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Unions that supported Sanders are uniting in the new Labor for Our Revolution network

By Rand Wilson and Peter Olney

Senator Bernie Sanders' candidacy for president in 2015-16 opened up new political contradictions in the U.S. labor movement. Unlike other Western democracies where organized labor has had a role in founding social democratic parties of many different stripes, U.S. labor has faced an often painful and difficult choice of supporting the lesser evil of two corporate candidates, usually the nominee of the Democratic Party. But in May of 2015 when avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders threw his hat in the Democratic Party primary ring, a prairie fire was ignited within the labor movement. Sanders, while actually an independent, realized that at this point in history his most relevant strategic move was to battle for the Democratic nomination.

For the first time in anyone’s memory (and for that matter for the first time since Eugene Debs in 1920) a self-identified Socialist rallied large numbers behind an explicitly anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street, pro-working class platform.  The reaction within labor was swift and very impressive. While the usual suspects lined up to support the pre-ordained candidacy of Hillary Clinton as expedient and inevitable, seven national unions and over 100 locals and more than 50,000 individual union members endorsed Bernie. In a tell-tale sign of the political future of neo-liberalism, 35 locals of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) endorsed Senator Sanders and joined the new political formation, Labor for Bernie. Today, many think that Bernie would have beaten Trump, especially because of his traction with disaffected working class voters in the key swing states that flipped the Electoral College to Donald Trump.

Far too many workers believed – and still believe -- that a Trump presidency would benefit those left behind by decades of corporate greed and empty promises from Democrats. The challenge we now face as progressive trade unionists is to meld the broad support for Sanders with a larger base in the labor movement.  Doing so would address two crucial tasks at the same time:

  • Maximizing the chances of ending the Republican Party's control of both houses of Congress in 2018 and going on to end Trump's occupation of the White House in 2020; and
  • Expanding the base for progressive politics in the longer range battle for "a future we can believe in."

Especially in the wake of Charlottesville and the resurgent neo-Nazi, white supremacist movement, it's urgent that the Sanders' base in the labor movement take on another challenge: We must win over as many unions and their members to stand up against racist, white supremacist and anti-immigrant attacks. For example, four of the "Bernie unions" (CWA, NNU, UE and ATU) signed on to a statement supporting the May 1 rallies against Trump and for immigrant rights.

The seven national unions that endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders for president have come together to form Labor for Our Revolution and to back Our Revolution – a national network created to continue the movement that grew out of the Sanders' presidential challenge in the Democratic primaries. (The seven unions are: the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Postal Workers Union, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way, the Communications Workers of America, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Nurses United, and United Electrical Workers.


What are the prospects for these unions and Our Revolution to carry forward Labor for Bernie's effervescence into a new political force capable of meeting the steep challenges laid out above?

Currently there are more than 300 local Our Revolution formations in the U.S. and four State Committees in Texas Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Maryland.

The Labor for Our Revolution affiliated unions are actively assisting Our Revolution's campaigns while continuing to tap into the Sanders' campaign base to gain support for their collective bargaining, contract, and organizing campaigns. Our Revolution’s success depends on a solid foundation in the working class and strong support from the labor movement.

Communications Workers of America past president Larry Cohen who helped lead labor support for the Sanders campaign is now the Our Revolution Board Chair and a key leader of Labor for Our Revolution. Cohen is urging union leaders and members to plug into local groups or form new ones of their own.

At a national Labor for Our Revolution meeting in Chicago on June 9, United Electrical Workers (UE) General President Peter Knowlton made a presentation about the network's mission and UE union members' growing support for it.

"We follow in the footsteps of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, 'The labor movement is the principal force necessary to transform workers' oppression and despair into hope and progress,'"said Knowlton. "Unions, along with workers' centers and other workers' organizations must prioritize policies that strengthen and fortify the organization of workers in order to protect us against the ravages of capitalism. We can deepen and reinforce this perspective in Our Revolution."

American Postal Workers (APWU) Labor for Our Revolution representative Melissa Dimondstein described her union's support for Labor for Our Revolution and shared excerpts from an APWU statement:

"Unions getting involved in Labor for Our Revolution give us the ability to influence Our Revolution so that it has significant focus on the working class…It also gives us the opportunity to organize our own members around broad, working class issues.

"Labor for Our Revolution is an opportunity to help build a movement that crosses all the political persuasions of our members. The issues of the Sanders campaign were put before the people as a referendum—and the people spoke. So let’s go out and build motion and power around these demands."


Now the unions at the core of Labor for Our Revolution are reaching out to the over 100 local unions and the tens of thousands of union members who supported Labor for Bernie to join the network. As an organizational tool, Labor for Our Revolution has crafted a simple resolution in support of the project that it asks local unions to ratify.

In the summer of 2017, Labor for Our Revolution began supporting the struggle within the Democratic Party by demanding that all Democratic Members of Congress co-sponsor eight bills (#PeoplesPlatform) that taken together are a broad populist program. The "Summer for Progress" campaign defines a clear anti-corporate platform that should be attractive to all working people who are tired of Wall Street calling all the shots.

The enthusiasm for Labor for Bernie and the Sanders campaign showed the potential for a new progressive wing in the labor movement. Labor for Our Revolution's mission to unite union members and other workers around Our Revolution's populist political platform is a promising next step.  For it to succeed, many more unions on the national and local level will have to join and work together towards a new vision of labor's role in politics.

The task at hand is to reconfigure the unions that supported Bernie into Labor for Our Revolution, and to recruit new labor organizations that may have supported Clinton, but now realize that an explicit anti-corporate platform is the best way to hold their members' political allegiance and point the way forward during the resistance to Trump and beyond.

Rand Wilson is organizing director at SEIU Local 888 and a volunteer organizer for Labor for Our Revolution. Peter Olney is retired ILWU organizing director and a labor trainer and consultant.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 18:14

We need consistent and deep strategic dialogue among left organizers if we are going to forge a path to power through these dangerious times. To meet that need, Organizing Upgrade will be re-launching with regular pieces in late September.  Keep an eye out!

