“The Green Party is all about integrity. I didn’t say purity. I said integrity.”
— Ajamu Baraka, Green Party 2016 vice-presidential candidate.
I am afraid. Very afraid.
I fear that Donald Trump will unleash a race war, will empower white mobs packing guns walking the streets of America, will give carte blanche to direct police rule in America’s urban wastelands, will shred what is left of the Social Safety Net that is the only buffer to the deteriorating American economy, and gut what is left of the few civil liberty protections afforded us by the U.S. Constitution.
I fear that Hillary Clinton’s triumphant call for American Exceptionalism (“USA!” “USA!”) will take us to the edge — and over the edge —to nuclear confrontation with Russia, to expanded war in the Middle East, to the Zionist regime in Israel finding a “final solution” to their Palestinian problem, and to shootouts in the South China Sea, as the neocons of both the Republican and Democratic Establishments unite behind her candidacy.
Lesser-Evilism is like that old Three Stooges routine:
Captor: You have two choices, have your head chopped off or be burned at the stake.
Curly: I’ll take burning at the stake.
Moe: Why would you do that?
Curly: A hot stake’s better ‘n a cold chop, nyuk nyuk nyuk!
But what I fear most is that we might fail to seize this remarkable historical moment — marked by but not reducible to the Bernie Sanders campaign — to create lasting organization that can resist and defeat the drive toward race war and nuclear conflagration embodied in the Trump and Clinton campaigns. The task before us is to transform “movement” into “organization.” Movement is necessary, but it is not sufficient to make that happen. But movement is both powerful and fragile. So what is a movement about?
To be political itself, in this society, is an act of courage.
Have you seen the 1957 movie “The Tin Star” with Anthony Perkins and Henry Fonda? It ends with Perkins and Fonda facing down a lynch mob. The mob could easily overwhelm them. But the two break it up into a collection of individuals. Perkins isolates the leader and guns him down as both slap leather. The mob mutters and goes home. Each one knows that while Perkins had only six bullets to their hundreds, each was made to wonder whether one of those six had their name on it.
So it plays on the larger stage of society. There is an incident, but it means nothing unless it can be acted upon (“If a tree falls in the forest …”). A collectivity forms — will it take to the streets, or these days to the voting booths? Or will it be scattered with a whiff of grapeshot? The barricades stand still. Now what? Expectations are paramount. Victory emboldens the mass, allows people to break out of their individuality. Defeat can reduce those same people to individuals and individuals only. Or it provides the impetus for further action.
At the risk of oversimplification, one could say movement = development of collectivity, conscious collectivity.
Organization is indispensible. It allows the collectivity to act with the self-consciousness needed to adapt and change direction, decide as a force to go forward or defend or intelligently retreat. Movements ebb and flow. Organization can consolidate (solidify) the movement (collectivity) at the crests, allow the movement to defend itself when necessary to ride out the ebbs, and provide a springboard for the next surge forward.
So the Sanders movement …
… crested at the Democratic National Convention in Philly. If fought like hell, rocked the hall. But evaluated through the lens of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, it got beat. So it goes, no shame in that. Hardly cause for despair. People said from the beginning that the deck was stacked against them, the system rigged. They were right. Now people have had a few weeks to catch their collective breath, plot their next moves, consolidate. What organizational forms will develop out of the primary campaign?
The Sanders movement always consisted of two wings, one wing oriented to winning over the Democratic Party, the other wing independent, both wings held together by the primary campaign itself. Now new organizational forms are taking shape, but the movement remains as one. And like the invention of the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, there is considerable overlap.
Sanders & Co. are founding a new organization, Our Revolution. In an e-mail to the troops, he described its mission in broad strokes:
(1) Revitalizing American democracy by bringing millions of working people and young people into the political system.
(2) Empowering the next generation of progressive leaders by inspiring, recruiting and supporting progressive candidates across the entire spectrum of government — from school board to the U.S. Senate.
(3) Doing what the corporate media does not do: elevating political consciousness by educating the public about the most pressing issues confronting our nation and the bold solutions needed to address them.
