Election 2016: High stakes, great challenges, big possibilities

BY:Joelle Fishman| June 11, 2016
Election 2016: High stakes, great challenges, big possibilities

Political update to the National Committee, Communist Party USA presented by Joelle Fishman, Cchair, Political Action Commission June 1, 2016. You can listen below:


This year is proving to be an extraordinary election year with high stakes, great challenges and big possibilities. It is an election that requires thoughtful strategy, careful tactics and deep involvement on our part.

Not only here, but in countries around the world, the corporate extreme right-wing is on the offensive.   A swing from Obama to Trump in the White House would be a terrible blow to democratic, social and economic rights and world peace.

The foundation of our election strategy is the necessity to beat back the extremist corporate right-wing  in order to protect democratic rights and human needs.  Donald Trump’s presidential campaign ups the ante.  Trump goes qualitatively beyond with open appeals inciting racist violence, mysogeny and American national chauvinism as in a mass based fascist movement.

The broad front that elected Barack Obama twice included the Democratic Party establishment, sections of business, and the core forces for social change: labor, youth, women,  African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander and Native American voters.  Our focus for organizing within the broad front is among these core forces, who have suffered greatly from the prolonged economic crisis.

We have learned from experience that in order to inspire  a winning coalition of voters to turn out en mass, a message to defeat the extremist right-wing is not enough by itself.  It is only effective when joined with a strong, positive people’s agenda and ongoing, year-round organizing not limited to one election cycle or one candidate.  This is the key to the 2016 election, and to winning the involvement and support  in November of the millions of new voters who have responded to Bernie Sanders’ message, and millions more.

The extremist right-wing and Trump

Proto-fascists like Donald Trump get traction by preying on existing deep economic problems and desperation, with a superficially anti-establishment message. Trump uses racism, anti-immigrant bigotry and slander of Muslims and immigrants from Central America, ultra-nationalism, sexism, anti-intellectualism to split and divide working class people against each other.   This poison affects both the election process and the entire society.

While polls should always be viewed with caution, I will mention one.  A recent Washington Post/ABC poll of registered voters gauging support for Trump v Clinton showed Trump leading Clinton 76 to 14 among white men without college degrees, and Clinton leading Trump 57 to 34 among white college-graduate women.  According to the Post this is the largest education gap among white voters in presidential elections since 1980.   The poll does not show a breakdown among white union members.

A subsequent Wall Street Journal / CBS poll of white union households found that Clinton and Trump were tied with 44% each at this point.

The challenge to defeat Trump is to develop a message that rips away his fake anti-establishment persona and exposes whose side he is on and who benefits from his policies. Trump says he is anti-Wall St. but he doesn’t want to regulate the financial industry.  Instead, he supports a big business agenda including slashing taxes on the rich and big corporations.  Trump says he is a job creator but he is anti-union and he supports policies that force workers to compete for who can work for the least in order to get jobs. Trump’s agenda would shrink the share of government spending that does not go to the military and leave millions stranded who depend on health care, social security, food stamps, WIC, public education, environmental protection, etc. for a decent quality of life.  Trump says he cares about veterans, but his militaristic orientation will create more victims of war. His Supreme Court nominees could shut down democratic rights, union rights and civil rights for years to come.

From the moment President Barack Obama was sworn into office, the extremist Republicans in Congress declared that they would obstruct every one of his initiatives.  The Tea Party was funded and built by the extreme right as a result of this decision, which Donald Trump, founder of the birther movement, immediately identified with. Now, despite some rumbling, most Republicans are lining up behind Trump.

Adding to the right-wing pollution, this weekend the Libertarian Party nominated two former Republican Governors, Gary Johnson (NM) and Bill Weld (MA).  They expect to be on the ballot in all 50 states.  They will be a second voice aimed at attracting disaffected voters away from the Democratic nominee as well as independents and youth.  They immediately started wooing the Koch Brothers to fund their campaign with hopes that in addition to funding extremists at the state government level, they will also be enablers for the Libertarian presidential race.

Democratic Primary and People’s Upsurge

Against this backdrop, the Democratic primary has unfolded.  Here the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has been the opposite: how best to improve the lives of working people and low income people and youth and seniors; how best to address racism, end police violence and end discrimination in the criminal justice system.  How best to protect the gains won during the Obama presidency and more forward to address bigger needs.  How best to address the fact that practically all of the recovery from the economic crisis has gone to the top .1%.

