Introduction: The rat as a compelling symbol of needed revolt
In his recent Truthdig piece, “The Rats Revolt,” journalist Chris Hedges discusses a fable for activists just published by legendary political dissident Ralph Nader. I haven’t read Nader’s book, but it’s enough for organizers like me to know that two of the left’s leading public intellectuals are united in calling for revolt. And (since symbols are vital to movements) that they’ve given us a highly effective symbol for organizing current revolt: the rat.
With crucial strategy to discuss, it would waste precious time to dwell long on movement symbolism here. But, besides its adoption by leftist opinion leaders like Hedges and Nader, the rat splendidly serves the purposes of organizing revolt. In the face of onrushing climate apocalypse, we are all rats on a sinking ship. And to the elites blithely ignoring climate apocalypse – partying on the Titanic – we who care deeply about the matter are clearly noxious vermin; the brutal treatment of the Standing Rock water protectors as terrorists (championed by Republican pols with scarcely a murmur of protest by Democrats) is both telling and typical. My family’s experience resisting fracking under PA’s Democratic governor Rendell (Virginia Cody is my wife) was parallel.
But – provided the revolt movement chooses appropriate action – there’s a positive, active side to the rat symbol; it needn’t just represent passive victimhood. Indeed, my case here is that Democrats are engaged in mafia-like behavior – electoral extortion – that demands “ratting out.” Finally, it’s appropriate in view of rats’ historical role in transmitting the bubonic plague, since the movement strategy I propose here is heavily focused on plaguing Democrats.
Revolt basis: Democrats criminally extort votes against climate justice
Say what? Why plague Democrats, with a president as horrible as Trump in charge and ruling Republicans arguably turning ever more fascist? Indeed, hasn’t Noam Chomsky himself, an icon to most leftists, branded today’s Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in human history”? So what’s up with organizing a mass revolt against Democrats? Isn’t it insane to elect the most dangerous organization in human history?
First off, I’m not saying we should vote Republican, or even run the risk of electing Republicans by voting for third parties. Far from it! Asserting we should vote Republican, or even risk Republicans winning, would contradict my fundamental assertion that Democrats extort our votes. Anyone who takes Chomsky’s assertion that Republicans are the most dangerous organization in human history seriously – and no one takes it more seriously than climate justice activists like me – is poised to understand how Democrats exploit the threat of brutal Republican misrule as a turbocharged tool of electoral extortion.
If Democrats didn’t make a rationally compelling threat, they wouldn’t be practicing extortion. Just as the mob makes a rationally compelling threat: they provably can and will kill your whole family. That Democrats make their totally rational threat unsuccessfully is suggestive evidence of just how loathsome voters find today’s Democrats. Even more so, it’s compelling evidence that U.S. voters on neither the right nor the left are terribly rational. The left, in particular, has shown a piss-poor grasp of Chomsky’s logic.
Anyone acquainted with Chomsky’s dry, matter-of-fact style speaking style should realize that he’s not given to emotionally charged hyperbole. In fact, I seem to recall that he adopts that style deliberately, wishing to persuade by facts and logic rather than emotional appeals. So when he makes an assertion as outrageous sounding as calling Republicans the most dangerous organization in human history – and openly acknowledges how outrageous his assertion sounds – he’s basing it on the scientific logic of climate apocalypse, a logic regrettably almost totally absent from U.S. political discourse.
With an unprecedented climate fiasco menacing our species – perhaps to the point of extinction – a Republican Party not merely rejecting climate science, but proactively attacking it as a dangerous conspiracy, is logically humanity’s most dangerous enemy ever. Which is why leftists must choke back our vomit and vote for Democrats. But we hardly need to stop there. We should torture Democrats with righteous wrath for strong-arming us into voting for their own loathsome party. A party with no room whatsoever for climate justice.
By voting for Democrats, we’re voting for a party that overwhelmingly supports fracking and militarism – the first a direct, and the second an indirect, assault on the prerequisites of emergency climate action, as ably laid out Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything. If leftists needed a scathing indictment of Democrats and their policies, the latest IPCC report is clearly that indictment. Anyone secretly hell-bent on promoting human extinction need not look crazy by backing Republicans; Democrats’ policy commitments will work just fine.
