New Tasks of the
By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama
American progressives have won a major victory in helping to defeat John McCain and placing Barack Obama in the White House. The far right has been broadly rebuffed, the neoconservative war hawks displaced, and the diehard advocates of neoliberal political economy are in thorough disarray. Of great importance, one long-standing crown jewel of white supremacy, the whites-only sign on the Oval Office, has been tossed into the dustbin of history.
The depth of the historical victory was revealed in the jubilation of millions who spontaneously gathered in downtowns and public spaces across the country, as the media networks called Obama the winner. When President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama took the platform in Chicago to deliver his powerful but sobering victory speech, hundreds of millions-Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American and white, men and women, young and old, literally danced in the streets and wept with joy, celebrating an achievement of a dramatic milestone in a 400-year struggle, and anticipating a new period of hope and possibility.
Now a new period of struggle begins, but on a higher plane. An emerging progressive majority will be confronted with many challenges and obstacles not seen for decades. Left and progressive organizers face difficult, uncharted terrain, a bumpy road. But much more interesting problems are before us, with solutions, should they be achieved, promising much greater gains and rewards. for the America of popular democracy.
To consciously build on the gains of this electoral victory, it's important to seek clarity. We need an accurate assessment of strengths and weaknesses--our own, as well as those of our allies and our adversaries.
The Obama campaign, formal and informal, was a wide undertaking. It united progressive forces, won over middle forces, then isolated and divided the right. It massed the votes and resources required the win a clear majority of the popular vote and a decisive majority of Electoral College votes.
At the base, beginning with the antiwar youth and peace activists, Obama awakened, organized, mobilized and deployed an incredible and innovative force of what grew into an army of more than three million volunteers. At the top, he realigned a powerful sector of the ruling class into an anti-NeoCon, anti-ultraright bloc. In between, he expanded the electorate and won clear majorities in every major demographic bloc of voters, save for whites generally; but even there, he reduced McCain's spread to single digits, and among younger white voters and women voters, he won large majorities.
Understanding the New Alliance
It is important to understand the self-interests and expectations of this new multiclass alliance. If we get it wrong, we will run into the ditch and get bogged down, whether on the right or 'left' side of that bumpy road, full of potholes and twists and turns.
The Obama alliance is not 'Clintonism in blackface' or 'JFK in Sepia', as some have chauvinistically tagged it. Nor is it 'imperialism with a human face,' as if imperialism hasn't always had human faces. All these make the mistake of looking backward, Hillary Clinton's mistake of trying to frame the present and future in the terms of the past.
The Obama team at the top is comprised of global capital's representatives in the U.S as well as U.S. multinational capitalists, and these two overlap but are not the same. It is a faction of imperialism, and there is no need for us to prettify it, deny it or cover it up in any way. The important thing to see is that it is neither neoliberalism nor the old corporate liberalism. Obama is carving out a new niche for himself, a work in progress still within the bounds of capitalism, but a 'high road' industrial policy capitalism that is less state-centric and more market-based in its approach, more Green, more high tech, more third wave and participatory, less politics-as-consumerism and more 'public citizen' and education focused. In short, it's capitalism for a multipolar world and the 21st century.
The unreconstructed neoliberalism and old corporate liberalism, however, are still very much in play. The former is in disarray, largely due to the financial crisis, but the latter is working overtime to join the Obama team and secure its institutional positions of power, from White House staff positions to the behind-the-scenes efforts on Wall Street to direct the huge cash flows of the Bail-Out in their favor.
How the Obama Alliance won:
Values, Technology and Social Movements
The Obama alliance is an emerging, historic counter-hegemonic bloc, still contending both with its pre-election adversaries and within itself. It has taken the White House and strengthened its majority in Congress, but the fight is not over. To define the victorious coalition simply by the class forces at the top is the error of reductionism that fails to shine a light on the path ahead.
What is a hegemonic bloc? Most power elites maintain their rule using more than armed force. They use a range of tools to maintain hegemony, or dominance, which are 'softer,' meaning they are political and cultural instruments as well as economic and military. They seek a social base in the population, and draw them into partnership and coalitions through intermediate civil institutions. Keeping this bloc together requires a degree of compromise and concession, even if it ultimately relies on force. The blocs are historic; they develop over time, are shaped by the times, and also have limited duration. When external and internal crises disrupt and lead them to stagnation, a new 'counter-hegemonic' bloc takes shape, with a different alignment of economic interests and social forces, to challenge it and take its place. These ideas were first developed by the Italian communist and labor leader, Antonio Gramsci, and taken up again in the 1960s by the German New Left leader, Rudi Dutschke. They are helpful, especially in nonrevolutionary conditions, in understanding both how our adversaries maintain their power, as well as the strategy and tactics needed to replace them, eventually by winning a new socialist and popular democratic order.
As a new historic bloc, the Obama alliance contains several major and minor poles. It is composed of several class forces, a complex social base and many social movements which have emerged and engaged in the electoral struggle. There is both class struggle and other forms of struggle within it. There are sharp differences on military policy, on Israel-Palestine, on healthcare and the bailout. From the outside, there are also serious and sustained struggles against it. And some forces will move both inside and outside the bloc, as circumstances warrant or change. It is important to be clear on what the main forces and components are, and their path to unity. It's also important to understand the relation and balance of forces, and how one is not likely to win at the top what one has not consolidated and won at the base, nor is failure in one or another battle always cause for a strategic break.
Obama obviously started with his local coalition in Chicago-the Black community, 'Lakefront liberals' from the corporate world, and a sector of labor, mainly service workers. The initial new force in the winning nationwide alliance was called out by Obama's early opposition to the Iraq war, and his participation in two mass rallies against it, one before it began and other after the war was underway. This both awakened and inspired a large layer of young antiwar activists, some active for the first time, to join his effort to win the Iowa primary. The fact that he had publicly opposed the war before it had begun distinguished him from Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, his chief opponents. These young people also contributed to the innovative nature of his organization, combining grassroots community organizing with the many-to-many mass communication tools of internet-based social networking and fundraising. Many had some earlier experience organizing and participating in the World Social Forum in Atlanta 2007, which energized nearly 10,000 young activists. Those who came forward put their energy and innovation to good use. Had Obama not won Iowa, it is not likely we would be talking about him today.
The Iowa victory quickly produced another major advance. Up until then, most African-American voters favored Hillary Clinton, and were dubious of a Black candidate's chances. But Iowa is one of the 'whitest' states in the country, and Obama's win there changed their minds. In short order, Obama gained wide unity in Black communities across the country, inspiring even more young people, more multinational and more 'Hip-Hop,' to emerge as a force. Black women in their churches and Black workers in their unions joined with the already-engaged younger Black professionals who were seeking a new voice for their generation. The internet-based fundraising was bringing in unheard-of amounts of money in small donations. A wing of trade unions most responsive to Black members came over, setting the stage for Obama's next challenge, winning the Democratic primaries overall against Hillary Clinton.
Defeating Clinton and the corporate liberals backing her was not easy. Hillary's main weakness was her inability to win the antiwar movement. Obama had mainly won the youth and Blacks, and through them, many young women and many Black women, but he had tough challenges. Clinton still rallied much of the liberal base and the traditional women's movement. But it was not enough, nor was she able to deal with all the new grassroots money flowing his way. Her last reserve was the labor movement, most of which was still supporting her. She tried to keep it with a fatal error: playing the 'white worker' card in a racist way against Obama. It only moved more progressives to Obama, plus won him wider support in other communities of color, who saw the move for what it was. Even with her remaining base in a sector of the women's movement and a large chunk of organized labor, after a fierce fight, he narrowly but clearly defeated her.
Now it was Obama versus McCain, and the Republicans were in the weaker position. Some think McCain made a mistake picking Sarah Palin as his VP choice, but actually it was his smarter and stronger card. To defeat Obama, he had to both energize the GOP core rightwing base, plus win a large majority of the 'white working class.' Palin's proto-fascist rightwing populism was actually his best shot, especially with its unofficial allies in rightwing media. The Fox-Hannity-Limbaugh machine, and its allies in the right blogosphere, escalated their overtly racist, chauvinist, illegal immigrant-baiting, red-baiting, terror-baiting, anti-Black and anti-Muslim bigotry to a ceaseless fever pitch. The aim was to manipulate the significant social base of less-educated, more fundamentalist, lower-income white workers who often seek economic relief through being tied to the military or the prison-industrial complex. They threw everything, from the kitchen sink to the outhouse, at Obama, his family and his movement. They whipped their crowds into violent frenzies. The Secret Service even had to ask them to tone it down, since assassination threats were coming out of the woodwork with each rally like this.
This now put organized labor in the critical position. Even though they represented only a minority of workers generally, they had wider influence, including into the ranks of the white working-class families who were for Clinton, and leaning to McCain. But both national coalitions, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, did the right thing, and in a big way. They knew McCain was their 'clear and present' danger. So they mobilized their resources and members into the streets, especially in the 'white working class' battleground areas in critical electoral states, and among Latino voters in the West. They won a wide majority of union households. They won among women and younger workers, as well as Latinos and other voters of color. Although they still did not get a majority of white working class voters for Obama, they brought the spread down to single digits. In many areas, they did better with Obama than Kerry had done four years earlier. It was enough to put Obama over the top.
There are books to be written about many other aspects and components of the Obama alliance. But these five: insurgent antiwar youth, a united African-American community, Latinos and other communities of color, women with a grasp of the importance of reproductive rights and health care, and organized labor-these form the major elements of the social base of Obama's historic bloc against neoliberalism and the right. Add these to the disgruntled progressive-to-liberal regular Democratic voters in the suburbs and elsewhere, and it brought the era of the conservative right's dominance in the White House and Congress to an end.
The Obama Alliance From Below and Within
The alliance was also diverse in terms of political organization. At the very bottom grassroots, in the final months, there were often four campaigns, overlapping to one degree or another, united to one degree or another, but not the same by a long shot.
First, the local Obama offices were mainly run by the Obama youth, twenty-somethings, many of them young women, who worked their hearts out, 16-hours-a-day, seven days a week, months on end. They were deployed in a vast array of 'neighborhood teams,' with old teams often generating new ones, connected via the social networking of their own blogs, email, cell phones and text messaging. Each team knocked on hundreds, if not thousands of doors, and tracked it all on computers. The full-time leaders were often 'parachuted in' from distant states, skilled mainly in mobilizing others like themselves. But add up dozens, even hundreds of teams in a given county, and you're making a serious difference.
Second, the Black community's campaign was more indigenous, more traditional, more rooted, more deeply proletarian-it made use of the Black church's social committees, tenant groups and civic organizations, who widely united. Many day-to-day efforts were in the hands of older Black women who knew everything about everybody, and had decades of experience in registering and getting out the vote. In some parts of the country, there were other nationalities working this way-Latino, Asian, Native American-and they found the way to make common cause with the African American community, rebuffing GOP efforts to appeal to anti-Black racism or narrow nationalism as a wedge. Some of the older people in these communities learned how to use computers, too, and sent regular contributions to Obama via PayPal in small amounts. But multiply one of these experienced community-based women organizers by 50,000 or 100,000 more just like her in another neighborhood or town, and something new and serious is going on. They always faced scarce resources, and there was friction at times with the Obama youth, who were often mostly white or more of a younger 'Rainbow.' They worked it through, most of the time.
