Revolt with a Vote

BY:Erica Smiley| April 30, 2008
Revolt with a Vote

As of this writing, the Republicans have settled on their nominee, and the U.S. is still in the midst of a Democratic primary race that has energized and mobilized millions of people, especially youth, across the country. In state primary after state primary, record numbers of people have come out to vote, or caucus, to add their voice to the millions debating the question: Who will be the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) or Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)?

Either way, the results will be historic: Well have, after the Democratic National Convention at the latest, the first-ever woman or African American presidential candidate, and, if all goes right, one of them will make history by going on to become president. This fact alone is invigorating, and the election of either will be a tremendous victory against the ultra-right. The process alone has gone a long way to dispelling much of the left-wing cynicism that set in after the 2006 electoral victories.

The 2006 results were a complicated, though definitive, victory to all youth and working people. Our country began 2007 on better political terrain than we have seen in decades, better than most youth have ever seen. The 2006 elections yielded results that only the most optimistic had expected: The ultra-right lost the majority in both the House and in the Senate.

This has radically shifted American politics in favor of young and working people, of the racially and nationally oppressed and women. For example, the day before the 2006 elections, the question in Congress was whether to stop the war in Iraq. After the elections, the question became When?

Congress took an initial step in the right direction on higher education by decreasing the interest rates on student loans, an improvement that will help many youth currently dependent on loans for school. Increasing the minimum wage improved the income of many working people nationwide. And the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier for workers to form unions without employer intervention had a majority of support in both houses.

But even though a lot has changed, many things have stayed the same. The U.S. is still an occupying force in Iraq and there is no set plan to get out and restore that nations sovereignty. EFCA still has not passed; the list could go on. The ongoing problems in our country, even with a Democratic majority, have made many on the left cynical, or, more likely, encouraged their cynicism, with a small but vocal number accusing the Democrats of being no different than the Republicans they ousted. One of the more outrageous examples of this is the ongoing protest outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Another example was the protest launched by largely middle-class white activists against Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), renowned as the most senior fighter for civil rights in Congress, for not going full-throttle to impeach the President. His protestations that the Democrats simply did not have the numeric strength to do so meant nothing to his protestors.

Rep. Pelosi, in October at a D.C. reporters luncheon, put it bluntly and correctly: We said we would change the debate, that we would fight to end the war. We never said we had the veto pen or the signature pen.

Here we have, in essence, the reason why there is still so much wrong with our country, and why there is such a need to win the 2008 elections. If the Democrats are able to scrape together enough votes for an important bill, say EFCA, they still have to get enough votes in the Senate60 votes altogetherto avoid a Republican filibuster. Even after that, the bill then has to go to President Bush, who will strike it down with a veto. To override a veto, the Democrats have to get together an even higher number of votes. Consequently, to get anything done at all, given that the ultra-right still holds the executive branch and power in Congress, all sorts of compromises have to be made with the Republicans.

The 2008 elections allow us to both remove more extreme right-wingers from Congress and the opportunity to get rid of the ultra-rights White House veto power. Many of the bills that passed through Congress in the last two years could actually become law. The chance to change the face of the executive branch also allows young people to put a stop to the appointing of backwards Supreme Court and federal court appointees.

But who are the ultra-right, and why should youth struggle against them in the 2008 elections?

The ultra-right represents the most extreme, backwards, reactionary sections of transnational capital. They represent the war profiteers and the energy/oil conglomerates. If left in power, they aim to:

 Waste billions of dollars on unjust wars
 Deny workers the right to organize a union
 Destroy public education and the ability for us to go to college
 Undermine the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act
 Deny a womans right to choose
 Privatize Social Security and dismantle pensions
 Repeal environmental regulations and reject any measures to curb global warming.

Young people, particularly youth of color and working class youth, suffer the most under these regressive measures, often seeing the military as their only option after high school. The overwhelming majority of soldier deaths are young men and women under 30. Those that do return often suffer from post-traumatic stress and mental illness, making it difficult to return to school or get a decent job. In fact, the jobs available to youth overall do not provide much to shout about. The long-lasting ultra-right wing attack on trade unions, which the Reagan administration took the lead on in the 1980s, has left young workers to fend for themselves with less than five percent of young workers having a union job.

While tuition rates continue to rise and state and federal grant based aid are at a devastating low, privatization runs rampant in colleges and public schools around the country. With no real interest in education, companies flock to schools to make money off of students. In reference to privatization, the National Education Association, a teachers union, reports on their web site that, if the ultra-right isnt stopped, one could imagine a system of public education where nearly all administrative, teaching, support, and even cultural functions would be controlled by private companies, reducing the role of elected school boards to glorified contract administrators.

Young people are also the ones that would suffer from the environmental damages caused by deregulation of corporate emissions standards. We will have to scrap for reproductive rights in an anti-Roe v. Wade era. And in another 30 or 40 years, it will be todays young people left with the empty bank account that used to be social security and pensions.

