SDUSA and the Democratic Convention

SDUSA marches at the DP Convention in Philly

SDUSA marches at the DP Convention

No SDUSA members attended the Democratic National Convention as delegates, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t present. SDUSA was represented among the thousands who gathered at FDR Park in Philadelphia to mount various rallies and protests. Our Vice Chair Michael Mottern (in the photo, on the left) tells me about the experience.

Rick: It sounds like FDR Park was the rallying point for all the various protest groups. Tell me about that.

Michael: Actually the meet-up location was City Hall. All the visiting groups were coordinated through philly.fyi. The field organizer was Jamhar James and he did a great job. The big march was on Sunday, from City Hall to FDR Park. FDR Park is across the road from Wells Fargo Center where the Democratic Convention was held. It was about a 3 ½ mile parade down Broad Street. The march included many different groups: socialists, environmentalists, black lives matter, legalizing pot, etc. Black Men for Bernie surprisingly had a very large presence. Altogether, I don’t know how many people were there; I’m no good at estimating crowds, but many thousands of people were there. The newspaper would give a better estimate.

Rick: The press liked to focus on some of the outlier groups, like the ones burning the US and Israeli flags. What was the general tone of the rallies?

Michael: I didn’t see any flag burning. It may have been a small group. There were so many people there, it would be easy to miss something. Overall, it was very peaceful. The police were very good. Polite, easy going. Based on what I saw at FDR Park, I would even say many of them were supportive.

Rick: We heard that hotel rooms were costing into the thousands of dollars during the convention. Protesters don’t have that kind of money.

Michael: I stayed at a cheap hotel on the other side of the river in Camden. Not a very safe area. But the hotel was full of protesters and we traveled on a bus to and from the hotel to Philly each day. We didn’t have any trouble and I met a lot of great people. Philly.fyi had bottled water to keep everyone hydrated and they had porta-johns everywhere. Maybe the city gave them the money to take care of the protesters? Philly.fyi did a great job. There were a lot of people that were trying to overnight in the park, but they weren’t allowed. Police had to evict them, but I didn’t hear of any violence or serious incidents. There were lots of food trucks for people to get something to eat, and Food Not Bombs was giving away hummus sandwiches and fresh vegetables. I and everyone else appreciated it.

Rick: How were your interactions with other socialist groups?

Michael: I spoke with some DSA people. They are kind of “cliquey”. They think highly of themselves. One said to me, “You guys are still around?” in a smart ass way. I also spoke with a member of Socialist Alternative. She asked me how we could have a Hillary voter as a member. I said, “We’re a democratic organization. We try to influence how our members vote, we don’t mandate how they vote”. She smirked and walked away. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of democratic centralism on the left.

Notes: Here is the website for philly.fyi.

Michael with the traditional rose of the left

Michael with the traditional red flag and rose of the left

protesters assembling at City Hall

protesters assembling at City Hall

Optimistic marcher

Optimistic marcher

Michael, our endorsed candidate Bernie, and the SDUSA torch

Michael, our endorsed candidate Bernie, and the SDUSA torch

Lots of signage

Lots of signage

More signage

More signage

Bernie supporters in large numbers

Bernie supporters in large numbers

Environmentalists

Global warming was a hot topic

Assembly at FDR

Assemblage at FDR Park

Red rose, red flag, alongside American colors says it all

Red rose, red flag, and American colors

Sanders’ Revolution

Bernie has been saying that he wants to start a grass roots political revolution. Most of his followers aren’t listening.

Our cult of celebrity culture makes it appear that there is only one election in America— the presidency. Thousands came out to see Bernie at rallies all over the country; like a rock star. And now that he’s lost the Democratic primary, they are disgruntled and angry. Bernie, however, wants to keep the movement going. Having been in politics for most of his life, he knows that a movement is not just one election. He says that we need to harness that energy and put it to work in local and state politics. I am not optimistic that this will happen. Ask most Bernie supporters if they are willing to run for office, or even for a seat on their local Democratic Committee. It’s a 4 year commitment. Most people today cannot imagine agreeing to do something for 4 years, let alone 6 or 8. Most political activity today consists of FB clicking. Bernie will be very disappointed if he thinks he can channel that into a movement.

