INDIA, INDEED!

By Patty Friend

The voters of Buffalo have just made history by electing, against all odds, its first Democratic Socialist as the Democratic mayoral nominee. India Walton is smart, capable, experienced and a serious caregiver with a well-lived life to inform her politics and her decisions.

India Walton grew up in the “Fruitbelt” neighborhood on Buffalo’s Eastside. She was responsible for her brothers and sisters, and helped her mother who was a single mother. At the age of 14, India herself became a single mom and five years later had twin boys with serious medical problems, making it necessary both for her to ride the city buses with her twins and their strollers and accoutrements, and to work with hospital and social services’ bureaucrats. Then, she had a fourth son in her twenties. In these years, she got her GED and went to nursing school, eventually becoming a registered nurse working at different local hospitals. On top of all this, she became a hard-charging activist who always impressed people with her intelligence, great ideas and presence.

As one of Buffalo’s premier community organizers, she was the natural choice to run against Mayor Byron Brown. True, she lacked the “connections in high places” or access to large amounts of money or wealthy donors, but she’s been a magnificent and victorious candidate nonetheless, upsetting a well-funded machine politician in her first campaign. Walton’s platform does an old Social Democrat’s heart good. It includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Eliminating nepotism and other corrupt hiring practices in city government
  • Ending the closing of budget gaps on the backs of the poor (ex: parking/motor vehicle fees/penalties, taxes)
  • Extending public transportation
  • Capping the 33 Expressway and bringing back the Humboldt Parkway
  • Increasing civic involvement by marginalized communities
  • Enhancing infrastructure user-friendliness for all Buffalonians rather than the wealthy few.
  • Stopping tax abatements for wealthy developers and large companies

Running the city of Buffalo on this platform will be quite challenging. Buffalo is plagued with gentrification and a lack of affordable housing, a biased criminal justice system and police force. There are issues around  the maintenance of public buildings and disposition of older public buildings, infrastructure needs and existing projects, tax collection, the aftermath of Covid-19, and Buffalo’s (in)famous winter snow. Community organizations will have great expectations of her administration; ‘old-timers’ in government may want to sabotage her efforts.

She may not have a lot of experience in electoral politics or in management/administration, but she is a quick study. She will need experienced advisers and lots of help from staff that she can trust, who will ‘have her back.’ Hopefully, she can either fire the ‘dead-weight’ employees loyal to Mayor Brown or get them to work on her behalf. It’s precisely her not being from the Old Guard that could enable her to come up with new ways to analyze problems and arrive at more creative solutions. As she said about herself to MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton, she may not be the perfect candidate for mayor, but if we insist on perfection, we lose out on what a lot of talented and exciting people can do for us and the community.

She will make a good mayor of Buffalo, but there is still a General Election to win in November. Brown is launching a well-funded, hard-fought write-in campaign. Power doesn’t give up easily, and Mayor Brown and his cronies certainly won’t. Social Democrats USA has not only endorsed India Walton, but has pledged to contribute to her (as individuals) and work for her. Our members are already signed up to doorknock for her this summer and fall. I predict that our work will be extremely fulfilling and worth it. So good luck to India Walton – the next Mayor of Buffalo, New York – and good luck to us all!

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

TURNING ON THE BEACON

By Jason Sibert

The United States has frequently held itself up as a beacon of democracy to the world. We’ve sometimes seen the development of democracy as the way to a peaceful world. It’s nice to see the U.S. becoming more electorally democratic in time. In the earliest days of the republic, only white men with a certain amount of property could vote.  Women gained the right to vote with women’s suffrage in the 1920’s and People of Color (POC) gained the right to vote with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (POC voting was confined to certain regions prior to that key law). America became more democratic in economics from the 1930’s to the 1970’s with the adoption of some moderate social democratic reforms.

