Why Should We Be With “Her” If We “Felt the Bern?"

(Phil Roeder/Flickr)

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:

  1. Organize against a Trump victory

  2. Criticize the Clinton administration if she’s elected

  3. 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.