Regarding voting for Hillary and the concept of least worst candidate. As we live in a democracy, by definition we will always be picking the least worst candidate. There is no perfect candidate, there is only the candidate who best aligns with my policies and is most competent. The term “least worst” is just a sarcastic way of saying “none of the candidates is my ideal candidate”. Welcome to democracy. You will recall that many social democrats and progressives were turned off by Bernie’s position on guns. There is no perfect candidate. If Bernie had won we would be elated, but there would be millions of other voters who feel that they would be forced to pick the least worst between Bernie and Donald in November. That’s the way elections work. I will vote for Hillary, and I won’t hold my nose while doing so. I have listened to Jill Stein and in no way, shape, or form, is she ready to represent America on the world stage as diplomat and be commander of our military. The only political office she has ever held was Town Meeting Seat in the town of Lexington, Mass. Her only qualification for president is that she is not Hillary Clinton. I respect your right to disagree and that’s what elections are for.

And that brings us back to the fact that the presidency is not the only election. Congress makes the laws and appropriates money, and Congress is run by Republicans. They do a piss poor job and we the voters have allowed that to happen. We got to this point by thinking that only the president is important and ignoring Congressional elections. We must break that mentality! The majority of voters in my state are registered as Democrats. In 2008 there was a massive turnout to elect Barack Obama. But was weak turnout for the 2010 Congressional and State elections. As a result the Republicans took control of our state government and gerrymandered the Congressional districts in their favor. Consequently, we now have 13 Republican House Representatives in Congress and 5 Democratic Reps (in a majority Democratic state!). This is how people like Paul Ryan get to be Speaker of the House. All of that because democrats in my state didn’t show up to vote for their state legislator. I know that many social democrats believe the Democratic Party is unfixable and they want to leave. But if they are leaving just because Bernie failed to gain the top spot, they’re making a mistake. Creating a party large enough to elect a president is a huge undertaking. You have to become the majority party in a majority of states. Growing the Green Party to that size will take decades and I don’t believe there is political willpower amongst that masses to make that happen. However, a Sanders’ revolution in the Democratic Party at the local and state level could result in Social Democrats becoming a majority of the party in 5-10 years. And that is an achievable goal.

Realignment— The Sequel

“I’m back, like an old pair of shoes you thought you threw away”. Johnny Cash

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

Last year when Bernie Sanders decided to run as a Democrat, he resurrected the question of third party or independent candidates for president. When he ran for mayor and member of Congress he ran as a socialist or independent, but for president he is running as a Democrat. One year ago this month I met Bernie at the Keystone Progress Summit in Harrisburg, PA. At that time he was unannounced and was traveling around the country examining the climate for his potential campaign. I had an opportunity to briefly talk with him about how he would run. I told him that Social Democrats USA would welcome his entry into the race, although we were still months away from endorsing anyone. I also commented that in a “Democratic machine” state like Pennsylvania he would have a lot of trouble winning as a third party candidate, and I suggested that running as a Democrat would be best. He joked that his staff had discussed this topic once or twice, implying that HOW to run was as big a question as SHOULD he run.