The tactical focus will be on supporting progressives in the “down-ticket” races, particularly those who had endorsed Sanders in the primaries. The Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), a major semi-independent force within the Sanders campaign which has NOT itself endorsed Hillary, has set out the task of taking over the Democratic Party in accord with the highest principles of the Sanders campaign. They think they can do it by playing by the rules.
The PDA approach has obvious strengths. Going into the belly of the beast and working within the Democratic Party has legitimacy in the media and among much of the American public. And by attaching itself to the Democratic apparatus, it solves a lot of structural problems. At least in the short run.
But attempting to take it over faces serious difficulties down the line, if not sooner. It requires doing a delicate dance with a temperamental grizzly bear, and “belly of the beast” could become quite literal.
The Belly of the Beast and its Discontents.
The plan is to move deeper into the party, and achieve positions of influence. As a Florida PDA leader has written:
“The quickest way to remove the establishment obstacles is to control a majority in the Democratic Party with real progressives starts at the bottom up, and this is called a Precinct Committee Person. … “A Precinct Committee Person goes to County DEC meetings, has a vote on all issues and the board that comes up for election at the end of the year, and makes sure their precinct is aware of upcoming elections…very simple stuff. However, this crucial role is how we control the DNC and this is just a numbers game.”
Maybe not so simple. Every step up the ladder comes with a price. Get ahead in your county? Get out the vote for Hillary. Or Joe Legislator, who may not be so progressive, but hey, the Republican is always worse. A standard ticket for admission to smoking cigars with the big boys is to do hatchet work against independents, and that is now in full swing. The Democratic Party is strewn with the bleached bones of former progressives who played the headsman, only to get the axe once the bloody work was done. Will PDA go this route? So far, it seems not. They have a lot of very decent people working with them.
But as progressives make deeper inroads into the party, the DNC will STOP playing by the rules. We got a taste of just how ruthlessly and lawlessly they are willing to operate in Philly, and that was only a taste. When the bloodletting begins, there will be indignant protests, and the DNC will laugh in their faces, “Where can you go?”
We have an answer to “where can you go?” We can just smile and say “Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka and the Green Party!” Of course.
The Other Wing.
Stein and her vice-presidential running mate Baraka have the answers to the questions that Sanders should have been hammering in the primaries. Sanders was often pressed on how the U.S. could pay for things like free education and universal healthcare. His answers were smart, technically workable. But frankly, when asked “How would you pay for …?” the immediate in-your-face answers should have been “Take it out of the Pentagon’s $600 billion war budget!”
But that might lead to questions about the U.S. foreign policy which those billions are ostensibly to enforce. It is widely known that a radical take on foreign policy issues was not Sanders’ strong suit. Sanders said some good things about non-intervention, but when Cornell West and Keith Ellison, Bernie reps on the DNC’s Platform Committee, tried to insert into the platform the words “an end to occupation and illegal settlements” in Palestine, they were summarily shot down and Sanders made no moves to make it one of his “fighting issues.”
Similarly, he did not make Hillary’s horrendous record as secretary of state (Libya, Honduras, Gaza) a major campaign issue, preferring to concentrate on the domestic front.
It is well-known that the majority of Sanders activists were well to Bernie’s left on foreign policy. My take is that downplaying that dark side of Hillary’s resume was part of the deal that Sanders had to make in order to get as far as he did in the primaries, which included endorsing Hillary once he had clearly lost. If he had made Hillary’s foreign policy record front-and-center, Sanders would not have been able to look his supporters in the face and make that endorsement.
I am not opposed on principle to making deals. Politics is a nasty business to say the least. But as Politico touts “Sanders returning to campaign trail for Clinton” — with him planning to hit New Hampshire, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada — we can remind ourselves of what even Sanders himself has repeatedly made clear. We never made that deal. And …
Jill Stein NEVER made that deal.
On the August 17 CNN Town Hall, Stein and Baraka evoked a very different vision:
Question from the floor:
Do you consider ISIS to be a threat to the U.S. or to U.S. allies and partners in the Middle East? And if so, what would you do to defeat ISIS that the Obama Administration is not currently doing?
