Category Archives: African Americans

Democrat Jones’ Victory in Alabama: Beyond #MeToo


Election graphic from Washington Post

In a stunning political upset, Alabama Republican Roy Moore was defeated in Tuesday’s special Senate election. A complex combination of factors, involving shifts in multiple demographic groups, gave Democratic challenger Doug Jones electoral success in a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Despite the accusations of child molestation against Moore, 91 percent of those voters who identified as Republican still voted for him, as did 63 percent of white women. However, there was a significant swing of suburban voters against the Republican candidate, and white rural Republicans stayed home. A detailed analysis in the Washington Post explained: “Typically reliable and sizable Republican wins in the rural North and South of the state evaporated into razor thin margins. Between that and an increased margin in the Black Belt, Jones was able to eke out a 21,000-vote victory, while Republicans normally win by more than half a million votes … These swings can be seen in counties majority white and black, Republican and Democrat. And that means it couldn’t have just been a surge in African American turnout, or just rural Trump voters staying home, or just Republicans crossing over to vote for Jones. Jones’ campaign was able to achieve a combination of the three that drove him to victory.”

The increased margin among African American voters reflected an exceptionally high mobilization of this community, with grassroots activists joining an important ground campaign to get out the vote. The New York Times reported that black voters at Jones’ victory celebration had long found Moore’s brand of evangelical politics distasteful. “But many others said that the Jones campaign uncorked the intense feelings of alarm and distaste that many African-Americans harbor toward President Trump, who had given Mr. Moore his full-throated endorsement in the campaign’s final days.” Jones was not particularly known in the African American community, but he had a track record of successfully prosecuting two white Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four African American girls, and in the last weeks of the campaign he turned out to black churches and gained support from African American personalities, including Obama.

Michael Nabors was at the celebration with his wife, Ella. He told the Times that black voters were paying attention to Mr. Moore’s comments in September, in which he said that America was last “great” during the days when slavery was legal. He added that “they paid attention to Mr. Jones’s most famous case as a prosecutor. ‘Those four little girls are on their feet tonight at 16th Street Baptist Church, celebrating,’ he said. ‘They’re celebrating in spirit’.”

But despite the complex of factors at play in the historic result, the #MeToo women’s movement was quick to claim the credit for Moore’s defeat. Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty called the result “a watershed moment for the national movement around the issue of sexual abuse,” and Tarana Burke, the founder of the “#MeToo” movement tweeted: “I hope the 9 women who accused Roy Moore feel some vindication tonight.” Mother Jones reporter Pema Levy told Democracy Now “You can absolutely look at this election last night through the lens of the “Me Too” movement and say that they had a huge victory.”

The danger is that the Democratic party leadership will also view the victory through the lens of the #MeToo movement and will fight the next election with the same failing strategy of foregrounding identity politics and attacking Trump’s character, instead of energizing their base and independents by focusing on core issues of healthcare, tax cuts for the rich, jobs and housing.

This tendency of leading Democrats to prioritize corporate-friendly identity politics is manifested in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand coordinating statements by Democratic politicians that forced Al Franken to leave his Senate seat. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Franken stepped down one day after nearly all the Senate’s Democratic women — and most Democratic men, including the top two leaders — called for him to resign. Democrats appear determined to grab the moral high ground in an environment in which they hope sexual harassment becomes a wedge issue in the 2018 midterm elections — even if it costs them popular colleagues and political icons.”

Franken was a dogged and effective questioner of Republican appointees, including Jeff Sessions, then a senator, during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general in January. He pressed Sessions about reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, which he denied, later recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation which led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. He would have been a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and his downfall removes a rival from Gillibrand’s own ambitions.

The Hill commented: “Those sympathetic to Franken suggested it was craven for her to be the first out with a statement Wednesday calling for him to resign, and suggested she was both seeking attention and building her brand on a fallen progressive hero. Gillibrand has won headlines with her action that could be useful if she chooses to run for president in 2020 against what could be a crowded field. … ‘All this reeks of is political opportunism and that’s what defines Kirsten Gillibrand’s career,’ one Democratic strategist said. … When it came to Franken, Gillibrand was ‘twisting in the wind until the goose was cooked and then saw an opportunity,’ the strategist added.”

Law professor Zephyr Teachout writes: “I also believe in zero tolerance. And yet, a lot of women I know — myself included — were left with a sense that something went wrong last week with the effective ouster of Al Franken from the United States Senate. … Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality. As citizens, we need a way to make sense of accusations that does not depend only on what we read or see in the news or on social media. …

“We need a system to deal with that messy reality, and the current one of investigating those complaints is opaque, takes too long and has not worked to protect vulnerable women and men from harassment. And the current alternative — off with the head of the accused, regardless of the accusation — is too quick, too easily subject to political manipulation and too vulnerable to the passions of the moment. We don’t have the system I’m suggesting. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on process. … As citizens, we should all be willing to stay ambivalent while the facts are gathered and we collect our thoughts. While the choice to fire the television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were the choices of private companies, condemning a sitting lawmaker is a public choice and one our representatives should make judiciously.”

