Can Working from the Inside Change the Democratic Party?
Occupy Wall Street’s dynamic grass roots movement is quiescent and may or may not return. Its respite or demise is due to a combination of deliberate and apparently nationally directed police violence and federal, state and local government spying, as well as to its own lack of political direction. It remains a political space to focus tremendous energy and passion, and draw to it many millions of the 99%.
Many sympathetic to OWS maintain that it needs a political party. One of them is Patrick Walker, a native of the gritty industrial city of Scranton in northeastern Pennsylvania. Walker participated the OWS movement as part of Occupy Scranton. He has also joined in anti-fracking activism via the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition and End Gasocracy Now, which put him under the watchful eye of Homeland Security.
Following a move to Georgia, Walker now seeks to gain political traction by focusing his efforts on progressive Democrats within the Democratic Party (D.P.), hoping to bring the party “back” to the 99%. He does not seek D.P. permission as do many other insider party reform efforts.
"We need to take our political system back from Big Money. I offer this as a promising strategy idea for making that happen,” Walker says. As he sees it, “The people in Washington and our statehouses -- Republicans and Democrats -- are already too bought off by (or scared of) Big Money to listen to ‘We the people.’”
In responding to those progressives who see the necessity of backing the “lesser of two evils”, Walker states: “The evil has become too evil to accept.” He hopes that True Blue Democrats could return the Democratic Party to its “New Deal and Great Society principles.” All other Democrats, he says, are DINOs.
DINOs vs. a new platform
By that, Walker means that most Democratic Party leaders, including President Obama and much of the constituency, are “Democrats in Name Only”.
“DINOs stand for much the same as do Republicans: growing poverty, diminishing social safety net, vanished democracy, endless wars, and a devastated environment,” he says. Walker wants TBD to stand against these Republican and DINO policies, to expose Obama “for what he is”, and “to insist on progressive goals: peace, a livable planet, and prospects of a decent, fulfilling life for everyone.”
Walker is careful about not nailing down a platform and structure, because he believes there must be a democratic process where supporters make such vital decisions, though he personally offers this version of progressivism:
“It is a rejection of the whole ‘war on terror’ concept and the security and surveillance state that goes with it; a scaling back of the U.S. military toward purely defensive uses; a strong defense of the social safety net with no cutbacks to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, and extension of unemployment benefits as necessary; a call for a Constitutional Amendment reversing Citizens United, as well as reforming the revolving door lobbying between government and industry; a push for single-payer health care and more affordable education; a focus on Keynesian stimulus and jobs creation rather than the deficit; a more progressive system of taxation, with a tax on speculation and tax incentives to keep jobs in the country; and a hard push for replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy while tightly regulating extreme methods of fossil fuel extraction like offshore drilling and fracking as those fuels are phased out.”
He continues: “Once we get the critical numbers, we’ll start having a very democratic discussion about the platform and a grassroots organizing strategy. But for the moment, I've been trying to build support for the basic True Blue Democrats concept.”
Walker takes his cue from Noam Chomsky’s criticism of Ralph Nader “for popping up every four years to run for president without building a political movement in between.”
Chomsky offered a “qualified” support for TBD saying, “I’d be glad to say that I think it’s an interesting idea, worth pursuing…I think it's a very long shot. The cards are stacked against independent [political party] politics in the US…And buying of elections is now so deeply embedded that it would take mass popular organization, revival of unions, and probably a lot more to overcome it. That seems to me where energy should go. If third party ideas can be used as a means to stimulate large-scale activism, that'd be good. I don't see how they can go very far in themselves.”
Walker takes Chomsky to heart and yet sees a dilemma in bringing the 99% aboard such a movement. He says, “What happened with Occupy was a failure to seek a political outlet for its justified rage. I was pushing for the Green Party. But while great on principle, it is a weak, long-time unsuccessful brand.”
The TBD founder thinks that the idea could garner media coverage and, most importantly, raise consciousness and activate Democrats who would otherwise not be reached by grassroots activities and leftist groups. He agrees that grassroots movements need to develop and grow, yet also thinks that if the existing political party system is abandoned by progressives, “the people who run it could do some truly awful things--like approve the XL pipeline, destroy the social safety net, and declare another unjust war in Iran--while we on the left sit back and congratulate ourselves on our ideological purity."
“A grassroots revolt by progressive Democrats is not tied to the status quo. And we’re fully ready to bolt from the party—maybe forming a coalition party of Greens and independent progressives—if phony-progressive, pro-corporate stealth Bush neo-cons like Obama continue to be its stock and trade. If anyone has a better idea for getting progressive voices heard and taken seriously, I'd love to hear it.”
One of the hundred or so website comments on the idea so far comes from an activist in Veterans for Peace, Tarak Kauff: “I have no idea if True Blue Dems will work but from what I’ve read so far, it’s not something that needs to be discouraged.”
True Blue Democrats have progressive critics inside and outside the D.P., as well as radicals and revolutionaries. The former includes The Progressive Democrats of America, which emerged from the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich. It was founded in 2004 by former peace and reform activist Tim Carpenter and other reformers. Currently PDA consists of "a large group of progressive grassroots activists from across the country who want to support progressive grassroots activities both locally and nationally." They claim 80,000 supporters. Leaders or advisors include former radicals such as, Tom Hayden, Medea Benjamin, Jim Hightower, and several union leaders and elected politicians. PDAmerica
PDA calls for a single-payer health care system but also accepts what Obama produced. They want more taxes for the rich, less dependence on fossil fuels, and legalization of marijuana. They say they support justice and peace. They oppose the Iraq war, but are mostly silent about the wars against Afghanistan and Libya; some even consider these wars as “humanitarian operations”. They also back, through their silence, Obama’s drone missile wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and current economic and military encroachments into Africa, including Somalia, Uganda and Kenya, as well as in Syria.