Third, organized labor carried out its campaign in its own way. They had substantial resources for meeting halls, phone banks and the traditional 'swag' of campaigns-window signs, yard signs, buttons, T-shirts, stickers, banners, professionally done multi-colored flyers directly targeted to the top issues of union members and the wider working class. They put it together as an almost industrial operation, well planned with a division of labor. Top leaders of the union came in, called mass meetings, and in many cases, gave fierce no-nonsense speeches about 'getting over' fear of Black candidates and asserting the need to vote their members' interests. The central offices produced walking maps of union member households and registered voter households, political district by political district, broken down right to how many people were needed for each door-knocking team to cover each district or neighborhood. They printed maps with driving directions. They had tally sheets for interviewing each voter, boxes to check, to be scanned and read by machines when turned in. Hundreds of member-volunteers from that ranks came to each hall, raffles were held for free gas cards, and when you got back and turned in your tallies, free hot dogs and pizza. Sometimes busloads and car caravans went to other nearby states, to more 'battleground' areas. They often shared their halls with the Obama kids, and tried not to duplicate efforts. It was powerful to see, and it worked. There's nothing to replace a pair of union members standing on the porches of other working-class families, talking things over.
Fourth, the actual ongoing structures of the local Democratic Party did things their way. In many cases, the local regular Democratic leaders were very good, and took part personally in all three of elements of the campaign described above. But frequently, there was no 'mass' to the local Democratic organization. The mass member groups of the old Democratic Party were just history. (It was a problem, but also an opening for new independent mass progressive groups, like Progressive Democrats of America, to grow). Each incumbent, moreover, had their own staff and core of donors and loyalists, lawyers and media consultants, and guarded their own turf. Some were Obama enthusiasts, some more low-key, but more than a few avoided any responsibility to win Hillary voters to Obama. They capitulated to 'Democrats for McCain' elements in their base, elements who worked informally with the GOP right. This latter group was called 'the top of the ticket problem.' They worked their campaigns as independent operations, but avoided identification with the 'top of the ticket' or those working locally for it.
The Core Message of Change
While all four of these sub-campaigns were united by the central message and 'change' theme from the top, each also carried out the 'change' message in its own way. One issue linking at least three of them, save for a few 'Blue Dog' incumbents, was the need for a rapid end to the war. From Obama's personal appearances on down, whenever a speaker forcefully made this point to a crowd, it got the loudest applause, if not a standing ovation.
The people in these crowds constitute a new component of the antiwar movement. It needs to be understood, however, that they have a different character than the traditional left-led antiwar rallies. Demands to end the war here are deeply connected with supporting our troops, getting them home and out of harm's way, supporting veterans across the board, expressions of patriotism, and a view of the war as an offense to patriotism. They hate the waste of lives of people from families they know; and they hate the waste of resources and huge amounts of money. Ending the war is stressed as the way to lower taxes and revive the economy by spending for projects at home, People will denounce oil barons, but you'll hear very little put in terms of anti-imperialism or solidarity with various other liberations struggles around the world. 'We were lied to getting us into this', and 'we have our problems to solve here'-that's the underlying themes and watchwords. There are a few incumbents who will take positions to the right of Obama on the war, trying to stake out various nuanced and longer 'exit strategy' processes, or who just don't mention the war at all. But at the base, most just want to troops rapidly and safely out, while a few cling to the right's calls for 'victory.' But there's not much in the middle.
The other components of 'change' at the base are, first and foremost, new jobs and new industries. People are especially motivated by practical plans for Green Jobs in alternative energies and major infrastructural repair, health care for everyone, schools and support for students, and debt relief and other protections of their economic security in the face of the Wall Street crash. In fact, the Wall Street crash was the major factor in many older voters rejecting McCain and going for Obama. Regarding health care, many unions and local government bodies are signing on to HR 676, Single-Payer health care, but some will accept many other things, wisely or not, as a step in that direction or an improvement over the current setup.
The Nature of Rising Hegemonic Blocs
Within the Obama historic bloc, there are at least four contending trends regarding 'change' and political economy-two major and two minor. The two major ones come mainly from the top, while the two minor ones come from below.
At the top, the Obama White House will be pulled in two directions. The first is the 'tinkering at the top' approach of traditional corporate liberal capitalism, mostly concerned with securing the major banks by covering their debts and reducing the deficit through 'shared austerity' cutbacks. The emphasis will be on greater government-imposed efficiencies in entitlement programs, tax reform and adjustments in global trade agreements. Some of their favored programs, like pressing businesses to provide more 401K plans for employees, may be set aside because of the stock market' volatility.
The second direction is Obama's own often-asserted 'High Road' green industrial policy capitalism, which wants to restrict and punish pure speculation in the 'Casino Economy' in favor of targeted government investment in massive infrastructure and research, encouraging the growth of new industries with 'Green Jobs' in alternative energy sectors. Since resources are not infinite, there will be a major tension and competition for funds between two rival sectors--a new green industrial-education policy sector and an old hydrocarbon-military-industrial sector. It's a key task of the left and progressive movements to add their forces to uniting with and building up the former, while opposing and weakening the grip of the latter. This is the 'High Road' vs. 'Low Road' strategy widely discussed in progressive think tanks and policy circles.
From below, Obama is being presented with a plethora of redistributionist 'New New Deal' plans, including Rep Dennis Kucinich's 16 Points, to Sen. Bernie Sanders 4 Points, to the Institute for Policy Studies 'Progressive Majority' plan. One outlier 'Buy Out, Not Bail Out' proposal, David Schweickart's Economic Democracy option, goes beyond redistributionism, and proposes deep structural reforms of public ownership in the equity of financial firms in exchange for the bailout, in turn directing capital into community investment banks to build worker-controlled options within the new wealth creation firms of green industries.
From the other side, the unreconstructed rightwing neoliberals will be out of positions of executive power but not without positions of influence. Centered among the House GOP and allied with the rightwing media populists and anti-global nationalists, with Lou Dobbs as a spokesman, they will remain a powerful opposition force. They are likely to try to sabotage Obama, as best as they can without their own mass base, suffering from the crisis, turning against them. This was the role they played in the rightist opposition to the corporate liberal bailout plans stirred up by the far right Human Events journalists.
The key point here is shaping the exact nature of what Obama unfolds as 'change.' What will bring about any progressive reform and protect 'Main Street' and the 'Middle Class' against 'Wall Street' is still open and not fully formed. In fact, it will be a focus of intense struggle both internally at the top and on the part of mass social movements defending and advancing their interests from below. Class struggle will unfold within the bloc, to be sure.
The Bankruptcy of the Ultraleft
This is where the questions facing the left and an account of its tasks become critical. What is our role? Who are our friends and allies? Who are our adversaries, of various sorts? What is our left platform within broader proposals for growing and uniting a progressive majority? What is our strategy, tactics and orientation for moving forward? All these need to be re-examined in this dynamic and new situation.
We have to start by acknowledging the real crisis across the entire socialist left for some time. While some progress and innovation has been made by some in recent years, no one is surging ahead with major growth and breakthroughs. What this election, its outcome, its battles and ebb and flow, and the engagement of the masses, has especially done is reveal the utter bankruptcy of almost the entire anti-Obama Trotskyist, anarchist and Maoist left, save for a few groupings and some individuals. The crisis was not nearly as deep among the wider left-those hundreds of thousands working among trade union activists, community organizers and our country's intellectual community, but often not identified with a given socialist group or anarchist project. Whatever their problems, most of them understood this election and what to do, even if their efforts were limited. They 'got it right', even if they lacked the organizational means to advance the socialist project.
But among those belonging to organized socialist and anarchist groups with enough resources to put out their views, most got it dead wrong. On the election, only the CCDS (Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, cc-ds.org, ) the Communist Party USA, cpusa.org, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO, freedomroad.org) got it mostly right, mainly because they have some grasp on the importance of racism, elections and mass democracy. But we know these three groups, even if well situated, are rather small and not growing in any major way. Next was DSA which at least saw the importance of defeating McCain and backing Obama, even though they only managed to put out a rather wimpy pro-forma statement without once mentioning race. The other 10-to-15 groups, with the larger majority of organized US socialists, communists and Marxists in them, failed miserably, whatever the subjective feelings and views of their individual members. Besides broadsides against Obama and those backing him, they had nothing new or relevant to say, and some of them didn't bother to say anything, especially among the anarchists. Go to the sixty or more Indymedia sites, and you hardly see anything useful said besides macho bluster and shit-talk against the few pro-voting-for-Obama postings put up.
This is the face of this crisis: While there was an upsurge of millions of Obama volunteers in one of the most critical elections in our history, a true milestone, which was combined with direct engagement from a united Black community and the best elements of labor, from precisely the sectors all of them have been claiming to try to reach for decades, and almost all they could was bark at them: 'You're deluded!' You're Obamaniacs! 'You're wrong!' 'Obama is a capitalist!' 'Don't Drink the Kool-Aid! Obama is the more dangerous warmonger because he's the new 'Uncle Tom' Black face of imperialism!'
If the question of the day was immediate working-class mass action on seizing power from the capitalist class, for reform vs. revolution, socialism or capitalism NOW, they might have had a point. But it's not. Even with the financial crisis, it's not even close. Besides getting troops out of this or that country, they don't even have a package of demands or structural reforms worthy of the name being put forward. Worse of all, they don't think any distinction between revolutionary and non-revolutionary conditions is all that important. What that means, in turn, is that it's almost impossible for them, as groups and as a trend, to correct their course.
It's not a matter of being critical of Obama. Everyone engaged in his movement had criticisms and alternate positions of all sorts. Some made them public, some did not-but all these did so in a way designed to help him win, not to take him down, to add votes to his totals, not to subtract them.
As mentioned, the wider left, the left that defines itself as more than liberal but not necessarily socialist, did relatively well. These are the union-based organizers, community organizers, campus organizers, and the readers of Portside, The Nation, Black Commentator, Huffington Post and DailyKOS. For the most part, they were fully engaged for Obama in this election. Comparing the online commentary in these media voices and outlets with that of the Indymedia anarchists and the socialist papers of the far left was as revealing as the difference between noon and midnight.
We have to break decisively with this ultra-left, semi-anarchist perspective. While the hard core of this trend is small, it reach is wider than some might think. It's not a matter of purges; it's a matter of emancipating the minds of many on the radical left from old dogma. There's no way forward under these new conditions if we don't. We have to break with it not only in our own ranks, the groups working with 'Progressives for Obama', where it's not that influential, but across all the mass democratic organizations of the wider social movements as well. We have to spotlight it, stand up to it, isolate it and defeat it. It's not that we are demanding a split. The split has already taken place over the past two years, in real life and in actual battles. Many of us, for instance, stood up to the rightwing media's racist attacks on Obama, his family and his movement; others from this corner of the left added fuel to the fascists' fires and fanned the flames. We are sharply divided. We are as far apart in practice as we can be. What we have to do is acknowledge it, sum up its lessons, and warn others of its dangers, and try to unite all who can be united on a new path forward.
Charting Our Path Forward
So what is our path? Again, we start by getting clarity on where we are. We were in an alliance with Obama and the forces and movements that brought him to power against the NeoCon neoliberals and the far right. If we assess things accurately, we'll see that we are still in this alliance, although its nature is changing. We are part of a new emerging counter-hegemonic bloc in our country, an historic multiclass alliance. The Obama forces at the top are in turn linked to the multipolar, multilateralist sector of global capital. A new bloc on this higher, global level is both trying to consolidate its power against its rivals and maintain a degree of both unity and struggle among the contenting poles and centers of power within it. Our task is to grow the strength of the left, the working class, and broader communities allies within it, to secure strong points, and to win, step by step, the 'long march through the institutions' until we emerge with a new counter-hegemonic bloc of our own, in an entirely different period.
