Monday, November 12, 2012

Green Shoots of Red Electoralism 
(from SP-USA's publication

Hidden beneath the public relations concocted roar and corporate funded thunder of the Obama and Romney campaigns were the little people.  This election cycle, more than just a few voters decided to strike out and make a bold statement about what they want for their future. They decided to vote Socialist. A few thousand sought out our Presidential ticket of Stewart Alexander and Alex Mendoza, and many others focused their support on local efforts. This time, doing so wasn’t just a way to register a vague protest against the system.  It got someone elected.

By Billy Wharton

The current batch of socialist electoral campaigns was built on other recent campaigning that brought a more serious edge to efforts to reach voters.  The campaigns of DanLaBotz for US Senate in Ohio and Brandon Collins for City Council in Charlottesville, Virginia both garnered significant media attention and had features of full-fledged attempts at running for office. Both candidates effectively used their scarce resources in outreach efforts that included face-to-face campaigning and creative virtual efforts via free platforms such as YouTube.  The pair has certainly paved a way for others.

What is most remarkable about the 2012 socialist candidates is the not the overall vote total, but the sheer number of people willing to present themselves as candidates.  In past years, our party has struggled to identify candidates.  Being a socialist was a quiet thing – an identity you were proud of but only selectively revealed.  A combination of the 2008 economic crisis, the previously mentioned electoral efforts and the political space created by both the radicalism of Occupy Wall Street and the drift of the Democratic Party far to the right have made being a socialist a very public position to promote.

Pat Noble, a member from New Jersey, was the most successful in doing so.  Noble gained 1,033 votes and was elected to the Red Bank Regional High School Board of Education.  He was joined on the Socialist ticket in the hurricane-ravaged state by Greg Pason, who contested for a seat in the US Senate.  With the support of so many voters in the area, Noble will now have to take the next step in Socialist electoralism – moving from running an opposition campaign to creating concrete policies that exhibit socialist values.

This exciting development was paralleled by a plucky Michigan State Board of Education campaign waged by another Socialist, DwainReynolds.  Reynolds has orchestrated a number of these campaigns in the past.  He has created a dynamic strategy that targets the youth vote and seeks out a coalition with the Green Party.  This time, he received an impressive 66,021 votes.  His efforts offer lessons about the need to build broader coalitions and tap into rising dissent among young voters.

Such tactical electoral coalitions continue to be a staple of Red Electoralism.  In Texas, Angela Sarlay and the national Vice-Presidential candidate Alex Mendoza teamed with the Green Party of Texas to present their campaigns.  Doing so allowed the pair to gain ballot access and present “watermelon” politics – green on the outside, red on the inside.  This is a critical combination since the Socialist critique of the political economy needs the environmental critique of the Greens and vice-versa.

Sarlay’s campaign is of particular note, since it linked up with another waged by SP-USA member John Strinka in Indiana.  Both contested elections as the only candidates running against a far-right Republican candidate.  In both cases, the Democrats had totally abandoned local voters.  Absent the socialists, the far-right agenda would have gone totally unopposed.  Sarlay received 6,739 votes and Strinka 2,862.

There were others.  People like Ron Haldeman who ran for State Senate in Indiana and received 750 votes.  Troy Thompson who ran to become mayor of Floodwood, Minnesota. Mal Herbert, Jane Newton, Jerry Levy and Peter Diamondstone in Vermont who ran on the Liberty Union Party line with Herbert picking up an impressive 25,749 votes. John Longhurst in Michigan and Jeff Peres in New York City also ran on the Green Party line as socialists.  All told, Socialist Party USA candidates, including our presidential candidate Stewart Alexander, received 123,393 votes.

Local campaigning is no easy gig.  Funds are scarce as are, often times, supporters. Candidates can often feel isolated – like a modern day Don Quixote outgunned and running down capitalist windmills.  Yet, it is through stepping back and looking at things through the lens of a national effort that people can see the vitally important impact that can be made through running electoral campaigns as socialists.

Red electoralism provides voters with choices – an essential component of any system that seeks to portray itself as democratic.  Deeper than that, socialist candidates offer poor and working class people a vision of themselves as candidates.  We are not professional candidates.  We have no handlers, no public relations consultants and no corporate funders who will pull our strings after the election.  We offer independent fresh voices for equality for all through our demands of jobs, peace and freedom.