This essay was prepared in March 2015, prior to the 2016 election season that eventually resulted in Donald Trump's victory. However, the far rightwing's capture of the presidency makes this essay's main arguments even more important. The far right, racism, militarism, inequality, and poverty are all centered in the South. The majority of African Americans, the main protagonist of progressive politics in this country, live in the South. And the South has more electoral votes, battleground state votes, population, and congresspersons than any other region. The South is changing rapidly, giving rise to more progressive demographic groups--especially Black and Latino migrations, LGBTQs and urbanites--and a growing Democratic vote. These trends can only be maximized if the importance of the South is understood as a strategic necessity and the chance to win state by state, is acknowledged and acted upon. Hard as the fight is and will be, downplaying the Southern struggle is a losing political strategy and forfeits the moral high ground on the biggest issues facing the country.

The importance of the fight for the South is a matter of considerable controversy. Whatever the rhetoric it's safe to say that most progressives outside of the South have put little time, energy or money into this struggle since the height of the southern Civil Rights movement. Many have outright given up on the South, considering it either a reactionary lost cause or simply unwinnable.

We beg to disagree, and in this essay will make the case that failure to the fight for the South downplays the centrality of the Black struggle in U.S. politics, strategically surrenders the upper hand to the far right and the Republican Party and cripples the fight against poverty. The South is a dynamically changing region and the fight for it is absolutely crucial to defeating the far right and winning a progressive future.

Specifically, we argue that as regards building the progressive movement into a powerful force in this country, the South is crucial.

(1) Defeating the right and building a strong progressive movement in this country needs the leadership, experience and energy of African Americans, a growing majority of whom who live in the South.

(2) Targeting the Southern racist rightwing in its own backyard, on issues of race, poverty, militarism, climate change and democracy, is a crucial part of a broad movement to defeat the right nationally in public opinion, on policy and in elections. To fail to do is a losing political strategy and forfeits the moral high ground on the biggest issues in the country. Organizing the South is also vital to building the progressive movement and an independent progressive wing of the Democratic Party that is key to defeating the far right and corporate power. Defeating the far right and winning a jobs, peace, justice and sustainability agenda will be difficult if not impossible if the South is left to Republicans (or rightwing Democrats).

Electoral action to win political power in the South is a strategic, not an optional, component of any strategy to defeat the right. As regards to elections and political power, we argue:

(1) A critical mass of Southern states can and must be won if we are to block or defeat the right in presidential elections. Three of the five or so critical battleground states are in the South: Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. Southern blue and battleground states plus Washington D.C. hold 38 percent of the electoral votes needed to win.

(2) Winning an anti-rightwing congressional majority depends on winning in the South, as the South has a bigger congressional delegation than any other region and Southern congresspersons also hold key leadership posts within the Republican Party's congressional hierarchies.

(3) There are tremendous opportunities to build progressive political power and governance at the local level in the South as 105 counties have a Black majority. (Only one county outside of the South has a Black majority.)

All of these points will sharpen in the coming decades, as the South is projected to continue to experience greater population gains as compared to the rest of the country. That population gain is rooted in the ongoing transformation of the Southern economy which is driven by changes in the global economy. Well aware of this, the far right has launched a withering campaign of voter suppression, racist gerrymandering and straight anti-democratic legislative maneuvers to combat it. The South is becoming ever more important economically and politically, not less.

While some might dismiss the South, focusing strategically on the Northeast and Pacific Coast as central to a progressive program and the Midwest as the main political battleground, the South's dynamic growth, historical legacy of Black struggle and powerful political weight make it a critical battlefield.

The nuance is that the South cannot be won as a bloc, but only state by state and county by county. In fact, winning the South in large part means understanding that it is not a monolithic entity and winning it piece by piece: i.e. politically deconstructing the South.

I. Background and Dynamics

What is the South?

Defining any region of the country is always a bit arbitrary, as regions are defined by history that is constantly changing and always involves complex intersections.

At first blush one might define the South as the former Confederacy. With the outbreak of the Civil War, a bloody line in the sand was drawn between the Confederacy and the Union. It is often forgotten that Texas and Florida were part of the original core of hard line secession states along with South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. When Lincoln called for the armed recapture of Fort Sumter, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina joined the Confederacy.

However, a number of slave states and territories did not join the Confederacy: Washington D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky. West Virginia split from Virginia in opposition to secession.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the Civil War, and the South has been transformed in important ways. Gone are some of the most powerful hallmarks of the South, especially slavery, the plantation economy, sharecropping, whites-only voting and Jim Crow. All this makes defining the South even more difficult.

Today the U.S. Census defines the South as the eleven states of the former Confederacy plus the former border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.

This essay will adopt that definition but excludes Delaware since it never had many slaves, never had a significant plantation economy, never seriously considered seceding, never formally adopted Jim Crow and never had a significant Black population. (Figure 1) Since the U.S. census is the primary source of data there may be times when our data sets include Delaware.


Figure 1 The South, The Southwest, Border States and Rust Belt.

Against Stereotyping: Variation and Transformation of the South

The South has always been extremely diverse internally, with areas dominated by plantations and slavery or sharecropping (often called the Tidewater, the low country, the Delta or Black Belt), areas dominated by white small farmers (often including small scale slavery and sharecropping, sometimes called the Piedmont) and areas dominated by very poor white folk (often called the mountains, or Appalachia). Belatedly a number of fairly large and medium size cities came into being, mostly in the Piedmont areas though including a few port cities. And in the last forty years different parts of the South, especially the emerging large cities and the Sun Belt, attract significant migration from outside the South, including immigrants.

Long term transformations of the South began slowly following the Civil War. Industrialization began to supplant the plantation turned sharecropper economy and a modern transportation infrastructure was built on rails. The so-called New South of industrial towns like Atlanta, Birmingham and Durham, mostly post-Civil War in origin and located outside the prime plantation areas, exploded into centers of steel, tobacco and textile manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mechanization of agriculture began displacing hundreds of thousands of sharecroppers and small farmers. The historic Black Migration to the North starting in 1915 was a response to the push-pull factors of displacement off the land, and the lure of jobs and relative freedom in the industrial economies outside of the South.