There are rules of engagement, international rules that if you’re going to attack another country, you need to be at imminent threat of being actually attacked by them. Clearly, that threshold has not been met. ISIS is not about to launch a major attack against our country.
And we have a track record now of fighting terrorism, not only ISIS but al-Qaeda before, the Taliban before that. And this track record is not looking so good. We have spent $6 trillion, according to a recent Harvard study when you include the costs, the ongoing costs of health care for our wounded veterans who deserve the highest care possible. $6 trillion which — since 2001, we have killed a million people in Iraq alone which is not winning us the hearts and minds in the Middle East. We have lost tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers that have been killed or severely wounded.
And what do we have to show for this? Failed states, mass refugee migrations, and repeated terrorist threats that get worse with each cycle. So ISIS grew out of the catastrophe of Iraq. Al-Qaeda in turn grew out of Afghanistan. And in fact, in Afghanistan, it was the CIA and the Saudis together who created the first so called Jihadi movement with the Mujahedeen in order to make trouble against the Soviet Union.
So this has been a very ill-conceived plan that has been back firing madly against us. So what we say is that we need a new kind of offensive in the Middle East. Because bombing terrorism and shooting terrorism is not quelling terrorism. It’s only fanning the flames of terrorism, the misery and the poverty that drive terrorism. We are calling for a new kind of offensive, a peace offensive in the Middle East that begins with a weapons embargo. The U.S. is supplying the majority of the weapons to actually all combatants, we and our allies, are arming most of the fighting forces in the Middle East. We can initiate that weapons embargo. And we also call for a freeze on the funding of those countries who continue to support Jihadi terrorist enterprises.
Hillary Clinton herself said in a leaked State Department memo that in fact the Saudis are still the major funder of terrorist Sunni enterprises. So, if we started it, we and our allies have the capacity to shut it down.
So Doctor, just to be clear, you said you call for military spending cut of 50%. … Are you saying that there’d be no U.S. military presence anywhere else in the world and that that would keep America safe?
We now have somewhere between 700 or 800 or even more military bases around the world. Do you know how many military bases all other countries combined have? About 30. There’s something really wrong with this picture. Do you know how much of our budget actually goes to maintaining this bloated and dangerous military budget? 54 percent of our discretionary budget …
So you would close all of them?
That would be our presumption. … Close the bases. Our presumption is also to shut down the weapon systems like the F-35 that will cost us almost $1.5 trillion before we’re done. Shut down the new generation of nuclear weapons which have no role whatsoever on the planet. Phase out all nuclear weapons now.
Revolution in the Revolution.
Sanders’ strength lay in his stress on Washington’s being in the pocket of Wall Street, the rewarding of those who had destroyed the American economy at the expense of jobs and services for ordinary Americans, and the horror of mass incarceration of the Black and Latino communities. But the question that continued to nag at his campaign was “How would you pay for all this stuff?”
It is Stein’s and Baraka’s radical challenge to the fundamental premises of not only Wall Street but the Empire itself that allow them to take the Sanders movement to the next level, with her Economic Bill of Rights and her Green New Deal. The message is simple. Certain necessities are fundamental human rights, and human rights are not to be compromised to appease corporate power. Period.
Jobs as a Right, and Key Support for Labor
Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Government would be the employer of last resort, and the unemployed would have an enforceable right to make government provide work. Create direct public employment, as the Works Progress Administration did, in public services and public works for those who can’t find private employment.
Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.
Establish the right to a living wage job.
Reform public assistance to be a true safety net that empowers participants and provides a decent standard of living.
Free universal child care.
Health Care as a Right:
Establish an improved “Medicare for All” single-payer public health program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings by eliminating the $400 billion annually spent on the paperwork and bureaucracy of health insurance.
No co-pays, premiums or deductibles.
Access to all health care services, including mental health, dental, and vision. Include everyone, period.
No restrictions based on pre-existing illness, employment, immigration status, age, or any other category.
Education as a Right:
Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university.
Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.
A Just Economy:
Guarantee a living wage job for all.
Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage, with indexing.
Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve.
Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses.
