Vote to Defeat the Right-Wing on Nov.

 
August 6, 2002

Vote to Defeat the Right-Wing on Nov. 5th and Build the Movement for Economic Justice & Equality, Democracy & Peace

Report to National Committee / Conference on Clubs, CPUSA June 30, 2002 Joelle Fishman, Chair Political Action Commission

This report will focus on our three-part strategy in this year’s election: to defeat the Republican ultra-right; to build political independence; and to make a turn in the Party so that building the clubs is at the center of our work.

The excellent reports by Sam and Elena, the sub-reports and the discussion lay the groundwork for today’s session.

As Sam indicated, this election will be a referendum on the unrestrained, anti-democratic Bush Doctrine of military domination. All issues will be affected by the elections – peace, civil rights, civil liberties, the economy, equality, the environment…

Since September 11, the Bush administration has engaged in a demagogic frenzy aimed at creating an atmosphere that allows opposition on any front to be stifled as unpatriotic. Greater tax cuts for the richest few, unprecedented increases in military spending, use of nuclear weapons, rescinding Constitutional rights and smashing labor are at the heart of the Bush agenda.

At the same time, economic conditions for the working class and most people are deteriorating. Most state budgets are in deficit, and necessary programs in health care, education, housing and what remains of the social safety-net are being eliminated. Poverty is growing most sharply in communities of color and rural areas.

Defeat Republican ultra-right

The next four months will be a period of sharp class warfare in the electoral arena. Our skill at developing and carrying out strategy and tactics could make an important contribution.

The Bush administration represents the most bellicose section of the ruling class. Within the administration some differences are beginning to surface. Some are afraid of overstepping their bounds.

The Democrats have maintained a policy of supporting the war on terrorism while at the same time opposing the worst of the Bush economic program, focusing on the ‘kitchen table’ issues. However, there have been more and more courageous exceptions, including the 31 members of Congress who have filed suit against the Bush administration on the grounds that he does not have the authority to abrogate the ABM Treaty.

A cursory look could dismiss the Democrats as ‘no different than the Republicans’ because they voted for the war and to undermine civil liberties and are weak on economic issues.

A deeper, strategic and dialectical look is required. As parties of capitalism, neither the Republican nor Democratic parties will be the standard-bearer toward a worker-led anti-monopoly government. A labor-led peoples party is needed in our country that will be in the forefront of representing a working class agenda.

The question is: How do we get from here to there?

The growing tide of reaction in the country cannot be underestimated. What is needed to stem that tide, and halt US military expansion around the world? What leverage do labor, peace and people’s forces have to change the balance of power in this critical moment?

We also have to ask: What would strengthen the ability of such Representatives as Barbara Lee, Dennis Kuchinich,. John Conyers or Hilda Solis? Would it make a difference if Republican tyrannical control of committees, agendas, amendments, and all decisions in the House of Representatives were ended?

Would it make a difference in the ability to fightback in the U.S. Senate for such Senators as Paul Wellstone and Jean Carnahan if there were a stronger majority than one?

Would this change in the balance of power in Congress give new strength to the organizing and mobilizing by labor and democratic forces at the grass roots? Would this shift open new opportunities for turning back the nuclear madness and the racist abrogation of civil liberties? Would this shift allow for the growth of anti-monopoly independent candidates and parties?

I think the answer is a strong yes.

The splits within the ruling class that are emerging open the opportunity to win struggles against the extreme-right wing, and in particular to defeat the policies of the Bush administration.

Every issue, every struggle must be related to the elections. If the elections give more power to the Bush administration, war policy will expand. If the elections blunt the Bush administration, it will give new possibilities to the peace movement and to demands on both Democrats and Republicans regarding policies in the Middle East, Colombia, and throughout the world.

In this sense, you could say that it is our ‘Peace Responsibility’ to defeat the Republican majority, despite the individual records of the particular Democratic candidate in each Congressional or Senatorial district.

This is especially challenging in a state like New Jersey where Torricelli is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, and to a lesser degree in Congressional Districts like Indiana’s 2nd and Connecticut’s 5th where each state has lost a seat, where the national Republican Party is pouring in big resources, and where the Democrat is centrist.