The explosive growth of the military industrial complex gave new energy to the Southern transformation in the mid and late 20th centuries. The South is home to approximately 41 percent of U.S. military installations and numerous military-related institutions which extended the already strong Southern militarist traditions.

In the old industrial heartland of America, the 1970s and 1980s marked the era of deindustrialization in which thousands of Northern factories were shuttered and fled off shore and to the non-unionized South. Tourism and a steady stream of retirees moving to better weather have contributed to rapid growth of Southern and Southwestern cities.

Cities such as Miami, Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth, have been collectively dubbed the "Sun Belt." Additionally, finance fled the expensive Northern cities and suddenly Charlotte, NC flourished as the second biggest financial center in the country, trailing only New York City.

In the 1950s, long before Silicon Valley, Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, leveraged the University of North Carolina, Duke University and North Carolina State to create the high tech Research Triangle Park, anchored by IBM. Since then the "New Economy," "Information Revolution" or "Knowledge Economy" has filtered throughout the South with growing strength.

Each state is a different combination of these elements. The toxic mix of slavery, secession, sharecropping, white dictatorship and Jim Crow welded the South into the country's most politically and economically identifiable region, but now the main trend is diversification. Despite these growing economic and social differences, the legacy of slavery, secession and Jim Crow—racism, conservative Christianity, anti-government sentiment and conservatism on all rights issues—continue to combine to create a rightwing white majority that reinforces Southern particularity, even as the economic and social basis for that uniqueness is undermined.

However these various transformations have been extremely uneven. The South today is a study in economic and political contrasts. Overall, the region remains the poorest in the country with nine of the twelve poorest states. But Virginia and Maryland rank in the top five richest states in the country. The region has a growing majority of African Americans in the country, but Kentucky has but few while Blacks are about 35 percent of the population of Mississippi.

Today it might be helpful to view the South as consisting of three archetypal (and interpenetrating) political/economic/demographic subregions plus two unique states.

One subregion--consisting of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina--is marked by high percentages of Black people (approximately 25-35 percent) and relatively backward economies. This is what has historically been known as the Deep South, minus Georgia.

A second subregion, consisting of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, is marked by significant Black populations (approximately 20-25 percent) but also by strong industry, finance, new economic development (high tech) and strong economic and demographic growth, including immigrants. Tennessee and Arkansas are split between their poor white Appalachian regions and their heavily Black areas on the Mississippi River, and seem to be moving in this direction, though with somewhat smaller Black populations (17% and 15%).

Next there are the overwhelmingly white and very poor states of Kentucky and West Virginia. Oklahoma is similar but is not part of Appalachia and is quickly changing. Black and Latino populations are growing and it has always had a large Native American population.

Florida and Texas have become unique states due to their strong roles in the international and national economies, their extreme internal diversity demographically and economically, and their large populations.

The similarities and differences across the region point to the strategic challenges and opportunities it poses to progressives both inside and outside the South.

Political Drivers, Political Trends

The destruction of the historic Southern plantation economy along with its white dictatorship and Jim Crow racism has, ironically, given rise to two contradictory political motions.

No longer a political or social outlier, corporate neo-liberals rather than plantation owners now dominate most of Southern politics. In fact they have encouraged and taken advantage of the longstanding far rightwing Southern populist movement to drive a powerful nationwide rightward motion since 1980. That far right is now mounting a serious challenge to the rightwing capitalists for power in the Republican Party.

While the South has become the center of the racist, militarist right wing that threatens to dominate the country, this "nationalization," together with the powerful African American presence in the region that has produced many of the glorious progressive traditions of the country, gives rise to openings for Democrats and progressives if they choose to seize the moment.

It is this high stakes political polarization that, above all, makes the struggle for the South so crucial.

The main business wing of the Southern Republican coalition is not just corporate, but the extreme rightwing of corporate forces in the U.S.: big oil and energy, military, low end retail, big Pharma and Southern-based banks.

They are powerfully flanked by regional, state and local elites, usually more rooted in backward white Southern traditions, like real estate developers, big car dealers, low-wage construction, regional and local capitalists, conservative law firms, the criminal justice complex, fundamentalist churches and small businesses—the state and local chambers of commerce and Christian coalitions.

These forces are joined to an often extreme rightwing populist/white supremacist base of affluent white suburban right wingers, tax revolters, gun enthusiasts and reactionary white workers and straight up white supremacists around an ideology of exclusionary blood and soil white nationalism, small government, and jingoistic military adventurism abroad.

In the face of this formidable Republican/rightwing coalition, more moderate and progressive forces are developing at different rates in different states. The Solid South is Solid no more and although the Republicans still win most Southern states, the Democratic presidential vote in the South has been rising over the past couple of decades.

The potential to defeat the Republicans in the South starts with the powerful African American community (and Latino community in Texas and elsewhere) and extends to the wider multiracial civil rights coalition of liberal churches, trial lawyers, progressive educators and students, unions and other liberal professionals.

It is being buttressed by new forces arising from the nationalization of the Southern economy and society, a process which includes urbanization, large scale national and international migration, the growth of the health industry, public education and government, tourism and retirement communities.

There are high political stakes underlying the South's resistance to health care expansion, growth of government and public education, as workers in these sectors tend to be relatively liberal and unionized. There are important and growing immigrant rights, women's and LGBTQ movements in the South.

Southern cities are growing rapidly in size and becoming bluer. As in the North, some older suburbs are becoming multi-cultural battlegrounds rather than exclusionary white enclaves that are economically and politically detached from the inner city. In fact a number of suburban areas have reincorporated to the city in places like Jacksonville, FL (the largest city in the South) and Memphis. As demonstrated most vividly in the Moral Monday/Forward Together movement in North Carolina, African Americans continue to hold the potential to lead another major transformation, a Third Reconstruction.

Neither party seriously represents the economic interests of white small farmers or poor whites, a potentially volatile sector, especially as their economic positions inevitably become more unstable. Many tend to fall back on backwards racist and sexist traditions and/or in behind the rightwing corporate forces. However, they also have progressive traditions to build on, from the New Deal to worker and union militancy, to the Populist movement to civil rights.

