The 2020 Elections: Shall we pray or Organize?

Susan Goldman
Thursday, July 4, 2019

Georgeann will talk more specifically about the top candidates and their plans. My talk will focus more generally on issues hovering over the election such as the failing economic system of neoliberalism, the importance of grassroots movements and mass protest movements, especially related to climate change. I’ll also touch on the need to address the bloated and obscene military industrial complex.

The 2020 US presidential election is sixteen months away. About 6 months ago I chanted a mantra, “I will not follow the US election campaign. I live in Mexico full time. It will just be a circus with the corporate media only reporting on the horse race and personalities, not the issues, visions and ideas.” That was my mantra. 

My mantra didn’t really work and I’ve jumped feet first into the cesspool of the 2020 election and have my favorite candidate. How could I resist? I sometimes see it as a failing on my part and maybe a waste of time. I have to put in a plug for my candidate. SHE has fought for working Americans and against corporate malfeasance for over 20 years, has solid plans to level the playing field and her slogan is Dream Big, Fight Hard. She persists under attacks. I’m sure the likes of Wall Street and big Tech, who she is challenging, will dump big bucks to try and defeat her. I figure the least I could do for Elizabeth Warren is “persist” in my support for who I think is the best candidate.  One of my favorite journalists, Matt Taibbi, ended a recent article in Rolling Stone with this broadside at the corporate media and its reporting only on the horse race and personalities. Here’s classic Matt Taibbi:

Horse race coverage exists so commercial news can cover presidential races without talking about issues. It’s why outlets would rather report on Biden responding to being called “mentally weak,” a “sleepy guy” and a “dummy” by Trump... than run stories asking which candidate has the best plan for getting Amazon, IBM and other companies to pay above zero in taxes.

If Elizabeth Warren is rising in the polls, it’s not because people are tired of Sanders. It’s because they’re pissed at Amazon and Facebook, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, Dow-Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta and countless other soulless, nationless, money-sucking companies — along with their overpaid, under-prosecuted, deviant scum executives who’ve had outsized influence with both parties for too long.

By an amazing coincidence, this is also why Sanders is still very much in contention. Don’t let anyone tell you that anything else is going on. Polls are noise. Fights over issues are real.”

What Taibbi so eloquently describes in his tirade against those corporate entities is neoliberalism, a project of capitalism. Private industry, especially large corporate entities place restraints on producing the kinds of political/economic changes needed to address the myriad of crisis the US and the world faces. Climate change is the most urgent. Neoliberalism, though, is showing signs of failing. These unregulated companies, free to produce whatever and wherever, and however they want have left a trail of misery, destroying millions of livelihoods and the environment. The likes of the companies Taibbi refers to have no accountability and don’t pay taxes. 

Martin Lucas in a Guardian article from July 2017 gives a concise description of the political project of neoliberalism. The article is titled “Neoliberalism has Conned us into Fighting Climate Change as Individuals.”

The political project of neoliberalism, brought to ascendence by Thatcher and Reagan, has pursued two principal objectives. The first has been to dismantle any barriers to the exercise of unaccountable private power. The second had been to erect them to the exercise of any democratic public will.” 

As a population we have been well trained to be individuals and consumers rather than active participants in a democratic community who resist the destructive control of private industry. We are seeing more and more cracks in this project of neoliberalism. Some democratic candidates call out the failure of the current economic system and the need for structural changes. This is new!

The obscenity of neoliberalism is so well captured in a paragraph in an article from last month by Phyllis Bennis on where military spending goes.

Most of the military budget doesn’t go to “support the troops.” Thousands of active-duty service people and their families qualify for food stamps because military pay is so low; forty-five percent of children in Department of Defense schools qualify for free or reduced cost lunch. Most of the military budget goes instead to the major military contractors, whose CEOs’ salaries average almost $20 million. And those hundreds of billions of dollars going to weapons manufacturers kill thousands of civilians abroad, and do not keep us safe.”

What’s discouraging about the Democratic party and its candidates is an unwillingness to confront the bloated military industrial complex except around the edges.

Phylis Bennis, a writer, activist and political commentator is often a guest on Democracy Now. She has written 7 books on foreign policy and war and peace issues. She supports a Green New Deal but believes “we can’t heal the climate if the US war machine keeps raining destruction, absorbing resources, and gobbling up fossil fuels all around the world.”

Bennis goes on to comment: “The Green New Deal must have anti-militarism at its core. Wars and the military render impossible the aspirations contained in the Green New Deal. And slashing the out-of-control military budget is crucial to provide the billions of dollars we need to create a sustainable and egalitarian economy.

To fund the Green New Deal, with all of its component parts, we must transition away from the current war economy that pollutes the planet, distorts our society, enriches only the war profiteers. An end to US wars across the globe and massive cuts to the military budget will provide funds for green jobs, public education, health care for all, green infrastructure development. And we will transition our nation’s security away from failed and failing wars into a new foreign policy based on peace and diplomacy, not war.”