The democratic republican form of government does a lot for the idea of international law and peace, as international relations scholars have long realized that democracies do a lot for foreign relations because of their stability, according to Rachel Myrick (“American is Back – But for How Long?”, Foreign Affairs, June 14)  In autocracies, when leaders are removed from power via revolution or military coup, the transitions often mean dramatic swings in foreign policy. This makes for a less stable international system. Our political system is currently polarized, and foreign policy is no exception. Former President Donald Trump challenged or withdrew from more than a dozen international agreements or institutions, including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the World Health Organization. Polarization presents a problem for foreign policy because it chips away at a key component of power – our reputation for stability and reliability.

Political polarization means a tendency to dislike a particular party, and this gives leaders an incentive to undo the accomplishments of the prior president. Trump was determined to undo all of Obama’s foreign policy accomplishments. Democracy holds another advantage over other forms of government when it comes to constraining leaders. Since leaders are held in check by the people, they are less likely to make threats or make promises they cannot keep. In international negotiations, the signals a democracy sends to foreign actors tend to be more credible because democracies also tend to be better at keeping international agreements.

Treaties are a problem in U.S. politics because they require two-thirds of the Senate to ratify. Myrick points out a solution to the ratification process and the problem with that solution: “anticipating partisan opposition, presidents now usually avoid the congressional approval process altogether by entering into political commitments or executive agreements instead. Although this strategy allows leaders to enact their preferred policies, there is a cost: agreements that are not ratified by Congress are more easily undone by subsequent administrations.”

Myrick points out that some feel the geopolitical competition between our country and the People’s Republic of China might be cause for partisan cooperation. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case because foreign policy is becoming more polarized by the moment. The polarization is weaking our democratic republic which could lead to a weaker international system and a less stable and more armed world. Despite our long Cold War with Soviet Russia, our country managed to engage in quality arms control with the SU and rachet down tensions at times, particularly in the nuclear realm. There was a policy of detente with Soviet Russia that emerged in the 1970’s under President Richard Nixon, broke up under President Jimmy Carter, and reappeared under President Ronald Reagan. Would this be possible today? I don’t think so.

The concept of international law is only a valid concept if there is a group of nation-states that back up the law or laws in question. The U.S. cannot be a part of that body if it’s always going back on agreements it made in the previous presidential administration, and it cannot be a beacon of hope to those who aspire to the democratic way of life if we fall out of the democratic republic orbit and into the orbit of authoritarian democracy.

This brings us to the issue of voter suppression, a tool of those – like former President Donald Trump – that support the abolition of portions of our democracy that might weaken their power. All those who believe in the causes of democracy, international law and peace should fight voter suppression and the trend toward authoritarian democracy. A less stable international system and more deadly arsenals don’t point to a better future. Social democrats have historically believed in political and economic democracy – let’s continue to fight the good fight in the future.

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

Endorsement: INDIA IN AMERICA

by Michael Mottern

It was said by some rogue Buffalo (NY) political folks several years ago, including someone from  the “U.S. MLO” – United States Marxist-Leninist Organization –  newspaper distributor, that considering a run for mayor would be great thing for the community. However, once a Democratic Party Committee Member, and a member of the, U.S. Friends of The Soviet People, informed him that he would need a political party affiliation in order to run, the subject was dropped like a hot potato. 

In Buffalo, the office of the mayor is a pretty large job. It determines the police budget, closing budget gaps and deciding where the money is going to come from in a city that doesn’t have a very large tax base (as of 20 years ago). Right now, the medium income in Buffalo averages $35,000 a year.  Buffalo residents are largely working-class poor and did not get a taste of the new Buffalo Renaissance. Under mayor Byron Brown, Buffalo is one of the most affordable housing markets in the country while remaining, statistically, the fourth poorest city in America.

Buffalo was called the ninth most liberal city in America according to Forbes magazine, and has a very good activist community. I was once told by the American political parties professor at Buffalo State College that Buffalo was “the Beirut of political parties,” and the University of Buffalo is known for its radicals. So when the time came to replace the incumbent Democrat this year, India Walton stepped up to the plate to stop several years of developer expansion and excluding the community from a place at the table by  defeating him in the Western New York primary last Tuesday!

