and provides new openings for racial violence. Some claim his running mate Mike Pence will be a calming influence, but as governor of Indiana Pence signed a “religious freedom” bill that made it legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and he has long opposed reproductive justice.
If you think I’m trying to scare you into voting for Hillary, then you’re right. This is not just another “lesser of two evils” election. Our votes will make a difference in people’s lives, and for some it will make the difference in whether they have lives or not.
People have compared this election to the 1968 and 2000 elections. In 1968 I was against the Vietnam War and supported Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. I could not bring myself to vote for Hubert Humphrey and voted for the Socialist Party candidate, Frank Zeidler. Nixon was elected. Among the results: Senator Ted Kennedy’s 1970 bipartisan universal health care bill that Humphrey would have signed and a child care bill that Nixon vetoed.
In 2000 election, if the 622 Floridians who voted for David McReynolds or just 1% of the over 97,000 Floridians who voted for Ralph Nader had voted for Al Gore, it is likely that the thousands of Americans, Iraqis and Afghans who have died in the last 15 years would still be alive.
The lesson from this: If Black Lives Matter, we have to organize against Trump; if reproductive justice and ending domestic violence are important, we have to organize against Trump; if stopping Islamophobia and xenophobia is vital, we have to organize against Trump. And organizing against Trump ultimately means voting for Clinton. We also shouldn’t take for granted that reliably blue states like Minnesota are “safe.” In this unpredictable election year, almost no state can be put in the safe column.
Criticize the Clinton administration if she’s elected
The Democratic Platform, while far from perfect, has taken some positions that Sanders has advocated. But there is still obviously a lot of work to be done. If democratic socialism and DSA represent what the late Michael Harrington called the “left wing of the possible,” today the possible is much closer than it has been in any of our lifetimes. But with possibility comes responsibility.
If Clinton is elected president, we have to do what we can to push her as far to the left as possible. Make no mistake: Hillary Clinton is not a progressive. Her natural instincts will be with the Wall Street financiers and bankers, not with Main Street folks. We will have to continue to expand both the base of support for democratic socialism and broaden the discussion of what democratic socialism is.One place to look for new allies in this effort is among those who voted for Clinton in the primaries.
Yes, you hear me right. Hillary’s supporters can be with us at the barricades when we call for controls on Wall Street, higher taxes on the wealthy, a $15 minimum wage and reform of immigration laws. In fact, they’ve already been there with us. When I look at my friends (in the real world and on Facebook), I’ve found that about half supported Bernie and about half Clinton. Some of them are women of my generation (baby boomers) who want to see a woman president in our lifetime; some are people who thought Bernie just couldn’t win in November; some are folks who didn’t see Bernie addressing their issues. But whatever their differences in the primaries, many of them will be ready to push President Clinton on critical issues from immigration to Wall Street. Let’s welcome Hillary supporters into DSA’s tent. Our voice will be stronger if joined by the thousands, if not millions of feminists, people of color and others who have supported Hillary. Duane Campbell makes some excellent points along this line in his comments on Guastella and Abbott’s post.
In Chicago in the 1970s, Rising Up Angry had a slogan, “Start from where people are at.” That means that we have to talk with people – feminists for Hillary, Black Lives Matter activists, DREAMers, middle-aged white men who are unemployed – about their lives. And we have to listen to them as much as talk. Whether we canvas, talk with school or community groups or host house parties, we need to be prepared to explain what democratic socialism means in people’s lives and to listen to what they want for their lives and their children’s lives. Activists need training to be effective in different situations and perhaps DSA could work with a group like the Leadership Lab to develop training sessions.
We must broaden the definition of democratic socialism, making it clear that DSA is a socialist-feminist and antiracist as well as democratic-socialist organization. This expanded definition is important since the Sanders’ campaign did not succeed at raising issues of justice for people of color, women and LGBTQ people.
If Clinton is elected, we’ll have our work cut out for us, but we will have the opportunity to make changes that will improve people’s lives and ultimately begin to alter the relations of power.
Support left-wing candidates
Voting for Clinton is only the beginning. Presidents by themselves do not change the world. We have to support down-ballot candidates, especially those who espouse progressive – and, where possible, democratic-socialist values. That might mean participating in Congressional races, state legislative races, or local city council, school board and similar races.