Climate change is also a huge issue in the South, which is projected to suffer much greater economic and social harm than the more moderate weather regions of the country and which has a history of environmental irresponsibility.

Each state is different, but something like this process has already broken up the Solid South.

Washington D.C. long ago became a majority African American city and a progressive Democratic bastion. Maryland became a battleground state in 1960 and has proceeded to become a solid Blue state. Formerly Florida voted like a classic Southern state since its founding. However as its economy diversified and its population exploded it moved to the center and since 1992 has been a classic battleground state with the country's fourth highest electoral vote count. Virginia and North Carolina became battleground states in 2008.

Together the outcome of the battleground elections in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina could determine the presidency. Georgia will likely be the next state to become purple. Together with Maryland and Washington D.C., these Southern states alone have 84 electoral votes, more than 31 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

The potential of Mississippi lies in the fact that African Americans constitute almost forty percent of the electorate. And down the road a bit is Texas, which could well be a national game changer given its huge size and large people of color vote.

II: Point by Point:  Why the Battle for the South is Crucial and Can Be Won

POINT ONE: The South is the most concentrated expression of both anti-racist and anti-poverty struggles.

The South is the historic home of the worst racism in the country. It is where the majority of African Americans reside and a destination for new migrants from around the country and the world. The South is also where poverty rates are the highest and income polarization is sharp.

a. A growing majority of African Americans live in the South where they have spearheaded the country's most powerful traditions of progressive struggle and culture, especially since the 1950s. The fight against racism cannot be won without defeating racism in the South.

The 2010 census indicated that 55 percent of Blacks lived in the South, 18 percent in the Midwest, 17 percent in the Northeast and 10 percent in the West. SouthPopTablejpg

Although the Black population has increased in all U.S. regions since 1990, the South has had the most growth. Gentrification as well as economic restructuring are motors of this growth, as they are displacing numerous African Americans from Northern cities. In addition, for the first time, the 2010 census showed that many Black professionals are also returning to the South. The percentage of the Black population that lives in the South is growing.

Demographic changes are reshaping the historical racial binary across the South as Blacks return to the South and transnational migrants make their way to Texas, Georgia, Florida, Virginia and the Carolinas. Black return migration has increased the percentage of African Americans to 55 percent. Latinos started arriving in the late 1980s, and are expected to grow as a percentage of the population rising to above 30%, Figure 2a, mostly concentrated in Texas which, of course, was formerly part of Mexico.


Figure2a, b Demographic changes in the South, projected to 2040,

b. It is near impossible to think of strong national progressive politics, a strong movement or organizing effort, without the deep involvement and leadership of Black people.

Although fast being replaced by Latinos as the main source of low-wage labor in the rest of the country, Blacks are still central to the Southern labor force. This provides leverage and organizing opportunities and places Blacks at the crossroads of labor and anti-racist organizing.

Significant new Black-led grassroots organizing efforts are underway, most notably the Moral Monday/Forward Together movement in North Carolina and #BlackLivesMatter and other fights in the wake of the Trayvon Martin, etc. cases. The NAACP, which in some Southern states has more than 100 chapters, is a revitalizing force. African American churches in the South are still incredibly numerous and potentially powerful. These fights are once again demonstrating the ability of African Americans to drive the fight for a Third Reconstruction.

c. The deep involvement and leadership of Black people are indispensable to forming a strong progressive electoral bloc.

The Jesse Jackson candidacy electrified the electoral potential of Black people. And since 2000, African Americans have surged to the polls, constituting thirty percent of all new voters, voting for the Democrats (even before Obama) at an astonishing ninety percent rate, and surpassing whites in voter participation for the first time in history.

In fact, there has been steadily rising Black presidential election turnout since 1996: 53 percent in 1996, going up to 67 percent in 2012. Meanwhile the percentage of African Americans voting Democratic has skyrocketed to more than ninety percent.

Race is the pivot of politics: Democrats and progressives cannot win without massive support from people of color and Republicans cannot win without suppressing the people of color vote.

d. The South is the most polarized center of the fight between the rightwing cross-class white political forces and the multi-racial anti-racist forces.

The political crux of the matter is still that white voters in the South vote about 75 percent Republican compared to the national white vote of about 60 percent Republican. And Southern Republicans tend to be further to the right than in most other regions. Race and racism are at the heart of the struggle for the South. To sustain their momentum, the far right has implemented a powerful campaign against voting rights and for voter suppression, and racial gerrymandering that must be met by a powerful democratic, antiracist response.

e. There are excellent opportunities to fight for progressive organization, political power and governance at the local levels in the South because there are 105 Black majority counties. The only Black majority county outside the South is St. Louis (which is actually an independent city, not a county). Despite this ripe organizing opportunity there has not been a major attempt to organize in these areas since SNCC. La Raza Unida Party had a brief but quite successful strategy in the Mexican majority areas of South Texas in the 1970s.

POINT TWO: The fight to combat poverty, improve the strength and quality of life of poor and working people, and their connection to the struggle against racism, is concentrated in the South. Overall, the US is extremely polarized by income. Most of the Southern states suffer the double whammy of high inequality and low median income. The South is the poorest part of the country and has the highest poverty rates as well as sharp income polarization.


Figure 3 Median incomes and income polarization, 2013


Figure 4 Poverty rates in states with above average income polarization 2013

Virginia and Maryland have relatively low poverty rates, and less income inequality than other Southern states attesting to their shifting politics at the state level as well as their relationship to the new economy.

In 2012, the South had a non-metro poverty rate of 22.1 percent—nearly 7 percentage points higher than in the region's metro areas, a greater difference than in any other region. The difference in poverty rates in the South is particularly important for the overall non-metro poverty rate because an estimated 43.1 percent of the nation's non-metro population lived in this region in 2012.