Politics in our country is very personality-centered. In this election we have to look beyond the particular Democrat that is in the field in any individual election district to the need to change the balance of power in Congress for the good of the whole country.

A united front victory in the 2002 elections could eliminate the powerful bargaining position that conservative Democrats like Joseph Lieberman are utilizing within the framework of right-wing control.

With a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Progressive Caucus like John Conyers chairing key committees, it would create a new atmosphere and dynamics.

The combination of pressure from a strong grass roots movement plus a change in House leadership – affording the opportunity to place pro-worker bills on the calendar – will move more members of Congress to take a stand. Looking at it this way, the election of Torricelli – who leads the pack against Cuba – is needed to guarantee a Democratic majority in the Senate so that the movement for ending the blockade against Cuba can advance.

Grass-roots organizing will be decisive in the election and after election day. That’s why grass-roots clubs of the Communist Party are an important part of getting ‘from here to there’.

Connecting the elections with the movements for affordable prescription drugs under Medicare, saving Social Security, pro-family welfare reauthorization, etc. is a way to build independent political machinery, as part of, or side-by-side with, the labor movement.

A great example is the Labor ‘96 campaign in which demonstrations at the offices of members of Congress organized by local labor councils succeeded in winning an increase in the minimum wage despite Gingrich’s control of the House of Representatives. These grass roots actions helped win many races in 1996, and forced Gingrich to resign, although there was still not enough strength to change the balance of forces. Labor ‘96 was the start of the AFL-CIO turn toward building a political machinery outside of the Democratic Party.

Negative counter-trends have emerged, including that some unions and environmental groups have, or are considering, endorsements of Republicans under the guise of independence. We should argue that this break in the united front will not win on the issues and is a deadend path.

Reagan’s election in 1980 signaled control of the Republican Party by the extreme-right wing elements within it. Since that time, our electoral policy has of necessity centered on building a strong enough united front to defeat the extreme-right wing. At this moment, the dangers are much heightened. The need for united front is greater now than ever. It is a necessary step toward a new stage of political independence.

The Bush administration realizes their vulnerability. They also realize that they will either be blunted or strengthened by the results in November. For them, all systems are go for this election.

The right-wing is expert at building their own coalitions, and influencing the grass roots, for example the Christian Coalition, and they have the money to spend. They are also expert at sowing seeds of discontent and disunity within people’s coalitions.

While maintaining their conservative base, the Bush administration is at the same time utilizing legislative issues to crack the unity within labor, and between labor and other democratic forces. They are using racism to attempt to split and divide communities of color. They are targeting Jewish voters to pull them away from the Democratic Party.

They are collaborating with conservative Democrats on issues and candidates to prevent stronger economic measures from being adopted, and to try and defeat the most outspoken members of Congress including challenging Rep.Earl Hilliard, (D-Alabama) and Rep.Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) in the Democratic primaries with conservative African American candidates around the issue of US policy toward Israel.

In Missouri, Republicans are calling on the African American community to either vote for Republican Jim Talent for US Senate, or stay home. Talent is challenging incumbent Jean Carnahan, Democratic Senator with one of the strongest pro-worker records.

The primary waged against Rep. Barbara Lee in Oakland, California deserves study. She was immediately targeted by the right-wing for her vote against open-ended war. As a result of careful tactics within labor and the community at large, unity was built and Barbara Lee emerged from the March 5 primary with an overwhelming 85% vote. We should express appreciation for the contribution made by our Party, both at the coalition level and at the grass-roots.

The defeat of Jeb Bush in the Florida Governor race is a big national priority for the labor and democratic movements. As can be imagined, the Republicans are making a full court attempt to pull away Latino voters from the Democratic Party. Leading Democratic candidates, Reno and McBride, each have some endorsements from labor, retirees and communities of color. Both have agreed to keep their fire on Bush and not on each other until the September primary. The comrades in Florida deserve our full support in a very tough battle.

