Swipe Left on the Democrats and Electoral Politics

cross-posted from Afflict the Comfortable

They’re Just Not That Into You


There are currently two feuds dominating the Left—Jimmy Dore vs. AOC  in “The Brawl Over Medicare-for-All” and various segments of the Left vs. The Squad on its vote to re-elect Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

If you want/need better evidence of the futility of the Left, it would be hard to find.  There’s a huge ongoing dispute over whether “The Squad,” a group of about 6 elected officials (hell, throw Sanders and Markey in there and make it 8) out of 535, should force Congress to have a vote on socialized medicine to put everyone on the record, and another argument over whether to vote against the incumbent (and politically inept) speaker of the house.  Social media is still in in an uproar over these issues with “support AOC” and “The Squad is dead to me” opinions seeming to alternate in frequency and intensity.

The Left continues to be hung up on electoral politics, despite not just its shortcomings but clear inability to make any kind of effective change.  One would think that two Sanders campaigns, the latter blowing through $180 million, the Clinton and Obama maneuvering to kill him off politically, the attacks on AOC and her cohorts by the Democratic leadership, AOC’s big defeat for a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, constant scapegoating of The Squad, “Defunding the Police,” and “Socialism” by establishment Democrats since November 4th, and so on would convince the Left about the futility of its efforts.  There’s not an issue with voting, per se, but once you’ve cast the ballot, it’s time to move on and begin movements, organize, go into the streets.

But, like Charlie Brown kicking the football that Lucy’s holding, they go back for more.  Sure, we all know how hapless Liberals are, but sadly it looks like self-described radicals and even people who claim to be Socialists are in the same camp—bitching about the Democrats and obsessing over electoralism.

No one will convince people not to vote or get involved in electoral politics, much as it might be a useful experiment.  But people on the Left need to realize that voting is a tactic—and that means a vote for Biden against Trump was a tactic too, which was okay—and it’s not sacrosanct.  And we’re at a juncture now where it’s clear, or ought to be, that voting and electoral politics—like forcing a floor vote on M4A—is so far from the kind of effective action that we need, especially amid a pandemic and an economic crash, that it’s a big drain of valuable time and resources and no way to attain or increase any political credibility.

So, yeah, let’s just step aside from the Democrats, from The Squad, from electoral politics all together.  There’s a little more space on the margins to organize and do direct action and create community political groups with Trump out, but it has to start now.  The needs are great, the time is short.

It Doesn’t Matter

At an elementary level—like most lefty hysterics about the actions of elected officials—these disputes just don’t matter, they’re a big “so what!”  So many  Liberals and the Left think the politics of symbolism will make or break them.  They live in a world in which they believe that public actions by small groups will help or harm their causes.

Antifa?  A gift to the Right….

Impeachment?  That’s going to only help Trump ……

Punching Nazis?  Makes us all look bad; we should be nonviolent…..

“Defund the Police”?  Toxic, snappy words that will just turn people off…..

Tagging Pelosi’s and McConnell’s houses?  Childish behavior that will create negative public perceptions of us…..

Here’s the thing….. It doesn’t matter. Antifa was crucial in the summer rebellions and even got decent media play. Impeachment had no bearing on Trump’s future or the election.  Punching Nazis inspired some young anarchists, pissed off some older Lefties, and in the end it meant little if anything.  The movement to defund the police angered a lot of people for whom optics or “toxic words” is their only politics, but you could have called it the “Free Ice Cream and Whiskey If Cops Kill Fewer Black People” program and it still would have been trashed.  Left scolding has no particular virtue and when people are in the streets, literally risking their lives, they deserve support, not reprobation.

The likes of Spanberger, Lamb, Ruy Teixeira and the CAP clan, and Democratic talking heads have always, and will always, deride the Left for its language and action.  The Democrats have spent about a half-century now waging an aggressive internal campaign against anything to the Left of corporate shills like Biden, Dick Gephardt, Gary Hart, Mike Dukakis, Pelosi and so many others.

So what are the politics of this Dore v. AOC uproar?  What’s the political calculus?  If you force a vote, you can put people on record, that’s it?  But the Democratic Party’s already made it clear that it’s against M4A, amid a global pandemic that’s exposed the utter failure of the U.S. healthcare system.  Biden said he’d veto it if it came to his desk (which is even more telling because he could have punted on the questions since there was always zero chance of that happening).  So it doesn’t matter.

Sadly, we of the Left must realize that we’re specks in the political universe, that elected officials just don’t care about us, so we have to find other ways to attack this brutal and inhuman system. You can get exercised and outraged all the time about Biden’s cabinet choices, his failure to embrace Left policies, Janet Yellen’s Wall Street millions, all of that, and they just don’t care because the Left doesn’t matter.  You’re bellowing into the void.