Shachtman

Shachtman

Many sisters and brothers on the left feel that we should have a party of our own— a party of labor and progressives that would field candidates against corporatist Democrats. And they further argue that every time a candidate like Bernie Sanders decides to run as a Democrat, he or she thwarts the effort to create such a party. Well, the truth is that we did have an independent left party for decades. And it didn’t work. We were never able to get Labor and Socialists on the same page long enough to field a candidate who would beat both Democrats and Republicans. Members of the working class are often conservative in their social attitudes, contrary to the positions of socialists. And even though attempts were made to pull socialists and labor together in a unified party, by 1960 most leaders of the Party had abandoned the idea of fielding candidates. At the national convention that year they adopted a policy of “realignment”. The center piece of that policy would be exerting Labor and Socialist influence within the Democratic Party to pull the party to the left and to force out any right wing tendencies, i.e., Dixiecrats. There is a great article this month in Jacobin magazine on the topic of realignment. Paul Heideman describes the history of realignment in wonderful detail invoking all our favorite players including Shachtman, Harrington, Rustin, Reuther, and Meany. He writes that in the 1950s, “The way might then be clear, Shachtman reasoned, for labor and its liberal allies to take over the party, transforming it into something like a European social-democratic party”. Not everyone bought into the idea. Proponents and opponents pitched back and forth through the 60s, until Harrington was elected SP Chair in 1968. He was a realigner, but unfortunately the Vietnam War created a new division between socialists and labor. Former allies Shachtman and Harrington were now on opposite sides. The realignment plan never really came to fruition. In a last gasp effort the AFL-CIO did endorse Mondale in advance of the 1984 primaries as a show of unified labor influence in the DP. In the decades since then, labor has become weaker. The social democratic faction in the DP has struggled to keep its head above water while the DP leadership agreed to cuts in social programs, a negative growth minimum wage, investment bankers ruining our economy, and a foreign policy that includes perpetual war. We have a Democratic Party that is driven from the top, ever reminding us that the DP is not a membership based party. The Democratic National Committee drives the bus and the voters are told to get on the bus. No one at the DNC asks the passengers where they would like to go.

Harrington

Harrington

Because realignment didn’t produce the desired results, there have been recurring calls for the creation of a new left party. Are conditions better now than they were 50 years ago? Was our failure to unite labor and political action the only reason realignment didn’t work before? Michael Goodhart, a local poli-sci professor here in Pittsburgh, once told me that it was because of some guy named Maurice Duverger. His contribution to our story was his theory that winner-take-all voting systems lead to two parties, whereas proportional voting systems tend to create multiple parties. In other words, third party candidates are viewed as spoilers and that causes voters to gravitate towards the least-worst candidate of the two major parties. We have seen this “spoiler” candidate in a number of elections and most leftists are not prepared to split the left vote and hand a victory to the Republicans. Last month I had a short on-line discussion about realignment with Jason Schulman and David Duhalde of DSA and Bhaskar Sundara, editor of Jacobin. At one point I commented that Harrington had recognized the validity of Duverger and supported realignment; Jason responded that Harrington and Duverger were both wrong. To that I can only respond that I don’t see any evidence that a new left party would be successful, especially one that is membership based. If we can’t muster enough support to become a majority of the DP, then we don’t have enough support to build a new party in a winner-take-all voting system. And if I may throw salt into the wound, the Tea Party has already demonstrated that realignment works. Rather than run as third party candidates, Tea Partiers were smart enough to form a “party within the party” and became a major influence in the GOP.

When charting a path forward, it always helps to take a look at where you’ve been. In 1972, the Socialist Party changed its name to Social Democrats USA. It is not insignificant that we dropped the word “party” from our name. As discouraging as it is, we are not going to field candidates except in some rare cases of a local or regional election where the general population is already leftist and the contest is only between corporate democrats and social democrats. (Actually, now that I think about it, that describes Hawaii and an independent Social Democratic Party could probably have success there). Although realignment did not work in the past, there is no viable alternative at this time. Our National Committee remains committed to the realignment policy of the Shachtmanites. Roger Heller, a UAW political activist in Michigan and a SDUSA NC member, believes the Sanders campaign has created the momentum needed to establish a permanent Social Democratic Caucus within the DP. We need to harness the energy being created by the Sanders movement and not let it evaporate after November. However, be assured that if Bernie doesn’t win the DP nomination, there will be more cries for the creation of a new progressive/labor party and the abandonment of realignment.

Democratic Super-Delegates

Note: this post originally appeared on the blog of the Carnegie Democratic Committee, by Rick D’Loss, Chair of that committee

Yesterday we finished the first official contest of this presidential election season. And it ended with a very exciting tie. And so we move on to New Hampshire.

From the beginning the pundits have been saying that it really doesn’t matter whether Bernie gets more primary votes than Hillary— she still wins the nomination. Really? What are they talking about? What they’re talking about are super-delegates.

