Thu, 28 February 2019
Four years ago this May I was the first to brand Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as 2016’s Democratic sheepdog candidate. As I explained then,
“The sheepdog is a card the Democratic party plays every presidential primary season when there's no White House Democrat running for re-election. The sheepdog is a presidential candidate running ostensibly to the left of the establishment Democrat to whom the billionaires will award the nomination. Sheepdogs are herders, and the sheepdog candidate is charged with herding activists and voters back into the Democratic fold who might otherwise drift leftward and outside of the Democratic party, either staying home or trying to build something outside the two party box.”
Four years later, that hasn’t changed. Bernie 2.0 is still the sheepdog, running to the left of the rest of the field of Democratic presidential contenders, beckoning, barking at us to come on back under the tent. What’s different now is that Bernie is the front runner, for whatever that’s worth 21 months out from election day and likely the most popular politician in the country.
Bernie has a proven fundraising model that depends on large numbers of relatively small contributions. His machinery can bring in the tens of millions per month it will take to field a national operation and most of all to purchase the expensive broadcast time and internet presence it will take to compete with the corporate funded likes of Kamala Harris and the rest of the Democratic field, and ultimately with Donald Trump and the White Man’s Party.
Bernie pledges now just as he did in 2016 that he’ll support whichever nominee the Democratic party puts forth, even if it’s not him.
Some other things however have changed. This is Bernie 2.0 – the Vermont senator has stepped up his game. His announcement speech, a half hour CBS interview and his performance a CNN Town Hall before a half black audience show that as a candidate, Bernie has evolved. His remarks are now peppered with references to criminal justice reform, and mass incarceration, the abolition of cash bail and private prisons and references to racism and homophobia, all subjects he spoke relatively little on in 2016. Bernie did well among younger black voters then, and he will do better still this time.
He’ll need to. Sanders is asking for a million volunteers, both as a fundraising base, and to substitute for the party which does not want him. Democrats, not Republicans stole the election from Bernie in 2016, in Maryland, Illinois, New York, California and in the media and on the DNC among other places. Bernie imagines he can, as Glen Ford put it, steal one of the rich man’s parties out from under the lords of capital. That’s not a new project, it’s pretty old one, a wall actually against which progressive Democrats have been banging their heads ever since the 1930s. In any case, some people are still committed to that, so keeping up that fight inside the Democratic party is their job. Some of us have a different job.
If we can’t hijack the rich man’s party we need to build our own party.
While Bernie imagines he can hijack the rich man’s party, some of us are about the business of building a peoples party from the ground up. The Green Party, to which I belong, is faced with a unique set of challenges for 2020.
Despite expected howls of protest that any vote for, any energy expended on behalf of a non-Democrat only benefits Trump and his minions, and the very certain knowledge that the next president will be a Republican or a Democrat, not our guy or gal – the Green Party will have to credibly explain just what we are doing in the 2020 presidential election, and how we intends to get that stuff done. With the right campaign, and the right – or really the left candidate, we CAN do that. Just like Bernie’s people are hard at work 21 months out from election day, so are some of us.
Here’s what we need to do.
Number one, the Green Party has to raise funds for and conduct a national ballot access drive.
Thanks to laws passed by Republicans and Democrats to protect themselves against competition, the Greens are not allowed to place local and national candidates on the ballot in about 20 states. Republicans and Democrats have passed laws from Texas and Illinois to Georgia, Alabama, Ohio and beyond which together require the signatures of more than half a million voters on paper petitions just to enable the Green Party’s local and national candidates to appear on the ballot. A state by state 2019-2020 GP aimed at ending the bipartisan ban on Green ballot access will demand some resourceful organizing, and will be an invaluable training exercise for Green activists across the country, and is absolutely essential to achieve a national presence for the party.
The GP and its 2020 presidential campaign will have to raise and spend a million to a million and a half on such a campaign, far more than the GP’s yearly budget for any of the last several years, but it’s a big step up that’s got to happen.
Number two, the Greens must begin to build effective, sustainable, membership supported state and local Green parties by the summer of 2020.
There was a moment after the Democratic convention in Philly, when Bernie knuckled under to the forces who stole the election from him. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of activists looked at the Green Party and mostly discovered there was no there there. The national Green Party, and I am on its national committee, is unfortunately a feeble shell of what it ought to be. More than a dozen state Green parties are barely functional bodies with minimal budgets and tiny mailing lists that haven’t put forty or fifty people in a room in years, even in states with multiple cities over a million in population. Not a single Green Party in the country, as far as I’m aware, maintains an actual office.
In their current condition, a number of critical state Green parties lack the capacity to undertake successful ballot access drives, don’t have the ability to launch credible organizing drives of any kind, and have no prospects of raising the bucks needed to pay for the organizers, the training and the tools to make it all happen. That will have to come from the Greens 2020 presidential campaign, as the presidential campaign always raises several times what the party does.
Democrat and Republican parties are financed by Big Ag, Big Energy, Big Pharma, Pentagon contractors, Big Insurance, Big Real Estate, Silicon Valley and assorted billionaires. Greens have tried the purist volunteer ethic. It failed. It’s time for the GP to adopt the universal (universal outside the US anyway) model of workers parties and peoples parties who sustainably fund themselves year after year with the dues of their own members.