The absolutist nature of the political climate tends to create a moral equivalency between those like Franken and those like Trump or Moore. This has given opportunists an easy way of denigrating and neutralizing their political opponents, since context is omitted and all allegations are assumed to be true. A parallel development across the Atlantic in the UK has seen claims of anti-semitism and sexual harassment made against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the course of vicious infighting within the British Labour party, even while the Tory government is falling apart over Brexit. In the case of one Labour MP, Clive Lewis, the party exonerated him after multiple witnesses made clear he could not have done what had been alleged. But there are other party members and MPs, like Luton North’s Kelvin Hopkins, who are still waiting their due process.

Denial of proper investigation and due process means that the media coverage of accusations and forced resignations is obscuring real problems of racism, ongoing sexual harassment for average women and men, and political corruption, as well as the real oppression of women and families – such as class war measures like defunding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the US while giving huge tax cuts to the rich. While high profile cases get pilloried in the media, punitive policies against middle and working class women go unchallenged. Only when the Democratic party addresses the unequal power and wealth relations that structure harassment and predation in our society will the opposition to Trumpism and the Republicans be a rallying point for the different constituencies that are needed for victory and real change.

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Filed under #MeToo movement, African Americans, British Labour party, Democratic Party, Feminism, Jeremy Corbyn, Uncategorized, US policy

Water Wars Herald Fightback against Trump’s Presidency


Media speculation about Donald Trump’s wild and contradictory policy tweets is focusing on the wrong thing. Trump used Twitter during the election to create political turbulence that concealed his authoritarian objectives, revealed more clearly by the consistency in his extremist cabinet picks: they are all from the top executives of business and military organizations where they were able to give orders which would then just get done. That won’t happen with the federal government.

The election has created an unstable political structure, where the orientation of the executive branch is in conflict with the federal bureaucracy, something whose conservatism embodies the results of past social struggles in its laws and restrictions. This instability has been years in the making: for the entirety of Obama’s administration Republicans have campaigned to subvert government and make it less effective. They were able to do this because of long-term social processes connected to deindustrialization and demographic change that not only generated middle-class fear but also undermined political legitimacy.

Each of Trump’s cabinet picks seems designed to put longstanding opponents of the regulatory activities of each agency in charge. For example, Scott Pruitt, a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, installed as head of the EPA; Andrew Puzder, a fast-food chain executive and viciously hostile to the living wage campaign, as Labor Secretary; and Betsy DeVos, a charter-school activist and big Republican donor, as Education Secretary. Trump is surrounding himself, Ayn Randian style, with people who want to shrink the federal state to a minimum and act as a conduit for big business.

During his election campaign, Trump’s rhetoric built on many years of big business’s political disinformation strategies, “devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress. … In the 1970s, scientists at Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew that their products were changing the climate, but the company nonetheless funded think tanks and organizations dedicated to denying the existence of global warming, such as the Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Donald Trump has appointed Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, while Myron Ebell, who heads Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, directs the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s anti-‘global warming alarmism’ Center for Energy and the Environment, an outfit straight out of the tobacco lobby’s handbook.”

Political science professor Leo Panitch argues that, compared to the more internationally-oriented Bush administrations, staffed by Republican patricians, Trump’s cabinet “has very little autonomy from the capitalists that it represents.” His insistence on recruiting authoritarian “deal-makers” is a shift away from neoliberal “rule-makers” like Robert Rubin who wielded power under the Democrats; but, Panitch says, “then it becomes more difficult for a state to act as the Executive Committee, as Marx once put it, of the whole bourgeoisie. It makes it more difficult for them to do a reading of what’s in the class interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole and, in that sense, what’s in the national interest of a capitalist United States, in a global capitalism. And this could lead – it could lead – to a lot of jerkiness and scandals and dysfunction in such an administration.”

The state of Michigan is a prototype of just such dysfunctional Republican rule and it also shows how the burgeoning mass opposition to it can develop outside of the two-party political structure. Just one of the many scandals of its Republican administration is the unjust denial of unemployment benefits to claimants by an $45 million automated system, which was found to be wrong in 93% of cases. And all indications are that the source of the Flint water supply health disaster lies in governor Rick Snyder’s austerity policies. Four former Flint officials, including two state-appointed emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, have been charged with criminal conspiracy to violate safety rules.

ACLU investigator Curt Guyette, who helped bring the health crisis to light, told Democracy Now: “it was all an attempt to save money. They said that by using the Flint River for two years while a new pipeline was being built, bringing water from Lake Huron to Genesee County, they would save about $5 million. And so, their charge is to cut expenses, to bring the budget in balance, and at any cost. And in this case, the cost was the contamination of a city’s water supply. … they were in such a rush to save money and use the river, that they went ahead before it was safe.” Guyette added that the decision to use the river “ultimately came out of the Governor’s Office.”

Nayyirah Shariff, a director of “Flint Rising”, a coalition of activists and advocates in Flint, travelled to Standing Rock in North Dakota to support the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline. She said: “we’re in this nascent stage of these water wars. And hopefully, what’s happening at Standing Rock—we have the same corporations and the same ideology that is pushing for DAPL. It’s the same ideology that created the emergency manager law, this thing for austerity and privatization and resource extraction for short-term gain, without the impact—without humanity being in that equation.”