Southern poverty is a result of the region's history of racially-coerced plantation labor and racial suppression which has stunted its economic development and produced the most reactionary labor laws in the country. Despite these laws, labor organizing is growing in certain parts of the South, and struggles to raise the minimum wage have great potential. Between the years 2011 and 2012, union membership increased the most in California (up 110,000 union members), Texas (up 65,000), and Louisiana (up 30,000). Unions still have an important role to play in the South.

In addition climate change poses a clear and present threat to the economic and social development of the South, not to speak of increasing environmental disasters.

POINT THREE: The South is the key center of the far right and the Republican Party; neither can be defeated without battling for the South.

a. The South is the stronghold and most dynamic center of the far right and the Republican Party. Neither can be defeated without winning key Southern states such as Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and, soon, Georgia.

b. The South currently has 192 electoral votes; it takes only 270 to win. The battleground states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, with 57 votes, already often hold the balance of power in presidential elections. Georgia, with an additional 16 electoral votes, is likely to become a battleground state before long, possibly followed by Mississippi. Texas, due to its size and large percentage of Latino and Black voters, could be a national game changer in a decade or so.

c. At the state level, Republican control of Southern states has had increasingly drastic results as the Tea Party has gained strength. Today Republicans control all but Virginia and Maryland. In North Carolina, long under Democratic control of the state government, the Republicans took power in 2010, consolidated it in 2012, quickly implemented the entire ALEC agenda of nullifying the Affordable Care Act, voter suppression, drastic cuts and privatization of schools, tax reform for the wealthy, closing abortion clinics, undercutting and privatizing Medicaid, legalized and subsided fracking, slashed unemployment benefits and gerrymandering. Throughout the South the far right has launched systematic attacks on voting rights, passed starkly racist voter suppression legislation and undermined the democratic workings of the government through systematic legislative and executive rule breaking. Taking on and defeating the right at the state level, with a focus on the purple states, is crucial to defending democracy and the people's quality of life.

POINT FOUR: The South possesses the largest congressional delegation of any region and the most electoral votes, and both are projected to grow at a faster rate than other regions.

Consequently winning at least some states in the South is not only the key to the presidency but also to control of Congress and of its key committees. Currently there are 110 Republican congresspersons from the South, more than half of the 218 needed to control the House, and 49 Democrats. There are 23 Republican senators, almost half the number needed to control the Senate, and seven Democrats. All Southern states today have Republican governors and statehouses controlled by the GOP.

POINT FIVE: The South is the biggest center of military industrial complex and therefore central to the fight for peace and against militarism.

The South is home to approximately 41 percent of U.S. military installations. Six of the top ten states receiving Department of Defense funds are Southern states, including VA, TX, MD, FL, GA, and AL. The Washington Metro area accounted for approximately 11 percent of federal Department of Defense expenditures in 2005. Virginia ranks second among states in military procurement, behind California. (Table 4, Appendix) according to the National Priorities Project

POINT SIX: The South has more population than any other region and is growing more rapidly than other region. Therefore it will become even more powerful in national politics and more people will be under the control of Southern state and local governments. By 2040, it is estimated that 39 percent of Americans will live in the South and the majority will live in the Sunbelt regions of California, the Southwest, and the South.

This means that this region will wield even more power at the federal level, both the presidency and Congress.

It is increasingly difficult for progressives to argue that we represent a large, let alone majority, constituency unless we have a base in the South. Any progressive program and movement must exhibit an understanding of the past, present and future of the South. We cannot allow the rightwing at the state and local levels to continue to rule over such a large portion of folk, especially when so many are Black and/or poor.

POINT SEVEN: The South is not only rapidly changing economically, racially and demographically, it is changing in ways that represent the future of the country, not the past. The South is gaining in importance not only politically, but also economically. Its people and politics are becoming more diverse.

III. Main State Electoral Battlefronts

Washington D.C. became the only non-state to have electoral votes in 1961. However it is limited to a number equal to the smallest state, which of course is 3. Since 1961 the residents have been overwhelmingly Black and Democratic. Obama beat Romney by 13 to 1.

Maryland, with ten electoral votes, is already deep blue. Since 1960, Maryland has voted Republican only in the landslide wins of Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and George H. W. Bush in 1988. In 2012, Barack Obama crushed Mitt Romney here (62% to 36%).

Florida has more electoral votes, 29, than any other battleground state and the fourth highest electoral vote in the country. The Democrats have won every presidential election in Florida since 1996 except for 2004, but have never polled more than 51 percent of the vote. Florida has increased from a population of 6,789,443 (3.34% of the total US population) to 18,801,310 (6.09%) since 1970. Florida is a true purple state.

Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, just recently became a battleground state. It was reliably red since 1952 with the exception of the LBJ landslide in 1964. In 2004 Bush won the state by seven points. But in 2008 Obama won by eight. In 2012 Obama again won, but by only four points. The small but growing Latino vote was key to Obama's victories. Virginia is one of the handful of true purple states, and is growing rapidly.

North Carolina has 15 electoral votes and is now the 9th largest state in the country. It voted reliably red from 1952 through the 2004 election; Bush won by 8 points in that latter year. Obama broke the red streak by one point in 2008, but then Romney won by two in 2012. North Carolina is another true purple state, and one whose population is rising fast. At present the Moral Monday/Forward Together movement is probably the largest Black-led progressive movement in the country, and probably one of the strongest state level progressive movements in general.

Georgia is the 8th largest state in the Union and has 16 electoral votes. It is still a reliably red state, but the Republican margins have been shrinking rapidly. W won by 12 and 17 points but in the last two presidentials the Republicans prevailed by only 7 and 5. With a large Latino immigration, Georgia is projected to become a majority people of color state in the 2030s, and with hard work can be turned into a battleground state much sooner.

These Southern states plus Washington D.C. with 84 electoral votes, account for more than 31 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Mississippi's economy and population is quite stagnant and in 2012 dropped an electoral vote and is now down to 6. It is a reliably red state, but Republican margins have recently fallen from the 20 point range to the 12 point range. Mississippi has the largest percentage Black vote, about 37 percent. The NAACP and its allies are a dynamic force in the state. The potential of Mississippi was demonstrated in 2012 when a wide coalition unexpectedly defeated the reactionary Personhood state amendment. That amendment would have considered conception as equivalent to achieving personhood.

