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Wings over Philadelphia

jeffroby's picture

“The art of war is to gain time when your strength is inferior.”
— Napoleon

Our strength is inferior? I already hear the cries of “Blasphemy!” But if blasphemy it be, so be it.

To put it most simply, we in the Sanders movement are up against a Democratic Party Establishment backed by Wall Street, funded by corporate America, entrenched in the corridors of power. Their bullshit is blasted out night and day from every nook and cranny.

Are we therefore powerless? Far from it. We have had an astonishingly effective grassroots campaign organization. But a campaign organization is a very fragile and unwieldy beast. It is designed to (obviously) run electoral campaigns. It is not designed for doing much else.

The key to our campaign’s effectiveness is that we have been riding the crest of an angry mass movement that would challenge that Establishment’s very existence through a Political Revolution. But movements — in the absence of effective organization — are very fragile entities (see “Mass consciousness and its discontents”), rising and falling with every turn of events, surging forward upon victory, shriveling upon defeat. Like Woody Guthrie wrote in “Pastures of Plenty”

“On the edge of the city you’ll see us and then,
We come with the dust and we go with the wind.”

On the organizational front, we are badly outgunned. It is not enough that our strength is as the strength of 10 because our hearts are pure. What holds the DNC Establishment together during the low tides is its exceedingly deep infrastructure. Their trenches are manned by hundreds and thousands of Democratic Party elected officials, both elected and appointed, from the White House down to the farthest precincts. It is unions, it is identity organizations, environmental and community organizations. It is an infrastructure that they own and control.

Starring Robert Redford as Bernie Sanders.

We reach out to these organizations and their entrenched leadership cuts us off at the pass (e.g., SEIU, CBC). Our coffers are drained from the campaign. We simply lack that organizational depth. This is neither surprising nor blameworthy. It just is. We have come very far and very fast in one year. They have had over a century. We have had to piggy-back on relatively friendly elements of the Establishment structure out of necessity. As a result, some of our support has been soft, preferring Sanders himself, but not on principle opposed to neoliberalism at home nor neocon adventurism abroad. Political Revolution means different things to different people.

Those who contend that we are on the cusp of victory due simply to the sheer number of registered independent voters and progressive Democrats are oblivious to that reality.
Wings over Philadelphia.

Still, the big equalizer has been our movement, still alive and well. Whether it remains so is the key question. Our movement from the beginning has had two wings, as it were:

(1) Sanders Democrats; and
(2) Sanders Independents.

As the June 6 Atlantic explains of the Democratic presidential primaries:

“Across the 27 exit polls, voters who identify as Democrats have cast exactly three-fourths of the ballots in the primaries, according to new figures provided by CNN Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta. Those Democratic voters have preferred Clinton over Sanders by a cumulative margin of 64 percent to 35 percent.

“Independents and Republicans have comprised 22 percent of the total primary electorate. Among those voters from outside of the Democratic Party, the results are almost exactly reversed: they have backed Sanders by an equally emphatic 64 percent to 34 percent.”

[Note that the Democrats had only 22 states with open primaries, in which independents could even vote at all.]

We now have two windows of opportunity to begin narrowing the infrastructure gap:

(1) between now and the Philly convention; and
(2) between the convention and the November election.

Remember that we don’t have to completely close that gap. Rather we need to reach a self-sustaining organizational critical mass that can continue the struggle beyond November.
tick, tick tick …

In the immediate window, we need to consolidate the momentum of the campaign organization and retool it into a more stable formation that can last beyond this electoral season. Doing so lays the foundation for the stretch between the end of July and November. My fear is that the first window is being frittered away. This takes various forms:

(1) We don’t know that Sanders won’t be the nominee. Sorry, he won’t. He knows that and is indicating that. So Bernie has stated, and Jeff Weaver has said, “I am no longer trying to flip superdelegates.” That is NOT the same as saying the fight is over by any means.

Maybe the superdelegates will flip themselves? Maybe the massive fraud and disenfranchisement will be overturned by the courts? You know, the corporate-owned legal system that has already colluded in the massive fraud. No, they won’t send themselves to prison.