Putting people on the spot to vote for/against a measure that they’re already publicly for and mostly-against doesn’t seem to hold a lot of promise.  At the same time, if they do “force the vote,” and get crushed, or maybe pull in a lot more votes that expected, it doesn’t matter.  It’s not going to shame Dem leadership into changing its position and won’t embarrass them or be a political liability.  This has been a big two-week distraction that will end up meaning nothing.  It doesn’t matter.

The GOP has embraced QAnon, incited the Proud Boys, defended Kyle Rittenhouse, welcomed violent White Supremacists into its party, has no problem with people waving Swastika or Confederate flags at its rallies, had no problem with Steve King, Louie Gohmert, and others like them.  They gladly hunt for and take the votes of “the base”—people whose racism, sexism, and willingness to be violent are not in question.

The Democrats in turn time and again reject their more progressive members and constituencies.  Bernie Sanders was NEVER going to be the nominee, Jacobin’s hype-machine and $180 million  notwithstanding. Al Franken and Katie Hill were ousted for actions that would put them on the Republican’s A-List.  AOC, who is the Democrat’s most popular young politician with national popularity, was easily defeated for a committee assignment and is a whipping-post for “moderates” who want an excuse for the dismal election results down-ballot.  Pelosi has derided the Green New Deal as “the Green Dream” and pointed out, alas correctly, that The Squad is a group of 4 rookies with little clout. 

So what’s the point of having these debates like “force the vote” when the Democrats simply do not care?

“The Suffrage was a coffin for workingmen’s causes”…..

……That was the conclusion of research done by the historian Paul Faler, who studied radical shoemakers in Lynn, MA in the early 19th century who decided to enter electoral politics.  Perhaps a bit melodramatic, but the core idea is hard to rebut still.

What you’re seeing now is who the Dems are. It’s a waste of time to “move them to left” or even think about them. They don’t give a damn about working people, non-white people, the victims of Capitalism, the horrors of corporations, the health insurance crisis, and so on, unless they want their votes in an even-numbered year. They just raised many billions of dollars for a campaign in which they fortunately defeated Trump but otherwise got shellacked. Their post-mortem has consisted of blaming “socialism,” “defund the police,” “Blacks and Latinos who didn’t vote for us enough,” and castigating other peripheral groups.  The was no introspection, no real self-criticism, no questioning its corporate ways.  And there won’t be. Berating the Democrats may feel good, but…..it doesn’t matter.

In its own really insane way, Republicans listen to their own voters and are more “democratic” than the Democrats, who just aren’t into you and the issues you care about.

So why continue to waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets?  Why give a damn about Dore vs. AOC or lobbying the Democrats for a few crumbs, or the vote for Speaker?  Why continue this fixation on electoral politics?

It’s been a half-century since there was any “progressive” faction actually inside the party—but McGovern, Church, even Gravel, Cranston, Nelson or Metzenbaum were to the Left of anything today, (except Sanders).  The Democrats fought more vigorously against the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Sanders, even Jerry Brown, that they did against the GOP.  They’re more upset by the words “defund the police” than the daily police violence against the poor and non-whites, now including frequent housing evictions.

Right now, Trump and the GOP have spent two months since the election inciting their base and encouraging violence based on insane claims of election fraud, while the Democrats have been more vocal in criticizing the Squad than defending their own victory in the election.  They don’t even understand that “defund the police” and “Black Lives Matter” were not outreaches to the Democrats, or ways to help them win elections.  They’re programs for real, everyday crises that the Pelosi, Schumer and the rest of the Washington Generals of Politics (copyright, me) just would rather ignore.

“Organize, Organize, Organize”—Stokely Carmichael

In 2021 perhaps it’s time to just ditch Washington DC politics and electoral maneuvering and go all-in on street politics, mutual aid, organizing, protecting each other. Outrage over the Dems will give you agita and they’ll never listen. But we do have one advantage, and a big one,—the people who benefit from Capitalism are few, those who work hard, aren’t paid enough, are put in harm’s way every day in the workplace, and live on the edge of doom every day are the many, by a lot. We saw last summer the immense outpouring of people into the streets, largely a response to Black Lives Matter and police violence, but an energy and commitment that can be transferred to other issues–like COVID relief, evictions, the healthcare crisis, environmental crises, etc.

Politics in America has come to mean little more than voting in an election. But you can “do” politics in countless places outside of a voting booth. There’s a long history of what SDS called “participatory democracy” that offers hope still. Time spent engaging in and worrying about electoral politics and the Democrats (like I am right now as I write this) might be better spent in countless ways.  Such as……..

Create communities.  The Right has evangelical churches, gun clubs, the NRA, sports bars, and other places to get together and share their (warped) view of the world, and pass along the latest QAnon conspiracy or whatever.  The Left needs to create communities like that, and be seen as a positive force among others.  People are desperate for material goods, for survival, and for companionship and meaning.  There are plenty of good people already stepping up, and a lot more of us can do that too.