The short story is this. In 1972, George McGovern won the Democratic nomination. In the general election however, he was soundly trashed by Richard Nixon. And so the DNC (Democratic National Committee) devised a system that would ensure that “the Party’s interests” would prevail over a very popular, grass roots candidate like McGovern. They established that a certain number of convention delegates would be reserved for elected officials (governors, senators, etc) and party leaders (DNC members) who could vote however they pleased. This number would be substantial. It is estimated that in 2016 there will be 713 superdelegates at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. This represents about 30% of the delegates! Think about that. All the campaigning and voting that will proceed around the country in upcoming months will determine about 70% of the delegates, and the other 30% will be determined by party leaders.

What impact does this have on Clinton-Sanders? Many super-delegates announced support for Hillary even before the race began. This includes Howard Dean, former Chair of the DNC. Even at this early date in the campaign, 347 super-delegates have already announced for Hillary. That’s almost half of the super-delegates. Before anyone has even voted, Hillary has 15% of the Convention delegates. That is why the pundits have been saying Hillary has it wrapped up even before the primary voting starts.

There is good and bad to this, of course. Admittedly, it’s kind of embarrassing that the Democratic Party has put shackles on democracy (the Republicans don’t have super-delegates). But the good part is that the party leaders are supposed to take some responsibility for vetting of candidates. We make an assumption that our elected officials (here in PA— Gov. Wolf, Sen. Casey, former Gov. Rendell, etc) will look out for our best interests and not create a repeat of 1972. But it’s also saying that the super-delegates who committed to Hillary early didn’t even take the time to consider who the other candidates are. It reeks of party machine politics, and that could turn off the next generation of voters.

Bernie Sanders is carrying the overwhelming majority of young democrats. What will be the message to them if they are ignored? Would they come to the conclusion that they would be better served by moving to the Green Party or the Working Families Party? I hope the super-delegates have enough sense to not piss off the future of the party. The Sanders movement is huge and it’s impact should not be ignored.

Militia in Oregon

Whenever I hear the news media refer to armed insurgents as militias, I keep thinking of this famous line from the Princess Bride.

The 2nd Amendment is all of one sentence long, and for many decades the right to own and bear arms has been debated because of the comma in the middle of the sentence. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. Citizens need to have arms because they need to be available to serve in militias. OK, I get that. And gun owners argue that even if they aren’t part of a militia, the Constitution nonetheless gives them the right to own arms. That’s a legitimate debate. However, I don’t recall much debate about the definition of “a well regulated militia”. My guess is that a group of guys in the woods with guns does not constitute a well regulated militia. The men at the Oregon Wildlife Refuge are not a militia, in any sense of the word. Stop using that word! Carrying a U.S. flag does not give them credibility. I commented to a friend earlier this week that here in the city, a group of men with guns that has staked out a territory is called a street gang.

The well regulated militia identified in the Constitution is officially called the National Guard. The National Guard is the formal military organization of the individual states. Refer to 32 U.S. Code § 101 – Definitions

(4) “Army National Guard” means that part of the organized militia of the several States and Territories, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, active and inactive, that—
(A) is a land force;
(B) is trained, and has its officers appointed, under the sixteenth clause of section 8, article I, of the Constitution;
(C) is organized, armed, and equipped wholly or partly at Federal expense; and
(D) is federally recognized.

Admittedly, the federalizing of the National Guard is contentious.  I discussed that last year.

Why is it then that the press does not refer to the Oregon militia the same way that they refer to a street gang? The answer is institutionalized racism that survives in all areas of our culture. You may recall back in the ’80s when a group of black anarchists calling themselves MOVE occupied some buildings in Philadelphia. They were armed and refused to surrender. The police bombed the building killing 11 people, including children. The resulting fire burned down most of the neighborhood. But today in Oregon, the government wants to “avoid a confrontation”. And the reason is the militants are white.

POTUS hasn’t spoken much about militia in Oregon. He says it’s a police matter. The local law enforcement in Oregon says that the occupiers will face charges when they surrender. Presidential candidate Kasich’s spokesperson tweeted, “I know a good federal compound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. penitentiary.” My feelings are a bit stronger than that. I think they should be treated as if they were black or Hispanic. I will agree to let my tax dollars contribute to the rebuilding of the structure after the fire.

And oh by the way, one of the insurgents stated that they just want the federal government to give the land back to its rightful owners. The local native tribe is pretty excited about that.