An edited and expanded version of a talk presented in Baltimore, Maryland on February 23, 2012 at “The Left and the Election: A Political Action Forum,” sponsored by B-Heard (Baltimore Higher Education Alliance for Real Democracy, www.b-heard.org), an Occupy affinity group. Strauss was one of six panelists representing a variety of viewpoints on the upcoming presidential election.
Good evening everyone. I would first of all like to thank B-Heard and Occupy Baltimore for inviting me to speak to you tonight about the Freedom Socialist Party’s presidential and vice presidential campaign, and why participating in the electoral arena presents us with a big opportunity to build progressive movements, including the Occupy movement, the movements for quality jobs for all, quality education for all, universal healthcare, reproductive rights, immigrant rights, and many others. That so much is at stake makes tonight’s forum one of the most important political events in Baltimore this year.
Betrayals of Obama and the Democrats
I know that I don’t need to convince people here tonight that the Obama presidency has been a disaster for millions and millions of people in the U.S. and abroad. The war option is always on the table for him. He draws down one theater of battle only to move the troops to the next, like he’s playing Risk. His plan for education is to make states compete for federal funds based on who can test kids the best, and to base teachers’ pay and promotion on these idiotic test scores. His idea of universal healthcare is to force everyone to buy a private insurance plan, immediately creating 50 million new customers for the parasites that refuse to pay for needed tests and treatments, just so they can keep more of the premiums to pay the 20 million dollar CEO salaries. He bails out the big banks only to watch them continue to foreclose on working peoples’ homes. He has deported more immigrant workers than President Bush. He signs laws that allow the state to arrest and detain people without charge, under mere suspicion that they are “terrorists”. He regards the right to abortion as a dispensable commodity he can trade for his latest compromise with the Republicans. His party has evicted Occupy from its encampments.
We have to figure out why a man who was presented to the public as having a progressive heart and a sympathetic smile could carry out these kinds of policies. We have to understand what determines what a Democrat or Republican will say and what determines what they will actually do. Because there is quite a big difference between their words and deeds.
In the end, it’s their position on the economic system that matters most. Obama didn’t say a word when the state of Georgia murdered Troy Davis. They killed an innocent black man and Obama pretended that not getting involved was the right thing to do. He could have spoken out, called the death penalty by its right name – a racist weapon against poor people – but he didn’t.
And he didn’t because in the end he knows that the capitalist system has nothing to offer poor and oppressed people, that it needs to maintain racism, and that it needs to threaten the poor and oppressed with a modern form of slavery – being locked up in prison.
Mr. Progressive Dennis Kucinich took a public stand in favor of a single payer health care system. But he also wrote a letter to General Motors explaining to them why they should support a single payer plan. He said that not having to pay into workers health care benefits would make them more profitable, more competitive against the European automobile industry, which benefits from a national health care system that does not economically burden them. But General Motors would have nothing to do with Kucinich’s proposal. GM wants to not only pay nothing for workers health care. It doesn’t want the government to pay for any social services. That makes more workers’ tax money available for corporate bailouts, should that become necessary. In the end, Kucinich gave up his support for single payer and snuggled up with Obama.
The only audacity Obama has shown is the audacity he and his party had in saying they sympathize with Occupy. That’s like the family that rules Saudi Arabia saying they sympathize with women who think they should be allowed to have a drivers license. Imagine if there were an Occupy Saudi Arabia. Whose side would the U.S. rulers be on, especially if it grew and threatened the authority of the ruling family?
The Democrats helped create the problems. Their alleged sympathy didn’t stop them from beating down the standard of living of working people, just so they could maintain the system of private profit and corporate power.
The Occupy movement sparks broad resistance
Occupy is a shining light of opposition and protest to the bipartisan policies of the Democrats and Republicans. Its demands are those of the most oppressed – for decent housing for all, quality education, peace, women’s rights, worker’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and for the right of pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico to not have to swim in crude oil.
Occupy is a movement. Movements change society, not the outcome of rigged elections.
The FSP has supported and participated in the Occupy movement from the very beginning. If anyone is inclined to criticize the left for its lack of enthusiasm over Occupy, the FSP stands out as an important exception.
Our vice presidential candidate, for example, participated prominently in Occupy Seattle’s General Assembly decision to establish “Cop Free Zones”. Our party has been active in Zucotti Park, in the Oakland Occupy actions and strike, and in the west coast Occupy collaboration with the longshore workers battle to defend their union.
The spread of the Occupy movement and its militancy reveal very clearly that it is like a spark in a pile of tinder. Its ideas and passions resonate with millions of people because it expresses the deep opposition so many people feel to the way things currently are. It has spread around the world because the economic crisis of the capitalist system is a worldwide crisis. I visited the Occupy site in Sao Paulo, Brazil. All of you here would have felt quite at home. Not only were the demands the same – for real democracy, for policies that are for the welfare of the majority of humanity and not the tiny sliver that is a parasite off the rest of us – but the energy and passion were the same, the sense of solidarity and optimism that unites people who have been oppressed too long and now are saying: “We are fighting back”.
But in order to be successful, Occupy must grow. It must be independent, big, and militant. It must grow by expressing the needs of the most oppressed people. Only a massive social movement can bring about the kinds of changes we all are striving for.
Occupy has demanded an end to corporate bailouts. This is an idea that has resonated with millions of U.S. working people. It is one of the reasons why there is so much sympathy in the U.S. for Occupy.