Texas is the second most populous state in the country and has 38 electoral votes. The state did not turn red until 1980 but has been deep red ever since. W carried the state by more than twenty points each time, but the Republican margin narrowed to 12 in 2008 and 16 in 2012. In the 2010 census non-Hispanic whites accounted for only 45.3 percent of the population and Latinos 37.6 percent. The racial picture is confounded because more than ten percent identified themselves as "some other race." Blacks constituted 3.8 percent and 2.7 percent as two or more races. Whites are definitely less than 50%.

There are raised hopes that Texas might before long become a battleground state, largely due to its racial/ethnic makeup. But Mexicans in Texas are notably more conservative than in other states. By the voting numbers there is a way to go, but over time Texas could be a national game changer.

Final Thoughts

The focus of this paper has been to argue for the strategic national importance of the battle for the South. In making this argument we have indicated some important points about strategy, i.e. how to win the battle for the South. However, a developed strategy will require a far deeper dive than what we have attempted here.

The particularity of the subregions that we indicated would have to be explored in detail, as well as an examination of how different strategies connected to each subregion have fared. State by state analyses and strategies are a crucial necessity. This fight will be long and hard, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to defeat the far right and make any real progress in the fight for racial justice, democracy, peace and economic equality.


Bob Wing has been an organizer and writer since 1968, and was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper. Stephen C. McClure, Former Washington DC window dresser, is now Research Associate, The State Key Laboratory for Surveying, Mapping, and Remote Sensing at Wuhan University, The People's Republic of China. The authors thank New Virginia Majority and New Florida Majority for their support.

Monday, 04 September 2017 14:47

We need consistent and deep strategic dialogue among left organizers if we are going to forge a path to power through these dangerious times.     To meet that need, Organizing Upgrade will be re-launching with regular pieces in late September.  Keep an eye out!

"Everything we are seeing stems almost inevitably from the decisions the country made, collectively, last November. We elected a president driven by white racial grievance. That is the fulcrum and driving force of his politics. It's no surprise that a big outbreak of white supremacist violence would lead us to a moment like this. We also elected a president who is an abuser and a predator...As things get worse, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled..."

- Josh Marshall, The Bomb Bursts: It Will Keep Happening, Talking Points Memo

The white supremacist violence In Charlottesville - and Trump's embrace of the 'very fine people' who marched and murdered under Confederate and Nazi banners - did more than sharpen the intense polarization already underlying U.S. politics.

It spotlighted the dangerous role white nationalism plays in galvanizing Trump's racially anxious white social base while energizing the anti-racist and democratic-minded forces who have the potential to overcome it.

But realizing that potential is going to require the resistance - especially its radical wing - to up our game. This essay offers a strategic perspective toward that end. It is anchored in five key points:

1. The over-arching priority of the current period is to break the grip on power of Trump and the white nationalist bloc that is the driving force of the right's overall anti-democratic and anti-working class agenda.

2. Direct action and street protest make up indispensable components of the resistance, crucial to keep focus and pressure on white nationalism and its conciliators. At least one show of force on the scale of the Women's March this fall would be a stark reminder that the resistance will not leave it to intra-elite maneuvers to determine Trump's fate and what comes after. Further, energy from direct mass action needs to be carried into the 2018 and 2020 elections, which will be the decisive battlefronts measuring and altering the relative strength of the contending forces and which provide the only avenues to actually remove the white nationalist right from power.

3. In order to bring together a sufficient bloc of social forces to defeat Trump and the GOP, and also to give progressives much-strengthened initiative if and when Trump is ousted, the left needs to engage the fight within the Democratic Party over message, candidates, allocation of resources and institutional clout. There is a key parallel here with the dynamic of the 2016 campaign. Almost all sectors of the left grew as the election polarized the country, but the ones that grew the most (DSA, Labor for Bernie) were those that plunged into Bernie Sanders' campaign, not those who criticized it for being insufficiently radical or dismissed it because it fought on the terrain of the Democratic Party and ultimately supported voting for Clinton to defeat Trump..

4. The struggle for a working class program of economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice - and peace - within the Democratic Party and society in general will be conducted beyond the next two or three election cycles. We should have confidence that the kind of program advocated by by Bernie Sanders or Rev. William Barber can at some point gain majority support in the country and decisively shape the national agenda. But we also need to strategize based on hard-headed realism about how far we have to go in addressing the unevenness and fragmentation of the broad progressive movement and the still relatively marginalized anti-capitalist left.

5. Because of the character of the Trump regime and the weaknesses in race-class analysis and practice in the resistance movement, the issues moved front and center by Charlottesville - race, racism and the true history of integral role people of color have played in the very heart of the U.S. working class from 1620 to the present day - are likely to stand out as determinants of whether or not the resistance continues to mature. If Trump follows through on threats to end DACA, this will be even more the case.

In shorthand: this essay is an argument for the left to interact with the post-Charlottesville surge of resistance by pursuing a strategy that is anti-right, anti-racist, gender-inclusive, grounded in the interests of the working class and oriented toward working both inside and outside of the Democratic Party.


The resistance has come a long way since Trump's gloating inauguration. The aggressive edge of the white nationalist bloc - the Nazis, Klan and their ilk - is now exposed and condemned almost across the board. Trump's insistence that "both sides" were to blame in the Charlottesville confrontation between a Nazi/Klan contingent and those who protested it alienated major sections of the political class that had played footsie with him up to now.

With corporate leaders fleeing his show-piece councils, the top military brass issuing statements contradicting his views, and the president feuding with congressional leaders of his own party, Trump's governing coalition is significantly narrower than it was in January. The section of the elite that was already trying to bring Trump down because they believe he is an unreliable steward of empire has also been strengthened. (Meanwhile their preferred reason for doing so - electoral collaboration with Russia - is at least for the moment eclipsed by his racism). Public opinion polls show Trump's approval rating for the first time dipping below 38%.

