You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

Organize, Don’t Celebrate

September 25, 2016


An Editorial from the Autumn, 2016 issue of Jewish Currents

ON JANUARY 20TH, we expect to see Hillary Clinton inaugurated as the first woman president of the United States.

On January 19th, we believe the American left should take to the streets of Washington, DC to present our demands to her and her political party.

This election presents a choice between a politician of the center, if not the center-right, and a bigoted, misogynistic, racist demagogue who has flirted with fascism and indulged anti-Semitism. He must be stopped. She must be pressured.

The demonstration we want to see would bring that pressure to bear on behalf of goals that drove Bernie Sanders’ amazing primary campaign and have driven the various vehicles of progressive politics for years: a $1 trillion infrastructure and jobs program; Medicare for all, and the expansion (without privatization) of Social Security; election reform, with independent redistricting, public financing, and an end to racist voter registration laws; reform of the criminal justice system, including demilitarization of police and an end to mass incarceration; a liberalized, humane immigration policy; an environmental Marshall Plan that would signal the end of fossil-fuel reliance; and much, much more. We have, after all, half a century’s worth of stagnant, trickle-down economics, promiscuous war-making, and flagrant corporate powermongering to overcome.

Most of our goals will obviously be impossible to achieve with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but the objective remains to articulate an agenda that can rally as broad a coalition as possible, transmit an unequivocal message to the public that America’s wealth must be shared and its democracy broadened, and set benchmarks against which Clinton’s exercise of presidential power can be judged.

The alternative? Her campaign had already raised $375 million by mid-summer, 70 percent of it in large contributions. Her campaign has even been reaching out to Republican donors, leading to billionaire Republican fundraiser Meg Whitman’s announcement that she would support Clinton and invest in her campaign a sum in the “mid-six figures.” All this will certainly come at a cost, namely, unchallenged corporate power and cronyism, unchallenged wealth accumulation by the top 1 percent, and meager crumbs for the rest of us.

TO DATE, HOWEVER, the progressive movement that backed Bernie Sanders has done little to inspire confidence in its longevity or its clout. If any attempt was made to exert pressure on Clinton’s selection of a vice president, it was clearly unsuccessful, leaving us with the choice of Tim Kaine, who has proved unreliable on abortion and labor rights, and who, as governor of Virginia, accepted over $150,000 in gifts from companies and lobbyists with business before his state. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign from the Democratic National Committee, but only due to the intervention of WikiLeaks (and very possibly the Russian government). Sanders’ threat to take his fight for the nomination to the convention proved hollow, and the effort to change the rules of the Democratic primary — trading the elimination of caucuses for the elimination of superdelegates — has been deferred.

Still, Sanders has a millions-strong e-mail list and the ear of even more agitated and caring progressives. It’s not too late to direct their energy toward building a movement that will keep the pressure on the Democratic Party to live up to its supposed ideals. His new organization, “Our Revolution,” notwithstanding its recent staff resignations, could still be a catalyst for that transformation by focussing, as San-ders has indicated it will, on recruiting, training, and fielding candidates and organizers, with an eye toward winning local offices and House seats in the 2018 midterm elections and building a sustainable organizational structure, state by state and nationally.

On January 19th, Our Revolution could demonstrate its relevance by helping to organize a demonstration involving the full spectrum of progressive forces — from the old civil rights organizations to #BlackLivesMatter, from unions to the community organizers to the Occupiers to those fighting for the rights of women, immigrants, and the LGTBQ community, from Hispanic civic organizations to Native American rights groups. Let them come out in full regalia if they want to be more than a captive Democratic constituency.

The time to organize is now — not after the election, not after the inauguration, and not after Hillary’s first hundred days. Now: before she attempts to cut a budget deal with Republicans that will further erode Social Security and Medicare, before she increases the U.S. military presence in Syria and engages in apocalyptic brinksmanship with the Russians, before she finds compelling reasons to advocate for the Trans-Pacific Partnership — and before a reempowered Democratic Party establishment, brought to power by the fear of Trump, turns progressive hopes into feelings of marginalization and despair.