Intertwined with all of this is the question of the economy, which has already caused grief to millions, and appears to be rapidly getting even worse. While nothing short of the replacement of capitalism can end economic crises, the ultra-right aims, above all else, to protect the profiteers at the expense of working people.

Of course, a Democratic victory in 2008 will not solve all the problems caused by so many years of ultra-right domination, or by capitalism in general.

Some on the Left use this as an excuse to suggest reactionary action. Instead of targeting the ultra-right, which suffered a devastating blow in 2006 but is still in the fight, they focus on Democrats as the main enemy. Instead of targeting the driving forces behind the current war in Iraq, attacks on the labor movement and womens rights, and youth, they rally against progressive Democrats like John Conyers and Nancy Pelosi from the left. Many of the people proposing these ideas are the same that have suggested that youth shouldnt even participate in the elections, that they are bourgeois because they represent a choice only between two imperialist parties, etc. Instead, they argue, we should take to the streets and make our demands heard thereusually on a Saturday afternoon in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., when legislators are spending their weekends elsewhere.

These are all dangerous suggestions that take advantage of our legitimate anger and frustration with the current war, lack of jobs and poorly funded schools among other things. Youth need not have false notions about the Democrats in order to challenge the ultra-right. There is no excuse to stand on the sidelines.

Our ancestors certainly did not spill blood over the right to vote for us to simply give it up. While the leadership of both parties represents sections of the capitalist class, the sections are different. The most backwards, dangerous section is located within the Republican Party. At the same time, both parties represent coalitions: The Republican coalition represents corporate interests on the one hand, and extreme religious conservatives on the other. This coalition has begun to break down, and many who supported the Republicans for years are moving away.

The Democratic Party is also a coalition: Its leadership does consist of the less reactionary section of monopoly capital, but its mass base is currently made up of the labor unions, youth organizations, a large segment of the anti-war movement, womens organizations, civil rights organizations, civil libertarians and so on. Looking at the parties as coalitions is more illuminating than simply looking at the leadership; it becomes much easier to see which camp we want to be in, which coalition we want to see win at this stage.

Swells of young people agree and have already stepped up to the challenge in the Democratic primaries, voting in record numbers and refusing to accept the idea that these elections dont matter. In Iowa alone, the youth turnout rate more than tripled from under 21,000 in 2004 to over 65,000 in 2008, and it quadrupled in Tennessee despite the devastating storms that ripped through on Super Tuesday. Similar situations have occurred in all Democratic primaries to date.

The leading Democratic candidates represents the strongest opposition to the ultra-right weve ever seen in a presidential election. The mere fact that candidates must posture over who is more pro-jobs, pro-peace, pro-gay or pro-healthcare is a giant leap forward. And who cannot find progress in the fact that much of the country seems ready to elect either a Black man or a woman as president?

And there is something to be said for the movement of young people that surrounds Barack Obama. An overwhelming majority of the 2008 primary youth vote went to Sen. Obama, who won this section of the electorate in all Super Tuesday states but Arkansas, California and Massachusetts. Even in those states, Obama kept the margin of victory incredibly low. Obama went on to sweep the Potomac Primaries (D.C., Maryland and Virginia). Of the two candidates, many feel he has provided an inspirational vision for the future of our country. And for youth, who so often feel left out of the discussion, this has been increasingly attractive.

Whole new avenues of discussion have opened up. Barack Obamas historic speech, A More Perfect Union, addressed the issue of race and racism in America more openly, and more insightfully, than any speech by a major political player in, possibly, a generation.

These developments have not only galvanized young people to vote, but to also get active in the campaigns. And progressive Democrats and young people are using the presidential elections as inspiration to engage in local races as well, removing backwards officials from school board posts, city councils and other state and municipal positions.

This fight is winnable, and there is an actual strategy to win, a strategy that consists of more than playing at revolution and calling for chaos in the streets. Right now the elections are the most critical form of struggle; this is where we have the best shot of finally breaking the back of the ultra right. Afterwards, we will continue to build a united movement that can work to establish a real electoral alternative, and eventually to challenge the system overall.

The only next steps to really ending the war, passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), raising the Pell Grant in a significant way, among other things, is to get around the Bush veto. This means that McCain must be denied the White House in November

Of course, who wins the elections, is also of importance. This question is not simply one of whether it will be Obama or Clinton. Going back to the idea of these U.S. electoral parties as coalitions, we have to ask: Which part of the coalition will most decisively leave its mark on the elections? Will it be the Democratic Partys leadership, the machine, that section of the capitalist class? Or will it be the base of the party and those who operate within its orbit? The progressive forces, if they are really able to turn out the vote, to organize best for the electionsand this has been the trendand to put forward their agendas most strongly, will certainly leave their imprint, and the next President will be pushed in a much more progressive direction than they may even care to go. This kind of victory, which would include a total Democratic sweep in November, could set the stage for higher forms of struggle for generations to come.


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