In Texas, Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won the Democratic primary for the US Senate seat vacated by Phil Gramm. He would be the first African American Senator from Texas. Tony Sanchez is the Democrat candidate for Governor. Increased voter participation from union-member families, may well defeat the Republicans in Bush’s home state. The Bush administration and the right-wing are pouring in resources financially and politically. In New York, Democratic candidate Carl McCall could become the first African American Governor. Republican Governor Pataki is working hard to split the vote by pulling off sections of the Black and Latino community. The tactical problems are great because Local 1199 has split the democratic front by endorsing Pataki on the promise of funding for nursing home workers.

In each of these examples, the right-wing is creating and/or exploiting disunity in their attempt to win. In all such cases, we can play a role at the grass roots and coalition levels in keeping our eyes on the issues, and on the prize of a setback for Bush.

Political Independence

Since the theft of the presidency in 2000, public interest in the democratic process and campaign finance reform has dramatically increased. There is a surge of experimentation in developing new forms.

– San Francisco became the first major city to vote to adopt Instant Runoff Voting, as did a number of towns in Vermont.

– Maine and Arizona became the first states to enact public financing of elections, which has already changed the culture in those State Legislators, with many more working people in office.

– The Working Families Party is expanding from New York into Connecticut and Washington State, using the tactic of a separate ballot line which can endorse major party candidates who adopt its program. In this way, the Working Families Party was the leading force in winning an increase in the minimum wage in New York.

– In Newark, New Jersey Raz Baraka, the only independent candidate to make the June 11 runoff, lost by only 100+ votes out of 23,000 cast. He is expected to win a seat on the City Council in the next elections, on the basis of the grass roots movement he has built.

– The AFL-CIO has voted to establish a permanent voter registration, education and mobilization structure. There are now 2600 union members elected to public office. There are a number of new union member candidates in this election, but not necessarily in areas where we have clubs. We should find ways to highlight and participate in these campaigns where possible. Three that I know of are:

Ed O’Brien, Assistant Director of the United Steelworkers of America, District 10, is a candidate in Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, challenging Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, who he came close to defeating in 2000.

Chellie Pingree, a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, is a candidate for US Senate from Maine, challenging Republican Susan Collins.

Mike Michaud, a paper mill worker and member of PACE Local #1-0037, is running for an open seat in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

– At the local level, some Greens elected to office have played a positive role, working with labor and community forces on issues such as living wage ordinances, and we collaborate on those campaigns.

However, the lack of strategic approach by the Greens in several important close races this year could be a large enough break in the united front to allow Republicans to win. This is very short-sighted and in the long run will not speed the development of a people’s party. For example, in New Mexico, where the Greens were very strong, their election policy contributed to various Republican victories. As a result of being hurt by Republican policies, support for the Greens is down among voters.

In Minnesota, the Green Party has nominated a candidate to run against Paul Wellstone, the Senate’s most outspoken progressive voice for the needs of working and poor families. The Republicans are fielding and funding a moderate with the intent of knocking Wellstone out. While Wellstone claims the best-ever grass-roots machinery in place, it is a close race.

The Green Party targeted Wellstone for his votes on the war. But the Green candidate supports Bush’s war on terrorism. Similar to Ralph Nader in 2000, this candidacy plays into the hands of the Bush administration, and ultimately strengthens the Bush war drive. A narrow one-issue approach to this election is self-defeating.

Similarly, in the California Governor race, targeted nationally by the Bush administration and the labor movement, the Greens are fielding a candidate despite a close contest between Governor Gray Davis and Republican millionaire Bill Simon. The Green campaign message lets the Republicans and corporations including Enron off the hook for the energy crisis.

In this election year, no race for Congress or Senate can be taken for granted. The Republican right-wing is desperate to regain control of the Senate and retain control of the House.

– The united front approach does not diminish the importance of, or need for, candidates of our own. Communist candidates are in a unique position to project unity and an advanced program. Let’s take a moment to pay tribute to those Communists now elected to public office.

Imagine how different the dynamics in our country would be with Communists in the House and in the Senate. We should project and work for such a possibility. That means starting with small, local offices, running, getting elected, getting experience. It has been a weakness in our overall work that our own candidates are so few and far between.

As we make a turn toward grassroots work of the clubs, we will be making a turn toward deeper involvement on everyday issues and recruitment. We should choose election districts, wards or precincts where we will develop Peoples Weekly World and door-to-door work with the aim of fielding and electing Communists to public office and building Party clubs.