When we look at the 2020 election, we realize the obstacles faced by the candidates who don’t take corporate money. It’s clear how entrenched corporate/private money is in creating the inability for candidates to challenge the neoliberal system. The republican party is off the rails owned by this global elite of businesses, whether they are the financial, silicon Valley tech, defense or energy. Unfortunately, the democratic party is held hostage by these same entities of control. Without a huge grass- roots movement a candidate is dependent on those “soulless, nationless, money-sucking companies” as Taibbi so accurately describes them.

What draws my interest in this campaign are the candidates and ideas coming out of some in the democratic party that have started to challenge the status quo, especially Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who realize Trump is a symptom of a broken economic/political system, not just an aberration, as Biden believes. It’s amusing that Sanders and Warren who together poll higher than any of the candidates are the ones calling for significant structural changes to this system. 

While many pundits bemoan the vision and platforms of these candidates as too radical, Robert Reich points out that the majority of Americans support them. the economy, 76 percent of Americans favor higher taxes on the super-rich, including over half of registered Republicans. Over 60 percent favor a wealth tax on fortunes of $50 million or more. Even Fox News polls confirm these trends.

What about health care? Well, 70 percent want Medicare for All, which most define as Medicare for anyone who wants it.  60 percent of Republicans support allowing anyone under 65 to buy into Medicare.

92 percent want lower prescription drug prices. Over 70 percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada.

On family issues, more than 80 percent of Americans want paid maternity leave. 79  percent of voters want more affordable child care. And that includes 80 percent of Republicans.

60 percent of Americans support free college tuition for those who meet income requirements.

62 percent think climate change is man-made and needs addressing.

84 percent think money has too much influence in politics. 77 percent support limits on campaign spending. And that includes 71 percent of Republicans.”

I could go on”, Reich says.

These percentages indicate fissures in neoliberalism. Continued corporate control, increased privatization are being challenged more and more as this system is thwarting any real democracy. This is demonstrated by the stances of democratic candidates who are calling for structural changes, the changes that Reich listed as supported by most Americans.

Mass protest movements also affect the stances of candidates. Organizations such as Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats work to find candidates who are workers and not career politicians. Change comes from the bottom-up.  This famous and powerful quote from Frederik Douglass reflects our times: Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Many pundits have called the Occupy movement a failure. In reality, this grand protest movement educated citizens about the inequality in society. The few at the top, the 1% elite, are benefitting from the economy while most Americans, the 99%, are struggling along trying to survive. That autumn of 2011 started the American awareness of and anger at a rigged system only benefitting a few at the top. Just four years later, Trump started using this anger to con many Americans into believing he was going to make the economy work better for them.

As the scary crisis of climate change is not addressed in the urgency needed, environmental activists around the world are organizing their communities to fight back against extractivist industries, often with success, though also at great personal risk.  Grassroots protest movements that include large numbers of youth are fighting for immediate actions to face the crisis of climate change. The Sunrise Movement had a hundred protesters outside the DNC headquarters demanding a debate on climate change which might actually happen due to pressure from activists. Extinction Rebellion was started in the UK and has spread around the world and now is active in over 40 US cities. They declare “non-violent rebellion against the US government for its criminal inaction on the ecological crisis.” Both these protest movements demanding government action on climate change are growing. These bottom up movements will be what forces our representatives to take action. If the candidates are talking more about climate change it’s because they are being pushed to do so by these protest and grassroots movements.

As I willingly follow, support and donate to a democratic presidential candidate it’s important to me not to lose sight of the limitations of electoral politics. If we don’t make significant structural changes to the way the economy functions, limiting corporate power, it won’t matter which progressive democrat sits in the oval office. If we don’t organize and resist and fight back in large protest movements, whether it’s for a different economy or electing everyday people from local communities like AOC and Ilhan Omar it won’t matter which progressive democrat sits in the oval office. If we don’t address the climate crisis with the urgency needed it won’t matter which progressive democrat sits in the oval office. If we don’t create humane immigration policies it won’t matter which progressive democrat sits in the oval office. If we don’t reign in the bloated military industrial complex it won’t matter which progressive democrat sits in the oval office. If we don’t end the institutional racism that permeates US culture it won’t matter which progressive democrat sits in the oval office.

I could go on!

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we are the government. In the words of Frederick Douglass, we have to “resist with either words or blows, or with both.” In 1852 Frederick Douglass gave his famous and powerful speech, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?” TIME magazine published an article July 3, 2019 with excerpts from his speech. It’s worth the read.

The US has the potential to move past this disturbing moral crisis. Defeating Trump would certainly remove barriers to do the needed work to create a democracy. May we also then have a president and population with the courage to lead the US through structural changes such as overhauling health care delivery, protecting and healing the planet, reforming the criminal justice system, creating an economy that works for all and not just a few at the top. Some days the future looks so bleak.Other days the future seems full of amazing possibilities. May we start by please defeating Trump.  Thank you.