The midterm elections are upon us, happening amid a literal storm in this country as global warming-fueled hurricanes flood the coast, thousands of migrants are forced north, another sexual abuser is appointed to the Supreme Court, and Trump tries to deny trans people’s very right to exist.
The Democratic Party machine says a “Blue Wave” this November is our only hope to solve the crises that convulse the planet. But the real conflict at hand is not between the ideologies of red and blue states. It is between the global working class, struggling to survive in a dying and unstable system, and the capitalist class with its political parties that sit atop and defend it.
The elections are promoted as the main political event in this country, mostly because it is both capitalist parties’ moment to fortify their position. But the real story is the surge in political consciousness and organizing over the past two years.
The feminist movement ignited over the Kavanaugh hearings, sending scores of activists into the halls of power. Police murder of Blacks is met with continual protest in the streets, and the most recent attacks on trans people are confronted with expressions of outrage and solidarity. More people are standing up and speaking out, but these movements are mostly still moments. The question is, how can we build them into a sustainable force for change?
Unfortunately the option that the rigged system gives us—electing Democrats—is not the answer. The Democratic Party will never promote the growth of a genuine workingclass movement, because it would push them too far and expose their limits as a party built to serve corporate interests. As Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
We need an independent, workingclass party that unites us on the basis of the real fight—a class war waged by the 1% against all workers that employs scapegoating, sexism, and racism to exploit and divide us.
We should not encourage the illusion that the Democratic Party or capitalism in general can be reformed. For that reason, the Freedom Socialist Party does not endorse voting for candidates running on the Democratic Party line, including self-identified democratic socialists Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar. Nor do we advocate voting for the Greens, whose program stops short of naming the system of capitalism as the problem.
The U.S. working class is more ready than ever for an alternative. People are waiting for solutions that actually address their reality. An independent, working class party could fight for those solutions. We’re hopeful that in the near future the anti-capitalist left will finally break with the Democrats, and the candidates themselves will come to see the need for revolutionary change and enter the electoral arena on that basis.
While there are no socialists without Democratic strings attached on the ballot this year, there are three ballot questions that warrant a trip to the polls. We’ve researched, attended hearings and held discussions to come to the positions we share below. We hope you find the analysis useful, and continue to join us in our work for revolutionary change.
Organizer, NYC Freedom Socialist Party
NYC Ballot Questions from Charter Revision Commission 2018
There are three ballot questions put forth by the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission on the ballot. The Commission had the opportunity to put measures that could have true impact on the ballot, such as creating an Elected Civilian Review Board with disciplinary powers to tackle police accountability; allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections, thereby enfranchising the one in five New Yorkers who have no electoral voice; or putting more decision-making power in the hands of elected community representatives instead of creating appointed commissions to “advise” the mayor and city council. Instead, the ballot measures are constructed to have minimal impact or to be cosmetic.
Here’s a summary of our recommendations, followed by a rundown of each question.
Ballot Proposal Questions
# 1: Campaign Finance – VOTE YES
# 2: Civic Engagement Commission – VOTE NO
#3: Community Boards – VOTE NO
Ballot Proposal Question # 1: Campaign Finance
This proposal would amend the City Charter to lower the amount city candidates may accept from a contributor. It would also increase the matching funds part of the public financing program, and ease requirements that candidates for Mayor, Comptroller, or Public Advocate must meet to qualify for matching funds.
The idea is to limit the size of campaign contributions so the wealthy don’t have as much influence, and for the city to give matching funds (currently at a 1:6 ratio) for smaller donations ($175 for City Council or $250 for Mayor, e.g.). The measure would lower the limit on size of donations, and increase the city’s contribution to $8 for every $1 from small donors.
Well enough. The problem is that the law as it already exists doesn’t give adequate access to small, independent parties, and this measure does nothing to improve that situation. For example, in order to qualify for these funds, the candidate must first get on the ballot, which requires a exorbitant number of signatures. Then the candidate must meet thresholds in order to qualify for matching funds. In the case of the mayoral position, this is $250,000 from at least 1000 donors! (For City Council, $5,000 from 75 donors who have to live in their district).
This boils down to a tweaking of a bad system. While it’s woefully inadequate, there’s nothing inherently bad with hemming in the influence of big donors on establishment candidates who can get on the ballot.
Recommendation: VOTE YES
Ballot Proposal Question # 2: Civic Engagement Commission
This proposal would amend the City Charter to create a mayor-controlled Civic Engagement Commission that would implement a citywide participatory budgeting program.
The two positive aspects of this proposal are a program for participatory budgeting and a mandate to expand services, particularly at the voting booth, for people with limited proficiency in English. However, there are other, better options for accomplishing these goals.
Participatory budgeting, in which residents can discuss and have a say in how their tax money is spent, was begun in 2011, administered through city council. Individual members can allot $1 million or more of their discretionary fund to be determined by polling district residents, including people often excluded: young people 14 years and up, non-citizens, isolated older people, etc. Last year, 31 of 51 council members participated funding a total of $40 million of projects benefitting schools, libraries, cultural activities and other community-proposed goals.
Rather than create a separate program which would be citywide and dominated by mayoral appointees, we support expanding the funds for participatory budgeting and mandating all city council members to participate. In this way, decisions would be made in and by the neighborhoods affected, and elected officials rather than appointees would be accountable for the program.
Enhanced services and availability of translation for people whose English is limited is vital, and all facets of city government should be mandated and funded to support this. With regard to elections, there is already an agency charged with this responsibility, the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee of the Campaign Finance Board.
In short, creation of the board would create another chunk of bureaucracy at no-one’s saying-what cost, concentrating more power in the hands of the mayor and his appointees.
Recommendation: VOTE NO
Ballot Proposal Question #3: Community Boards
This proposal would amend the City Charter to impose term-limits on community boards with a maximum of four consecutive full two-year terms. This amendment would also mandate diversity in members appointed by Borough Presidents.
The imposition of term limits to supposedly increase diversity is meaningless when community board members are all appointees, and would arbitrarily remove people who may be doing good work and have community support. Community Boards can only be improved by making them elected positions based on proportional representation to include minority parties. Boards must by accountable to local residents and assigned enough power to enact meaningful changes.
Recommendation: VOTE NO