The deep yearning of millions of disaffected voters, especially younger voters, for a progressive, pro-active agenda found its voice in the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  The campaign has fought for bigger solutions to the problems confronting millions of people facing inadequate jobs, college debt, wage discrimination, police brutality. Most significantly, the campaign has been focused not just on supporting a candidate for President, but on building a lasting grass roots movement that can democratize politics at all levels of government.

The amazing support shown in small financial contributions and turnout at huge rallies has had a positive impact on the entire election cycle, and for our country going forward.  It has brought millions of people into the election process for the first time, especially young people, but people of all ages. It has helped move Hillary Clinton to a more progressive approach on many issues, making her stronger and more electable if she becomes the nominee.  It has exposed the refusal of the mainstream media to pay attention to these issues and the campaign most directly addressing them. It has brought the idea of socialism into the mainstream. And, it is challenging the Democratic Party itself to become more accountable to the people.

We have heard many inspiring stories from Texas, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Washington, New York and around the country showing appreciation for our participation and contributions. These millions that have newly engaged constitute a significant  expansion of the electorate at a time that the Republicans are focused on voter suppression.  The newly engaged are a potentially big force that can make it possible to defeat Trump and end extremist Republican  control of the Senate and House.

The tremendous movement that has come forward around the Sanders campaign is not in a vacuum.  It reflects a refusal by millions to continue to accept the pain and suffering caused by economic, racial and social inequalities and ongoing wars. The context is the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the movement to reverse climate change, and most recently the five-point Take on Wall St campaign for a new level of financial reform (launched with Elizabeth Warren, Keith Ellison, Richard Trumka and 20 organizations).

Broad Unity

The final Super Tuesday is June 7, including California and New Jersey, and the final primary is one week later in D.C.  Then attention turns to the convention.

Much has been written and voiced concerning how Democratic unity will be built coming out of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July.  Will it be strong enough to defeat Trump and the threat to democracy?

Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have committed to do everything they can to ensure that a Republican will not win the White House.  Both are campaigning to increase Democrats in the Senate and House.

At this time in 2008, half of Hillary Clinton supporters said they would not vote for Barack Obama.  That changed dramatically as the post-convention campaign unfolded.  Despite the media hype, Sanders’ voters will support Hillary Clinton if she incorporates the issues that brought them into the race in the first place.

The debate over issues and program that will take place at the convention is healthy.  It reflects the passion and outpouring of support for Bernie Sanders’ agenda to achieve economic, racial and social equality. Before the convention there is an opportunity for public testimony to the Democratic National Convention platform committee at four public sessions (in Orlando, D.C., Phoenix and St. Louis) and also on-line.

Unity to defeat Trump in November and to keep the movement going can be built on the basis of the issues crucial to people’s everyday lives.  A strong peoples agenda and continuing issue oriented participation in the elections will motivate the vote.

Calling for Sanders to short-stop his campaign is not unifying.  Objectively it creates disunity.  It disregards Sanders’ supporters in the states still to have primaries.  It disallows Sanders the opportunity to assess and provide leadership on how best to keep the political revolution going into November and after the elections.

Calling for leaving the Democratic Party or not voting for Clinton if Sanders is not the candidate, or attacks on Hillary Clinton are harmful and dangerous.  This form of disunity is a provocation that plays into the hands of Trump and the Republicans without regard for the danger to democracy of a proto-fascist for president.

While there are vocal Bernie or Bust voters, some of whom will be in the streets in Philadelphia in July, they are a small minority of Bernie Sanders supporters across the country.  Probably few if any are being elected as delegates to the Democratic convention. Some are new and inexperienced. Some are part of the sectarian left that would not vote Democratic in any case.

The point can effectively be made that the goals of the political revolution will only be stymied or crushed with a Trump presidency.  To keep the momentum going for the progressive program , Bernie Sanders supporters should stick with the issues and their candidate as long as he is in the race, and then with Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee.  The fight for a progressive platform at the convention is really a fight to enable Hillary Clinton to effectively reach out to the voters that supported Bernie Sanders and bring in others.  It is a fight to inspire all-out mobilization to take back the Senate and House from Republican control.

A strong presidential voter turnout is important to guarantee a shift in control of Congress. Unity can be built around the key Senate races. The top tier presidential and senate states for labor are Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Illinois for the senate race. Also the Nevada and Arizona senate races are priorities.  As well, there are a number of exciting, progressive candidates around the country  that can impact the composition of the House.