From the beginning, the Obama alliance brought together left-progressive forces, along with moderate center and center-right forces, from the grass roots level through middle-layer institutions to the top. No one or even two of these voting blocs was enough to win alone. It took the entire coalition to win-and driving out any one part of it may have made defeat far more likely and risky. We were part of a left-progressive pole in a broader sub-bloc comprised of social movements, primarily antiwar youth, minority nationality communities and organized labor. While we were the most numerous of the blocs, we were not necessarily the most powerful.
A political pole or sub-bloc's power in electoral campaigns is a combination of three things-first, an organized platform of ideas appropriate to solving the problems of the day that, second, is in turn embodied in organized grassroots voters and, third, those organizations have readily available amounts of organized money. We can take part in an alliance without some or even all of these things, but we shouldn't then expect much clout.
Let's look at each of these three elements from the perspective of left-progressive activists.
What was our platform? First, we stressed an end to the war in Iraq and a prevention of wider wars, even if Obama talked of going into Afghanistan in a bigger way. Second, we were demanding 'Healthcare Not Warfare,' and in many cases, pressing HR 676 Single-Payer even if Obama opposed it. Third, we stressed Green Jobs and New Schools, and Obama eventually pushed these in a big way. Fourth, we stressed Alternative Energies over dirty coal, offshore oil and unsafe nuke plants, even if Obama waffled. Fifth, we wanted Expanded Democracy and Fair Elections, and Obama pressed voter registration and early voting in a big way.
The Obama volunteers in the official campaign often couldn't put things out exactly like this. Their messaging was more controlled from the center. But nothing stopped either organized labor or independent forces like PDA, MDS or other local groups connected to 'Progressives for Obama' from exercising our 'independence and initiative within the broader front.' We simply did what we thought best, but in a way that still maintained solid unity among local allies.
The Importance of Independent Mass Democracy
How did we organize voters? Many progressives simply worked through the local Obama campaign, registering and identifying voters with the neighbor teams. This was fine, especially if you spent some time in a mutual education process with the young staffers. But some of us were looking for something more independent and lasting. So we joined with groups like PDA, or set up 'voters for peace' groupings based on local coalitions, or worked through union locals. The idea was for the information gained--voter lists, donor lists, volunteers lists, contacts and such-to remain in the hands of the new grassroots formations, to grow them in size and scope, so as to help further struggles down the road.
To be sure, our influence, compared to the incredibly sophisticated, well-funded and innovative Obama campaign, was relatively minor. That didn't matter so much; what was important was that we weren't simply a tail on the Democratic machinery, but that we were building our own independent strength for the future. In nearly every major city, independent blogs or clusters of blogs went up to serve as a public face and organizing hubs of these grassroots forces. Case in point: The local Obama offices are now all closed, but our local groups or coalitions have doubled or tripled in size, we now have news blogs getting thousands of hits, and our efforts are ongoing and more connected with labor and community allies.
How did we raise money? To be frank, we didn't raise that much independently. This is a fault, not a virtue. Some groups in the African-American community went into the T-shirt and button business, making a range of campaign items, selling them to raise stipends, gas money and donations to Obama, then turning some over to make more T-shirts and buttons, and so on. In some places, we relied a good deal on the resources supplied at local union halls-meeting space, phones, and printed materials. 'Progressives for Obama' kept itself alive from a few initial startup donations from individuals, then from its two blogs and listservs on the Internet via PayPal in small amounts.
But to return to our platform of issues and demands, the key underlying principle was segmenting the business community into productive versus speculative capital, rather than asserting an all-round anti-capitalist or anti-corporate perspective. We want to see mills reopened with new companies we can support that would make wind turbines via Green Jobs, while we oppose the Casino gamblers on Wall Street or insurance company parasites blocking universal health care. People can and will denounce every sort of corporate crime or outrage to make a point. But when it came to the platform of reforms for uses of our taxes dollars, we were much more focused on what kind of businesses we wanted to see grow, and how we wanted them to relate to their workers and surrounding communities. This approach did very well in getting many rank-and-file workers to take us seriously, especially in areas where many people suffer more from the lack of business than its presence.
The main point is that we now have mass democratic organization anchored in many communities, workplaces and schools, and that they have a basis to expand. PDA is a good example. Starting with only a few dozen people in 2004 with an 'inside-outside' independent view of dealing and working with Democrats, they have grown to some 150,000 people scattered across the country in every major city, with most of that growth taking place in the context of the last campaign to defeat the GOP and McCain. At the Democratic convention, together with The Nation magazine, PDA delivered a week-long series of panels and workshops that drew thousands of activists and hundreds of delegates, establishing itself as the 'Progressive Central' mobilizing and organizing pole for the week in Denver. Many PDA local chapters mobilized members that became the backbone of the Obama campaign offices, as well as boosting local labor mobilizations. The PDA chapters built their credibility by advocating Healthcare Not Warfare and backing local progressive candidates down the ticket. They helped unite progressives within the various trends of the Obama campaign with local unity events.
On a smaller scale, Movement for a Democratic Society groups did well, too Austin, Texas is a great example, where they combined with 'The Rag' blog, which is now getting over 25,000 hits a month. On campuses, where the New SDS was able to make a break with anarchism and relate to the Obama youth, they also report successes and growth.
The Critical Priority of Organization
and the Relative Importance of Socialist Tasks
What the heart of this says is that for left-to-progressive activists, organization-building trumps movement-building in this period. The movements are very wide and diverse, and in front of our noses. But the current wave has just peaked, and will now ebb a bit. In situations like this, it's more important than ever to consolidate the gains of mass struggle, including electoral struggle, into lasting organizations, either expanding earlier ones or building new ones. The same goes for coalition-building of local clusters of organizations, then networking them across the country, horizontally and vertically, via the internet. We need organizers now, more so than activists and agitators.
What about the 'socialism' part of the socialist left? Up to this point, I've mainly addressed the mass democratic tasks we share in common with the non-socialist left and progressive activists generally. Fortunately or unfortunately the Wall Street financial crisis combined with the right wing's red baiting of Obama as a 'Marxist' and 'socialist' has given the 'S' word far wider circulation and interest than it's had in decades. Unfortunately, in the mass media, it's mainly discussed in a one-dimensional, cartoonish way as 'socialism for the rich' or 'sharing the wealth.'
No matter. This expanded media buzz serves to underscore the main aspect of our socialist tasks in today's conditions. Our work here is mainly that of education, theoretical work, and the development of program and policy options. We need our own think tanks and networks of study groups developing our policies and platforms for deep structural reforms that serve as transitional levers to a new socialism. Before we can fight for it, we better have a fairly clear idea of what it is in this country in today's world-both among ourselves and the wider circles of the best left and progressive organizers with whom we want to share this learning process and socialist project.
It is a good time, however, to expand this work in a serious way. One small example: in the context of the initial wave of reaction to the Wall Street crash, and the first round of progressive proposals to deal with it, 'Progressives for Obama' asked David Schweickart, one of our country's foremost proponents of socialist theory, to write up his take on it. He wrote not only his account of why the crisis happened, but also briefly contrasted today's capitalism and its downturn and crash with the socialist alternative. His own 'successor system theory' of Economic Democracy, however, is designed to be a bridge to socialist options. If we, the public, are to buy up the bad debt of failed banks and firms, why not demand equity in the stock and public seats on the board, or buy them out entirely. Instead of simply paying off debt and providing the wherewithal for big bonuses and Golden Parachutes, why not do more than simply restrict or forbid this? Why not use these now-public resources to launch local community-owned investment banks to partner with labor and local government and entrepreneurs to build the new worker-owned factories of green industries and alternative energies?
These are excellent take-off points. Schweickart's article was widely circulated as an authoritative piece, commented on across the political spectrum. In several cities, leftists in and around the Obama campaign even set up study groups to go over it. This shouldn't be exaggerated, but it does show the possibilities and frames our socialist tasks more accurately.
Both Immediate and Transitional Programs
But the more pressing task for us as part of the left is sharply and concretely outlining our immediate and transitional programs and their platforms. The immediate program of demands, like Kucinich's 16 Points, are basically redistributionist programs aimed at taking wealth from above and spreading it around below. Given the vast inequalities of our society, that is both pressing and desirable. As a stimulus, it also spurs the generation of new wealth. The transitional program of deep structural reform, like Schweickart's Economic Democracy, takes public resources to generate new wealth, but in a way that alters power relations in favor of the working class and broader public.
Some of the best proposals and projects on the table combine both of these. The Apollo Alliance, where steelworkers and environmentalists come together, put forward a range of recession-busting programs. Van Jones' Green Jobs programs for inner city youth do the same, as does HR 676 Single-Payer health care. The Blue-Green Alliance is still another.
Our task is to put flesh on these in a way that melds with our local conditions. We start by uniting antiwar Obama youth, community and labor locally, then build outwards and upwards from there. We start with an understanding of the critical role of a united African-American community, the most consistent defenders and fighters for a progressive agenda in the country, especially when it works in alliance with Latinos and other minority nationalities. We also grasp the significance of women and labor, and the overall intersection of race, gender and class in defining our policies, seeking out allies, and setting priorities. We design a package of critical local reforms, whether in rebuilding Ohio River locks and dams, constructing high-speed rail in California, or delivering single-payer healthcare everywhere. Then we make the fights for these a centerpiece to unite the entire area, win over all the public officials that we can, and then, in turn, take it to an Obama administration, demanding an end to the war and war making, in order to fund it and make it happen. It's really the only way out of this mess.
Our great victory in this election, finally, is that efforts and programs like this won't fall on deaf ears. The challenge to Obama is that to get it done, he has to end the war, avoid wider wars and cut the military budget in a major way. If he does, he can be a great president. If he doesn't, he'll have hell to pay.
Here are the key points, once again:
1. We have won a major victory, now consolidate its gains.
2. Start where you are, and build mass democratic grassroots groups bringing together the best local activists from the Obama campaign and others like it.
3. Build a coalition with local partners in labor, campus and community groups that did the same.
4. Start local left-progressive blogs to have a public face, and link it to others.
5. Develop a program of deep structural reform and immediate needs for your area, and take it upward and outward through the elected officials and government bodies, all the way to the top.
6. Break decisively with the ultraleft mindset, in order to deepen and broaden left-progressive unity.
7. Prepare the ground for mass mobilization to end the war this spring, and to prevent wider war. Link this battle to the economy. Green Jobs over War Jobs, New Schools, Not More Prisons, HealthCare Not Warfare, Peace and Prosperity, Not War, Greed and Crisis. You get the idea.
8. Study socialism seriously, the version for today, and bring it to bear in developing policy and uniting the most advanced fighters for the whole, not just the part, and for the future, not just the present.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Photo: Overflow Voters at Raccoon VFD
at the Raccoon
VFD Polling Place
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
There was a lot more to working the polls in this historic election than checking signatures and passing out palm cards.
It was glorious Fall day at the semi-rural fire-hall-turned-voting-center in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, Western PA. I arrived early, but the hall was packed. Most people were in good spirits. Long-time neighbors chatted, older folks marveled at the uncommon turnout among younger voters, and parents worried about fretful children. The main buzz was about one thing: whether they were for Obama or against him, everyone knew they were about to make history.
“I’ve never seen such a turnout,” said Marion Prasjner, president of the local Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees Chapter 2020. Prasjner is eighty years old and very savvy. He’s with PDA and an Obama supporter.