While she did not get the Working Families party line due to a technicality, the WFP did campaign for her fervently and got out the vote in a Democratic primary that had the lowest voter turnout in years, according to Erie County Democratic Committee Chair Jeremy Zellner. She took the lead immediately in the early voting and never relinquished it – Mayor Brown didn’t campaign at all, writing off India as too radical a political figure for Buffalo.  But Brown has been quite attentive to closing budget gaps by imposing penalties and fees and speeding tickets with the help of ubiquitous speed cameras that disproportionally hurt working-class commuters, inhibiting them from going just 20 miles per hour or 25 miles per hour near a school zone thoroughfare. Once the people started complaining, the city legislature took the speed cameras down, but the mayor’s mindset was unchanged.

Since India announced her candidacy online and with the DSA local in Buffalo, she stressed not closing budget gap loopholes on the backs of poor people. She can be a real asset in City Hall and can have a real connection with the people, unlike previous administrations. Reallocating public money back to the community in block grants and infrastructure is a dire necessity that benefits all Buffaloers. I spoke to India a few times on the campaign online and by phone, and we agree that public transportation needs to be made a priority, i.e., extending the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority rail line out to the suburbs and burying the 33 Expressway which demolished Humboldt Parkway in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Robert Moses bisected Olmsted Delaware Park (the main park in North Buffalo). India will be a breath of fresh air for many local residents that aren’t used to high priced lofts and developments, and giveaways to rich people in the form of tax breaks just for setting up shop on the waterfront while the rest of the city residents have to pay full property taxes instead of 7 years tax free (like on the waterfront).. 

India Walton has made national news, grabbing several headlines from Mother Jones and CNN, as well as catching the eye of Nina Turner campaign for Congress. Let’s hope she stands strong and turns back Byron Brown’s proposed run as an independent. Social Democrats USA endorses India Walton for the mayoralty of Buffalo, New York.

Michael Mottern is First Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA.

STEMMING THE AUTHORITARIAN TIDE

By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

The United States must decide if it will continue its progression toward a more democratic republic or backslide toward a less democratic authoritarianism. For a model of the latter, one can look at Victor Orban’s Hungary. Orban has made it tough for his opponents to vote, although he hasn’t shut down every facet of democratic rule – there are some civil liberties and elections. Former President Donald Trump’s politics represent its American counterpart.

Although Trump is no longer our president, his authoritarian brand of politics is still alive and well. His followers are convinced that he will be reinstalled in August of 2021.   In recent surveys, 53 percent of Republicans believe that Trump won the 2020 election.  This reflects the total giving of oneself to the “great leader,” a mentality that is common in authoritarian politics. When it comes to voter suppression, the Republican party looks to copy Orban and other authoritarian leaders. The Republicans successfully pushed voter suppression legislation in Texas, Florida, and Georgia, signed into law by their Republican governors to great fanfare. This is a widespread effort, as similar legislation is pending in 40 states.

Those who support such legislation claim it is necessary to stop illegal voting. This legislation is based on “the big lie” that Trump won the 2020 election, and that it was stolen from him by Democratic voter fraud. However, elections are already highly regulated. The Department of Homeland Security said that recent elections were the most secure in history. There are representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties and independent representatives at every polling station in America. There are only a few cases of illegal voting in each election. For instance, in the cases of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, the only people trying to vote fraudulently were Republicans who tried to vote for Trump using their dead parents’ identification.  So, the real reason for these laws is simple – to suppress the non-white, Democratic-leaning vote which grows more as the years pass. In addition, suppressing the Democratic-leaning youth vote is also a goal. There’s a larger plan at work, making it so that the will of the majority cannot be heard, keeping the minority in power – just like in Hungary! Voter suppression laws work alongside the gerrymandering of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate’s provision of two senators for each state to ensure minority rule in today’s America.