The emergency manager law was introduced by governor Rick Snyder and his administration to slash expenditure on schools, pensions, and welfare after giving a multi-billion-dollar tax break to corporations and the rich. As Michael Moore explains: “Then he invoked an executive privilege to take over cities (all of them majority black) by firing the mayors and city councils whom the local people had elected, and installing his cronies to act as ‘dictators’ over these cities. Their mission? Cut services to save money so he could give the rich even more breaks. That’s where the idea of switching Flint to river water came from. To save $15 million!”

The idea of emergency managers was pushed by a Republican think tank called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has urged the state since 2005 to employ drastic measures to fix budgets of local towns (in crisis because of the cuts in state funding) by sending in state-appointed financial czars who have the power to override elected officials and tear up union contracts. The group is closely tied to the Republican establishment in Michigan and its funders include the Koch brothers and the same Betsy DeVos who Trump has appointed Education Secretary.

The crisis in Flint is not over: residents still pay the highest water rates in the US (average $200 per month) for water they cannot drink or cook with, and have long-term health problems arising from lead poisoning. But the town’s plight would never have come to national attention if it had not been for its residents who faced arrest when they challenged officials who claimed the water was safe, and on their own initiative contacted the EPA before working with researchers from Virginia Tech to prove the water contained poisonous quantities of lead. They are continuing to fight the state of Michigan and, through groups like Flint Rising, are calling for the prosecution of governor Rick Snyder.

The Michigan Democratic party also reflects the political corruption of the state: its officials are still rigging elections for the discredited party leadership. Sanders supporters were physically ejected from a meeting to vote on delegates to represent Michigan on the Democratic National Committee, when they protested the lack of transparency and openness in the nomination process. “This [presidential] election was a repudiation of elitist politics. The establishment had their candidate and they lost,” said Sam Pernick, president of the Young Democrats of Michigan. “It’s time we started listening to the grassroots. If we have to do the work ourselves, we will. We won’t be stopped by violence and we will continue to peacefully protest and to actively work to change the party from within.” Pernick and other activists are organizing meetings across the state to encourage youth and progressives to engage with the state and local Democratic Party, and to push for reforms.

To break from the corporatist Democratic leadership – which cravenly is suggesting cooperating with Trump’s phoney infrastructure spending – requires a fight from both within and without the party. The resistance of Flint residents to being treated as expendable is a signal of the kind of opposition Trump will face when his corporate-friendly policies begin to bite and voters realize there will be no new working class jobs for them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Democratic Party, donald trump, fast-food workers, Flint, Michigan, Uncategorized

Trump, Farage, and the Transnational Right-Wing Axis: Containing the Tide of Reactionary Nativism in Britain and the U.S.


British UKIP politician Nigel Farage’s defense of Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments caught on video, dismissing them as “alpha male boasting,” underlines the existence of a transnational right-wing political axis that relies on aggressive rhetoric to mobilize specific constituencies against liberal elites and immigrants.

The crisis of globalization has created a pronounced trend to economic nationalism, politically allied with implicit and explicit racism. The achievement of Brexit by Farage’s party therefore is not a purely British phenomenon, but a consequence of the failure of the political establishment throughout Europe to acknowledge the interests of deindustrialized working class communities or suburban communities fearing loss of their steady middle-class existence. The Tory right, backed by the major media outlets, was able to deflect these communities’ anger away from the billionaires accumulating wealth from the system and onto immigrants and minorities.

Former economic advisor to the Obama administration Lawrence Summers notes that the biggest concern of the world’s finance ministers and central-bank governors today is that “traditional ideas and leaders are losing their grip and the global economy is entering unexplored and dangerous territory … with Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the strength of right-wing nationalists in Europe, Vladimir Putin’s strength in Russia, and the return of Mao worship in China — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the world is seeing a renaissance of populist authoritarianism. … Publics have lost confidence both in the competence of economic leaders and in their commitment to serving broad national interests, rather than the interests of a global elite.”

A globalized economy does not supplant national states, but relies on them to enforce trade and labor discipline; if traditional forms of consensus are losing their grip, that is a serious problem for international trade agreements. The European Union is taking a very hard line with the UK because it faces internal centripetal forces threatening to break it up. European governments are concerned to shore up their own eroding domestic positions: Angela Merkel, for example, is losing support from the German electorate and has insisted on the acceptance of free movement of people as a condition for access to the single market.

In Britain, prime minister Theresa May has called for restrictions on immigration in order to appease the hardline Tory grassroots and keep her party intact. Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith comments: “May has succeeded in uniting a large swathe of the country, both Leave and Remain backers against her, including many with her own party, with her hardline anti-immigrant posture. It’s a confusing wild lurch in Tory politics, throwing big business, London, social liberalism, elites, liberal Brexiteers under the bus and courting UKIP voters.” More importantly, she has triggered a collapse in the pound and the likelihood that the financial industry will lose its lucrative passporting rights that enable it to work in the eurozone.

According to the Guardian, “The French finance minister, Michel Sapin, said on Friday that eurozone governments would not accept the City of London remaining the main euro clearing centre once Britain left the EU. … The leaders’ statements reflect an increasing feeling in European capitals that the hard line the prime minister and others adopted during the Conservative conference – including the home secretary, Amber Rudd’s plans to prevent migrants ‘taking jobs British people could do’ – may reveal a far deeper hostility to the EU than they had imagined.”