(2) Maybe Sanders will run as an independent? Not a chance. He has given not the slightest indication of doing so. Furthermore, 26 ballot access deadlines will have passed by August 2, and the remaining 24 states require 319,461 signatures. Such an operation is merely talk, and is not being operationalized.

(3) Form a new party? There is a lot of talk along such lines, but nothing on a scale that would bear fruit in time for the November election. It didn’t make the floor at the June 17 – 19 People’s Summit in Chicago, which represented the Democratic Party wing of the Sanders campaign. An independent run is anathema to the leadership of that crowd.

(4) Sanders run as the Green nominee? Per the Green Party itself: No. “The Green Party has its own nomination process. Bernie has not participated in that process and has not responded to communications from the Green Party inviting him to consider running as a Green. He has repeatedly pledged to support the Democratic nominee … The Green Party will support its own Green nominees for president and vice president. The Green Party of the United States doesn’t support other parties’ candidates or independents.”

(5) Maybe Sanders will pull a rabbit out of his sleeve? Stands as good a chance of options one to four.

Clinging to these illusions has already cost us too much valuable time. Better off hoping to draw to an inside straight. A favorite slogan of the campaign has been “It’s Not Me. Us!” (or “We”) Sanders himself has staunchly fought to keep the focus on the issues, and the centrality of building the movement, not his own glory. Yet there has developed a cult of personality. Understandable, certainly. But it leads to further paralysis. Sanders has made it clear that he cannot lead us to the Promised Land. And even if he could, it would be anathema to his entire philosophy. It’s us. He really means it. He is right. A cult of personality is an unstable foundation for a Political Revolution.
Sanders looks into the abyss …

04abyssLook at his own words from his June 16 livestream address. First, well-deserved praise for our many accomplishments. Then a restatement of our values. But regarding moving forward:

(1) “The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly. And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time.”

(2) “We need to start engaging at the local and state level in an unprecedented way. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers helped us make political history during the last year. … Now we need many of them to start running for school boards, city councils, county commissions, state legislatures and governorships.”

(3) “I recently had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Clinton and discuss some of the very important issues facing our country and the Democratic Party. It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues. It is also true that our views are quite close on others. I look forward, in the coming weeks, to continued discussions between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda. I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party.”

Inspiring — as far as it goes. But we should consider what is NOT said.

It was not determined what the focus of all this multi-level involvement is to be. Throwing everything into the hopper is no answer. To date, the campaign has been sharing funds, per Sanders’ regular appeals, with candidates who have actually endorsed him. Hopefully our support will never come cheap. Support Sanders Democrats, do not disperse our resources to the politicians who have not supported us.

Nothing was said about the demonstrations planned in Philly during the convention, let alone their goals.
Nothing was said about the specific platform positions his delegates would be fighting for during the convention.
The words “Palestine” or “Palestinian” were not mentioned, despite the brouhaha over the appointment of Cornel West and James Zogby to the Platform Committee.
At no point was the word “independent” uttered.
At no point did he say he was conceding the race.
At no point did he endorse Hillary.
He did not say he might run as an independent.

On Sanders’ behalf, I cannot fault him for what he did say. It was consistent with the role he has chosen to play from the beginning, that of a loyal Democrat. That is how he got us our tickets to the dance. It was a broad speech to a broad national audience.
Waiting for Bernie.

Many had thought we could storm the Gates of Heaven.

Now those folks are seizing on the above omissions and ambiguities to project their most unlikely interpretations. Harmless? No. Rather than making any plans whatsoever — no organizational moves — before the convention concludes, they are doing the equivalent of trying to draw to an inside straight. Others argue that we have to await marching orders from Bernie. Leaders have said that they cannot see — do not even want to look — beyond July 29. Some others are enmeshed in their self-imposed cult of personality. Others are simply at a loss for what to do with their dreams of Bernie in the White House THIS ELECTION shattered. The Gates of Heaven remain locked. Many simply consider it a matter of organizational discipline to not act in the absence of official direction, or not act beyond the parameters of Bernie’s official statements.

In any event, the result is paralysis, a vacuum of leadership. One might state the converse of Napoleon’s dictum above:
“The art of war is to induce your enemy to waste time while their strength is inferior.”
To the Summit.