In the coming years, especially as the efforts by the Democrats and Republicans to impose austerity develop, electoral campaigns will offer fertile ground to present a fresh vision of democratic socialism for the 21st century.  Independent electoral action can become one of the ways in which poor and working class people fight back and carve out new political possibilities for themselves and their communities. 
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly[at]gmail[dot]com. 
Thoughts on the election from our National Co-Chair Billy Wharton:
Obama Re-elected - The Fightback Begins

Tonight, Barack Obama was declared the winner of the U.S. Presidential election. Obama ran a centrist, lackluster campaign that was fueled by an avalanche of campaign donations from corporate America.  The losers were poor and working class people all over the country.

By Billy Wharton

Although, Mitt Romney was the other corporate funded candidate in the race, it will be regular Americans who will have to live with repercussions of a second Obama presidency.  Over the next four years, the administration will continue to extend the damage it has initiated since 2008.

On the healthcare front, four more years of Obama will mean that the terms of his Obamacare legislation will be frozen into place.  The possibility of re-initiating grassroots campaigning for single-payer healthcare will be mostly foreclosed until the causalities of this new system emerge en masse.  Obama made sure to protect the pharmaceutical companies and further entrench private health insurers into the healthcare system. No wonder then that a major healthcare company such as Kaiser Permanente lavished more than $500,000 on the Obama campaign while ignoring Romney. Private healthcare companies were the real winners in the first Obama presidency and they will certainly consolidate these gains in the next four years.  Poor and working class Americans will pay the price for this.

And the same will be true as the hysteria about the "fiscal cliff" gets ramped up.  This discussion will be the pretext for bringing the kinds of harsh austerity measures currently being enacted in Europe across the Atlantic to America.  The Obama administration has already begun negotiations with Republican members of Congress for what they are calling a "compromise budget."  The compromise will entail cutting social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and social security in return for slightly higher taxation on the rich.  Such cuts will bring the federal government in line with state and local governments who have been engaged harsh budget cuts for the past four years.  What once were called the "third rail" programs of American politics - Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - will instantly be converted into a target for an Obama administration intent on slashing the federal budget.

A second Obama term will also mean more of the same for foreign policy. Far from advancing a peace agenda, the Obama administration had intensified aspects of the military aggression in the Middle East initiated by George W. Bush and has, in some cases, accelerated the erosion of civil rights.  The two symbols of this militaristic approach are the homicidal drone bombing campaign that Obama has personally overseen and Private Bradley Manning who currently sits in a military detention facility.  The drones demonstrate that even if Obama slightly reduces the military budget, he will remain committed to using the military industrial complex as a tool to enforce American global interests even if this violates international human rights.  Manning is Obama’s prisoner - a brave whistle blower who refused to comply with criminal military aggression.  He stands as a permanent symbol of Obama’s war on civil rights and his case should be a point of struggle for left-wing activists.

Finally, both Obama and Romney have almost entirely disregarded issues related to climate change.  Obama's administration has the advantage of actually recognizing that climate change exists.  Yet, this has meant little in regards to either pro-environment legislation or  even a shift to renewable energy sources. Obama's environmental bankruptcy has been on vivid display during the periodic environmental disasters.  He was asleep at the wheel during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, coddling the multinational corporate offenders at BP as they foot dragged through a clean up.  More recently, he was purely reactive during Hurricane Sandy, offering consoling words, but nothing in the way of a strategic plan of action to ensure safety today and environmental balance in the future.  Four more years of Obama will bring us no closer to this vision that lies at the heart of Eco-socialism.

Not surprisingly, the challenge faced by regular people all over the country will be the same with a second Obama administration as it would be with a new Romney regime.  We must build the capacity to fiercely resist the austerity policies that are sure to be imposed on us.  No fiscal cliff, grand compromise or economic common sense should be allowed to be used as a justification for these cuts.  Resist, resist, resist should be the clarion call of the next four years.

Throughout this process, democratic socialism will remain a viable alternative to the politics of austerity. Socialism’s critique of capitalism and counterposing of the global commons to American hegemony offer a vision of a different future - one in which the great wealth of the world is put to work to make life better for everyone, one in which the people of America are reconnected to the world by bonds of solidarity and one in which humanity regains equilibrium with the natural world.  This is what we continue to fight for -  a world based on the socialist values of solidarity, compassion and justice.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at whartonbilly[at]gmail[dot]com.