As the Washington Post commented: “Ironically, the European referendum — a poll that was intended, in the words of its proponent, to make Britain’s Parliament sovereign again — has made British legislators almost irrelevant. May has declared she will not allow a parliamentary vote on the timing or nature of the British break with the European Union. She will not allow the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where voters opposed the changes, to have any voice in the process.”

This absolutely vindicates Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for negotiating a “new relationship with the EU: one that protects jobs, living standards and workers’ rights.”

Across the pond in the US, Trump will likely lose the presidential election, but his disgruntled supporters will remain a political force on the right. Particularly worrying is his support from the security forces and police, together with his threats to lock up political opponents if he wins the election. Despite the release of the damning video of his remarks, Josh Marshall points out, “he has a massive amount of support among the most engaged Republican voters. The last 24 hours has probably lost him significant support in the race against Hillary Clinton. … But in the context of intra-Republican politics that leaves him with massive levels of support intact.”

This is confirmed by the New York Times: “Trump’s perceived character — a strong leader with a simple message, never flinching from a fight, cutting through political correctness with a bracing bluntness — resonates in places like Appalachia where courage, country and cussedness are core values. … It’s not that the economy is bad in all of Kentucky; the arrival of the auto industry has been a boon, and the unemployment rate is just 4.9 percent. It’s that all the old certainties have vanished. Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos.”

The ideology of the Democratic establishment does not enable it to effectively counter this force. It tends to write off these workers as homogeneously deplorable, without attempting to address the real causes of their alienation. It stems from the meritocratic outlook of the professional class, which sees education as the magic cure for poverty, and has benefited from the demographic changes that white workers perceive as threatening their status and wages. To his credit, Bernie Sanders has consistently refused to write off this layer of the working class and advocates fighting for the ending of the export of well-paid industrial jobs.

Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect that white millennials who are thinking of voting for the Green or Libertarian party candidates in the upcoming presidential election, rather than Hillary Clinton, are expressing their white privilege. “On the afternoon of the opening session of this summer’s Democratic Convention, I was walking into the convention arena while hundreds of young demonstrators, many carrying signs backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein, shouted and occasionally hurled invectives at those entering the hall—an odd tactic, I thought, since more than 40 percent of the delegates entering the building were Bernie Sanders’s. The friend I was walking in with—a Latino legislator from California—cast a cold eye on the demonstrators and noted, ‘They’re all white’.”

He adds: “The gap that’s opened between white and minority millennials should come as no surprise; it tracks their different life experiences.” A recent survey found that “48 percent of young blacks had experienced racial discrimination in looking for a job, compared to 30 percent of Latinos and just 10 percent of whites. It found that 57 percent of both black and Latino millennials were concerned about someone in their household being laid off, while just 41 percent of young whites voiced that fear. But surely, the gap also reflects the greater and more direct danger that a Trump presidency poses to minority communities, immigrants, and Muslims than it does to whites.”

But while Sanders’ millennial supporters are opposed to a Trump presidency, they need to overcome the political confusion that inhibits them from voting for Clinton in the upcoming election alongside citizens in the African and Latino American communities, which would be the basis of vital alliances in the fight against racism in the US. Brexit has already led to a marked increase of racist attacks on immigrants in Britain; Corbyn and his supporters have made public their opposition to the government’s demonization of immigrants, despite pressure from within his own party.

Right-wing nativism threatens to erode the social contract of democracy and rights for all peoples in Britain and the United States, for which giants like Martin Luther King gave their lives. In Abraham Lincoln’s words: “A house divided cannot stand.” Voters in the US have a political duty to stop Trump lest they condemn themselves to a repetition of the worst of American and European history.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, racism, Uncategorized

To White American Progressives: Vote Down Trump with the Rest of America


The Republican and Democratic party conventions held in July both staged a virtual political reality well removed from what is happening in America’s communities. The Democrats produced a carefully choreographed appearance of unity that masked deep divisions between its establishment and Sanders-inspired delegates. The Trump-dominated Republican convention appealed to profound dissatisfaction with the country’s prospects, but stoked the demonization of immigrants to protect the billionaires who are actually responsible for outsourcing jobs.

Meanwhile, state legitimacy is dissolving because of unconstrained shootings of non-white Americans by trigger-happy police.

Clinton’s acceptance speech showed clear signs of the influence of Sanders’ campaign, denouncing factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics; but while her speechwriters are attuned to the outcome of the primaries, they are insensitive to the disenchantment of many Americans with the political establishment. For these people, contrary to her message, America is not great. There is a pervasive anti-establishment populist movement in society based on a decline in middle-class jobs and living standards – above all, on a perception that there is no prospect of a better future – that has produced a fundamental shift in the relation between the political elite and the public.

This has created a dangerous desire for a powerful leader who will fix everything. The Associated Press reported: “After a recent Trump rally in West Virginia, countless news articles and academics dismissed Trump’s pledge to bring back coal as impossible, tied to market forces and geology. Chuck Keeney, a professor of political science and history at Southern Community College in Logan, often hears his students dismiss the criticism as the establishment, the very machine that ignored them for so long, beating up on Trump now, too. ‘What they see in their minds is the elite that looks down on them, mocks them, makes fun of them, thinks they’re stupid,’ Keeney said. ‘They see all those establishment groups ganging up on Donald Trump and that makes them root for him more’.”