The machines were working fine, the judges were polite, and both poll watchers and judges efficiently assisted the confused and the infirm. My main task of the day became building our independent group, the PA 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America, and its new website, Beaver County Blue. Our flyer was designed to hand to voters who had finished, rather than overwhelming them on their arrival.
Outside the hall were signs for Obama and every local Democratic candidate. For some reason, no McCain-Palin signs were in sight. I put up an ‘AFL-CIO for Obama-Biden’ sign. There were three women ‘passers’ with literature, and two older guys who, if they were in Chicago, would be precinct captains, but here they were greeters. All were Democrats, until later in the day, when one Republican showed up.
This part of the county went for Hillary in the Democratic primary. While I was nearly certain that this time we would take Pennsylvania overall, I was nervous. Raccoon is 99 percent white-construction workers, service workers, teachers, retirees, and a few farm families and small business people. Usually, on local matters, it goes two-to-one Democratic. But ‘Democrats for McCain’ signs had been popping up in the last week, and last-minute rightwing messaging with bigoted attacks on Obama was intense. We knew we would make gains, but by how much, and with whom?
You could sense the divisions in peoples’ faces and demeanor. Grim people with stony silence or nasty comments were for McCain They either refused leaflets or handed them back. Smiles and chit-chat usually meant a Democrat.
I watched Ralph Hysong, my neighbor, greet nearly everyone. He’s got Obama signs all over his yard, plus one he made himself demanding ‘Clean, Honest Government.’ He used to own part of a gas station, and was on a first-name basis with half the people coming in. Ralph turned out to be a fourth cousin of mine and picked out voters I’m probably related to. “There weren’t many families here back in the 1700s,” I said, “and they inter-married and we’re nearly all related. I’m even my own fifth cousin!” This got a big laugh, and one woman reminded us that we’re all family in God’s eyes. “And, the scientists tell us we all have that common Grandmother from Africa,” I replied. “Yes!” said another woman, “That’s still another reason to go for Obama, he’s family!”
The chatter stayed interesting. “Who’s Obama most remind you of?” yelled out Andy Mihalic, a retired steelworker in his eighties, who was keeping our coffeepot full. I had an idea of where he was going. “JFK,” I called back. “You got it right!” replied Andy. I knew there was deep affection for JFK around here, deserved or not. Andy went on: “And do you know why? Because he’s got VISION! Just like JFK wanted to go to the Moon, Obama has a vision on new mills making all the stuff for alternative energy! Don’t worry about color or any of that stuff, the man’s got vision!”
My supply of Beaver County Blue flyers was starting to get depleted. People were curious, wanting to stay in touch beyond election day. Some ask for extras for their workplaces.
Andy Mihalic talked about the Jones and Laughlin steel mills, now defunct. I told him my grandfather and cousin both died there, crushed by cranes, and that I’d always supported the union, especially the fight for safety. “Safety?” he said. “Let me tell you, even with the safety rules, there’s nothing safe about making steel.” He told hair-raising stories of daily risk and brutality.
I asked him his views on why the mills closed. “Environmental protection,” he replied. “Don’t get me wrong. When you make steel, you make some of the most poisonous, dangerous crap there is. You’ve got to protect the community against it. But it costs money, and the new foreign mills ignored all this to make steel cheap, just dumped poison every where.” It’s a political problem, according to Andy. “We need Fair Trade to even the playing field, but these Wall Street guys don’t give a shit. McCain? What does he know? All he says is that’s he’s a vet. Big deal, I’m a vet. Hell, around here, we’re all vets. Hopefully, Obama will be different.”
Leave it to a class-conscious worker to break things down and clear things up for you. I know a little about mills, but I learned even more from Andy this afternoon. In addition to Fair Trade and finding an end to the war, we’re united on Green industrial policy. I also remind him that Obama’s voting record on vets is much better than McCain’s, a point he didn’t know.
By late afternoon, workers started streaming in-a group of bikers, pickups, nurses from the hospital, parents with carloads of kids. The parking lot filled and the waiting line surged. A few candidates showed up to check the tallies. It was a new record turnout, over 75 percent.
A local preacher arrived. His congregation bustles with charity programs that distribute free food to the elderly and folks in need. Last Saturday, over 100 vehicles were at his church to help get out the food baskets. It was his kids and his church youth group who got him to take a good look at Obama. The biggest barrier to our country’s progress, he feels, is racial division. “I figure Obama can help us get over it,” he added.
At the end of the day, Pennsylvania overall went for Obama, even if we only came very close here in Raccoon. About 52 percent of the township went for McCain, 48 percent for Obama. About half of the Hillary voters went our way, more than doubling the number of Obama voters from those we had in the primary. Some split off to McCain and others just avoided ‘the top of the ticket.’
We made solid progress, but our work is still cut out. Union mobilization, the antiwar youth turnout and African American unity, are all part of what kept Pennsylvania ‘Blue’ and helped put Obama in the White House. Now we have to orient our alliance toward ‘change from below’ to make sure our candidate delivers.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Photo: Kyle Jones, Beaver Falls Obama Fan
Go All Out For
Obama in Western PA
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
Organized labor has set its sights on winning Beaver County and all of Western Pennsylvania for Barack Obama. They see victory in this battleground "swing state" as critical to the entire election nationwide, and are pulling out their big guns, all stops and every other available advantage to "Git 'er done."
That's the message made loud and clear by the visit of AFL-CIO chief John Sweeny to the IBEW Local 712 Hall here in Vanport, Pa this Saturday morning, October 25.
Sweeny's visit kicked off an all-day effort, and was teamed with a joint visit of United Steelworker union top officials and pro-Obama Pittsburgh Steelers players for a rally at the same hall later in the afternoon. In between, the unions deployed over 2200 rank-and-file union members to knock of the doors of some 31,000 union family homes across the state in a single afternoon, an effort that will get even more earnest in the next ten days.
I arrived early in a grey drizzle of a morning, unlike the glorious fall days of the last month of Saturday 'Labor Walks.' Media work was my task for the day, and I made sure a New York Times reporter quickly met all the local union officials and pro-union local candidates. While I'm getting wired on black coffee and a jelly donut, Bob Schmetzer, a local IBEW official, hands me one of his home-made flyers.
"Here, whaddya think of this?" he says. "I got it off the Internet." It's one of the now-classic pieces bouncing around exposing the undercurrent of unstated white supremacy in the campaign, using role reversal. "What if John McCain graduated and the top of his class at Harvard, and Obama came in at the bottom of his class with the record of a goof-off? What do you think Fox and the rightwing talk shows would be doing with that?" It gives a dozen more examples, using irony and good humor to make a very serious point.
"Terrific," I tell Bob, "We have to get people thinking about things like this. It arms them against the right." He agrees, and works the hall, pulling over one after another of his key guys, giving each of them the leaflet, going over it with them. He's thinking ahead, educating his troops, knowing that this battle's more than just dollars and cents.
Sweeny's arrival is low-key. He's escorted in by a young union staff woman, Yael Foa, assigned by the AFL-CIO to work with us in Beaver County. She's talented and tireless, but stands to the side with a beaming smile as Sweeny greets each union member as if he or she were family. Wearing his union jacket and cap, white hair and the trace Irish lilt in his voice, he's soft-spoken and warm with everyone, and gets the same in return. People like and respect him.
But on the platform he's a firebrand. "You're the reason Obama is out in front in Pennsylvania. Make no mistake; each of you here is very important. Of all the things that we do-mailings, advertisements, phone banking-there's nothing more effective or more persuasive than what you're doing today, a personal visit from one union brother or sister to another. Beaver County is the key to Western PA, Western PA is the key to Pennsylvania-and without Pennsylvania, there's no way McCain can win!'
Sweeney closes by pushing the entire ticket, from Obama at the top to Vince Biancucci and Dennis Rousseau, both local guys with a union history, for state reps at the base. He stresses the AFL-CIO's core message once again: No more nonsense about privatizing Social Security and putting it into the stock market, no more notions of taxing health care benefits, extend health care to everyone, no more nonsense about de-regulation of banking and Wall Street. They've made a huge mess, and we need a New Deal and a new leadership to turn things around. Obama is the most pro-labor candidate we've ever seen, so shift into high gear and let's make him our president.
Naturally, Sweeny gets a warm, standing ovation. Everyone is appropriately fired up, puts on 'Steelworkers for Obama' T-Shirts and like, and hits the streets in the nearby mill towns, as well as the back roads in the semi-rural township hills and hollows, for the next four hours.
While this is a key area, it's only one small part of organized labor's effort in this campaign. Aside from millions of dollars spent on print and other media pushing 'Green Jobs', health care, and the right of unions to organize, both the AFL-CIO unions and 'Change to Win' unions like SEIU, are making a common front, working together on this election. On this weekend alone, over 250,000 union volunteers across the country are on the streets, going door-to-door. Busloads from 'safe areas' like New York City spend weekends in the rural Pennsylvania Poconos, or working-class neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Car caravans from Chicago work the factory towns of Indiana, Kentucky and Western Ohio. There's nothing quite like seeing it in motion: "Awesome!" as the Obama volunteer young people put it, although they've done some pretty awesome things themselves more than once.
The sun starts breaking through the clouds at mid-afternoon. I get back to the union hall after a stint at the nearby Court House for our weekly Beaver County Peace Links vigil, for over five years running, with our 'Bring the Troops Home Now! banner and 'Honk for Peace!' signs. The union parking lot is filling up, with more than when we started.
The reason? It's 'Steel Blitz for Barack' time. That means a bus is about to arrive carrying Dan Rooney, owner emeritus of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Edmond Nelson, former Steelers star defensive lineman, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard and other union officials and players.
Outsiders might not get it, but in an area where 'Steelerism' comes close to being a state religion, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Dozens of young, mostly white kids, boys and girls, are bundled up against the wind, plastering each others coats, front and back, with 'Union Voters for Obama' and 'Steelers for Obama' stickers, clutching autograph books, waiting for their heroes to get there.
Inside, Billy George, head of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, is warming up a packed hall, standing room only. George is from the tough McDonald Heights neighborhood of nearby Aliquippa, PA, home of the shut-down Jones and Laughlin Steel, once the largest steel mill in the world. He was with USW Local 1211, a powerful and militant local in its day.
'What time is it?' he yells into the mike, right off the bat. 'UNION TIME!' the room yells back, no prompting needed. The Steelers are going to win their division, he predicts, then the Steelers are going to the Superbowl, and 'who will be the President to greet and open the Superbowl?" 'BARACK OBAMA!' comes back, instantly and loudly.
George turns serious and talks labor history, educating the younger people and getting knowing nods from the older workers. He reminds us of the fierce battles of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee in the 1930s, the violence and the arrests, at the historical marker at the old plant gate in downtown Aliquippa, marking the 1937 Supreme Court decision made in the case of the Aliquippa workers, the decision under FDR that broke the back of reaction, and allowed nationwide union organization to spread and the FDR New Deal to accelerate.
"Social Security came out of this," George explains. "Our right to organize came out of this. These are the most important things we've ever won, and now McCain and the Republicans want to 'privatize' it or take it back. Can you imagine if they put your social security in the stock market? No way, no way we'll let them. I know everyone here agrees with me, but I want four full shifts out of each and every one of you in the next ten days. Get this message out to your neighbors, relatives, and everyone else around here that knows better, or ought to."
Next up is Leo Girard, the Canadian-born international president of the United Steelworkers. Even with his north-of-the-border accent, he know the exact language of this group today.