Authoritarian democracy appeals to certain segments of various countries who want to keep the opposition from gaining power, even though the opposition isn’t outlawed outright, like in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Authoritarians consider democracy to be a game played by those who they deem fit to play. Trumpism in the United States seeks to enhance the power of the racial majority, whites, despite the country becoming less white. This is an ideology that is empowered by white supremacy. The Trump coalition includes white evangelicals, who have already lost the culture war battles of the previous decades; former Dixiecrats, multinational corporations, and disaffected working-class former Democrats.

Orban’s authoritarianism appeals to racial resentment. Vladimir Putin’s Russian authoritarianism appeals to those who want to maintain Christian civilization against a changing world, Narenda Modi’s Indian authoritarianism appeals to those who feel Hindus share too much power with non-Hindus, and Recep Erdogan’s Turkish authoritarianism appeals to those who feel Islamic ideas have been suppressed by the secular nature of Turkey’s history. Such movements sometimes inspire independent actors, terrorists, to turn the aforementioned movements violent. It must be added that sometimes such people are directly inspired by the words of political leaders, like the Jan. 6 insurrection, by Trump supporters or by the violence against non-Hindus in India. 

Social Democrats USA promotes democracy in every aspect of our civil/political lives. The popular/democratic authoritarian movements gaining strength in the USA and throughout the democratic world will destroy all that we hope for if we do not deal with them appropriately. If the Republicans take the House and/or the Senate in 2022 through voter suppression laws or overturning elections, our democracy will be over – period. Moreover, if right-wing media and social media can continue to spread their big lies without any regulation, our populace will never agree on what our problems are, let alone on how to fix them. It is time to take these people (right-wing Republicans/Trumpist) and their media very seriously. They are not simply “a little nuts”, or way too prejudiced against non-whites, young people, and women, or grieving over the loss of power and white privilege. They are dangerous, violent, and delusional. Too many of them believe that Democrats are literally baby-eating sex traffickers who want to destroy all that is good about the Western world, including the white race, and the ones who do not believe in the Qanon claptrap still believe our democracy is being undermined by their enemies.

They are also committed to overthrowing President Biden and doing bodily harm to everyone who gets in the way. Furthermore, if the Republican state legislators can overturn elections that they claim were fraudulent without any real evidence backing up their claims, and if they are allowed to gerrymander their congressional and state legislative districts, Democrats (some social democrats) will never be able to gain power outside of California, Delaware, Illinois, Oregon, New Jersey, Washington, and maybe a few other states.    Beyond all of that, if we do not take actions to deal with these elements, especially those who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, there’s no telling what they will do to gain or keep power. We know that history shows us that if we do not confront any totalitarian or authoritarian movement with every tool in our box to defeat them, things do not get better – they only get worse.

What must we do to hold on to our democracy in the USA? First, we must establish a commission or select committee (Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional leaders should determine the structure) with subpoena power to get to the bottom of who organized or funded the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection; what were their goals or objectives; and how much did Donald Trump and others (name names) actually direct events? We must also expel Republican members of Congress who were involved in the insurrection. Second, we must insist on a new and accurate amended census in every state of the union because the 2020 census was not as accurate as it must be. Thus, the redistricting that will take place this year based on census outcomes that will benefit the Republicans immensely and unfairly. Third, we must pass the PRO Act so the labor movement can be revived and thrive, and in terms of education, we must bring back civics and teach critical thinking as well as critical American history in all schools all over the country. Fourth, we must stop Republican attempts to rig state elections and pass federal legislation which would deny all state courts from hearing any case involving voter fraud for federal elections. Going forward, only federal courts could process such disputes. This law would bypass state courts and avoid Republican corruption by limiting state jurisdiction. Other federal legislation should be passed establishing evidentiary standards for all other claims of voter fraud by local boards, and federal law should make any attempt to process any claim of voter fraud without standards of evidence as invalid. Such legislation would make it a federal crime punishable by years in federal prison for throwing out any vote, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t utilize such standards of evidence. Also, pressure must be put on the Garland Department of Justice to prosecute the lawbreakers involved in conducting the illegal audits that are being conducted in Arizona and possibly all over the country. The key to winning this battle in organizing and rallying our vote like never before…as if our lives depend upon it! Fifth, pass S1 and S4 and eliminate the filibuster for civil and/or human rights legislation.   