In terms of the Senate, the House, or the state legislatures, you might think about travelling to a state where there’s a key race going on – Wisconsin and Illinois are places where more progressive candidates, Russ Feingold and Tammy Duckworth, have a chance of helping the Dems take back the Senate. And a Democratic Senate will give Bernie Sanders a stronger voice in shaping U.S. economic policy.
But it doesn’t stop there. DSA needs to implement a long-term electoral strategy that will result in socialist candidates running for and winning office in the next four, six, eight years. And here we could learn some lessons from conservatives. After President Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater in 1964, conservatives spent 16 years planning and organizing. Their efforts led to Reagan and the 30 years of supply-side, trickle-down economics, war in the Middle East and the fear and hatred that characterize the GOP.
You can't run for office or run campaigns with no preparation. If you want to run in 2018, you have to start now. DSA could consider partnering with a group like Wellstone Action to run workshops for candidates and campaign staffers.
We need to start planning now to ensure that YDSers and friends are prepared to run for office, to work on campaigns and to talk about democratic socialism. And we need to make sure that our candidates are as diverse in terms of race and gender as are our principles.
Karl Marx said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” We now have the chance to change the world. We must succeed - the cost of failure is too great.
Christine R. Riddiough serves as a vice chair of DSA and was a member of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union.
A group of us in California have a campaign- Defeat Trump: Defeat Racism. Here is the argument
Trump and the Left in California
There is an argument being made in much of the Anglo left in California and around the nation that Trump may be dangerous, but he will be defeated in California. So, we don’t have to organize and mobilize to defeat him here.
This is the argument of that makes sense to some on the white left. As before, they have failed to recognize the reality of the terrorism imposed on the Mexican and immigrant communities by Trump’s proposals and the Trump campaign. And, they fail to recognize that they can not win their various projects and proposals without the support and growth of the Latino vote.
While Trump may well be defeated at the ballot box, Trumpism— the organization and mobilization of an anti immigrant Right Wing, will grow. Even a modest vote gain by Trump in California will foster the growth of naked racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism. This kind of populist right wing White nationalism is what passed Proposition 187 ( and re-elected Peter Wilson), passed Proposition 209, and similar right wing mobilization led to the deportation of over a one million Mexicans ( including U.S. Citizens) in 1932, and over one million Mexican workers in 1952.
As in the case of California proposition 187, a surge of right wing voters will doom all efforts on immigration reform for at least a decade.
None of the favored progressive initiatives can be passed without the active participation of Latino voters. Together we can build a better society.
Divided- we all fail.
We have a campaign: Defeat Trump: Defeat Racism. You can contact me for information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on the campaign will be at www.antiracismdsa.blogspot.com
First, I’m really pleased to see a comment using actual voting data – I’m serious about that. Second, I did not advocate “haranguing the 71%” who didn’t vote in the primaries to vote for Clinton (or anybody else, for that matter, since haranguing doesn’t usually work).
And, yes, many people didn’t participate in the primaries – but that’s always true. As you know from the PEW source that you reference, the 2016 primaries actually had a voter turnout percentage that was just short of matching the 2008 record. Although Sanders was partially responsible, the same report notes that Trump probably drove the largest share of that increase in primary voter turnout.
So, what about the other 71%? Well, a fair number will show up to vote in the general election. This is the pattern, for better or worse, in the US and there is no particular sign that 2016 will be any different. After all, in the very low – 14.5% – primary turnout in 2012, 57.5% of registered voters showed up for the general election.
I think an important task for us (and for any left org) in the electoral arena (which is not the sum total of what we do), whether we want to focus on the local, state of national level is the 35% of people eligible to register but aren’t. These are disproportionately people of color, lower income households and, to somewhat lesser but important extend, people in the 18 – 29 age range. All of those groups are more likely than not to support progressive, including, I think, dem soc, candidates. While among all potential voters, those from higher income households are more likely to vote than lower income households, the income – voter turnout gap is much less among people registered to vote.