"We've been getting the shaft," he says, "but this is our time, we're going to turn it completely around. We've never had a candidate like Barack Obama. After the thank-you's and standard lines, Girard asks the workers here to follow a thought experiment with him.
Imagine a candidate born to wealth and privilege of the high officer class. Follow him as he fritters away his studies. Recognize and respect his service, but when he gets back, he dumps his first wife and marries into brewery millions. He goes to Congress with the goal of letting the banks run wild, and voting against the unions 85 percent of the time. He's so wealthy, he doesn't even know how many homes he has.
Now imagine, Girard goes on, a candidate with a single mother, who works hard, but leaves him mainly with Kansas grandparents to raise him. They sacrifice everything to get him an education. He gets to Harvard, top of his class. Wall Street is offering hundreds of thousands of dollars just for sign-up bonuses, but what does he do? He decides to give something back. He works for a church group on the South Side of Chicago, with the unemployed laid-off workers, many of them steelworkers, helping them get retrained, helping them find a future.
"The Republicans want to talk about character," Girard shouts out. "What does this tell you about it? What does this tell you about the difference between these two men? I listened to rightwing radio yesterday, making fun of Obama for going to visit his dying grandmother, the woman who gave everything to see him succeed. He set aside the time to see her while she could still hear his voice, and they mock it."
"McCain and the Republicans have been running around like 'Robin Hood in Reverse,' then dump all this slime on Obama and us, and we're supposed to shut up and like it?," he asks. "No, take the measure of these two men. Take then measure of which one stands with family as we know it, take the measure of which one can benefit the working class that we're part of. Obama is going to be a great president, and we're going to put him there.
By this time there's not a dry eye in the house, and Rooney takes the mike to add to his admiration of Obama. But the most powerful applause comes for linebacker Edmond Nelson, a huge African American man who dwarfs everyone else on the platform.
"I'm for Barack Obama because I hate this war in Iraq," he shouts out as his opening line. "I hate this war because of the lies told us about 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' to drag us into it. I'm for Obama because I hate what's been done to our soldiers and the people of Iraq.
These lines get the strongest applause of the afternoon.
But Nelson closes with "I'm for Barack Obama because I want to see people who look like me get a fair shake and a decent chance in this society." Again, powerful applause from a group that's over 90 percent blue-collar white workers, but still a group that knows exactly what he means.
As the lines are being organized so the youngsters, and many older people too, can line up to get their Steeler autographs, one of the AFLCIO chiefs gets order in the room. "One last speaker, one of the most important. She's going to tell you what to do."
Up comes Kyra Ricci, a petite twenty-something starkly contrasting when every previous speaker, with a terrific smile, but a "listen up now" sense of command. The Obama youth insurgency is "in the house", too, and she lays out the tasks of the final days, and has her people with their sign-up clipboards stationed so they won't be gotten by without a commitment.
It's the perfect counterpoint to end the day. Three powerful movements are coming together here-organized labor, the African American fight for justice and a new antiwar youth insurgency. Given the sense of class-conscious solidarity and unity in the hall, it's hard to see how McCain and the GOP can stop them. But it's also clear that an Obama White House, in calling for partners for 'change from below,' will also face forces that will not be easily deflected or denied.
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Thursday, October 23, 2008
Election as an
Just as a Voter
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On!
It's the home stretch everyone, the last two weeks.
Don't pay too much attention to the polls, even if they're on our side at the moment. They change like the weather.
At this stage, the 'ground game' is what counts most, and believe me, it counts a lot.
So this is a direct appeal to each and every one of you. Get fully engaged. Everything counts in these final days.
Approach the election as an organizer, not just as a voter. Keep lists of names, make new friends, meet new groups. We'll need them to bring pressure on the White House no matter who is in it.
Here's the key tasks: GOTV, PTV, CTV
--Get out the vote. Just because people registered, doesn't mean they go to the polls. This is especially true with youth. Organize 'early voting' parties. Make a list of your 'pluses'--pro-Obama votes--and 'run them' all day, checking them off as they vote. Drag out the slackers. Everything counts.
--Protect the vote. Yes, they do nasty things in some polling places. Volunteer as a poll watcher, or election-day judge. Take a training. Do it. Judges even get paid for the day. Make sure the tally in your precinct matches the tally actually turned in at the election board. Raise a stink if it doesn't. Also, the GOP is already doing 'Depress the Vote' tactics by spreading false information and sending intimidation teams to early voting sites, harassing people. Organize a 'counter-intimidation team.' Face them down, non-violently but resolutely. It works.
--Claim the vote. If and when we win, let the local incumbents know. If many cases, they didn't do that much. Tell them you'll stay organized for the long term, and not just on elections, but tell them they better stop the damned war, and a lot more. Exercise your newly gained 'clout.' You've earned it.
Just remember, like our candidate asserts, change comes from below, and sprint all the way to the line and through the ribbon.
'Progressives for Obama'
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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Photo: Acorn protest against toxic lenders
The Phoney War
and Voter Fraud
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On
If you want an idea of how the Fox-Limbaugh-Hannity media machine and its phony war on ACORN reaches the local level, and how to fight it, here's some recent examples of me going back-and-forth in the on-line commentary pages our our local paper, the Beaver County Times.
As these papers go, the Times has a relatively large circulation and does a decent job with covering local news, but adding some national stuff as well. It's politics are a mixed bag of fiscal conservatism, pragmatism on local development, and liberalism on most social issues, often with a working class angle. You can say most anything on the site, just don't use cuss words, and your posts are rigidly kept to 200 words or less. So it's good training for snappy comebacks.
In any case, two regulars start off with jabs at Obama and ACORN recently. Some people use their real names, some use 'handles':
'Ridiculous' wrote on Oct 10, 2008: "Now we find that the dead are registering to vote in many states. I'm not quite sure how the dead will be voting, but since Obama and ACORN have managed to get them to register to vote, I'm sure they can manage some additional type of miracle! Actually the dead have been voting in Chicago for years.....Even CNN Gets it on the voter fraud taking place on the left.' Then 'JimL' adds: "You're right. Obama was trained under the Daley's too. He well understands the meaning of those votes. What was it they found in Ohio, 10 registrations with same name but listing different birth dates and addresses but similar signatures? Go ACORN."
So I come back with:
CarlDavidson wrote on Oct 13: " You're dead wrong on ACORN and voter fraud.
In most states, ACORN is required by law to turn in ALL voter forms they have that are signed. ACORN itself tries to catch the bad ones, bundles them, labels them as suspect, and turns them in. They catch over 90 percent of them, but in many states, they're not allowed to just toss them.
Thousands of people are hired by ACORN to do voter reg, and they're paid by the hour. Those caught cheating are promptly fired.
It's as if a department store with many employees catches a worker shoplifting, gathers the evidence, call the cops, and then the Store get charged with a crime.
Besides, it's only 'voter fraud' when someone actually tries to vote under a registration not their own. In almost every precinct in the country with pollwatchers from both parties and independent judges, this is much harder these days. Your signature has to match the one on the registration card.
Recognize this for what it is, Red Meat the GOP is throwing out to rile up their base that fears low-income Blacks. "
But my opponents still don't get it, and up the ante:
'finnegan' wrote on Oct 13, 2008: " ACORN needs to be torn apart and every registration that is questionable should be thrown out. Incomplete information any questionable registration that cannot be determined to be truthful!! If anything because NOBAMA worked so closely with this organization we surely don't want a repeat of Florida in the last election...Yes thats right, nothing wrong with Acorn, that's why they are being investigated in 16 states so far! Forget that they registered the same person in Ohio 70 times using a variety of names or that the dead are also registering. LOL, If someone came up and hit some of you guys in the face with the actual ballots of fraud you wOULD still cry NOT SO NO FRAUD HERE!! ".."
So I reply:
"Finnegan, ACORN is a mass membership organization of some 400,000+ low-to-middle income people, mainly African Americans.
Exactly how do you propose 'tearing it apart?'
The mortage loans it won for its members remain some of the safest and best around, and ACORN was in the streets opposing predatory lending and toxic loans when most of you never heard of them, and McCain and crew were for even more de-regulation.
ACORN itself, as is required, bundles suspicious voter apps as just that, and turns them in, as required. Then Karl Rove uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to blame ACORN and Blacks for the credit crisis, then the Talk Radio dittoheads listening to Limbaugh's and Hannity's lies turn into a bunch of snookered and suckered lemmings.
Don't you realize these sources, to use a kind term, are far right, proto-fascist 'infotainment' and not news? Do you bother to use factcheck.org or any reliable source to look deeper?
Time to wake up, things are getting serious. The people you're attacking are your best allies against the real criminals at the top with fountain pens, not six-guns.
Stop McCain, Stop the War, Vote Obama 2008!'"
Now 'Finnegan's wavering a little, but not much:
"Not so sure about those great loans that ACORN obtained seems like many of them weren't so great after all. It was 70 registrations with the same name (of course they paid the street person 1.00 per registration and threw a few cigarettes at him for these registrations) I also know they registered Mickey Mouse in Florida. Yea Carl, ACORN is just a great asset to America. Go McCain/Palin!! "
And so it goes. I'm not sure this applies to my debate partners 'Ridiculous' and 'Finnegan' here, but for some I've met, it doesn't matter if you present them with facts showing they've got it wrong. They stic to it anyway, because the particular lie is only a story that's a cover for something else, a hard-held belief that most Blacks are lazy, shiftless, thiefs, too uppity and don't know their place. but now we have new terms for all these: 'elitist,' ACORN, voter fraud, secret Muslim, Arab, terrorist and 'not one of us.'
I guess it's a sign of progress that those holding to the old stuff have to hide it. There's several hundred regular posters using this local site, and several thousand read them every day. check to see if your local paper or home town paper allows something similar, and join in. Clearly, the struggle continues and these are valuable forums . Keep On, Keepin' On!
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Photo: Obama Signs on Rural Street in Raccoon
Tide Is Turning
For Obama In
Beaver County, PA
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
About twenty of us are gathering early Saturday morning at the IBEW Hall, 'Labor Central,' in Vanport, Beaver County, Western PA. Today it's a team of electrical workers, steelworkers, SEIU service workers and a few activists with the 4th CD PDA, Progressive Democrats of America.
We're walking streets, lanes and backwoods roads to hit every union household in the area. The goal today? Voter ID. Make sure every list is correct, find every registered union family voter, find out where they stand, and then, Voter ED, give them our pitch and materials on why Obama-Biden is their best shot to defend their interests in 2008-'Green Jobs,' ending the war, defending health care.
The press calls our turf a critical battleground for the hearts, mind and votes of 'the white worker,' which it is, with McCain-Palin sliding down, but still at 51 percent today. But you wouldn't know Obama had a problem by looking at our team today. They're a hard-muscled crew, ball caps and blue jeans, but 'Vote Obama 2008' emblazoned on T-shirts, hats and buttons galore. The rightwing's bigotry is reaching a fever pitch, but these workers are making it very clear where they stand.
I enter the hall with a reporter from a major Portuguese paper, Expresso, that I'm helping out. The European press is also following this election more intently than any in a long time, and he's neither the first nor the last from Europe to visit us. I introduce him to Bob Schmetzer, one of the IBEW officials, who tells him what the unions are doing. Then he meets our PA State Rep, Vince Biancucci, who's doing the walks with us today. He and Vince trade stories about workers in Italy.
Leaving him to his business, I gather up flyers I'll need for the day. Most are aimed straight at the economic crisis and pocketbook issues. Schmetzer pulled together a good one of McCain's lousy record on veterans, well documented. There's a stack of a new one, full color, with nice pictures, with text: Obama wears a flag pin, puts his hand on his heart saying the Pledge, is a Christian who goes to church, was sworn in on the Bible, not the Koran, that was another Black guy from Minnesota, and so on.