Trump has leveraged the reaction against globalization and the rejection of political authority to take over the Republican party. Although his convention speeches were politically chaotic, they nevertheless succeeded in convincing his base that he could be president. Moreover, it articulated the appeal of his authoritarian rhetoric to the security forces and the rightwing NRA – not to mention the KKK.

A star speaker at the Republican convention was an African American police officer who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. Milwaukee county sheriff David A. Clarke told the delegates: “What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest and violate the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”

This is the true danger of Trumpism – its affinity with the authoritarianism of repressive state agencies built up under Bush and Obama. Max Blumenthal commented: “Clarke opened with what was perhaps the most successful applause line of the evening: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like to make one thing very clear: Blue lives matter in America!’ … Invoked on the national stage by culture war icons like Sheriff Clarke, Blue Lives Matter has become an integral component of the Republican base. It is not only a catch-all for opposition to Black Lives Matter and virtually any effort to spur police reform, but also a brand that conveys the racial backlash sensibility cultivated by the Trump campaign.”

The Democrats began their convention with party organizers maneuvering to contain dissent from Sanders’ supporters, and ended with Obama and Hillary Clinton staking out the Republican territory of American exceptionalism to deliver a message of patriotic optimism. Their election strategy appears to be one of winning over moderate Republican voters disenchanted with Trump and to pivot away from the concessions made to Sanders’ representatives on the platform committee.

“America is already great. America is already strong,” insisted Obama in his convention speech. According to the New York Times, “Democrats sought to seize on the traditional core of Republican campaign messaging: America as a place of virtue, optimism and exceptionalism. … Democrats celebrated the country’s diversity, with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, the vice-presidential nominee, ladling on the Spanish.” It’s a welcome sign of the times – but, as Greg Grandin points out, while Kaine speaks Spanish to market the presidential candidate, he still supports “the policies of free trade and militarization that produced the poverty, the violence, and the immigration [from] Central America.” The party’s leaders are simply blind to the contradiction between their professed aims of social justice and their close connections to corporate financial interests.

Alternet reported that “for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them.” Luis Eric Aguilar, a delegate from Illinois, told Democracy Now: “The theme of the DNC was to unify the party, but the delegates for Hillary get there early, reserve seats in the front rows so it shows good to the media, and then they push us to the back. … They tried taking away these signs, the ‘No TPP’ signs. All the homemade signs were taken away from us. But that is taking away our freedom of speech.”

By day four of the convention, Sanders’ supporters were arguing passionately about what to do next. They had expected to have more of an opportunity to express their critique of Clinton, but found themselves being shut down. Melissa Michelson, a member of Sanders’ California delegation, told Alternet: “We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win. However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics. … We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

A different view was expressed by a Texas delegate, Fawaz S. Anwar. He said: “I’m scared that Trump’s going to win now. And now that Clinton is sagging behind Trump, the most misogynistic, sexist, sexist, racist person that the Republicans have ever nominated, Clinton is slipping up. I just—I don’t know how else to say it. But our democracy is in danger if Trump becomes president. I’m in agreement with Bernie. I’m going to vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.”

Now that Sanders activists have reached the limits of the Democratic nomination campaign, they face a decision about the presidential election. In a discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges hosted by Democracy Now, Reich said he saw no alternative to supporting Clinton because under a Trump presidency there would be negative changes that would irrevocably worsen the structure of the country, including appointments to the Supreme Court. He suggested that it was still possible to build “a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks” in order to take back democracy.

Hedges, advocating a vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein, responded that corporate power has already seized all the levers of control and the Democratic party was identical to the Republicans in this respect. “We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power,” he said. Obama “has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. … I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton.”

However, the majority of Americans are not going to abstain in this election, nor vote for a third party. For African and Latino Americans this is not an academic debate. They will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton because a Trump presidency is literally life-threatening for them. It would give the police carte blanche to gun down minorities without cause and Trump the power to use state force to suppress political opposition. White liberals have the luxury of potentially abstaining or voting for a third party, but this implies walking away from a long-term fight within the ranks of the Democratic party, and within the communities outside it, in order to change its leadership. It means giving up the struggle before it has begun. The left cannot use its criticisms of Clinton to avoid going through the experience of voting down Trump with the rest of America.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, aggressive policing, Bernie Sanders, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, political analysis, State legitimacy, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

Black Lives Matter: Pluralism in America Despite Dallas


Protests continued in major American cities over Wednesday’s police killing of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, both of which were recorded on video by witnesses. They continued despite the political backlash from the Republican right after the shooting of five policemen by a disturbed and apparently delusional African American individual during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. As a sign held by protesters in St. Paul said: “When 5 cops die it’s tragic. When a Black man dies, we need more evidence.”

Behind the mounting toll of police killings of black Americans is the authorities’ intensified fear of the public. Mass shootings enabled by the NRA’s stance against regulation of weapon ownership – as in Orlando only three weeks ago – has stoked this tension; combined with racial profiling it has produced extreme over-reactions to people of color suspected of possessing guns.