I’m very skeptical that the Weimar German analogy can illuminate much about American politics in 2016. But if we’re going to use it then we should use it properly.
The “Communists” today are the Greens and others that argue for working outside the political duopoly. The “Socialists” today are represented by the Bernie movement that is seeking revolution by reforming the Democratic party. And the Clintonites are the “German People’s Party (GPP)” – a liberal party with ties to big business hostile to Marxism. In 1930, The Socialists and the GPP were in a coalition government, which split because the GPP wanted to slash social benefits in response to the Great Depression (lets call it a “Weimar Grand Bargain”). The GPP had no real social base and lost votes in subsequent elections, eventually siding with the Nazis as German politics further polarized in the next few years.
Now that the analogy is spelled out more clearly, I’ll make two statements. First, I agree that today’s “Communists” and “Socialists” should make common cause. Things are getting desperate and the left should not be divided. Second, liberal pro-corporate parties like the GPP/Clintonites are deeply unpopular during crises and will make common cause with reactionaries and fascists to prevent the Left from taking power. So for socialists counseling a “Socalist-GPP coalition” in 2016, lets follow Maurice Isserman’s advice and seek a united front with the “Communists” instead.
You are right that many Clinton supporters can be won over to democratic socialist politics. The same is true for independents and probably even some Trump supporters.
But largest group of potential allies are people who vote occasionally at most and are alienated from the political system (i.e. people like myself until Bernie came along). After all, only 14%-15% of the electorate voted in the primaries for each party. So that “55% support” for Clinton is really only 8% support. Yes, there are many in that 8% of Clinton primary voters who are good progressive activists and we should work with them. But as socialists, we should focus on organizing the unorganized and alienated – the 71% who did not participate in the primary process. Haranguing the 71% to vote for the second least popular presidential candidate in U.S. history does not seem like a good organizing strategy if our goal is radical social change.
Personally, I totally understand why people on a personal level would want to vote for Clinton to stop Trump. I go back-and-forth myself sometimes because I’m in a swing state. But as an organization, let’s focus on building our own, independent political power at the grassroots level with like-minded groups and stop focusing our energy on people who do not represent us.
Source for voter participation: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/10/turnout-was-high-in-the-2016-primary-season-but-just-short-of-2008-record/
To put the following in context, I canvassed for Sanders in 3 states and Chicago DSA produced – and distributed – about 7000 pieces of pro-Sanders lit, including being the first chapter to produce a Spanish-English piece.
However, having said all there, here is a question that DSAers (and other Sanders supporters) should ask themselves: Is there anyone with whom you’ve done political work and consider a friend and a colleague that voted for Clinton in your state’s primary? There are, obviously, two possible answers. (1) If you don’t know any such person, you are saying that you have no political comrade from the more than 55% of voters in the Dem Party primaries that voted for Clinton. That is a serious problem: yes, we all tend to know people like ourselves but you need to expand your network and think about how you, as an organizer, can expand your connections to this large number of people. (2) If you do know such people, do you see them as the enemy? Or do you recognize that, as Chris says, many share much of our politics and can be important allies as we carry forward the political revolution that Sanders called for.
Trump’s campaign finally seems to be falling to piece — his attack on the Khan family may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — but to be sure of his defeat, what we ought to be doing is building mass demonstrations against him wherever he goes — and disrupting his events however we can. If he becomes associated with chaos, he can’t win. (See: Hubert Humphrey, 1968.)
Trying to get out the vote for HRC simply won’t work, and telling DSA members that we MUST vote for her strikes me as pointless. If votes from our organization of under 10,000 people are the ONLY thing that can prevent a Trump victory, then Clinton’s campaign is already doomed.
Lastly, those who voted for HRC against Sanders obviously don’t have a class-struggle approach to politics. If we’re really a SOCIALIST group as opposed to a LIBERAL one, then no, DSA shouldn’t become flooded with Hillary-lovers. Let’s have firm principles, please.
I recently joined DSA because I want a socialist revolution based on organizing at the local level. But if the main purpose of DSA is defending corporate democrats to skeptics on the left – the #1 goal according to this article – what is the point? There are plenty of other organizations such as the DNC that already do that.