There's a grey-bearded electrical worker who looks like a six foot six version of Kenny Rodgers reading it, too. "Whaddya think," He asks? A nice-looking job, I say, but it's pitiful that we have to put things like this out. "My thought exactly," he replies, "but we still got to answer and defeat this crap."
The union staff gets us organized into smaller teams and on our way. We're working north of the Ohio today. I'm headed for Beaver Falls, an old merchant center and industrial town on the Beaver River, known mainly these days as the home of Joe Namath, the football star. At the end of the Reagan era the Babcock and Wilcox tubular mill closed and dismissed over 5,000 workers in Beaver Falls. It's hard times, like everywhere else around here. Six of us, in teams of two, work a low-to-middle income working-class neighborhood on the north side of town, with Black and white workers on the same streets, not always that common in some places.
My first door is a Black construction worker, who tells me, "We're solid for Obama, and everyone in the house is registered, but go see the guy a couple doors down." He does want a yard sign, though, so we put one up for him. This is clearly the Obama base, or at least one major sector.
The guy a few houses down is a 57-year-old white worker, very friendly. "I'm going with Obama and the Democrats, no two ways about it." He tells us he's just registered, never voted before in his life, but the stakes are too high this time, and the conservatives have to be put out.
We keep working the street, but run into Randy and Tina Shannon of PDA at the corner. I get another sheet of names, and we swap stories.
"People are starting to use the 'O' word," says Tina. "Before, they'd just say, 'I'm voting Democrat.' Now they're saying, 'I'm for Obama and the Democrats, and give you an earful.' I think that's a shift."
"I was just up on 'The Heights,' says Randy, meaning the neighborhood on the surrounding hill. "I had one elderly lady for McCain, but I warned her, 'You're on Medicare, aren't you? If McCain has his way, you'll see it cut back.' Didn't help with her, but I ran into another lady who must have been almost ninety. 'McCain? No way, you know where he can go.' Let's just say her comments weren't appropriate for print, but she's determined to vote for Obama. I had just one guy telling me he was only going to vote for the local Democrats."
That's called the 'top of the ticket' problem, and it's a point of contention between the unions' approach, which is to work for everyone, and a few local incumbents shying away from taking a clear leadership stand to win over Clinton and McCain-leaning older Democrats.
"Most important all day," Randy added, "was one steelworker I met, who said: 'It's time to give the Black guy a chance,' and you could tell from the way he said it that he'd thought on it for some time, and probably not alone. They're seeing their pension funds shrink, their jobs lost or cut back, and they want to turn them all out."
We turn in our sheets by lunchtime and share more stories. The PDA folks are lining up people to buy tickets for a PDA 'Dinner and a Movie' night out, Nov. 1, in Monaca, PA, featuring the documentary film 'UnCounted', which will expand people's horizons on electoral problems, and help build for the next round of battles around single-payer health care and stopping the war.
Everyone agrees the tide is turning, but a lot can still happen, for better or worse. No one wants to coast. My township, Raccoon, went 30 percent for Obama in the primary, with the bulk going for Hillary. Most voters there are Democrats, and they'll break three ways-for Obama, for McCain and for 'staying home.' Getting enough to get past 50 percent was always possible, but with the Wall Street crash, it's now clearly in sight.
The Palin right's attacks on Obama as a 'terrorist' are backfiring among many as a devious diversion. Some we talk to cling to the 'Secret Muslim' stories, no matter how clearly the lies are exposed. The reason soon becomes crystal clear: they don't let go of it not because they believe it, but because it's the new way to say they won't vote for a Black candidate. That's simply a reactionary political stand, and has nothing to do with the facts.
But the grip of the right is weakening. Obama-Biden signs are going up everywhere in the white areas. When the right takes them down, more go back up. One guy down the road took a four by eight sheet of plywood, and painted it dark blue, with the Obama 08 Symbol in the middle, and leaned it against his house, as if to say, 'Let see you try to take this one down!'
After lunch we head over the Court House in Beaver. Every Saturday for more than five years now, our PDA and Beaver County Peace Links groups are out there with 'Honk for Peace' and 'Healthcare Not Warfare' signs, together with a big 'Bring the Troops Home Now' banner. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, working to end the war and defeat McCain. Today the cars are honking like we're in Times Square. It's another good sign that change is coming.
[If you like this article and others here, lend a hand by hitting the PayPal button on either http://progressivesforobama.blogspot.com or http://progressivesforobama.net We'll put it to good use.]
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Create Jobs Here?
By Carl Davidson
Every morning I take a look at Townhall.com to see what's on the minds of conservatives and the far right.
This morning, Lawrence Kudlow, host of CNBC’s “Kudlow & Company,” as well as a columnist and economics editor for National Review Online, was warning McCain to stick to jobs and growth in the debates, and set aside the 'guilt by association' attacks. He says:
"The financial crisis and economic downturn clearly have buried Sen. McCain in recent weeks. Some of McCain's supporters think he can turn the page on the economy Tuesday night and instead attack Obama on character and qualifications. That doesn't seem realistic.
" The recession economy and the financial crunch are front and center. Folks are asking: Can I get a loan? Will I have a job? Can I keep my house? Unfortunately, Sen. McCain's message overemphasizes government spending cuts, almost to the exclusion of stimulative and expansive tax cuts. This just doesn't seem like the right time for a government spending freeze, at least to the exclusion of other pro-growth policy levers. Sounds like too much root canal. More like Bob Dole than Ronald Reagan."
This shows he's on Planet Earth at least, but I posted a short reply, asking him 'Create Jobs Where? Here's the text:
Cutting taxes may indeed give corporations or venture capitalist more funds to invest in job creation, but what makes you think they would use it to create jobs HERE, and in areas where they're needed HERE, rather than for a higher return in, say, Malaysia?
As the neoliberals who gutted the mills here in Western PA put it, 'our job is to make money, not steel,' so they left us in the lurch to take their newly acquired funds and went off speculating in oil futures.
Creating jobs HERE requires green industrial policy with government guiding investment with both carrot and stick, and Obama is the only one talking up that program. Nice try, but no cigar. We've all learned a thing or two about markets, and to work well, they need an intelligent hand, as well as an invisible one. Read more!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
We Push the
Basics of Organizing
In DNC's Denver
By Carl Davidson
Progressive for Obama
(Use the Paypal button there to help out)
I rolled into Denver about 3:30pm and Saturday, August 23 after a 1500 mile drive from Beaver County, Pa. A last minute safety issue had be leaving my truck camper "Progressives for Obama" mobile office in the shop, so I made do, loading tents, table chairs, mobile internet setup and everything else needed to survive for a week into the trusty little Madza.
The sky was threatening rain as I passed by 'Tent State" in the City of Cuernavaca Park. Hundred of tents, but no people. So I moved on to one of our first events, at the Cameron Methodist church in South Denver.
Tom Hayden is holding forth to about 100 people, going over all the upsides and downsides of the campaign. The crowd is most peace and justice activists, a few Democratic local officials, and young people, some skeptical of electoral politics. Tom is is good form, and explains the importance of the sheet going around you people to give their names and emails to our efforts, It get filled. His main points:
--The future is open. Take nothing for granted; everything we can do counts. Obama could lose it, especially due to the closeted racists who will used and excuse to depress his vote, plus those pushing his own centrism toward positions that demobilize his most active base.
And here is the rest of it.
--We can counter this through finding our issues, highlighting themâ€”McCain's threatening resurrect ion of the draft, McCain's own corruption and elitism, and pressing both the campaign and the mainstream media to run with them.
--The most important task for us is to expand the electorate in the next six weeks. Several people note that they know many young activists who talk all the time bout the campaign.. "If you do nothing else," I say to the crowd, get them registered, and most important, get them to the polls. Keep a list. Don't take it for granted they will go, plus you need the list to press what will hopefully be and Obama White house in 2009."
Our message is well received. Everyone "gets it" that there's no contradiction betweem working the campaign, building the movements around our issues, and building the strength of our own grassroots organizations.
Next some is a house party and barbeque for progressive media activist organized by Laura Flanders. She had the brilliant idea of going on Craig's List and renting a house for a week. Her crew of young women bloggers, filmmakers, newspaper editors has a headquarters, and we walk in to a table full on six laptops with everyone writing and postng away. I make lost of new contact and meet old friends. We talk for hours over hot dogs and hamburgers in the back yard on ho to improve progressive mediaâ€”TV shows, KPFK, In These Times and many more.
Give the darkenig sky and the emptiness of 'Tent State,' I hook up with Leslie Cagan and Judith LeBlanc of UFPJ, who found a gracious Quaker family, Eric Wright and Judy Danielson, in the city to house us. UFPJ has boxes of flyers promoting the 'Million Doors for Peace' campaign, where a coalition of a dozen groups will all doorknock on Sept 20, getting signatures on petitions, building new email lists -- all the work of basebuilding for an expanded movement. Their aim? Get the flyers in the hands of everyone in town and sign on the organizers. Quite a feat, and a good intervention for a group required by tax laws not to endorse and party or candidate.
When we show up at our hosts, a group from 'Military Families Speak Out' show up, with former Colonel Ann Wright with Vets for Peace, featuring 'Arrest Bush' T-Shirts and giving us a report on the city's extravaganza, with free food, fireworks and free rides in the amusement park for the mainstream media. I'm cynical things about Nero and 'Bread and Circuses,' but it's a political convention, after all, and far goofier things will go on around it. For now, we're working out a plan to cover some of the demos tomorrow.
Day Two - Expanding Our Outreach
Debating Obama, Issues, Building Our Outreach
By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama
Just before 9am we're head down Colfax though old Denver, reminding me of Kerouac's descriptions in 'On The Road', seedy bars, strip joints, greasy spoons and the like. Our first stop is the Capitol rounds, where the 'Recreate 68' group is preparing its march. They have only about 500, and clearly aren't going to cause a major ruckus.
We head for 'Tent State,' but the police super-control to the streets drives us nuts with their blockades and blocked off streets. We finally find a way in, and start setting up Right away the security team tells us 'No stakes' for the tents. Seems the cops think they're weapons. My tent requires stakes, so I use them anyway to get it up, then pull most of them out. Takes us longer, but we get it done, and get our signup sheets and books out. The tent is crucial because of the heat and sunburn.
The final touch is our 'Progressives for Obama' sign out the tent and our Obama yard sign. This crowd has a lot of anarchist-minded youth and Green types, and we're the only explicitly Obama tent among about 50 tents.
Right away the key tension arises. A couple of kids with green hair say 'Obama? Progressives? What do they have to do which each other?' Then thirty seconds later, a Black teenager on his skateboard, headed for the local skate park 50 yards away, slows down, reads our stuff, then give us a fist salute, asserting loudly, 'Obama Rules!'
I explore the grounds. The most powerful table and display by far are Iraq Vets Against the War. About 30 are there, earnestly engaged is all kinds of discussions, with each other and passersby. Military Families Speak Out are there, with AFSC. The 'Boots on the Ground display is going up near the entrance. I talk with the young organizers of Tent State. They're putting up a 'Resurrection City Free University' teaching classes all week. Thousand of youth are lining up for free tickets to the 'Rage Against the Machine' concert.
We're sharing our setup with UFPJ, so we take their leaflets on the 'Million Doorknocks for Peace' for base-building on Oct. 20 to everyone standing in lines for tickets. The kids 'get it' and snatch them up.