Provide people with a place to have some human interaction, to feel like more than a working drone.  If there are food-insecure people, set up a food pantry.  If there are people who don’t have internet, or have trouble using it, get some IT folks involved to help them out.  Find people who can work on cars to help out working women and men who can’t afford a mechanic but need wheels to work. Create low-cost childcare arrangements. In the time of COVID all of this stuff is really hard (not easy even in “normal” times) but we need to find ways to communicate and support each other.

Hell, start a lefty Softball team to join a local beer league. Sports got political in 2020; use a discussion about the Lakers or Celtics to begin a dialogue on politics. Find a way to get together. Meet people where they’re at. If not, there’s no reason to even have a Left.

With the utter failure of the state or organized political groups to do anything about COVID, many mutual aid groups have filled in the void as much as possible.  Feeding people, providing some  health care services, just checking in on the most vulnerable is more than elected officials are doing.  Put pressure on your local school boards to make sure schools are safe, which means no in-person classes until there’s proof of an effective vaccine.  Share whatever educational skills you have with others who need them, because we all know that remote learning is a form of class privilege and poorer, public school district kids have gotten further behind.

Millions face evictions.  Already there have been evictions protests, at courthouses and at the homes of people being pushed out into the streets.  It doesn’t take thousands of people to muck up eviction proceedings or hold vigils at the homes of people being evicted.  Watch The Grapes of Wrath if you need inspiration.

Prepare for a post-Roe v. Wade world.  Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the entire set of reproductive rights laws, it’s simply harder, close to impossible, for women to get abortions or even contraception.  Like the network “Jane” in Chicago in the 1970s, create ways for women to get access to birth control and abortions, and begin fund-raising to help poorer women who might need to travel to another state for medical care.

Show support and solidarity with workers trying to organize unions, like the Amazon and Google workers today, respect picket lines, and support strikes.

Support and organize local campaigns to increase the minimum wage.

Right now in Minnesota, in the freezing winter, bands of activists are doing lockdowns and putting their bodies on the line to stop Line 3.  Check it out here.

There are actions against banks and other financial backers of projects that destroy the environment taking place daily.  It’s not hard to find something going on.

Amazon workers in Alabama are getting ready for a union vote.  There have been a big number of wildcat strikes at Amazon already.  Do what you can to help out not just Amazon workers but all workers who are forced back into toxic workplaces at lousy wages.  For information check out Payday Report; if you’re in a union, form a support group; and if you’re not in a union, contact organizers to start the process.

Organize sit-ins or other demonstrations at state or municipal buildings in protest of inaction on COVID, racist workplace environments, unsafe conditions, or better wages.  The same direct actions could be directed at corporations, like Amazon, who are making billions while their workers are exposed to COVID at less-than-living wages.

Set up cooperatives.  There are unions and churches which would be useful in helping to organize coops to help people in need—or get a community group together to start one up.  Buy in bulk, find people with skills, like doctors and nurses, willing to help out, give people a hand with heating bills, help struggling students do their online school work, etc.  There’s a long history of coops so you’re not starting from scratch.

Sure, it’s symbolic, but tagging a politician’s house, berating her/him at a restaurant, or monkeywrenching a public event like the Tik Tok kids did with Trump’s rally in Omaha at the very least provides bad P.R. and gives people like Pelosi and McConnell a bad day.  Every tiny bit helps.

Stop lefty media debates.  The faux-Left pundit class, as Scott Parkin has deemed them, love pissing matches with themselves.  They’re mostly important because they’ve said they are.  The more time spent arguing about Jimmy Dore, Jacobin, Chapo, The Young Turks, Krystal Ball, or myriad other Lefty media celebrities is time not being used to actually help people in need.  We need street politics, and Lefty social media snark is no more useful that Democratic performative outreach to working people.

And maybe most importantly, in the spirit of Black Lives Matter and Antifa, you can go into the streets against the repressive agents of the state.  No actions were more inspiring in 2020 than the 25-30 million people, from young Black activists, to Black Bloc, to the Wall of Moms, who went toe-to-toe with police and even unidentified federal thugs in the streets of America.

“Now is the time of furnaces, and only light should be seen.”—Jose Marti

One of the Green and Red Podcast’s best friends is the great organizer scott crow, who’s a passionate  street philosopher and fighter.  Scott helped organize the Common Ground Collective in NOLA after Katrina and set up food banks, medical services, and provided security against roaming bands of violent right-wing extremists and cops.  And he did it because of what he calls “the emergency heart”—that compulsion to rush into spaces where people are in peril and need help.  Scott’s pretty courageous and not many do what he’s done. But that’s okay.  If we all do something, act upon our emergency hearts, we can start to untie ourselves from the binds of electoral politics and meaningless sectarian feuds instigated by self-appointed left media people.

Things are bad out there.  To deny that would be delusive and idiotic.  But there always needs to be some hope.  For every killer like Rittenhouse, there were many millions of people protesting for justice, racial progress, economic and health security, and other human needs.  The Democrats and The Squad stand in the way of that.


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