Into this vacuum, however, steps the recent People’s Summit in Chicago, a gathering of some of the most ALREADY organized forces in the Sanders camp. Yes, there was mention of Palestine. There was substantial division over whether to endorse Hillary or not, though the organizers of the event made clear the bottom line was to support Hillary. There was a striking disparity between the radical revolutionary rhetoric and the tactical thrust that might be characterized as “keep doing what we’ve been doing for so many years, but do more of it!” Given the broad sentiment against voting for Hillary, the “then what?” question still looms large.

Open discussion of supporting Jill Stein or forming a new 3rd party simmered below the surface, generating heat in some of the workshops, but quashed in plenary. At the conclusion of the Summit, during a break while awaiting words of final inspiration from Jim Hightower, the moderator allowed people to call out “Challenges” “Obstacles” and “Opportunities” from the floor. One passionate woman said:

“Why isn’t there more talk about forming a new party … I think we need to make a statement, to create a new party, running under that brand new party, democratic socialist, and progressive independent party, to all come together, put their egos aside, and really do this. You guys have a 2-party system, so I don’t know why the independent … [applause]

However, the Summit’s final statement was made well before the Summit began. Jill Stein had repeatedly asked whether she could address the gathering, and was summarily rejected.

As if to punctuate the dismissal of the independent wing of the Sanders movement, following the event, Tampa Bay for Bernie issued an urgent appeal from Mike Fox, PDA National Fundraising/Phonebanking Coordinator, to accomplish their goal of “removing the obstacle of the establishment Democratic Party”:

“The quickest way to remove the establishment obstacles is to control a majority in the Democratic Party with real progressives starts at the bottom up, and this is called a Precinct Committee Person. The deadline to file to be in this position is June 24th by end of business day …

“A Precinct Committee Person goes to County DEC meetings, has a vote on all issues and the board that comes up for election at the end of the year, and makes sure their precinct is aware of upcoming elections…very simple stuff. However, this crucial role is how we control the DNC and this is just a numbers game.”

Not mentioned is that an important duty of the precinct committeeperson is to “help Democratic candidates get elected.” And that means working for Hillary. You might think you can support your congressional candidate but not the party’s presidential nominee. But trying to do that is tantamount to walking into a meat grinder.

It is a move to engage the Establishment infrastructure described above, and it is a strategically necessary part of the struggle. But it is doing so on THEIR terrain.

Getting along in that environment requires being subjected to enormous pressure, personal and otherwise, by long-time Democrats who have been absorbing aspiring firebrands into the machine for decades. One of their favorite tricks is to enlist the new blood in denouncing any and all who would consider independent politics or parties as an option.

The upshot is that those Sanders supporters who stick it out for any length of time will be either among the more accommodating members to begin with, or will learn to collaborate in order to survive. Done without a more clear plan and guidelines, the net impact could be less to radicalize the Democratic Party than to conservatize the Sanders movement.

Rather that would be the case if there were not a solid anchor OUTSIDE, i.e., if there were no strong independent force that they can lean on — and ally with — as Democrats, a strong independent force that they can threaten to go to — or actually go to if push finally comes to shove — in resisting the enormous gravitational pull of what is acknowledged to be a capitalist, authoritarian, undemocratic Democratic Party (see “Sir Isaac Newton and the Democratic Party”).

… the Warhorse returns

Ironically, Sanders himself seems to understand this dynamic very well. When pressed as to whether his supporters will vote for Clinton, Sanders has been meticulous in making it clear that his people are free to vote however they want and he can’t tell them what to do. Whatever deals he has had to make, he knows the rest of us didn’t sign them. Despite his claims that he does not plan to run for president as an independent, he talks of 3rd party effort with respect, not the snide contempt so prevalent among Establishment Democrats. Pundits want to dismiss this as Sanders being coy, but he is not playing a game. He knows that his base consists of millions of once and future independents. It would be the height of folly to not take seriously the fact that he has been independent most of his life.