Organizing around local races for Governor and State Legislature and in primaries for progressive candidates will also help build the vote for the national and presidential elections.

Continuing Movement

A big question is the future of the political revolution.  Beyond the presidential election, where will the newly engaged go?  What will they do?

Some will end up in existing organizations including some will end up in our own.  Extensive distribution of the “Handy Guide to Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” pamphlet, which lays out the worldview, strategy and tactics of the Communist Party, has been well received at election gatherings and has attracted support for our work.

Some are getting involved around politics locally in their communities.  Some will become engaged in a host of new initiatives:

— The People’s Summit being held in Chicago mid-June will bring together a wide variety of left, labor and progressive organizations to discuss strategy and tactics for what comes next and how to keep the issues and the momentum going.

— On June 8 a new network “We the People’ is expected to be launched from Vermont, consisting of Bernie Sanders supporters in at least 77 cities who have begun engaging in progressive organizing independently as well as through their local Democratic Party structures.

— The Brand New Congress effort, led by former Bernie Sanders staffers, to run progressives across the country in 2018 for the House and Senate is already underway.  Local meetings are being held across the country this month.

— The People’s Revolution, also led by former Bernie Sanders staffers, is holding a People’s Convention in Philadelphia to symbolically adopt a platform around which to organize.

At the time of the conventions there are many initiatives that highlight specific issues and the need for unity :

— Prior to the Democratic Convention, 350.org, Food and Water Watch and other environmental groups are holding a Clean Energy Revolution summit and march in Philadelphia.

— Progressive Democrats of America is hosting a series of discussions including with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus at Progressive Central in Philadelphia.

— In Cleveland, prior to the Republican convention, the AFL-CIO is hosting a family gathering in a large park in Lakewood where Trump’s agenda will be responded to.

— Also prior to the Republican convention Rev. William Barber will hold a “Moral Revival,” which is the first of several to be held around the country.

— A rally on AIDS will be held with Rev Al Sharpton and Cornel West.

We are participating in the People’s Summit and many of the positive events surrounding the Republican and Democratic conventions, as is the People’s World. All of these national approaches provide an opportunity for us to contribute our unity framework and message.

The Political Action Commission is helping develop People’s World articles that present a deeper, historical analysis and take on Trump’s agenda point by point.  The hope is that these will be circulated widely and provide the content for memes and other social media work.  Another idea is articles that tell the story of real conversations that have convinced Trump supporters not to vote for him. As a tool for voter registration tables and door to door, a People’s World promotion card has been printed with a clip-off to sign up to get headlines by e-mail.

Unity in Action

Right now we are five months out from election day.  The door knocking and voter contact planned for this summer by unions and other peoples’ organizations will lay the basis to win voters away from Trump and Republicans and get more volunteers into action through to November.

This election will be determined by voter turnout.  Republicans are utilizing every means possible to try and suppress the vote including voter ID laws, shortening the time for early voting, etc. Top priority is challenging these undemocratic attempts along with all-out voter registration efforts including education and mobilization to get out the vote.

The AFL-CIO and Working America are engaging their members in going door to door to talk about the elections over the summer months.  The kickoff is in June in eight cities in Ohio. This spring going door to door in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania Working America found that with one conversation many white workers who had been influenced by Trump’s right-wing rhetoric could be turned around when they came to understand that his agenda would not create good jobs or a fair economy.

A second Working America project talking to voters in a white working class suburb of Pittsburgh and a Black neighborhood in Philadelphia showed that in both communities there was general agreement that instead of allowing corporate-backed politicians to pit working people against each other, “working people should stick together to combat that negative influence instead of blaming each other.”

These experiences show how important door to door education is to win this election and to build an ongoing movement.  They also show the significance of digging in now and not allowing right-wing rhetoric to take hold over the summer. Especially, these experiences show the possibility and necessity of overcoming racist appeals and building unity to defeat Trump and his divisive message and instigating.

Similar efforts can be carried out in every community this summer to help educate about how Trump’s agenda will endanger democracy and hurt working and low income families while favoring Wall St. and the super rich.

This election presents a tremendous challenge to deliver a blow against right-wing extremism, and at the same time open new doors for progressive change.  If we give it all we’ve got in these five months we can learn, we can grow, and we can help deliver one of the most important election victories ever.




    Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.



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