White Americans’ fear of demographic change and loss of political power is echoed within the police, where it has merged with the increased authoritarianism of security forces to create paranoia. Trump and all the coded Republican rhetoric before him taps into this sentiment and legitimizes it.

In Baton Rouge on Saturday, according to the Washington Post, “At least 200 protesters massed outside of police headquarters and gathered on streets, holding their arms in the air and chanting, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ One group of protesters joined in a song drawing back to protests generations earlier: ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Police – some in riot gear – moved in after ordering crowds to disperse.”

In St. Paul, the New York Times reported, demonstrators blocked a major highway for hours on Saturday night, after marching from the governor’s mansion “chanting refrains such as ‘We’re peaceful, y’all violent’ as the police urged them to leave. Officers struggled for more than four hours to disperse the crowd, at times deploying smoke and marking rounds in a standoff that stretched into early Sunday … Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said organizers scheduled [an earlier] march because ‘people are experiencing trauma after trauma after trauma as a result of what happened.’ Ms. Levy-Pounds said many African-Americans here had still been coming to terms with the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by the Minneapolis police in 2015 and the decision not to charge the officers involved.”

Baton Rouge activist Arthur Reed commented: “What we have here is acts of violence by the police department that is being passed down and all of them are being justified. That’s not just in Baton Rouge, that’s in America period. … what you see right here is that these communities are actually fed up with this. They are sick and tired of seeing this happen to their loved ones. And at the end of the day, we look at a backlash because we look at the violence that’s taking place in our community.”

On Thursday in Oakland, California, more than 1,000 people blocked an interstate for hours, hundreds more marched in Denver, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. More than 40 people were arrested amidst a massive march in New York City. One of the protesters told Democracy Now: “I’m sick of waking up and seeing that there’s another black man or person of color … killed or gunned down by the hands of law enforcement, or in police custody, and with no explanation. I can’t handle anymore. I woke up this morning, I checked my Instafeed, and I said, didn’t we just do this yesterday? … I’m not demanding that we get special treatment. I’m demanding that we get the treatment that every other person gets, especially white people.”

Hollywood personalities like Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams joined the denunciations. In a powerful speech at the Black Entertainment awards he said: “what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” Beyonce said in a message: “We’re going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn to protect us should consistently go unpunished.”

In downtown Dallas after the shootings dispersed the demonstration, “officers asked an African-American man wearing a bulletproof vest to walk toward them. The man slowly approached with his hands up, and a crowd of onlookers became angry and shouted and cursed at the police. An officer had his gun pointed at a black woman, and many in the crowd quickly began filming the scene with their cellphones. The tension eased as people in the crowd chanted, ‘Black lives matter’.”

The growing political assertiveness of African Americans and other minorities collides with the attempts of the police to enforce the racial and class hierarchy. The authoritarianism of the police affects all Americans, especially African, Latino and Native Americans. But the obvious racial dimension to the shootings undermines the assertion of legal color-blindness that is integral to sustaining white privilege.

The Black Lives Matter movement is giving political direction and cohesiveness to the protests. In Washington, DC, protesting outside the White House on Friday, student Jennifer Jones said: “I feel like we as a people should not go out and kill off police officers or cops who are killing off our people, because then we’re becoming them. I don’t want to become the oppressor. I don’t want to become the enemy. I don’t want to become the murderer.”

What people are reacting to is the fact that even when police killings are captured by witnesses on video, there are no legal sanctions on the officers involved. This sets the justice system and the public on a collision course. Justice has to be seen to be done: there must be convictions of police officers who kill suspects without cause.

Political commentator Josh Marshall questioned if these killings threatened America’s “communal and inter-communal bonds.” One of his readers pointed out, however, that the Yemeni-born Muslim man who owns the store outside which Alton Sterling was shot, who had recorded the killing on his cellphone, was held in high esteem in his largely African American neighborhood. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported: “Regular customer Tanisha Johnson said that in her experience, not every business owner is patient with his local clientele. But [Abdullah] Muflahi … cared enough about a regular to secure and distribute a recording that could be instrumental in helping authorities determine whether or not officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II are criminally liable in Sterling’s death. … ‘They’ve allowed me to become a part of this community, … and I wanted to stand for Alton,’ Muflahi said. ‘We just need to stick together — no matter what race we are, no matter where we are from’.”

This pluralistic sentiment is as much a part of American culture as nativist anxieties, and is the foundation for a movement to defeat Donald Trump in November’s presidential elections, much more powerful than the corporate commonplaces of Hillary Clinton.

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The struggle continues: Sanders’ supporters ready to keep up the fight for social justice


Bernie Sanders has annoyed political pundits and party strategists alike with his stubborn insistence on taking his campaign all the way to the Democratic party convention in July. On Tuesday evening he told supporters in Santa Monica, after the California primary: “We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington DC. And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia.”

The New York Times described his speech as one of “striking stubbornness” that “ignored the history-making achievement of his Democratic rival.” Although Clinton has presented her delegate count as a victory for women’s rights, it is more a victory for the Democratic party machine, aided by the media that announced her presumptive nomination for presidential candidate on Tuesday, just before voting began in California and five other primaries.