The pre-Summit speech was relatively soft, downbeat, talking about working with Hillary. But the old warhorse was back when he spoke June 23 on “Where do we go from here?” The pundits were taken aback that he didn’t even mention Hillary during the entire hour-and-a-half, and the “we must defeat Trump” bit was perfunctorily tacked on way at the end. He seemed to be responding to the anger and militancy and energy evident at the People’s Summit. Right from the start, he declared the necessity of both a Social AND a Political Revolution. The pundits are probably oblivious to the distinction. Pundits are paid to be oblivious. But the distinction is “yuge.” A Political Revolution is a fight for democratic rights. But a Social Revolution, that is when the class order is overthrown, a very different breed of cat.

07hulkThe Sanders Democrats, especially those at the top, are well aware they are walking a tightrope. The rage against Hillary runs deep, and I needn’t recount why. Interest in a new 3rd party is on many a lip, even if it hasn’t jelled yet. Hence the dance they do, “Justice or Bust,” the new slogan, instead of Bernie or Bust. Gyrations like the slippery “I am not going to tell you to vote for Hillary Clinton. But I am going to tell you to vote against Trump,” as though they themselves are gagging on the words “vote for Hillary.” (Sanders’ formulation, for the record, is not “vote against Trump,” but “defeat Trump.”)

Sanders has indicated that he himself would “likely” vote for Hillary, but he has not endorsed her. (Politico runs this headline every day: “Sanders again stops short of endorsing Clinton“) The distinction is significant — it’s one thing to cast his own vote, but by not endorsing, he is not calling on his supporters to do likewise. It is not clear that he will ever do so.

Another ugly turn.

Already the Platform component of the Hillary-lesser-evil plan is going badly. According to the June 25 Haaretz:

“Democrats on Friday voted down an amendment to the party’s platform that would have called for providing Palestinians with ‘an end to occupation and illegal settlements’ and urged an international effort to rebuild Gaza.”

The Clinton/Wasserman-Schultz appointees want to limit the language to the “two-state solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict” which is exactly what Netanyahu supports.

The Sanders bloc insists on an immediate $15/hour minimum, with cost-of-living indexing, while the Hillary bloc refused to add language for indexing, prefer an “incremental” approach, and would rather encourage the states (like the states that have shot down Medicaid expansion) to raise it of their own volition.

Clinton appointee AFSCME official Paul Booth:

“We affirm and support different ways of getting there in different states.”

The Platform Committee also refused to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, since Obama considers it a showcase for his legacy.

Per The Hill:

“[The Committee] also rejected amendments putting a national freeze on fracking, imposing a carbon tax, and promoting a single-payer healthcare system.”

Single-payer is considered absolutely critical to Sanders and his troops.

The Independent wing.

Meanwhile, Jill Stein as of 06/24/16 is polling at 7% in a four-way race (including 5% of Democrats). She has gotten major articles in Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Rolling Stone, and Salon. She is a regular news item for CNN. Enough Sanders people are joining the Green Party itself to throw it into something of a tizzy (whether welcoming or freaked out). And throwing Democrats into a quandary.

At the same time, momentum is building for backing Sanders Democrats at the congressional level, the city council level, the state legislative level.

Both wings of the Sanders movement are essential to each other, there are strong arguments for both. But the independent wing, not having the long-established infrastructure to adhere to, is the more fragile and the more radical. The wake of the American left is littered with the bleached bones of those who thought they could cleverly infiltrate the Democratic Party and ultimately take it over. But the price they have too often paid for being allowed into the dance has been to become the most stalwart enemies of independents. We cannot afford this.

The logic is simple. Both wings are united under the banner of Bernie Sanders, and Sanders is sensitive to the needs of both (hence his “delicacy” around the question of endorsing Hillary). There is absolutely no reason why we can’t support those Sanders Democrats running for Congress, and at the same time register our rejection of both the Establishment Democrats AND the Establishment Republicans by voting for Jill Stein. Not voting gets buried under abstruse statistics on voter turnout. Boards of elections generally don’t even count their write-ins, the law notwithstanding.

A vote for Stein is a vote against BOTH Hillary and Trump. And it gets counted.

But beyond the moment, we cannot afford to lose either wing of this precious movement. So we need something brand new. We need an organization that embraces and coordinates Sanders Democrats with Sanders Independents.

Time’s a’wasting.

— Jeff Roby
June 25, 2016

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