Still, most of Trump's core base is sticking with him. Republicans approve his post-Charlottesville remarks by more than a 3-1 margin and 87% oppose taking down Confederate monuments. Leading Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, as well as some sections of the left, have argued that Trump won the election largely by speaking to the economic concerns of working class whites, not because of racial resentment. Charlottesville should end that debate: clearly for Trump's base the two are thoroughly interconnected.

Trump's sub 38% approval rating is a dismal minority of the country but still constitutes a big majority of Republicans, so GOP electeds defy Trump at the peril of a primary challenge. GOP officials have increasingly taken their private "concerns" about Trump public, but not a single administration figure, GOP Congress member, state level elected official or even congressional staffer has yet resigned in protest. Their calculations are changing daily, but as of this writing GOP Congress members still see alignment with Trump as necessary to implement their shared agenda of crushing the labor movement, rolling back women's and LGBTQ rights, stonewalling action against climate change, and transferring even more wealth into the pockets of the already rich.

Our side is the majority, and we also have the moral high ground. But favorable polling numbers and moral suasion are not enough. This fight will be decided by power. The right will not be effectively divided and forced into retreat until the open advocates of white supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and unrestrained patriarchy are demoralized by being out-numbered 100 to one every time they show their face. And it will take the energy in the streets translating into an anti-GOP, anti-Trump tsunami in the voting booths to break their grip on power.

Only when Trump and his allies no longer control both the legislative and executive branches of government at the federal level and in 25 states can the country's majority move to a new and more favorable stage of class struggle.


In the aftermath of Charlottesville, a post-Trump environment can be glimpsed for the first time since November 2016. But we won't get there if the left underestimates the Trump-led GOP as many did in 2016.

Fear-mongering and war-making are longstanding tools of besieged presidents. In the wake of Trump's 'fire and fury' threats to wipe out millions of North Koreans and his eagerness to dump the Iran nuclear agreement, all complacency about what Trump might do on this front should be dispensed with immediately. Integrating anti-militarism into the heart and soul of the entire resistance remains a vital but challenging task. If a major terrorist attack happens within the U.S., or if Mueller's investigation appears ready to indict members of Trump's family or Trump himself, an unprecedented constitutional crisis or globe-threatening dose of military adventurism cannot be ruled out.

Even short of such scenarios, the president and his GOP enablers have numerous tools to frustrate majority will. The militarization of police and pattern of ultra-harsh charges coming down on protesters are weapons already being used to weaken the opposition. Executive branch actions that threaten the operations of key sectors of the anti-Trump coalition - the labor movement, Planned Parenthood - take a daily toll. The GOP's commitment to voter suppression, gerrymandering, the racist skew built in to the electoral college and the possibility of widespread voter intimidation by right-wing goons combine to make it an uphill battle to end GOP control of the House and Senate in 2018 and the White House in 2020.


U.S.-style racism came into being in the midst of struggles over land, property, power, and political rights in the 17th century. Slavery, along with the genocide of Native Americans, is accurately termed the country's 'original sin.'

Among the manifestations of this deeply rooted component of U.S. political economy is a recurring pattern: in response to movements that advance or threaten to advance the interests of people of color, especially African Americans - and because those movements also drive forward progress for all workers and democracy in general - there is a fierce backlash. That backlash involves building a cross-class white united front which advances the economic program of the most reactionary wing of ruling class; enlists all who can be mobilized to defend white power and privilege; and is aided by the passive allegiance of others who believe that they can advance their own narrow interests by connecting with this bloc.

At different times the mix of specific forces in that front - and the relative clout of each - has varied. But whenever that backlash bloc has held part or all of governing power (as after the rollback of Reconstruction) it has inflicted the most severe repression against people of color and, with racism as the wedge, restricted democratic rights and women's rights and weakened the working class as a whole. Backlash coalitions have also been a center of gravity of militarism and imperial expansion.

The way that pattern has unfolded in the last five decades starting with Nixon's "Southern Strategy" has been written about widely. It built up steam through the 1970s and took a leap forward when it helped Reagan get elected and the "neo-liberal model" of privatization, de-regulation, tax "reform" favoring the very rich and a withering offensive against unions became entrenched.

But the last few years saw an unprecedented twist. The balance within the backlash bloc shifted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis; the resulting recession and sharp rise in economic inequality and anxiety; demographic changes, and the election of first Black president. Leadership was ripped from the GOP establishment and seized by a demagogue who rode birtherism, anti-immigrant hysteria and blatant Islamophobia to the nomination and then the Presidency.

Trump and his core supporters - those for whom the bottom line is 'racial and imperial revenge' - were now in the driver's seat. The rest of the GOP, including the party establishment (with minor exceptions), fell in line behind the Trump/Bannon juggernaut.  Conservative intellectual Avik Roy explained why: "We've had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism - philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republic Party is white nationalism." And enough people who were not themselves motivated primarily by racism decided to give Trump's racism a pass in hopes that other aspects of his program would change things for the better.


Because of the differences among the GOP legislators and tension between GOP Congress members and the president, the right is having a hard time getting what it wants through Congress. But while the media is focused on those failures and Trump's Twitter outrages, an extremely dangerous agenda is being steadily implemented via executive branch actions, with a Gorsuch Supreme court expected to affirm each one.

This agenda aims to establish a racialized authoritarian state. Given the unpopularity of their actual economic program and the fact that demographic changes are not working in their favor, the right sees that kind of state as needed to implement their full program of fossil fuel-driven, no-limits capitalism and permanent U.S. global hegemony. This is not classical fascism. But it is an arrangement more like the U.S. during the height of Jim Crow or today's Israel than the bourgeois democracy the U.S. has had since legalized discrimination was abolished in the 1960s.

Bottom line, Trumpism in power is not just a 'more conservative' version of business-as-usual. It is a concerted drive for a substantial shift away from the capitalist democracy we have lived under since the mid-1960s toward a new kind of repressive regime.


Resistance to Trump and his agenda has come from all quarters, including from within the government, the judiciary, the media and the military. The ruling class is today more divided than any time since at least the 1930s and more likely since the Civil War.