Just as Sanders has spoken most movingly about the need for a Political Revolution, the Political Revolution itself does not itself ensure those demands will be met. Corporate America has other battlefields to wage war on than the electoral one. We have to ask ourselves a harder question as we fight for the demands raised by Stein: “What kind of revolution is needed to actually make those human rights a reality?”
As much as the Sanders platform appealed to the Black and Latino communities, their votes still went by large margins for Hillary. The Sanders campaign had hoped that his strong positions against police brutality and poverty would reach the hearts of the Black community in particular. At one point, campaign organizer Corbin Trent explained to a Tampa Bay audience that the road to winning over the largely Black St. Petersburg South Side was to get out the vote in Iowa and Vermont, and the media coverage would take care of the rest. The Sanders campaign at best appealed to the Black Democrats who were already tied to the Democratic Party and backing Hillary. They didn’t GO IN, they didn’t walk those streets, didn’t stand outside the churches with flyers in hand, telling them what Bernie had to offer. They accepted a liberal separatism that left them powerless to penetrate the Democratic firewall, and it cost them dearly.
He ain’t no liberal!
Ajamu Baraka, on the other hand, is not afraid to confront the sellouts of whatever race or nationality.
On choosing him as her 2016 running mate, Stein stated:
“Ajamu Baraka is a powerful, eloquent spokesperson for the transformative, radical agenda whose time has come — an agenda of economic, social, racial, gender, climate, indigenous and immigrant justice. Ajamu’s life’s work has embodied the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
As Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report explained:
“It’s not a simple matter of putting a black face on the ticket. Greens have run black candidates in local and national races before without managing to make a significant dent in traditional black allegiances to the Democratic Party.
“Stein chose Baraka because one of her campaign’s objectives is to strengthen state and local Green parties. As a result of his more than four decades of work in the movement, Baraka has longstanding personal ties with and has been mentor to many of the activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement around the country. If anyone can carry the message to these forces that now is the time for organizing alternative centers of struggle for political power, centers of struggle outside the two capitalist parties and outside the nonprofit industrial complex, that someone is Ajamu Baraka.”
Among Baraka’s accomplishments are:
Founding Executive Director of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) from July 2004 until June 2011. The USHRN became the first domestic human rights formation in the United States explicitly committed to the application of international human rights standards to the U.S.
Baraka has also served on the boards of various national and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International (USA) and the National Center for Human Rights Education. He is currently on the boards of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Africa Action; Latin American Caribbean Community Center; Diaspora Afrique; and the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights.
During the CNN Town Hall, moderator Chris Cuomo tried to catch Baraka with a little bit of “gotcha” politics.
I want to give you an opportunity to clear up some of the things you’ve said about Senator Sanders, because not all of it was flattering. The main idea you had was that Bernie Sanders should be seen as an ideological prop, and that there was an idea of nativism to his campaign. An idea of complementing white supremacy to his campaign, what did you mean by those statements when the Sanders supporters come looking your way?
We had to raise some issues that seemed to be at one point very troubling.
You know, Chris, I wanted to feel the Bern. I really did. And so as Dr. Stein said, I saw from the very beginning, the real possibility for this campaign to expand the scope of conversation here in this country, to introduce to the American people a term like Democratic socialism. To really tap into this desire that people had for real change. But I was troubled by some other tendencies. And that is that we can’t build a progressive or revolutionary process by just looking at the United States of America. That, you know, you can’t disconnect U.S. foreign policy from domestic policy. And so, I was concerned by some of the comments around allowing the Saudis to get their hands dirty. Many of us who follow geopolitical events understand that not only were the Saudis’ hands dirty, they were dripping with blood.
My point was that Bernie needed to understand that the America people were ready for a real progressive candidate. You don’t have to play into the hands of the Democrats. You don’t have to embrace Barack Obama’s drone program. You don’t have to be silent about other foreign policy issues. So I wanted to see a real comprehensive, progressive campaign and the people were ready for this … If we want to be serious about really building progressive power in this country, I’m talking about our conversations among ourselves, we’ve got to deal with these contradictions.
Contradictions abound. Ajamu’s message is for all of us.
— Jeff Roby
August 22, 2016