A grass roots Communist Party base lays the foundation for electing many more Communists, who are in a position to be strong and effective leaders.

Labor led people’s coalition

It is at the grass roots that the election will be won or lost.

Bush’s pro-corporate and military policies are coming under growing public scrutiny and opposition. Protests, demonstrations, rallies and forums are springing up across the country. Tens of thousands of students, teachers, state workers, the homeless, those without health coverage, have converged on state capitols from Pennsylvania to New York to Illinois to California demanding that state budget crises not be solved on the backs of working and poor people and people of color. Demands for taxing the rich, and ending corporate welfare are no longer heard only from the left.

The growth of union-community coalitions, involving organized and unorganized workers around a spectrum of workplace, environmental and neighborhood issues raises the level of struggle, as do the big contract battles unfolding in longshore, transport and other industries.

These new developments in the labor movement open the door to new electoral victories. For example, in New Mexico where there is a general increase in labor and community struggles against funding cuts in social programs and education, the new leadership of the state AFL-CIO is launching a massive voter registration drive in support of an independent political agenda at their meeting this weekend of which Pablo is a part.

In Illinois, the labor movement is going all out to register 250,000 workers and their families, and break the Republican hold on the State Senate by winning six seats. The election coalition is bolstered by a big movement around state budget cuts.

The national AFL-CIO ‘No More Business As Usual’ tour with Enron workers is mobilizing workers around the local impacts of the scandal. The Enron scandal is shifting the election debate in many states. It is bringing new sections of people into struggle, and opens new possibilities to defeat Republicans who are linked with it.

The struggle around prescription drugs is playing a similar role.

The Campaign for America’s Future, working with the Alliance of Retired Americans, AFL-CIO and others, has called grass roots events around July 4 to demand members of Congress ‘declare their independence’ from George Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security and cut benefits.

This follows up on the dramatic bus trips to Canada for low-cost prescription drugs, and local campaigns such as in Cleveland, Ohio which is linked to building an independent political force of labor on a ward basis. The experience in Cleveland shows that organizing at the grass roots impacts strategy at the national level.

The million postcard campaign for immigrant rights will help bring new forces into the elections at the grass roots. In California, several elections were won when labor invited the participation of immigrant families in election work.

To date, ten City Councils have passing resolutions defending the Bill of Rights and calling for repeal of sections of the USA Patriot Act and executive orders that infringe on Constitutional rights.

Organizations like NOW, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, the NAACP, the South West Voter Registration and Education Project and the US Student Association are launching national voter registration drives and campaigns to deliver the vote in the 2002 elections.

Coordinated national actions can provide a handle for clubs to join with others locally.

A list of the websites of some national organizations that are active locally is provided in the handout.

In some states and cities, ballot referenda are an opportunity to organize around an issue and build a grass-roots movement and coalition. In New Mexico, and perhaps elsewhere, the Cesar Chavez Holiday will appear on the ballot as ‘Amendment 7’. In New Haven, a non-binding referendum opposing nuclear weapons is expected to be approved next month by the Board of Aldermen.

The right-wing is also placing referenda on the ballot. One example is in Massachusetts, where the Pride at Work affiliate is organizing to stop legislation to place the Super Defense of Marriage Act (SuperDOMA) on the ballot in 2004. This would rescind previously won domestic partnership benefits for state workers, and is considered a national test case.

Club Building

It is at the grass roots that the full impact of the Bush administration policies is felt. At home and at work the lack of affordable health care, housing or higher education; low wages and short hours; police brutality; toxic waste affects working class families including our members.

None of these problems can be solved on an individual basis. At the grass roots, clubs fight collectively for immediate needs, and connect that to the fight to change the system which gives rise to those needs. To gather enough strength to win requires joining with labor and other organizations in coalition, and relating those struggles to the elections.

We can’t make our fullest contribution to the 2002 elections without grounding at the grass roots. Not just for the results in November, but for the day-to-day struggles to follow, for the longer term goals of electing workers including Communists to public office, and building a popular movement for socialism.