But in a political system with only two viable parties, Republicans are demonstrably far worse, beyond appeal to reason (just like any other mob enforcer). For any reasonable person concerned about climate, Democrats’ electoral extortion must succeed. And must be repaid with bitter resentment. That’s what movement organizing – and the time between elections – is for.
So, the logic of U.S. politics cries out specifically for a Rats’ Revolt, one devoted to “ratting out” Democrats for their anti-climate electoral extortion. Moreover, the notion of “ratting out” couldn’t be more appropriate to the nature of Democrats’ extortion. After all, ratting out mob higher-ups to the feds is a disloyal act of revenge or self-protection (both apply here) undertaken by fellow members of the mob. Perhaps those future “rats” were even coerced into the mob under threat of force and therefore owe the mob no real loyalty. Such is the case for all climate justice voters strong-armed into voting Democrat – coerced into the Democrat mob – under the rationally unthinkable threat of Republican rule. Climate justice voters in our hearts, we would – in a genuine democracy – vote for a climate justice party like Greens in a heartbeat. We owe neither love nor loyalty to a Democratic Party that holds our votes hostage – in fact we hate it—but we will never be safe or free until we “rat out” Democrats’ electoral extortion racket. And torture Democrats – the ones we were coerced into electing – into providing effective remedies.
Making U.S. elections safe for democracy
Democrats clearly have a vested interest in quashing democracy through electoral extortion. And their pretenses of wishing to protect us from Republican fascism and insanity are the purest hypocritical lip service. For there’s a vastly more effective method of sparing us Republican barbarity than demanding we vote for Democrats. It’s called ranked choice voting, and if Democrats really gave a damn about protecting us from Republicans, they’d be tripping over one another to sponsor bills to make it U.S. electoral law.
While I don’t have space here to discuss ranked choice voting in detail (all people who cherish democracy should use the link above to inform themselves), ranked choice voting would forcefully close the curtain on Democratic Party extortion. Every climate justice voter who wished to vote third party – right now, that should mean every climate justice voter – could safely vote, say, for the Green Party candidate and list the Democrat as a second choice. If the Green candidate didn’t win enough first-place votes to stay in the race, the Green voters’ votes would then go to the Democratic candidate. In that way, voting Green would not automatically entail taking a vote away from Democrats. Prospective Green voters would no longer face a compelling dilemma of conscience when voting for their (vastly) preferred party. And climate justice activists like me could – in good conscience – throw all energies into working to build Greens (or the most promising climate justice party). And Democrats would be faced with serious competition from the environmentally and socially conscious left. The same sort of competition that forced 1930s Democrats to embrace the New Deal.
Coercing Democrats to embrace ranked choice voting would open the door to further reforms crucial to “making U.S. elections safe for democracy.” I speak of the hurdles deliberately placed to keep third parties from appealing to voters, whether it be ridiculous barriers to ballot access or scandalous exclusion from major media debates. Currently, both Democrats and Republican show their “mafia” thuggishness by reveling in these anti-democratic practices. With Republicans, this should be no surprise, since fascistic anti-democracy thuggishness is actually a large part of GOP appeal. Whereas Democrats have zero rational grounds for anti-democratically suppressing progressive third parties—except, of course, the threadbare argument of risking electing Republicans. A risk easily removed by enacting ranked choice voting. Democrats’ flagrant resistance to ranked choice voting, like their persistence in third-party-suppressing practices, makes an utter mockery of the party name.
But Democrats’ role models in strong-armed extortion – the mafia – never showed much interest in democracy either.
In this article, I indicated why leftist activists – especially climate justice activists – should take up Chris Hedges’ and Ralph Nader’s call to start a “Rats’ Revolt.” I also sketched the organizing theme and overall strategy for such a revolt. In my next piece, “Chuck Schumer, the Low-Profile Teflon Don,” I’ll illustrate the needed tactics for executing our strategy of “ratting on” and “plaguing” Democrats who extort our votes.