By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
It's time for a realistic plan to lift left electoral choices out of the “lesser of two evils” dilemma. The tools and opportunity to escape this perennial trap are here, but only if activists turn their backs on the lure of sheepdog Bernie Sanders and his corporate shepherds Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
This is What Happens When We Follow the Democrat Sheepdog. And What Can Happen If We Don't
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Last month I called Bernie Sanders' Democratic party primary run “sheepdogging” my term for a move the national Democratic party seems to execute every presidential primary season when there's no incumbent White House Democrat. The job of the sheepdog candidate is to herd leftish voters and activists back into the Democratic party one more time by giving perhaps sincere but limited and ineffectual voice to some of their issues.
Of course every sheepdog candidate since Jesse Jackson in '84 and 88 always folds his tent at the end of primary season to support the main corporate stooge Democrat for the November election. The hopeful word is always that the defeated sheepdog remains firmly committed to pushing the Democratic nominee leftward, both on the campaign trail and even more hopefully in the White House. But this never happens either. Losing Democratic nominees Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry adopted none of the positions of their sheepdog primary opponents on peace or climate change or mass transit or housing or racial and economic justice, and Democratic winners Clinton and Obama ignored them in the White House as well.
Even though the sheepdog candidates are never able push their opponents leftward, they appear to do the corporate-run Democratic party a priceless favor. Their doomed campaigns ending in endorsement of the party's nominees serve to firmly attach the leftish brands of the losing sheepdogs to the Democratic party, burnishing its populist, peace and leftish credentials for Democrats.
This isn't just my theory. Josh Marshall of Talking Points memo points out that the Democratic National Committee, the executive body and corporate pocket of the Democratic party, is featuring Bernie Sanders on its party fundraising emails as if, he says, Bernie had been designated the safe opposition candidate in some banana . Her decades of loyalty to the one percent may well put Hillary and her party more in need of protective leftish coloration than previous Democratic presidential nominees. The losing sheepdog campaigns, ending in the inevitable support for Hillary lend the corporate Democrat an air of populist legitimacy. DNC honchos know well that earnest leftists who make phone calls and knock on doors for Bernie Sanders are not building anything they can walk out of the party with and throw behind some other candidate when Bernie loses the nomination. Those people they recruit with Bernie's empty talk about “a political revolution” will be around for November, Ready For Hillary.
There really ought to be more viable choices than herding and being herded by Bernie and his friends back to the lesser of two evils corral, or staying home in futile disgust. And there is.
Later this month, Jill Stein will declare her candidacy for the Green Party's 2016 presidential nomination. Like Democrats and Republicans, the Greens won't nominate till the summer of 2016, but any serious campaign is already raising money and making plans. For the Greens, this year's big plan is likely to have two steps:
Step one is a nationwide ballot access drive to overcome the unjust laws Democrats and Republicans have laid in place to keep competition, especially from left parties, off the ballot. To put the presidential candidate of a party other than Republican or Democrat on the ballot in Georgia for instance, where you find the second largest concentration of African descended people in North America, it takes a minimum of 50,000 petition signatures spread over more than 50 of the state's counties. In North Carolina, with a smaller population it takes about 90,000. In Pennsylvania it's 40,000, in Indiana 22,000, in Illinois about 25,000, in Missouri and Oklahoma 10,000 apiece, and similar numbers in Nevada, Tennessee, Michigan and other states where left parties have been barred from the ballot for decades.
Step two, with local Green Party candidates on the ballot in every or nearly every state is achieving a minimum statewide vote of one or two percent in order to fulfill the legal requirements, which differ slightly from state to state. This creates for the first time the opportunity for local candidates to run for sheriff, for county commissioner, for state rep or other local office as something other than a Democrat or a Republican.
Why is this important? Let's try a thought experiment: Imagine you're opposed to mass incarceration, so you want to run for county sheriff. Sheriffs in every county are generally in charge of the county jail. Let's suppose you run as a Democrat because, you tell yourself, most of the folks affected by mass incarceration identify as Democrats. And let's suppose you win. As sheriff the first three things you'll want to do is make certain that every inmate placed in your care has decent food and medical care, and that genuine programs of educational uplift and self-improvement are available. And that's just a start --- you might want to find ways to delay or halt evictions, to ensure that your jail population goes down instead of up, and refuse to accept or use confiscated property, funds and assets.
This will make you plenty of enemies among existing Democratic elected officials who along with their Republican colleagues built and maintained the system of mass black incarceration. While they will not hesitate to denounce you, you might want to think twice about returning the favor. They accept funds from wealthy donors and powerful interest groups like the Fraternal Order of Police, to name just one. Other elected Democrats are quite likely to use campaign funds from corporate donors to run somebody against you in a Democratic primary election, instead of spending that money to unseat a Republican somewhere.
And if you're an elected Democrat you've got to hold your tongue and not criticize people higher up on the ticket than you if they're Democrats. When Chokwe Lumumba was mayor of Jackson, Mississippi he pointedly did NOT criticize the policies of Barack Hussein Obama, even though the president was shredding public education around the country and murdering innocents with drones around the world, breaking promises about the Patriot Act, and more. Mayor Lumumba didn't have anything bad to say about the myriad abuses and tyrannies of Department of Homeland Security, perhaps because prominent Mississippi Democrat Bernie Thompson was the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. He didn't dare, that's part of the bargain he apparently struck, the bargain struck by all elected Democrats. One only criticizes Republicans and their works, not Democrats, and never for the stuff like gentrification, militarism and privatization, to name just three areas upon which elected Democrats and Republicans pretty much agree.
Ride with Bernie, and there is no way out of that bargain. But get one-time statewide party ballot access followed by that one or two percent in November 2016 and candidates from local parties run by local residents, not by corporate donors and fixers, can run for these offices. That will be an enormous breakthrough, which will potentially transform the electoral landscape.
This is the likely Green organizing plan for 2015 and 2016. It's not focused on trying to win the 2016 presidential election. It's about fighting and winning meaningful ballot access in every state, including those like Georgia and North Carolina where no left party candidate has made the statewide ballot as such in decades, and opening up a crack in the duopoly that will make the vote meaningful instead of meaningless. It's a vision, a strategy that looks well beyond the current election cycle and aims to build the foundation to use the vote to fight for the interests of the people in ways which are utterly impossible inside the Democratic party.
By contrast, a vote for Bernie Sanders will neither elect an anti-corporate, anti mass incarceration candidate any time soon. (Bernie can't seem to make his lips say “mass incarceration” anyway --- Hillary just learned the phrase a few weeks back and has said it more times in a month than Bernie has in his 23 years in Congress.) A vote or a donation, or a week of labor for Bernie is short sighted because it won't help build anything independent inside the Democratic party, or anything that will be there after Bernie folds his tent this time next year. This is where the sheepdog wants to lead. We have to go somewhere else.
The organizing action and the momentum toward real change, should the Greens adopt this strategy, isn't with Democrats. It'll be with those who ride and who run Green, those who organize Green and those who work with them. Jill Stein is expected to make her official announcement in about two weeks. It should be clear by then whether the Greens are leaning forward into creating breakthroughs in ballot access that will make the vote mean something again.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.