A club that concentrates its work in a specific geographic area or workplace can help build fightback on neighborhood and shop issues like speedbumps or overtime, and connect those local issues to independent political action. Within the concentration precinct or housing development, the club then has the ability to build an electoral constituency.

On a door-to-door basis with voters lists in hand, and with petitions on issues and the Peoples Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo, it is possible to identify those who will vote to defeat the right-wing, those who would like to have the paper delivered each week, and those who would like to be invited to a club meeting and possibly become a member.

Building a Communist Party electoral base, or voting bloc, is a special component to political independence. It is a way to organize and win on immediate needs in the neighborhood. It lays the groundwork for running our own candidates. It provides a way of collectively participating in the voter drives and campaigns of labor and other democratic forces.

Such an effort may not be large enough to change the outcome of the election, although in a very close race, every vote can make the difference. But building a grass-roots club in one neighborhood of a Congressional election district gives a solid basis toward improving living conditions and politics in that community for the future.

A few examples from reports sent in from different parts of the country about recent election work:

One example is in Hartford, Connecticut, where the process of building a Communist club ‘voting bloc’ has been developed over a number of years. There are three clubs in the State Rep district which is the poorest in the state. They have struggled around police brutality, child poverty and workers rights. They helped elect one of the strongest members of the State Legislature. If ever the political coalition around her wavers she uses the importance of our votes and activity to convince them to stand firm on the issues.

Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District is a national target for labor. Clubs from Hartford and New Haven are traveling to Waterbury, Meriden and New Britain in the 5th District to support our clubs there who are steeped in the labor and environmental movements. Those coming in to the district will go door-to-door with petitions, voter registration cards and Peoples Weekly Worlds to expand the base that the local clubs will continue work with year round.

In Northern California, the clubs work closely with the labor movement in election campaigns. The labor council structure has an approach to involve the whole community in election work, making it possible for someone to volunteer through their own union, or through the work of the labor councils. The Peoples Weekly World banquet held each fall is an important mobilizer for election turnout, attended by labor activists and elected officials.

In Southern California, the East Los Angeles Club worked in four precincts in the last election for a key state assembly race, and turned out the highest votes, which was recognized by the coalition. The members brought in friends and got volunteers and went door-to-door. They used the Chavez Holiday petitions, and built a network around them, which has been a way to stay connected.

The Harlem Heights Club in New York was very active in the last election. Because of the work of the club and the YCL in forms they have built including Black Radical Congress and Uptown Youth for Peace and Justice, they have strong working relations with the City Council members from Harlem and the Heights and also with the Working Families Party.

Some clubs, like Park Slope in New York, may not be near a nationally targeted race. In most areas, however, there are local candidates which labor, African American, Latino and democratic forces are working to either support or defeat. In New York, where the Working Families Party is active, there are added opportunities for clubs to become involved and perhaps take responsibility for one voting area.

Some clubs may be located in a rural area, or a state that is largely unorganized. In this case, the plans may be more modest, such as reaching out to Peoples Weekly World subscribers in the state, and simply getting involved in a campaign that is challenging the right-wing in order to get more deeply acquainted with activists in the area.

Every club can find some contribution to make to the 2002 elections in such a way as to help revitalize the work of the club and its grass roots connections year-round. Mostly, the ways can be thought through by starting with the assets the club already has, the activity it and its members are already involved in, and figuring out what next step is practical that will deepen ties to the community and introduce new friends to our Party.

Even modest proposals can be the first important steps that raise the work of the club to a new level. For example, if a door-to-door Peoples Weekly World route is not yet possible, are there several contacts or leaders to whom the paper could be brought each week, providing an opportunity for discussion? If nothing else is possible, perhaps some introductory trial subscriptions can be sent by the club to a list of 5 or 10 contacts and leaders, with personal follow-up to discuss the issues and get out the vote.

Four Month Campaign

I would like to propose a four month campaign from July 4 to Election Day around the theme ‘Vote to Defeat the Right-Wing on Nov. 5 & Build the Movement for Economic Justice & Equality, Democracy & Peace’ in which the entire Party organization, every club and hopefully every member of our Party will become involved.