Even after Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren had formally endorsed Clinton on Thursday, Sanders’ supporters backed his decision to carry on. Iliana Jaime, 18, a high school senior, welcomed the stance and said she wanted Sanders to remain in the race until the convention next month. “I don’t think a revolution ends with a certain number of delegates,” she said. “It’s crucial he keeps going until the end. His impact is really obvious in a lot of ways aside from just being president. It would kind of be giving into the system that he is trying to reject if he did drop out at this point.”

Sanders told a rally in Washington DC that the campaign would go on because it is “based on a vision that our country must focus on social justice, on economic justice, on racial justice, on environmental justice. And when the overwhelming majority of young people support that vision, that will be the future of America.”

The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote that “Clinton may take the nomination, but Sanders surely has won the political debate. … He has astounded even his supporters, winning more than 20 contests, 10 million votes and 1,500 pledged delegates, the most of any true insurgent in modern history. He has captured the support of young voters by record margins. And he did so less with personal charisma than with the power of his ideas and the force of the integrity demonstrated by spurning traditional deep-pocketed donors in favor of grass-roots fundraising. … Sanders has already nudged Clinton to the left on key issues during the campaign, including trade policy and the minimum wage. The Democratic National Committee made one important concession last month by allowing Sanders to name five strong progressive allies to the platform committee (though the DNC also vetoed one Sanders pick, National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, on the strange grounds that it did not want labor leaders on the candidate’s lists).”

While early on Clinton was able to leverage her appeal among African American voters, especially in the South, by the end of the campaign Sanders appeared to have overcome his early missteps with this section of the American public. The Washington Post reported: “Summoning congregants last week in a historic East Oakland sanctuary that helped give rise to the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party, he spoke passionately about the plight of many blacks: Too many children are raised in poverty, too many youths can’t afford to go to college and can’t find jobs, too many adults are locked in jails. The system is rigged against them, and he vowed to change it. The audience rose in applause and affirmation. There were hurrahs and smiles and shouts of ‘Amen!’ ”

Sanders has headed a movement that is not going to go away after the presidential election. Unlike Obama’s campaign in 2008, the movement is independent of his campaign organization, being based on a grassroots bottom-up approach rather than a top-down model. In particular, he has energized youth to support his social democratic program. The Huffington Post commented: “Sanders has not demagogued his way into relevance among the impressionable youth. He has simply stated their legitimate grievances directly and forcefully. Young people have been hit hard by the country’s economic anemia. It’s not surprising that they gravitated to the candidate calling for a major overhaul of the system. … Bernie Sanders did not create the movement that political pundits like to credit him with. He has, instead, spent a year serving rather effectively as the voice of people left behind by a broken economy. And until that economy is fixed, the movement will not go away, no matter who rises to lead it.”

A major survey of youth voters between 17 and 19 years old found overwhelming support for Sanders: 1.94 million voted for Sanders compared to 727,000 for Clinton. The Guardian reported: “Jasmine Brown, a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of those young voters. She grew up two hours east of Orangeburg in Georgetown, where, according to the 2010 census, 24.1% of people live below the poverty line, a figure that rises to 34.9% for those younger than 18…. Brown came away from [Sanders’ rally] inspired. She would go back to Georgetown, back to the projects where she grew up, to tell young people – some of them in danger of going down the wrong path – that there was hope for the future. … She travels back to her home city every weekend, revisiting the Georgetown projects where she grew up, speaking to students from her old school.”

Brown says many students look up to her as someone who came from that neighbourhood and made it to college. “I don’t brag about what I’m doing, but I let them know: ‘Just because you’re from this area you can go out and, you know, do big things’.” Even if Sanders does not win the nomination, Brown says, she will continue to support him away from the presidential race.

While most of Sanders’ supporters will vote for Clinton in November to keep out Trump, many of his passionate volunteers will turn to state and local political fights to advance the ideas of the campaign. “Brand New Congress,” co-founded by the former director of organizing technology in the Sanders campaign, intends to impact the 435 Congressional seats up for election in 2018. “The idea is to pull in people who have not necessarily been involved politics before, people who are not willing to compromise their principles, people who truly believe that we can regain our democracy,” Yolanda Gonzalez, a BNC Team Leader told AlterNet.

Gonzalez, a teacher for 20 years, was the Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign and has spent a large part of the past year volunteering for campaign events in the Southwest. “These same volunteers [that] are often dismissed by campaigns are super organized and passionate about the political revolution,” Gonzalez explained.

The House and state elections are the battleground that the plutocratic elite is also aiming for with their checkbooks: billionaires like the Koch brothers have given up on the presidential race because of the disarray in the Republican camp. Trump’s nomination has coincided with a fragmentation of the campaign after his racist attacks on the judge in the fraud case against the real estate “Trump University,” which stepped over a line even for conservatives.

It’s possible the Democrats will take both the Senate and the House in November, because of the Republican meltdown; but what will dominate the political future of the United States is the social movement that has built up rejecting Clinton’s neoliberalism and Trump’s racism.