Authoritarian movements are gathering steam throughout the democratic world. They are based upon racial and/or religious supremacy and what their followers think of as former glory days. The refugee problem (which will only get worse as the greenhouse effect becomes more of a crisis) and globalization have been weaponized over the last 20 years. In the United States, globalization and the refugee crisis have terrified white middle-class and working-class people, and this has fueled a popular authoritarianism present in other countries. Leaders like Trump, Putin, Orban, Erdogan, and Modi are demagogues who have taken advantage of the hatred aimed at religious and racial minorities. Other demagogues like England’s Nigel Farage and France’s Marine LePen represent similar movements, even though they haven’t led countries. This political tide must be turned back if we are to save ourselves!

 Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

THE NEW WORLD DISORDER

By Jason Sibert

Contemporary world affairs are defined by disorder on many levels. For those who believe in security through diplomacy, international law and arms control, our world is not a pretty sight.  President Biden said he would reinvigorate the United States’ diplomacy and alliances when running in 2020. However, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced its clock to 100 minutes to midnight, closer to zero that ever before. The organization said the international security situation is more dangerous than at any time since the Cold War. There are religious and ethnic tensions in Israel/Palestine and India/Kashmir, both involving nuclear armed nations. U.S. Admiral Charles Richard warned that China is challenging international norms in ways not seen since the end of the Cold War.

In addition, there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than any time in the last 3.6 million years, and this accelerates the greenhouse effect – global warming. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called climate change an “existential threat” which is making the world unsafe. Let us not fall into the trap of purchasing more weapons and projecting hard power throughout the world, as argued by writer Jonathan Granoff in his piece “Why Military Response Won’t Defuse the Israel Crises or Other Multiplying Threats.” (The Hill, May 14)

What is the stance of the Biden administration? It just pushed through a $753 billion dollar budget, a $12 billion dollar increase than the previous year. Granoff gives us an idea of what this means in terms of our security: “that (Biden) increase is more than the entire 2021 budget for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cost of the nuclear weapons complex over the next 30 years is projected to be around $2 trillion — about as much as the cost of overhauling infrastructure across the U.S.”

The geopolitical tensions between the US,. China and Russia are driving increased levels of defense spending. The rest of the world, nuclear armed states such as Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and India, spent nearly $2 trillion in military outlays last year, as stated by Granoff. The United Nations, a troubled institution, received just $50 billion in 2020. Security means concentrating on how we live our lives, and it includes climate, health, food, education, jobs, strong communities, human rights, the rule of law and the freedom of worship.

Assembling in Rome, Nobel Peace Prize winners declared: “the promotion of global cooperation is distorted by the possession of nuclear weapons by some; we must ensure the elimination of nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.” They also cited the issues of the environment and  poverty. Granoff supports the idea of international cooperation as a solution to our problems. This will be a tough task considering the ineffectiveness of the UN and the tensions between various power blocks in the world.

However, for a true version of security to emerge, the world must look past political differences and set the ground rules for law and order. Social democrats of various stripes, and in various countries, should be the ones to do this. Our philosophy is inclusive of pragmatism and problem-solving, something that separates us from Communists and others on the far Left, to say nothing of the extreme Right. Social democrats have a view of security well-suited for contemporary problems. Few in our movements would advocate doing away with militaries or the nation-state per se. At the same time, we should be at the forefront of internationalist solutions to order and redirect dollars where security is needed. The problem is figuring out how social democratic forces can return to power in the nation-states of wealthy industrial democracies.

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.