It is often helpful to develop a short ‘Plan of Work’ to spell out what steps we will take to achieve our strategic goals: to defeat the Republican ultra-right; to build political independence; and to make a turn in the Party so that building the clubs is at the center of our work.

The first task is to select the most important election campaign in your state, which could be Congressional, or state or local, and within that target the working class district, precinct or ward where the club or clubs will work, and the housing development or small area of concentration . In a Party District with more than one club, there may be several targeted campaigns.

Some questions to consider are: Is there a Congressional election in which the seat is in the balance? In which seat are the issues most advanced? Where do we have a base, and where are we trying to build a base?

In making a Plan of Work there are a number of questions to think through:

1. What are the strategic sections of voters needed to win this election? What are the strategic unionized workplaces? What are the voter registration and election activities of labor and community organizations? Who can participate? What other organizations or activists can be involved?

2. Where are we already active and in a position to carry forward our election program, as individuals and/or collectively?

3. What working class neighborhood is the most important to build a Communist constituency or electoral base? What are the issues there? How will our election work in that neighborhood relate to fightback on neighborhood issues and build readers of the Peoples Weekly World and members of the Party? (Each club must consider its own possibilities. Larger districts might consider targeting one concentration, with participation from a number of clubs.)

4. What divisive or other negative tactics of the right-wing require response? What other organizations can we work together with in this effort?

Many organizations are mobilizing for summer voter registration drives. A club voter registration effort could be carried out in the club concentration area and be a part of a bigger effort with union or community organizations. The laws are different in each state, but since the passage of Motor Voter most states have post card registration.

Along with registration comes education, aimed at galvanizing the Party and the public on the issues. Flyers and use of the People’s Weekly World are part of that. Also forums, or candidate nights. One idea is to join together with labor and independent forces for a Town Hall meeting that would provide an outlet for projecting more advanced issues into the election.

Each district and club has to think through how to apply the rich body of experience we have from our work in the labor movement, on the shop floor, and in other organizations and coalitions to building grass roots Party Clubs.

At the national level, the Political Action Commission will be working with the National Board and Organization Department and the editorial board of the Peoples Weekly World / Nuestro Mundo to keep abreast of new developments on the electoral front.

Tim will travel to Florida and Fred will be traveling to Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Missouri to cover the Senate elections. Especially important will be stories coming in from the districts about local campaigns.

We plan to prepare some flyers for organizing at the local level which hopefully will be downloadable from the web page. We hope to produce a monthly newsletter to define our goals and progress, and provide useful material from new developments.

We plan to issue a national brochure presenting our approach to the elections, and offering our support for the main demands on the battlefield, but also reaching beyond with a program to meets the emergency needs of the people. It is shameful and unacceptable that any child should live in poverty, and that anyone should go hungry, homeless, without medicine, or without a living wage in our nation of such great wealth.

Our program should call for the repeal of the USA Patriot Act and for protection of immigrant rights and an end to racial profiling; for decision making to be restored to Congress; for continuation of the ABM Treaty, abolition of nuclear weapons, and cuts in military spending. We should call for a ban on drilling in Alaskan wilderness areas, repeal of Fast Track legislation and repeal of the Bush tax cuts.

Our program should oppose privatization of social security, and go beyond that to call for an increase in benefits so seniors and disabled can survive. We should call for prescription drug coverage as part of Medicare, and beyond that for universal (single payer) health care.

Our program should support passage of the Congressional Black Caucus proposals for welfare reform, and also call for restoration of the social safety net and creation of living wage jobs, full funding for public education, and affirmative action. We should support justice for the Enron workers, and also call for public ownership of utilities and for comprehensive legislation against corporate corruption. We should call for public financing of elections, and also overall election law reform including instant runoff voting and proportional representation.

Above all, we should approach the coming four months with confidence and commitment. There is deep concern in the country that the Bush administration is taking on too much power and threatening the rights of people. There is deep concern that things are going too far. The defeat of the extreme right-wing in this election is a winnable fight.

Elections are a time when everyone is called upon to express their choice. This is the time for the silence to be broken, for hesitation to be turned into action, and as the unions in New Haven say, a time for Hope not Fear! In the next four months we can go a long way toward turning our country around, and building a bigger and better Communist Party.

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