Then Medea Benjamin shows up with Code Pink's filming making crew. She wants an interview and asks good questions about how the left can pressure Obama. "Stand firm against the war in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan,' I conclude, 'then go out a register large number of new young voters and get them to the polls, but with your own groups. Politicians pay attention to organized voters. I do several more radio, TV and press interviews throughout the day.
Tom Hayden comes by with some friends, as does Leslie Cagan. We try to figure out what happened with the first march. 'No more than 1000,' says Leslie. 't
They got to the Pepsi Center and a few tried to push further, bust didn't do very well. Tom taks to the cops to see want they know. No major problems or arrests was the answer.
The Alliance for Real Democracy stages its marches in the afternoon from Tent State. They head to downtown Denver, but break up into four smaller groups of 100 or so, and basically engage passersby and Convention delegates into friendly discussions. "Almost every delegate I met was completely against the war,' reported one. They return in batches, in high spirits, although everyone wishes they had greater numbers.
I stayed behind to secure the site while talking to people. Two local Chicano guys stop by. 'Do I really think Obama will stop the war?, one asks. 'I think he's our best shot,' I reply, but you never win anything at the top you haven't organized from below. He nods agreement. "How's your Mayor?,' I ask, knowing he's a progressive Latino. 'He's OK, but you know politicians. But what's your goal here?" I tell him I'm trying to build organizations, independent, grassroots, they we can network, some we're have something to pressure the White House on the war no matter who's in it. ' I like that,' he says. 'I have some time. I can volunteer to help out. Really. Have your folks here call me' He writes down his number and info, as I thank him.
By 5pm we hut down the tent and get ready to head to the big welcoming party at the Progressive Democratic of America/ the Nation church they taken over for a week. They having dozens of panels and workshops every day for the delegates and activists on key topics.
About 500 pack the church, all in high spirits. PDA is new and had grown rapidly in four years. Several Colorado candidates speak, as do many top figures-Jim Hightower, John Nichols, Lynn Woolsey, Norm Solomon. Tom Hayden did a powerful job stressing linking the economy and the war, and that they had not only to aim their fire at the GOP right, but at some of the center Democrats doing their work for them. He not only fired everyone up; he also had everone offer up their e-mails for 'Progressives for Obama' to widen out outreach. Not bad for a day's work.
Day Three - New Media
Getting Inside The DNC Gated Communities
By Carl Davidson
Progressive for Obama
Today I started off heading for the Progressive Democrats of America/The Nation sessions at the 16th and Sherman church downtown. The theme is 'Healthcare not Warfare'-the fight for single payer, with Tim Carpenter firing up the crown and Congressman John Conyers getting into a terrific speech.
But I get pulled aside by an old friend who offers an opportunity to get inside the highly secured Pepsi Center-dubbed 'the Can' locally-for an upscale lunch with progressive writers and editors. The affair is funded by Media Matters, a relatively well-heeled media monitor and fact checker operation that is very useful. I'll spare you the detail of how we got tickets, but my friend said, 'Hey, we're both progressive writers, we got books out, let's go for it."
So we're off to 'the Can,' and find a decent place to park close by. Then we head through various mazes, bridges and chained linked enclosures, meeting up with checkers at various points, flashing our stuff and getting waved through.
At one checkpoint I run into Todd Gitlin, the writer and sociologist as well as an old SDS friend, who's headed to the same event. We catch up quickly, and in turns out he's chairing the meeting. Once we get past the final check, and up the elevator, I'm in air-conditioned splendor, compared to the sweltering previous day at 'Tent State' eating beans out of a can with lukewarm water from a fountain. Now I've got a wonderful buffet, waiters, and fancy starched and folded napkins in the water glasses.
Attendees are top writers and editors from the New Yorker and the Nation, influential academics like Cass Sunstein and Samantha Power, multimedia people and donors.
The goal of the meeting is very worthy. It's launching a new enterprise, the Progressive Book Club, designed to counter the Conservative Book Club, influential on the right and elsewhere as well.
Gitlin opens the discussion with a challenging question: Is the era of conservative right dominance over? This brings a range of responses showing that the book club is only the tip of the iceberg. The broader agenda is creating and/or building a new progressive cultural and progressive infrastructure for a new politics for the 21st century.
I chime in by noting that in my study of the right over the years, that the brightest of them actually used some of Antonio Gramci's notions of working in cultural and civil society to counter a perceived hegemonism, even if a decadent one, of the liberalism of the late 1960s. It's way past time for us to oppose their 'running it in reverse' and turning it around to build real popular democracy.
Others add to this, and soon we're off discussing whether there really are new progressive solutions out there to the whole range of political, economic and cultural concerns. There's no consensus on that point, but everyone is fired up on the initial concern. All agree it was a good meeting, and new contacts and projects are tosse around as we bring it to a close.
Now that I'm well fed, hydrated and cooled off, I head back to our radical makeshift tent city along the Platte River. Fighting a stiff breeze, I get the 'Progressives for Obama' tent in order and its signs and literature out. I'm open for business.
Soon enough about five young anarchists and radicals show up, some complete in black clothing and bandanas. They're not too hip on voting for anyone, let along Obama, but one figures out that I'm the author of the 1966 'Toward a Student Syndicalist Movement' paper, and the discussion gets far ranging and lively-ranging from Zen, to Beat poets, and election tactics in 1968 and 1972.
Then one kid whips out something looking like a Blackberry and makes a call. "Here, let's do an interview for our radio show." He presses a few buttons, then tells me, 'just pretend it's a mike, and speak into it as I ask you questions." It goes on for 15 minutes, and I lay out our approach, while he adds questions with his spin.
It's a good interview. "Give me your card. We'll have it on the air and one the net in a few days, and I'll let you know where to find it on the dial or how to I-Pod it."
As one of the authors of 'Cyber-Radicalism: A New Left for a Global Age,' I feel like a proud parent. The younger crew here have picked up on things we merely talked about in the future tense, and they now are making them part of their daily lives.
Day Four - Arrests, Debates, Alliances
Exposing Rove, The 'Big Tent', Beat Poets, Vets And Denver Streets
By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama
I start the morning by heading straight for the church hosting the week-long series of panels organized by Progressive Democrats of America and The Nation magazine. It's quickly turned into an intellectual headquarters and meeting place for leftists and progressives working the election in various ways, inside and outside the Obama campaign and the Democratic party.
A large crowd is gathering early. The buzz is all about the 100 or so young people busted and dispersed the night before by encirclement by an overwhelming police force combined with tear gas. Most of the city's citizens, let alone those just here for the DNC events, are more than tired of the massive police presence on what seems like every other corner. Add to it traffic foul-ups caused by blocked streets and triple cordons around critical spots, and the most common unifying words you hear are 'unnecessary', 'police state,' and 'overkill.'
I'll wait for the dust to settle for a fuller assessment of the bust. The deeper question is why the radical youth turnout was far less than anyone's expectations-despite a myriad of other well-attended progressive happenings around town. There are probably less than 4000 at the outside, not counting the 17,000 plus locals who signed up for the ticket lottery for 'Rage Against the Machine.
But it still needs to be said, off the bat, that the radical bunch last night had fallen into some serious 'Custerism', as in General George Custer. In planning their action, they billed it, quite openly, as an effort to crash and disrupt a Dem fundraising party at one of the hotels. But they had very few allies for such an endeavor, and were vastly outnumbered by the rather well-informed cops with all their new 'Homeland Security' toys. Needless to say, the only thing that got disrupted was their own project and a little nighttime street traffic.
Back to the opening session at the church.
It began with a fascinating and disturbing speech by Don Siegelman, Alabama's Democratic governor (1999-2003), who was defeated in 2004 by Karl Rove and friends having him indicted on false charges a month before the election, then tried and convicted in rigged trials, haul off to a maximum security prison-"Alabama's worse," he says-where he is locked up in solitary for nine months. He's finally released only after nearly 50 states attorneys general sign an appeal to a higher court not dominated by Rove cronies, where everything is dismissed.
It's a fabulous introduction to the next speaker, Greg Palast, author of 'The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.' He not only exposed the fascist machinations of Rove, he went on to offer an excellent exposure of election-stealing in general. His advice? Get ourselves well-trained so we can 'steal our votes back' and get an honest count.
Next is an 'Out of Iraq' dialog between Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Tom Hayden. Mc Dermott was an early opponent of the war, and offers insider advice of how to bring pressure to bear on your Congressman. Hayden expands on his remarks from the day before on how the left-progressives need to take issues like McCain's recent suggestions for a return to the military draft, and press it publicly in a way for the Obama campaign to take it further, to further isolate and expose McCain. Otherwise, he suggests, Obama could lose, since things are very tight.
Hayden has also been passing around sign-up sheets for Progressive for Obama's email group at every appearance. I keep an eye on the sheets, gather them up, and this morning we get another 250 or so.
At the break I decide it's time to hit the streets of Denver.
I want to check out 'The Big Tent', a site near the Pepsi center equipped for 1000 bloggers. It's literally a circus tent over a parking lot, but next to a complex of high-tech 501C3 organizations. Google is a sponsor, as are other third wave firms, and there's some serious money here-plus as a long-time 'cyberMarxist,' I want to be up on these things.
But I decide to walk the distance and take in the sights. Right off the bat, I run into dueling demos and bullhorns. Side by side are the 'Christian' theocrats denouncing abortion, gays and a long list of other violations of the Book of Leviticus, along with the 'World Can't Wait' kids with signs like 'Support Life, Smash Christian Fascism.' Both the local and tourists seem amused, and are snapping photos with their cell phones.
Further along I run into dozens of local African American button and T-Shirt sellers, all doing a brisk business with the widest variety of Obama mottos and slogans I have ever seen. Both DNC delegates and local Black workers seem to be the main customers.
Then comes a contingent of a dozen youth, dressed in black with bandanas, each carrying their own Red Flag, chanting, 'Revolution, the Only Solution! The looks range from bored to quizzical to amused-and the cell phone are snapping pictures again.
Finally I hit the 'Big Tent,' get credential and go inside. Google is offering free ice-cold smoothies in eight flavors-plus they have a machine that will put a free recharge on you cell phone or Blackberry batteries. And inside, indeed, are about 1000 bloggers working away on tables with free WiFi hookups. The implications for the future have my head spinning.
But rather than wait in line, I head for the nearest Starbucks for a large iced coffee, a favored addiction. I see two women, one whose face is familiar, so I wave her over to share the last remaining table. It turns out she's the Beat poet, Anne Waldman, old friend of Allen Ginsburg and now a professor of poetics at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetry at Naropa University, up in the mountains not too far away. We have a great time discussing Kerouac's sojourns in Denver, and she leaves me with a recording of her own poems. How's that for serendipity!
As evening arrives, I get a call offering passes to a skybox in Coors Field rented by the Council for a Livable World and VETPAC. It's aim is to offer support and interviews with about six Congressional candidates who are both Iraq vets and supporters of Obama. So I go and talk to several candidates, along with some Military Families Speak Out people. When they get done with shredding McCain's betrayal of recent veterans legislation, there's nothing left. If these guys get their message out, it will help a great deal. It's all very real, down-to-earth and a good end to the day.
Day Five - Rage, Vets, Antiwar
A DNC Victory: For the Iraq Vets And 'Rage Youth'
By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama
I start the day early loading leaflets and joining Leslie Cagan, Judith LeBlanc and five other United for Peace and Justice volunteers headed to the Denver Coliseum on the North Side of town before 9:00AM.
