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(en) US, black rose fed: SURE, WE CAN ELECT THE OCCASIONAL DEMOCRAT PROGRESSIVE. THEN WHAT?
Fri, 6 Jul 2018 07:19:59 +0300
We reprint this post as part of our ongoing efforts to critically look at left
electoralism and to pose an alternative vision of movement building and popular power from
below. Here Black Agenda Report editor Bruce Dixon bravely pushes the logic of elections
when he states: "What we rarely bother to think through is what we actually GET when we
win." We also recommend a more detailed follow up on Ocasio-Cortez's victory by this same
author, "On Magical Thinking VS Sober Analysis of the Ocasio-Cortez Victory in NY." ----
By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report ---- Yesterday Alexandra won a NYC Democratic
congressional primary in a majority Latino district against the arrogant right wing,out of
touch white head of the Queens Democratic party, who hadn't even seen a primary challenger
since 2004. The white guy was so deep in the pocket of corporate contributors that he was
one of the few favored to succeed or oust Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. That's how the
two parties choose their leaders in every state legislature and both houses of Congress -
they're the ones who bring in the most donations from wealthy corporations and individuals.
Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on single payer health care and free college tuition. She
denounced the latest massacre in Gaza. She says ICE ought to be abolished, and the day
before the election she was at a South Texas immigrant detention center. She's a young
working class Puerto Rican woman who reportedly refused corporate cash and was working a
real job, waiting tables at the beginning of her campaign. She's a DSA member and
professes to be a socialist. And now she's the Democratic nominee in a New York City
congressional district. What does it all mean?
What Does It All Mean?
For a lot of people on the left, it's an occasion for celebration. I can understand that,
I worked my behind off in campaigns against the Daley Machine in my native Chicago for a
quarter century. We elected progressives to the city council, county offices, the state
legislature, to Congress in 1983 and in 1987 the mayor's chair. I helped register hundreds
of thousands of people to vote. I and the folks I worked with imagined that we could build
a movement that might transform the Democratic party from below. It didn't work out so well.
It turns out that both elected officialdom and the Democratic party are institutions, and
institutions change individuals way more often than the other way around. Some of our
folks backed away from their commitments little by little, others frankly flipped, some
were isolated and outlasted till they could be outspent. Despite the phrase being on
everybody's lips, we never figured out exactly how to hold anybody's "feet to the fire,"
to enforce any sort of accountability.
We were and still are at the literal whim and mercy of our candidates and officeholders.
When Chuy Garcia ran for Mayor of Chicago he refused to stand up in front of the Homan
Square black site and denounce the thing. He even called for the hiring of a thousand more
Chicago cops, and his movement supporters were utterly unable to talk him into the first
position or out of the second. Even the Greens are not immune to this phenomenon. When
Jill Stein chose to back away from a 2016 ballot access drive in Georgia and North
Carolina there was nothing Greens in those states could do. Nothing. So exactly what does
holding a candidate or office holder accountable look like? Do any means currently exist
which enable us to do that? Maybe not. Maybe this is something we've yet to build.
When We Actually Win
Late last year, in a two day Movement School session in Jackson MS, Kali Akuno, the
co-founder of Cooperation Jackson observed that in Jackson the movement forces proved they
could elect a Chokwe Lumumba, the father and the son, mayor. But several years and
multiple elections into the project, they still didn't know what degree of support there
is in Jackson for their agenda of radical economic transformation.
We figured out years ago how to win elections under the right circumstances. Ocasio-Cortez
was a Puerto Rican woman running against a lazy white incumbent in a majority Latino NYC
district, and she built a competent organization. It should have been surprising if she'd
lost. Her expressed views on most issues are laudable. What we rarely bother to think
through is what we actually GET when we win.
When we're victorious in executive branch offices like mayoral elections, our candidates
actually become responsible for administering the austerity and cuts. That's what's
happening in Jackson MS and Newark NJ, to name just a couple places. We've been electing
progressives here and there for a long time now. It's time to ask whether our ability to
elect progressives has far outstripped our ability to exert real pressure upon them. Are
we transforming the Democratic party, or are we merely legitimizing it, and launching yet
another glittering career?
I don't pretend to have the answers. But these are questions which ought to be asked. And
we can't be too thirsty to ask them.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report where this article originally
If you enjoyed this piece we recommend the similarly themed pieces: "The Lure of
Electoralism: From Political Power to Popular Power." Additional articles can be found in
our "Electoralism" and "Strategy" tags.
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