I believe that the majority of Democrat voters are progressive and well-meaning. They see environmental protection, gun control, maintenance of social programs, and affordable health care and college tuition on the party platform and rightfully think it’s better than the alternative: a party that was slow to accept the reality of climate change, wants no gun control whatsoever, wants to cut spending from social programs and wants to turn higher education into something which only the rich can afford. I would know — I was once in the same boat. It wasn’t until later when I realized that I was being misled by the party hierarchy, who do not mean well.
If you go back to the Civil Rights Movement, you know that Lyndon Johnson, a Democratic president, passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What the history books leave out, however, is the fact that he was simultaneously and actively working to undermine the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). In 1964, civil rights and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer represented the MFDP at the Democratic National Convention. Her testimony was so powerful that Lyndon Johnson called an impromptu press conference denoting the nine-month anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in order that he could get her off the air. By the time Johnson was finished, Fannie Lou Hamer had finished with her testimony. Fortunately, it backfired on Johnson because it became a story that Fannie Lou Hamer had been taken off the air and they reran her testimony for a couple of days after the fact. While Johnson failed and failed miserably there however, he was ultimately successful in his goal of undermining the MFDP (Stokely Speaks: From Black Power to Pan-Africanism). The entire purpose of the MFDP had been to enforce compliance with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I make an effort to point this out because it illustrates not only the duplicity of the Democratic Party historically, but also how President Johnson himself was not so different from the segregationist “Dixiecrats,” who were presented as a separate entity from the Democratic Party. The two factions in one party structure is pertinent to this discussion.
Fast forward to 2021 and the “progressive” Democrats, the so-called “progressive” Democrats, are in cahoots with the corporate Democrats. If Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and whomever else decided today that they were going to extricate themselves from the Democratic Party to build something of their own, the Democratic Party overnight would lose much of its potency. Not only are they three of the most recognizable faces in the party, but it is also their ideas and the ideas of politicians like them that the constituency agrees with. This is why Cori Bush won the Missouri primary over the incumbent William Clay Lacy, who had been there for twenty years. It is why Jamaal Bowman and Rashida Tlaib won comfortable victories in the New York and Michigan primaries respectively. Sixty-nine percent of registered voters in an April 2020 poll voiced their support for Medicare for All. That’s over two-thirds, but the new President was then and still is opposed to Medicare for All. As it exists now, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party serves as a kind of forum for social democratic ideas to be discussed and then never acted upon. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 43% of American adults favor socialism over capitalism. What they favor really is social democracy, but it nevertheless goes to show their frustrations with their material realities under the capitalist system. America, presenting itself as the beacon of democracy in the world, cannot allow these concerns to go unvoiced, lest it lose its carefully crafted image as the beacon of democracy in the world. The Democratic Party, as the designated “left-wing” party in this country, readily absorbed the progressive element into its structure to serve as a voice for disillusioned poor and working-class Americans, all the while making sure the progressives never get to the point where they can turn their talk into action. It’s akin to me being in a NASCAR race and sabotaging the car of the star driver before the race begins. I rewire his car in such a way that it doesn’t break down until the final stretch of the race. To that point, he had been in the lead, but it breaks down just in time to where I and everyone else can speed by him comfortably. He had inspected his car hours before the race and knew from a not-so-friendly interaction before the race that it was tricky me who sabotaged him, but it was too late for him to do anything. He could expose this but doesn’t out of fear that it will come across as both an outlandish story and a pathetic excuse for why he lost so miserably. Instead, he very openly and avowedly congratulates me for my win.
The Debbie Wasserman Schultz-debacle back in 2016 should have been sufficient to illustrate to Bernie Sanders and his campaign that revolution within a counterrevolutionary party such as the Democrats is impossible. Jill Stein of the Green Party recognized that and reached her hand out to Bernie Sanders saying “We will give you our party’s nomination. Do you accept?” Bernie of course declined. People always try to peddle around the fear that a Bernie-led Green Party would have split the vote and given Trump the White House. This is the rationale Bernie himself used when he made up his mind he would campaign for Hillary. But that argument goes out the window when you consider that a) Trump didn’t need a split vote in order to win the White House, and b) Bernie is nothing but controlled opposition. During the pandemic, he could have weaponized his entire movement to organize strikes and fund other organizations doing vital work in their community. He could have leveraged his movement to at least try and get an actual worker bailout. But rather than do those truly revolutionary things, he told the people how much they needed to vote for Joe Biden. One minute he's the big structural change candidate, and the next he's Joe Biden's friend. How are you anti-establishment but yet afraid to upset the establishment?