PDA believes that any effort to pull away from the Democratic Party would only aid the Republicans, the greater evil of evils.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) is “an organization powered by our members that builds long-term progressive power. We elect bold candidates to Congress and mobilize around progressive policy priorities. Our recent work includes leading the Draft Elizabeth Warren for Senate movement, working to win two recall elections against Wisconsin Republicans, supporting the 99% movement and Wall Street accountability, and pushing Congress to tax the rich while protecting programs like Social Security and Medicare.”
PCCC or Bold Progressives claim 950,000 online members. It was started in 2009 by former MoveOn organizers. Move On itself was started in 1998 by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and now claims eight million online members. They are the least progressive of progressives and work in concert with the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Unlike Walker’s True Blue Democrats, these major progressive groups basically support the Democratic Party, and especially the presidency of Obama, regardless of his and the party’s war crimes against humanity. Their view; Obama’s victory is a victory against racism (granted), and he is better than what otherwise could exist (not granted). The reality is, however, that corporate profits have never been higher than under Obama, who has been Wall Street’s champion in over seven wars. President Bush the younger was in charge over two wars. Together, Bush and Obama have given trillions of dollars in tax moneys to bail finance capital out of catastrophe.
Data compiled by Bloomberg show that “U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171% under Obama, more than under any president since World War II, and are now at their highest level relative to the size of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947.” “Profits are more than twice as high as their peak during President Ronald Reagan’s administration and more than 50 percent greater than during the late-1990s Internet boom, measured by the size of the economy."
The major progressive organizations are part of what activist-writer John Stauber calls the progressive movement for rich democrats. He writes:
“The self-labeled Progressive Movement that has arisen over the past decade is primarily one big propaganda campaign serving the political interests of the Democratic Party’s richest one-percent who created it. The founders and owners of the Progressive Movement get richer and richer off Wall Street and the corporate system. But they happen to be Democrats, cultural and social liberals who can’t stomach Republican policies, and so after bruising electoral defeats a decade ago they decided to buy a movement, one just like the Republicans, a copy.” “There is no grassroots organized progressive movement with power in the United States, and none is being built. Indeed, if anything threatens to emerge, the cry ‘Remember Nader!’ arises and the budding insurgency is marginalized or co-opted, as in the case of the Occupy Wall Street events. Meanwhile, the rich elite who fund the Progressive Movement, and their candidates such as Barack Obama, are completely wedded to maintaining the existing status quo on Wall Street and in the corporate boardroom. Their well-kept Progressive Movement is adept at PR, propaganda, marketing and fundraising necessary in the service of the Democratic Party and the corporate elite who rule it.”
Two organizers of the OWS movement, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers responded to separate mail correspondence concerning TBD which were sent by Walker and myself. Kevin wrote:
“People who say that Dems should be what the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for don't know their history very well. The Democratic Party was founded by plantation slave owners and it stayed a segregationist party until the 1960s civil rights revolt -- led by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X who did not support the Democratic Party because it was a segregationist party. The Dems have now successfully destroyed the Civil Rights movement so that African Americans have made virtually no progress, except getting false leaders elected -- Obama is the best example of this; of course, he stands for Wall Street and US Empire, not civil rights, and African Americans have made no gains under his leadership."
“FDR's greatest success was saving capitalism. So, when you say Democrats should be what the Dem Party stands for, history tells me, that is not what I want.”
Margaret Flowers wrote:
“I see the corporate parties as really one entity with two sides but the same master, Wall Street and large industries. They have all of the power and unlimited resources. They are going to put as much resources as necessary into preventing a truly progressive democrat from being elected or to control a progressive Dem that does get elected.
“I think that working within the Democratic Party maintains the illusion that the party is progressive…This tactic has already been tried by the Progressive Democrats of America, and it failed miserably. Even when they do manage to win an election, their candidates are quickly subsumed [becoming] completely ineffective. Leadership knows exactly how to control them. This is something that supports the goals of the Democrats. “The Democrats want to create the appearance of a divide between themselves and the Republicans because that gives the voters something to fight about and keeps voters distracted. In fact, the two corporate parties work very well together to create illusions that distract the masses and allow the parties to continue to move their corporate agenda forward within the parameters of their limited differences. I do not want to maintain that illusion. That is why I support the Green Party and a new project that will be launched this month.”
Kevin and Flowers co-direct Its Our Economy, and were among a core group of about 100 who planned the long-running Occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. They co-host: Clearing the FOG (Forces of Greed)
In the 2012 elections, the duopoly candidates took 98.3% of the 129 million voters -- but those voters represented just 58.9% of those eligible to vote. That left about 93 million eligible, voting-age people who did not vote. Left-oriented third party candidates—Greens, Peace & Freedom Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, plus several socialist oriented write in candidates—received a dismal 600,000 votes, representing under 0.5 per cent of the votes.
So the questions for progressives of all types are these:
Since the managed democratic electoral system only provides decision-making influence to the majority winner, how can our energies put into building third parties pay off;
How can we assure that when we create radical or revolutionary political movements and political parties that they remain such?
How do we assure that our leaders will remain loyal to the cause and not succumb to their own power egos and material comforts?