Number three, the Greens must field a 2020 candidate and campaign focused on obtaining national ballot access and building strong, viable and sustainable state and local parties.
Howie Hawkins, the longtime UPS worker and union activist who was the NY Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate the last two times around is one of the party’s OG, i.e., Original Green founders. He’s been the most persistent and persuasive advocate of re-imagining the Greens as an independent party with a dues paying membership in the thousands and tens of thousands in every state. That’s what the Socialist Party had up until the Wilson administration took away their free mail privileges at the beginning of World War 1. There are proven organizing models out here, cheap but not free. Billionaires and foundations won’t pay to initialize or to sustain them. They have to be organized and funded from the ground up.
Howie Hawkins is the only one of the possible Green presidential candidates to acknowledge the scope of what his party must do to do in order to become a viable national force. And along with Green activists across the country, Hawkins is closely considering an exploratory campaign committee, the first legal step in a 2020 presidential run. Get ready for it.
This is Bruce Dixon for Black Agenda Radio Commentaries. Find our podcasts everywhere, iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn as Black Agenda Radio and Black Agenda Radio Commentaries. You can visit our web site at www.blackagendareport.com, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter containing links to all of our video, audio and print contact neatly packaged for your listening, viewing and sharing convenience, to forward and share with friends, family and colleagues. Since Google and other commercial social media platforms do suppress the appearance of our material in search results, email, that is, dark social media is the only way you can be assured you’re receiving fresh news, commentary and analysis from the black left every week.
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Wed, 6 February 2019
HR 1 is the premiere legislative initiative of Democrats in the 116th Congress. It contains 571 pages of proposals and findings and such, but only two of HR 1’s dozens of provisions have a reasonable chance of passing the House and obtaining the bipartisan support in the Senate needed to become law.
The first is a provision of HR 1 which deputizes the intelligence, police and prison establishment and their contractors to produce an annual report on the threats posed to the security of the US electoral system posed by Americans who might be under the influence of foreign powers. HR 1 cites as the “congressional findings” justifying the legislation a set of cowardly accusations levied by an anonymous group but given wide distribution by the Washington Post, as Glen Greenwald wrote about at the time. Greenwald mentions that Black Agenda Report was one of the institutions anonymously accused. As is the way with anonymous cowards, the page with the accusations has since been taken down, though the accusations still kind of count as “congressional findings.”
SECOND HR 1 is surgically aimed to eliminate federal matching funds for Green Party candidates by raising the qualifying amount from its current level of $5,000 in each of 20 states to $25,000 in 20 states. HR 1 would cut funding for a Green presidential candidate in half, and by making ballot access for a Green presidential candidate impossible in several states it would also guarantee loss of the party’s ability to run for local offices.
Speaker Pelosi says HR 1 will get a House vote some time in the next few weeks. The reality is that the impressive voting rights proposals in HR1 and the somewhat less impressive ethics legislation in it too are nothing but cynical vanishing bait. HR 1’s actual legislative payloads, that is, the parts of HR 1 actually intended to attract enough Republican support to pass into law are its proposal to cut third party campaign funding in half and its institutionalizing an annual threat report to be written by the Pentagon and the cops. All the other parts of HR 1 are dead on arrival in the US Senate. Senate Republicans have no reason give away voter caging or gerrymandering. Why would they do that? But enough of them will cheerfully cross the aisle to cut the matching funds of third parties, and to institutionalizing the Pentagon, spies and cops to produce an annual report on the threat to electoral security.
Democrats are a capitalist party, they are a government party, and this is how they govern. HR 1 reaches back a hundred years into the Democrat playbook politicians created a foreign menace to herd the population into World War 1, which ended in the Red Scare and a couple of red summers, waves of official and unofficial violence and deportations against US leftists and against black people. The Red Scare led to the founding of the FBI, the core of the nation’s permanent political police. All that was a gift from the Democrats a hundred years ago. Fifty years ago these were the same civil servants who gave us the assassinations, the disinformation and illegality of COINTELPRO, and much, much more before that and since then.
HR 1 says let’s go to the Pentagon and the cops, let’s order them to discover threats to the electoral system posed by Americans working to save themselves and the planet. It amounts to Democrats siccing the Homeland Security dogs on us.
HR 1 should pose some immediate questions to so-called House Progressives, and perhaps to our DSA friends as well.
Do House Progressives support knocking the Green Party off the ballot in a dozen or more states? Does DSA? If narrowing voter choices is not voter suppression, its hard to imagine what else is.
Do House Progressives really endorse deputizing the Pentagon, Homeland Security and the police state to do annual reports on alleged security threats from Americans? If they don’t, why are they signed on to HR 1?
For Black Agenda Report, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, and find Black Agenda Radio and Black Agenda Radio Commentaries anywhere you get podcasts. Please know that Google and Facebook and Twitter and other commercial social media game their algorithms to suppress the appearance of our content in searches, so the only way you can be sure you’re getting our free weekly email updates each and every week is to visit www.blackagendareport.com on your computer or mobile device and hitting the subscribe button. Hit that button and we will deliver you via email every week our free weekly email newsletter with summaries of and links to all of our new content each and every week.