We're going to the 'Rage Against the Machine' benefit for Iraq Veterans Against the War, organized by the Tent State kids and their allies, and we're expecting about 10,000 young people. It's a beautiful day-sunny, not too hot, blue skies with a few clouds, and the first range of the Rockies clear on the horizon. The concert is to be followed by a mass march to the Pepsi Center, led by the vets, to press their antiwar demands on the Democrats. Since there's no permit, and the Pepsi Center is restricted with 'protest pens' no one intends to enter, there's a sense of tension in the air.
Our UFPJ leaflet has a simple message: Join us Sept. 20 to knock on a million doors for peace. Get signatures on petitions, get to know your neighbors, get outside your 'comfort zones' into new neighborhoods and help us double the size of our movement with new names, addresses and emails.
Since the lines are long and organized, we quickly get out thousands of flyers. A brief rap, and most people say, 'Oh, this is cool. I can do this.' Some don't want to be bothered, interested only in the bands, and a few kids are rather spaced out early since no intoxicants other than the music are permitted on the grounds.
I get a 'workfare' pass into the concert with terrific seats. This means I'm on the security team for IVAW inside the concert and along the line of march. We get our special chartreuse armbands and blue wristbands, a quick training in nonviolent methods in dealing with problems. Then we're into the cavernous space, with a local Denver band, Flobots, which is decidedly left and high-energy hip-hop. IVAW speakers appear between numbers and keep the politics of the day clear and focused.
They have three demands: 'Out Now,' full benefits for returning vets, and reparations for Iraq. They have no great love for the Democrats who keep voting to fund the war, they're angry with Obama for not taking a harder line, but they see McCain as more dangerous, both to the world and to vets. They want militancy, but they insist on nonviolence for the day, and demand a resolute respect for their leadership and ground rules.
When "Rage" comes on the stage and gets itself and the crowd wound up, one thing becomes crystal clear. If you're interested in radical and democratic social change from below, here is one powerful engine for it. You dismiss, ignore or demoralize the high energy and critical force of these young people at your peril. This is a multiclass, multinational force of youth, and on this day, they are accepting the lead of the working class, even if it's taking the form of the politics, militancy, organization and discipline of the Iraq vets.
The beautiful thing is how well it all worked.
The vets marched in formation with cadence at the front, dozens of them in uniform, some in full dress with a chest full of medals. They wanted us to keep a short space for media behind them, then everyone else another few yards back behind a large banner supporting GI resistance to the war. No breakaways and no nonsense. If arrest situations came up, we had our instructions on how to keep those who didn't want to risk arrest still involved, but out of the immediate reach of the police.
I'd guess that at least two-thirds of the 10,000 Rage fans joined us, then we picked up other youth, a few workers, and even Convention delegates along the way. The banners and signs and costume were colorful, the chants imaginative and militant, and the energy infected everyone, even the crowds of bystanders, many of whom broke into applause.
I had one of the harder jobs, keeping people from breaking the front ranks and jumping the banner. But with the vets leadership, we kept the spirit both upbeat and disciplined. Denver's overkill police presence was everywhere, but everything remained civil. Some even felt some sympathy for them, sweltering on a hot sunny day in their new Black Ninja Turtle outfits, which must have been unbearable.
It was a long march, nearly five miles. One problem was keeping everyone hydrated, but cases of water kept showing up at critical points. The best energy was downtown Denver, with the cheering and applause from Convention delegates. But we all knew there were trouble spots ahead.
Denver's security rules meant you couldn't get closer to the Pepsi center than several hundred yards, and then you were to be put in fenced 'protest pens.'
The vets would have none of it. They hadn't risked their lives, supposedly defending the Constitution, to be treated this way. They were going to march until they were stopped and then we'd seen what would happen. As we got closer to the skirmish line, they stopped several times, and the vets took turns giving heart-rending stories to the press, which, by this time, was everywhere, and driving us nuts trying to keep them to respect our lines and discipline.
At the final stopping point, a decorated Marine told the cops they would get no violence from us, and we expected none from them. The three demands were read to Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party. The vets demanded a response, and were determined to wait for one.
So now we had the problem of keeping thousands of people, encircled by police and barricades, in an upbeat, but patient and calm state of mind.
One young Black kid from Denver of our security team rose to the occasion. He starts doing his raps, and those of others as well. The crowd loves it, especially when he gets on their case for not being too good at 'call and response.' So he starts an on-the-spot workshop on how we can all become better rappers.
Next two young African American women start softly singing an old church-based civil rights song 'Those Who Love Freedom..." The lyrics are simple and lyrical, and soon hundreds are singing it, over and over. For me, powerful memories come up from my days on Freedom Marches in Mississippi, when we sang this same song in the face of the Klan and cops. When I start to sing along, my eyes fill with tears from long-buried emotions. To hell with it, I decide, let the tears flow, and I sing along.
Finally, we get the word. The other side blinked. The Obama campaign's top veterans affairs people ask the Vets to send two reps into the Pepsi center to discuss their demands. Moreover, they want an ongoing series of discussions to make sure all veterans concerns are heard and dealt with. That's enough for IVAW to call a victory, even if a partial one, and work out a way to bring the day to a close. It's decided that we part the crowd down the middle, opening a path. The vets do an about face, march in formation though the crowd, and as they pass, to many cheers, we fall in behind, get back to the downtown area, and go our various ways.
I find a way to get to my car, then back to 'tent city' to secure our display in preparations for leaving. I meet up with my team in a Taco joint, where they, along with some of the new media people working with Laura Flanders, are watching Joe Biden's speech. I'll have to read it tomorrow, because given everything we've been through, right now it seems rather trivial.
Day Six - Making Connections
Why the DNC Is Like Going To High School
By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama
This is my last day in town, and all the talk around the breakfast table is how and where everyone will watch or listen to 'The Speech', Obama's premier performance at Invesco Field. I decide not to waste time hassling long lines or working connections for tickets, since I can watch it on TV in nearby Boulder, where my partner is staying with family.
So I head for the church hosting 'The Nation' and Progressive Democrats of America. On arrival, I've just missed Rev. Jesse Jackson, but Ron Kovic of 'Born on the Fourth of July' fame and early member of Vietnam Vets Against the War is holding forth on his mistreatment at a past GOP convention. He then reports on yesterday's powerful five-mile IVAW and youth march. He did the entire length in his wheelchair. He can't praise the organizers highly enough, acknowledges that Obama did the right thing, but says to keep pushing on. He ends by asserting that we can't let the right have a monopoly on patriotism, so long as we remember we're also 'citizens of the world.' He gets a standing ovation.
I decide to walk the streets again. I want to take it all in, and reflect at little on what major party conventions are all about.
First stop is the lobby at the Sheraton. For a veteran organizer like me, working away on a variety on fronts for 45 years, all I have to do is stand there for 15 minutes and someone I know will show up. Sure enough, someone calls my name, and it's Brian Kettenring from ACORN, now one of their top organizers. I first met him when he was a young student ACORN worker in Chicago. He's been on the West Coast for years, but introduces me to ACORN activists from Pennsylvania, now my base area.
Brian tells me he's headed for ACORN headquarters in DC, where, half-joking, half serious, he tells me he wants them to let him set up a 'Department of Socialism' to discuss 'bigger picture things'. I tell him I've working on just the thing for him, the newly formed 'U.S. Solidarity Economy Network,' with an upcoming conference early in 2009. My trend in SEN is based on David Schweickart's 'After Capitalism' with 'Economic Democracy' as a 'successor system' enroute to a fuller blown socialism. It'll challenge ACORN, but it starts on the ground, where they are. He's very interested, and we decide to stay in touch on it. Plus I now have a new contact in Philly.
So there's lesson number one. Conventions are about horizontal networking. Completely apart from the official goings-on, this stuff happens everywhere. Multiply my short example with Brian by 100, and you get the idea.
From the Sheraton, I take an elevated walkway and run into a building with an inviting, postmodernist display on ecology, energy and related topics. It's aimed at DNC delegates and put up by a high-tech design outfit called 'Partly Sunny: Designs to Change the Forecast. Inside are dozens of displays of green and solar construction materials and firms to build the homes and offices of the future. When a young guide offers to help, I ask 'are any these outfits worker or community coops?' Some are, she answers, and shows me how I can find out more. This gets me thinking that almost all of these firms are what we call 'high road capitalists' and thus some of them possible candidates to pull into our solidarity economy networking.
Now 'Partly Sunny' is just one of thousands of corporate displays, presentations and parties going on all week. While this one is a small, relatively progressive example, all of them, bad guys and good guys, are going all out in the DNC events to draw the country's political class upward and into its orbit of influence.
Thus we have lesson number two. Conventions are about vertical networking and its more aggressive cousin, cooptation. There's a constant influx of newer and younger delegates, candidates, elected officials and party workers to be recruited. If you've been to college, think fraternity and sorority 'Rush Week', and you'll have the right idea.
I head back to the church because I want to catch PDA's summary sessions. Along the way, I run into a dozen people I know wanting to know if I know where they can get tickets (I don't) or telling me about the hoops they went through to get them.
This is lesson three. Conventions are about discovering the pecking orders in the various cliques, and how to turn them to your advantage, for good reasons or otherwise.
So I what do I conclude? Major party conventions are really a lot like high school and the socialization process we all experience in and through them. Learning all the cliques, all the pecking orders, where you can best fit in and suffer least, having a good time in the coolest clubs and extracurricular activities. You know, all the important stuff that goes on everywhere except the classroom. At the DNC, all the important stuff these days goes on everywhere EXCEPT on the convention floor and the 'big night' speeches. These latter events are actually, for better or worse, carefully scripted infomercials mostly far beyond our reach.
A corollary lesson: You can accomplish a lot here, but you better come in with a very clear idea of your core values, your own platform and your strategic orientation. If you don't, you'll wind up being part of someone else's platform and strategy. But if you do, you can make major gains.
PDA is a case in point. As I arrive for the final sessions, Dennis Kucinich is pressing impeachment, whipping out his pocket copy of the Constitution. Next, Steve Cobble, Leslie Cagan, Jaime Raskin (State Senator, Maryland) and Rep Keith Ellison, the Congressman from Minnesota who is also a practicing Muslim, and caused a flurry in the press when he was sworn in using Thomas Jefferson's personal copy of the Koran--all of them are on the platform, ready to follow up and discuss what it means to defend the Constitution and democracy in even broader terms.
Tim Carpenter, PDA's tireless chief organizer and John Nichols of the Nation are setting up the crowd. Tim is explaining how PDA has grown, in just four years, from a few dozen in 2004 to now over 140,000 members all across the country. Mimi Kennedy and Jodie Evans are also there, and add in on how the persistent and audacious pursuit of their 'inside-outside' strategy has succeeded and the turnouts to all the sessions this week shows they've made even greater gains.
PDA, of course, is hardly the only player in the progressive movement. I like much of what they do, and work closely with them back in Beaver County, Pa. But there's also room for improvement and other approaches and organizations, too. My point here is that groups ignoring and avoiding the political events and activities surrounding elections--and you don't have to support any candidate or platform to be engaged in them--are only shooting themselves in the foot.
I'm hardly a believer that basic social change is achieved by elections. But I'm a firm believer that change on this order must proceed THROUGH them, in the long march through all the institutions of our society, building the strongholds we need for the popular power and economic democracy that can take us even farther down the road. With that thought in mind, I'm headed back to Beaver County, Western PA, where I hear Obama and Biden are making a bus tour around the state. It's a very tight race there, and we'll soon see if this helps.