Occupy can spread this message by participating in the electoral arena. It can educate broad numbers of people that both the Democrats and Republicans are parties of the corporations, the 1% that rules the planet. Obama received more Wall Street campaign funds than any other presidential candidate in history. A reporter for the Wall Street Journal wrote that candidate Obama wooed the Wall Street financial elite, and “told them what they wanted to hear, that he believed unreservedly in private enterprise.” Private enterprise is precisely what created the 1%, and Obama is on their side. And you can’t be for both sides, since the interests of the 1% and the rest of humanity are diametrically opposed to each other.
Occupy can build the movement it desires if it continues to expose the lies we hear every day. This is not all that difficult, because there are so many lies to choose from. For example, we can point out that a Democrat running for president is not an anti-war candidate if being anti- war means withdrawing troops from one country only in order to make them available next door, for the next war.
Occupy can grow if it publicizes the truth that the Democrats and Republicans are twin parties of the 1%, that we must reject both of these parties in the upcoming elections. To be true to our principles, we must only support candidates who oppose austerity, oppose bank bailouts, oppose cutbacks, oppose privatizing healthcare and education, oppose privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, oppose imperialist war, oppose the attacks on reproductive rights, and oppose deportations of immigrants and undocumented workers.
No more lesser evil politics!
We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into the myth that voting for an alleged lesser evil Democrat is our best option at the present time. A lesser evil is just what the expression says – it is evil. And voting for the lesser evil will inevitably be a vote for the greater evil anyway. That’s because the economic crisis gripping the world right now, in which investors have to tighten their stranglehold on humanity in order to keep making profits, will simply not allow any lesser evil candidate to deliver what people need – good jobs, health care, education, immigrant rights, reproductive rights. Their campaign promises will remain promises only. And then, when people see that the promises were lies and the massive disappointments set in, people will start looking for more radical answers. They already have, in fact. People will be tempted to listen to the voices of the Tea Party, not because they have any answers, but because they will sound radical and the middle no longer has any solutions.
In the end, the key to social change is building a movement. Participating in the upcoming elections by exposing their undemocratic character, and by endorsing candidates who support working people and the oppressed, can help build the movement. People will listen when Occupy openly declares that Obama represents the 1%, that the corporations love him, that he fights for their interests, and that we oppose him and urge working people to vote for a candidate who truly represents workers’ interests, to use the ballot box as a massive organized protest. People will listen, then they will feel energized, and then they will proudly say, “Now that’s a movement that stands for something!” Occupy will attract lots of attention with this message. It will attract the kind of people it fights for. It will grow.
A radical alternative at the ballot box
The FSP is a socialist-feminist party. We are running Stephen Durham and Christina Lopez for president and vice-president. The Durham-Lopez ticket will be a write-in campaign in most states, though we hope to be on the ballot in some states.
Durham is a retired union waiter. Unlike the typical Democrat and Republican, he is not a millionaire. He is a lifelong fighter for democratic and economic rights. He was a student activist at UC Berkeley back in the 60s and fought there for free speech and against the U.S. war in Vietnam. At Berkeley, he fought to have the university establish a Third World Studies program. He participated in the first national lesbian and gay conference in 1969. More recently, he has been the FSP organizer in New York City and has been a participant in Occupy Wall Street.
Lopez is a 43 year-old Chicana feminist from the barrio in Phoenix, Arizona. Like Durham, she is not a millionaire. She is a fighter. She has fought against a racist Arizona English-only law. She is an activist in the fight for immigrant rights. She understands firsthand what it means to grow up in a working family in an anti-union, “right to work” state. She is the president of Seattle Radical Women and is a fighter for full reproductive rights for all, regardless of ability to pay.
Do not underestimate the political importance of a write-in campaign. Just recently, in California, the Secretary of State eliminated the Freedom Socialist Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation from the primary ballot of the Peace and Freedom Party. The PFP is a progressive party that has ballot status in California, and allows other parties to participate in primaries to be listed as its candidate in the general election.
The FSP and the PSL were evicted from the PFP’s ballot, much the same way that Occupy was evicted from its sites in New York, Washington, Oakland, and elsewhere.
Did Occupy give up just because it was evicted? Did it change its principles? Did it decide to act only within the restrictive limits of the rulers? Of course not.
And we in the FSP also will not give up our right to speak our message. We are challenging the California ruling, and encourage people to sign the on-line petition to the California Secretary of State. If you sign this petition, you will be joining with Noam Chomsky and other prominent advocates of civil liberties, who have also signed.
But we are also challenging this with our write-in campaign. A write-in campaign scares the pants off the 1%, not because they think we can win. We know we won’t win in ballot numbers. But we will win if the campaign helps build the movement. That’s how we have to look at this election. And keep in mind that that’s precisely how the 1% is looking at the election. There’s no better explanation for why they would evict candidates from the ballot when they know that those candidate don’t have the same financial resources they have and will hardly get the same number of votes their candidates will get.
A socialist-feminist write-in campaign scares them because it shows people what democracy really looks like! That we grant ourselves the right to reject their politics and their politicians and present our own politics and candidates. And just as Occupy has claimed the right to occupy their downtown parks, we must claim the right to occupy their electoral boxes – as a protest vote, as a way to use their property against them.
A write-in campaign is itself a progressive, fundamentally democratic political movement.
I urge Occupy to publicly oppose the capitalist candidates of both the Democrats and Republicans, and to familiarize itself with the political program of the FSP and all the other parties of the left.
I have brought copies of our campaign literature and our campaign newspaper – the Freedom Socialist. I would be happy to talk to anybody who wants to get involved in our campaign. You can sign our mailing list if you would like more information. Sign the petition opposing our eviction from the ballot in California. We are easy to find at www.socialism.com.
Thank you very much.