To illustrate how the progressive wing is in cahoots with the party establishment, what is the point of a progressive wing period if they’re afraid to upset the people at the top? The whole point of electing public servants who don't take corporate money was so they actually have the guts to call out corporate leaders and push policy despite mainstream Democrats opposing it. They haven’t done that and they aren’t doing it. Instead, they want to scratch Pelosi’s back so they can get committee assignments, committee assignments that are designed in such a way to keep them busy and limit the time they have to fight for Medicare for All and challenge corporate power. Some of you are probably asking, “What is Ilhan supposed to do? Deny Pelosi’s endorsement?” Yes, she’s supposed to deny Pelosi’s endorsement! Why else was she elected? To give Pelosi and the ones living off the fatted calf hell, not join them. In an interview with The New York Times dated April 17, 2020, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez was quoted as saying that she intended to support Biden’s presidential campaign, but that “the process of coming together should be uncomfortable for everyone involved.” Did she make the process uncomfortable for Biden as she said? No. The Times asked her if her endorsement of Biden was a sure thing, to which she said she would support whoever the Democratic nominee was. What happened to making it uncomfortable for everyone involved? Like a rock in a river, it just sank to the bottom, never to be seen again. Malcolm X once said that “Power takes a back step only in the face of more power”. Frederick Douglass once said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” AOC, Bernie, and the vast majority of the progressives demanded nothing then and are demanding nothing now. Hence why they have nothing. No jobs guarantee, no universal basic income, no Green New Deal, no nothing. On June 27, 2020, the DNC Platform Committee voted 125-36 to nix Medicare for All. They did this, mind you, in a pandemic with then over 140,000 deaths, millions houseless and unemployed, thousands with COVID-19 illnesses, and thousands in the street. The two things Americans could agree upon then were Medicare for All and marijuana legalization, and they couldn’t even deliver those. Power concedes nothing without a demand. Asking your politicians to serve your interests is not enough.
The difference between the Democrats and Republicans underneath the surface is negligible. It’s like I’m driving a stick-shift car for eight hours. The first four hours I’m in third-gear. Then I shift into fifth-gear for the next four hours. The ride feels different in fifth as opposed to third, it goes faster. But at the end of the day, both are mechanisms inside of the same car. They serve the same function, to get me to my destination. Take the "Never Trump" and Lincoln Project Republicans – the Democrats let them under their tent. These Never Trump Republicans figured, “Well, there’s not enough of us to start a new party. But the Dems are fans of ours shockingly enough. Might as well head over to their right flank and turn the only other viable party rightward.” And when that happens, you find that your car is slowing down while in fifth gear, as if you never switched gears to begin with.
It is easy to say, “Vote them in and then hold them accountable,” but it is not nearly that simple. In doing that, what you are really doing is granting them more access to capital and unregulated power while praying that this time they will listen to the poor people they brutalized and stepped on to get there in the first place.
Dudzic, Mark. "Democrats Should Be Ashamed of the Rejection for All in the DNC Platform." Jacobin, 2020
Fandos, Nicholas. "Cori Bush Defeats William Lacy Clay in a Show of Progressive Might." The New York Times, 2020
Jackson, Lauren. "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Progressivism and the Pandemic." The New York Times, 2020
Milman, Oliver. "Green party's Jill Stein invites Bernie Sanders to take over ticket." The Guardian, 2016
Schulte, Gabrielle. "Poll: 69 percent of voters support Medicare for All." The Hill, 2020
Younis, Mohamed. "Four in 10 Americans Embrace Some Form of Socialism." Gallup, 2019
About the Author:
Kwaku Aurelien is a junior at the University of Connecticut majoring in English with the intention of going into law school and subsequently becoming a practicing environmental lawyer fighting on behalf of oppressed and marginalized peoples in the United States and throughout the world. To this end, he is often reading and watching the news to heighten his awareness. He seeks the delicate balance between human rights activism and law. It is a hard path, but he has the utmost confidence he can pull it off. Be sure to follow Kwaku on his social media pages:
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