Filed under: Critique, The State, US
We’ve got a hot summer ahead, and I don’t just mean record-breaking temperatures thanks to climate change.
Assuming the fuck-ups in the GOP clown car, currently careening out of control across our nation, can get their act together, we’re poised to see devastating legislation targeting some of the most vulnerable people in America. People are angry, and ready to active against the system, in a way we haven’t seen in years.
And huddling in corner number two — are the Democrats. And despite their feeble attempts at both resistance and distinct alternatives, their proposed “Resistance Summer” is designed to attract new activists and bring a flood of new liberal voters to the polls in upcoming elections.
Despite the catchy, chic, goes-with-a-beach-tote name, we’ve seen this sort of thing before from the Democrats. Indeed, while the party claims to support progressive causes, Democrats have a long history of sucking the life out of grassroots movements, taking their momentum for revolutionary change and directing the energy back into the American status quo at the ballot box.
Today we’re going to take a closer look at this “Resistance” based on the tried and true history of the party in blue.
According to Move On’s description of Resistance Summer, the event will come in three stages, beginning in June with backyard BBQs called “Community Cookouts.” In July, the groups that met at the cookouts are supposed to participate in massive voter registration drives. Finally, in August, they want Democrats to attend the town hall meetings of their Congress members with demands for the next legislative session.
Now, let’s start with what the Democrats are getting right. Movement building begins by getting people together, face to face, to talk and find common ground: after all, that was one of the real superpowers of the Occupy movement and its encampments. And I’m all in favor of people getting more involved in the political process, but basic voter literacy is hardly a “summer of resistance” — more like a summer Civics 101 class.
Furthermore, any class or get together that talks electoral politics without confronting the corruption inherent in the Democratic party is a half-assed class – and one that can not hope to effectively dismantle the cluster fuck that is our government system. Unless the Democrats are willing to challenge issues like gerrymandering, interstate crosscheck, which kept millions of votes from being counted in 2016, and corporate money in politics — the giant elephant in the room that’s being ignored, despite the huge piles of elephant shit everywhere — no amount of voter registration will make our elections actually democratic.
As for town halls, the Indivisible movement, based around a political action handbook written by former Congressional staffers, is already staging successful confrontations with politicians. In fact, many of the most conservative in the GOP have either canceled their town halls, or held them over the phone under strictly moderated conditions in order to limit voters’ freedom to express their grievances.
Now, rather than bolster what Indivisible is already doing – and doing very well, the Democrats want to instead reinvent the wheel – which of course only makes sense if you’re afraid that the original wheel is going to roll away from your crooked ass.
And this play is actually part of a very old Democratic playbook that involves leeching off of progressive causes in a way that frequently ends up hurting both the party and the movement. And it’s the reason we can’t allow the Democrats to take charge of the so-called “resistance” ever again.
For one of the clearest examples of this tactic in action, let’s travel back in time to early 2011, months before Occupy Wall Street began. For almost half a year, as many as 100,000 protesters staged sit-ins, demonstrations, and collectively held space at the Wisconsin Capitol. While it began as a protest against Gov. Scott Walker’s ultimately successful efforts to undermine the power of labor unions, like most modern mass movements it soon gathered diverse supporters with an equally diverse set of grievances against a state government dominated by the Koch Brothers and other corporate interests.
This diverse, collaborative, flat structure space captured the attention and the rising anger of people worldwide — from Tahrir to the upcoming occupiers in New York City. There was momentum – and there was resolve. And then, the Democrats mounted their “take over and pull back” strategy – doing their best to silence the radical voices and convince others their electoral path was the answer. As chronicled by journalist Lee Sustar:
For their part, the Democrats spared no effort to disorganize and demoralize those committed to the occupation. On February 27, Democratic staffers and their supporters took control of the open mic to call for leaving the building, and Wisconsin Rep. Brett Hulsey called for activists to follow him out the door. Hulsey’s efforts fizzled when socialists, student activists, and firefighters’ union leaders convinced a large contingent to stay for the night.
Alas, the victory over spineless Dems was short-lived. Unions, fearing the loss of their labor-management partnership, a partnership that since the 50s had become more of a thinly veiled banner for union busting, pulled out of the occupation and fell in line with Democrats and their absolutely pointless efforts to recall Scott Walker. In short, Dems saw the occupation of the capitol as a chance to needle their way into the governor’s mansion. From the start, it was clear that Dems weren’t interested in saving unions from Walker — unions and the hundreds of thousands of people rising up for themselves were merely a tool. Indeed, Dems even threw Tom Barrett, a historically anti-union candidate into the mix even though a pro-union candidate was already running as a Democrat:
People who had protested in the streets and slept in the Capitol groused about his uninspired record on workers’ rights and public education. He never inspired or unified the movement that had made a recall possible—and it showed on Election Day: Walker beat Barrett by 7 percentage points, almost his exact margin of victory in 2010. Democrats and their union allies needed to win over new voters and old enemies; by all accounts they failed. — Andy Kroll, “How the Wisconsin Uprising Got Hijacked“
But failing to unseat Walker was less important ultimately than succeeding in unseating the power of the people. Tom Barrett was the safe choice — someone who had run for governor before, knew the game but who could be polished in a fix like this one and served up as a slightly less shitty version of the same establishment turd. Democrats would again try this strategy in the 2016 presidential election — and I think we all know how that played out.