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Waking Up to the Minority Vote, the New, Decisive Force in Post-Obama Politics


The South Carolina Democratic primary voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton as presidential candidate, by a margin of 50 percent over Bernie Sanders. Rather than analyzing the meaning of this vote, the media and the campaign professionals immediately turned to the candidates’ prospects on Super Tuesday, when a large number of states hold their primaries.

However, there are some important messages here which are obscured by a narrow focus on the political process. African Americans in South Carolina turned out in unprecedented numbers to participate in the primary – 6 out of 10 voters were black. And of those, 83 percent voted for Clinton. The Associated Press reported that in exit polls about 7 in 10 voters said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies, indicating ideological agreement with Clinton’s strategy of building on his legacy.

The first thing to note is that the result should be seen as a class vote against the possibility of a Republican president. The relentless media reporting of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim propaganda, together with the pronounced right-wing rhetoric of the Republican debates, are perceived rightly as a threat to black workers. Trump has succeeded in making abundantly explicit the racist basis of the Republican party, empowering extreme white supremacists, and making the Republican brand anathema among minorities. This goes a long way to undermining the Republican strategy of delegitimizing Democratic presidents and may lose them the Senate.

African Americans voted pragmatically for what they saw as the best candidate to defeat a Republican, and specifically, Trump.  Janell Ross commented in the Washington Post: “Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected. … these are its outcomes when black voters are convinced of their ability and authority to fundamentally shape American democracy. It is a result that should begin to crush the popular and often repeated myth that black political behavior in 2008 and 2012 was nothing more than a blip, a fleeting kind of emotion-only engagement inspired by a singular and history-making black candidate.”

Second, although a number of prominent black intellectuals like Michelle Alexander and Cornel West are highly critical of the Clintons’ record of legislation in the 1990s that led to mass incarceration of African American men and the dismantling of poverty programs, that message hasn’t reached the black working class. The history that black people remember is the vilification of Bill Clinton by the Republican Congress over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and, as Toni Morrison indicated by calling him the “first black president,” identified with his being hounded by the establishment.

Third, most black workers get their politics from their local churches and mainstream Democratic party leadership. And that was pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders. “A host of well-known, influential and well-connected black elected officials and leaders of civic and religious institutions have made their support for Clinton quite clear. And they have done everything possible to identify themselves as people opposed to a Sanders candidacy. … And, almost as if to say that the shooting death of an unarmed black person is the modern uber-black experience, the Clinton campaign has collected endorsements from several grieving black relatives. The mother of Trayvon Martin has even stumped for Clinton and explained her pro-Clinton voting rather logically in some detail. … Clinton [frames] issues like childcare and the gender wage gap, voting rights and criminal justice and gun policy reforms in ways that make their importance to black voters clear.”

Her political positioning as a champion of African American workers was prefigured in the Nevada primary. Clinton’s victory there was mainly due to the votes of casino workers in Las Vegas, who thanks to the efforts of Nevada senator Harry Reid were given time and opportunity to caucus at their places of work. In These Times contributor Steven Rosenfeld reported from one of the casinos: “Calvin Brooks, a Louisiana native, has been a bellman for 19 years in this hotel. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he explained why Clinton was his choice. ‘This is a union state. This is a union city. The president that we need today is somebody that will stand with us, to keep us together as a whole,’ he said. ‘My mind is made up for Hillary, someone who has been in the White House, not around it’.” Erlinda Falconer, an African-American women and blackjack dealer at the casino for 18 years, told Rosenfeld: “The majority of us realize how serious this election is and the impact it will have on our country and state. This is very, very important. There’s a lot on the line This isn’t a popularity contest. This is trying to get back on track.”

While earlier in the campaign Sanders took on board the criticisms of Black Lives Matter activists, he was too late to the party. Radicalized black youth may have challenged Clinton over her role in the 1990s, but they haven’t influenced the older majority. On Wednesday she was confronted at a fundraiser in Charleston by Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, who demanded she apologize for the consequences of her husband’s 1994 crime bill and for having called black youth “super-predators” in a 1996 speech on crime.

Moreover, white progressives have difficulty dealing with race. Sanders’ attempt to reduce racial issues to economics are in line with his social-democratic outlook. But this perspective is inadequate to deal with the complex interrelations of class and race in America. The Washington Post commented: “Clinton doesn’t shy away from race. Sanders talks about race, too, of course. But he seems to do so at a remove, and his attempts to make a convincing link between his economic message and race continue to fall short. … Clinton openly talks about the necessary role that whites must play in healing and bridging the racial divide.” This has resonated with African Americans who resent being told that they are responsible for dealing with white resistance to acknowledging the role of slavery and the defeat of Reconstruction in American society.

Whoever wins the nomination and presidency, the social, cultural and demographic changes in the US are asserting themselves in the elections. The narrative of an “anti-establishment” vote is being superseded by a class consciousness that empowers African American and Latino voters. The realities of class struggle in America today require tackling racism head-on, something that the left has not attempted since the 1930s when the American Communist party sent members into the South to organize black and white workers into unions, risking their lives in the process.

Rather than tying the fortunes of the left to Sanders’ coat-tails, it needs to address the movements that have built up around this election and build an inclusive and pluralist movement that takes the heritage of the Occupy movement into new territory.

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