But there again, a progressive is far more scary to the Democrats than a union buster or indeed, a fascist. As the saying in Wisconsin goes, “The Cheddar Revolution, was buried in a mountain of ballots.” And it is a saying that could easily translate to many other instances. Likewise this synopsis by Andy Kroll:
The energy of the Wisconsin uprising was never electoral. The movement’s mistake: letting itself be channeled solely into traditional politics. … the takeaway from Walker’s decisive win on Tuesday is not that Wisconsin’s new populist movement is dead. It’s that such a movement does not fit comfortably into the present political/electoral system, stuffed as it is with corporate money, overflowing with bizarre ads and media horse-race-manship. Its members’ beliefs are too diverse to be confined in what American electoral politics has become. It simply couldn’t be squeezed into a system that stifles and, in some cases, silences the kinds of voices and energies it possessed.
And we saw this same kind of silencing, stifling and outright brutality in the Occupy movement which blossomed later that same year.
Initially, the Dems praised the movement, assuming it would serve their interests much like the Tea Party became an arm of the most conservative wing of the GOP. However, when it became clear that a diverse, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist agenda was more important to the Occupy movement than electoral politics, the crackdown was swift and brutal, with Democrat lead cities, from New York to Oakland, among the most brutal of all. Not to mention the fact that Dem lead agencies actually sat down with the fucking banks in order to figure out the best ways to crackdown and kill the Occupy movement.
In a 2012 Guardian article, Naomi Wolf outlines new information at the time that showed “…the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.”
Add to that list the FBI and Obama, the poster child for Wall Street and recent winner of a $400,000 pay-day from Wall Street. Together, this motley crue of oligarchists and capitalists was only too happy to precipitate the Occupy crackdown. The Bush-appointed head of the FBI Robert Mueller eventually retired in 2013 but not before Obama praised him as one of the most admired public servants of our time. And despite the waves of sympathy Comey is getting recently, that little shit was no saint – an outspoken proponent of plenty of awfulness: from enhanced interrogations aka torture to prosecuting Snowden.
As you can imagine or as you know, there is no shortage of muck to rake up on the Democrats. Their stand on any progressive pedestal is just another hallucination in this mirage democracy of ours. And there’s no amount of BBQ that can change that – nor is there any reason to think change is something the Dems are suddenly interested in.
Already, we’re seeing center-left pundits and party officials insist that in order to win in 2020, the party will have to shift further to the right, abandoning real progressive causes like universal healthcare, a universal basic income, or even transgender rights in the name of hopelessly appealing to white, upper-middle class racists who are going to vote Republican anyway.
The Dems will be the Dems will be the Dems will be the establishment. And if our movements are fighting the ills of said establishment, we are also fighting – the Democrats. As Kroll wrote, actions like Wisconsin do not fit into today’s electoral system. By definition, any movement concerned with progress and change can NOT fit in or be defined by existing parties or party lines.
Today, we’re seeing diverse causes come together, from prison abolition to climate change, into intersectional movements opposed to systematic inequality and the growing power of the rich. And once again we’re faced with a choice: Participate in the same old cycle of shifting from neoliberal Democrats to conservative Republicans at the ballot box, and always drifting a little further right, or doing something different to break free by insisting all our voices be heard.
If there’s any time we can break this cycle, it could be now, in this state of emergency provoked by the megalomaniac in the White House, and we do it by building connections between all the people and communities under threat. The occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol and many of the occupy encampments created those connections – made it easy to just walk on over and get involved – to build based on common ground not a red or blue divide.
But we can’t stop there. As admirable as it is to confront politicians at their town hall meetings, it’s still an appeal to the existing power structure, and to legislators that have already shown their disregard for human rights and the earth. We need better alternatives to the candidates we have now, and we ourselves need to build the alternative Communities that we want to see – not wait for them to be built by the powers that be.
Through education, network building, and most of all, street level direct action, we can begin to build alternatives to the two-party illusion, alternatives that begin with real people powered solutions, not top-down, profit driven corporate politics as usual.