From election night on, however, the driving force of the resistance has been action from the grassroots. From the Women's March and the surge of energy into new formations like Indivisible and Our Revolution to the expansion of pre-existing community and issue-oriented organizations, direct action protests and raucous town halls have kept the anti-Trump wheels turning. And after the events in Charlottesville, another wave of mass action has begun. With the pardon of anti-Latino thug Joe Arpaio, and DACA under immediate threat as this essay goes to press, more protests lie just ahead. These will put Trump even more on the defensive and heighten already intense pressure on vacillating figures and groups to get off the fence.

There is now less middle ground than ever in U.S. politics. The country is polarized along a Trump vs. anti-Trump axis. This polarization affects the dynamics surrounding every issue from health care and climate change to transgender rights, abortion, and student debt. But race and racism are at the pivot.

It is all but certain that this polarization would continue even if (via Russia-gate or some other means) Trump is forced out of office before his term is up. The GOP has traveled so far down the road of embracing white identity and a repressive, anti-working class agenda that it would remain in place under Pence or any other Republican president. But if Trump was ousted the resistance would celebrate that victory and press even harder for major change while the GOP would be embroiled in bitter divisions and recriminations. How such a shake-up would play out long-term is impossible to predict. But in the short term, the fissures that Charlottesville in particular have opened within the GOP are both a mark of the resistance's growth and a source of further strength.


The anti-capitalist left does not (yet) match other components of the resistance in size or influence. But we do bring a distinct systemic analysis to the fray. We have no crystal ball to tell us exactly what the future holds, yet somewhere down the road we do expect the central polarization in mass politics to be around capitalism as such. And we work today to bring that moment closer. But in determining strategy, we cannot let our anti-capitalist ideological stance substitute for a concrete analysis of what is actually moving millions and shaping today's front-burner battles. Today's reality is a massive polarization whose axis is support or opposition to the white nationalist-driven GOP agenda. The road to maximizing chances of defeating Trump and growing the anti-capitalist left in the process is to throw ourselves into the battle as it is unfolding.

In doing so, the left has a distinct and crucial role to play.

Part of that role is keeping a stress on mass action: getting people out in the streets, onto the picket lines and into town halls; fighting for the organizations that mobilize people to develop and maintain a democratic, participatory character; doing all we can to sustain and deepen political discussion alongside mobilization and protest.

The realm of mass action is the left's natural habitat. There we can often be the catalyst that taps into sentiment extending far beyond the immediate reach of organized left groups. That is the case at present with issues like Single Payer, where a combination of years of work and ripe conditions has pushed the demand into the mainstream. The left also has a vital role to play in mass actions and educational campaigns around demands which are still on the edges of U.S. politics. A prime example today is support for Palestinian national and human rights by promoting the BDS campaign and fighting for a drastic change in U.S. policy.


The left also has a vital role to play in the electoral arena. Again, we will do best if our starting point is what is actually emerging on the ground rather than abstract formulas.

The large-scale resistance to Trump includes a surge of energy into the electoral arena. Trump took office - and the GOP won control of the House, Senate and numerous state legislatures - by winning elections. These GOP victories were, in large part, the result of a highly successful, long-term right-wing electoral strategy. It is hardly surprising, then, that most people opposed to Trump, seeing that they constitute a majority of the country, have concluded that the way to defeat Trump and the GOP is by voting them out of office. Hence the flood of newly politicized individuals considering runs for office and the surge of volunteers into special elections or ongoing organizations working to defeat the GOP. And it is no surprise that the overwhelming bulk of that energy is flowing in the direction of what is now the only alternative to the GOP, that is, the Democratic Party ballot line.

All the energy moving "from protest to politics" is a good thing. But the fact that it is flowing onto Democratic Party terrain poses many dilemmas and challenges. It is here where left's stance will make the most difference.

Because beating Trump is the immediate and over-riding priority, engagement alongside the vast majority of anti-Trump forces in the only vehicle that can do so makes complete sense. The trick is to do so in a way that maximizes chances of an anti-Trump victory while building progressive clout, consolidating independent vehicles for long-term struggle and expanding the ranks of the anti-capitalist left. A major challenge is finding the right mix of directing fire at the main enemy - the racist right as represented by Trump and the GOP - while contending with the corporate politicians, funders and flaks who control the Democratic Party apparatus.

The lessons most social justice advocates have drawn from 2016 are a good starting point. The main take-away is that Democratic candidates need a message and program beyond 'we aren't Trump' or 'let's go back to the way things were before." Rather, a program of economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice and peace has to permeate through Democratic campaigns at all levels. Only such a message can inspire and turn out the active mass Democratic constituencies and those who stayed home in 2016 or voted third party – as well as Trump voters who now realize that the president is a con-man. A closely related take-away is that the road to victory runs through campaigns aimed at communities of color, the working class, women, the LGBTQ community and millennials (the key sectors in the 2008 and 2012 "Obama Coalition"), not through moving to the right in order to chase either better-off white suburbanites who might be turned off by the crudeness of Trump's bigotry or the sectors of Trump's working class base most invested in white identity.

The fight in the Democratic Party for this kind of program and orientation is already raging. Among the key fights so far have been the Perez-Ellison contest for DNC chair and the Bauman-Ellis fight in the California Democratic Party. Battles over potential candidates' stands on Single Payer/Medicare for All are underway right now.


The anti-capitalist left will advance both its short-term and long-term goals by throwing ourselves fully into these battles. This maximizes our chances of defeating the GOP and simultaneously attracting the maximum number of newly politicized people to the left, mirroring the dynamic of the Sanders campaign.

Yet this will only work if the left brings more than our bodies to the fray. We need to bring a compelling political perspective and galvanizing narrative as well:

First, we must keep reminding ourselves and others not to underestimate the Trump regime or the high stakes in the 2018 and 2020 balloting. If the GOP isn't soundly defeated in the 2018 congressional and state races, the forces of reaction in general and white supremacy in particular will be emboldened and Trump's position will be strengthened. Just about everyone in the GOP or within its reach will conclude that appeals to racism are political winners and will act accordingly. Conversely, a crushing victory over the GOP will divide and demoralize the enemy camp and give the forces who spearheaded that victory tremendous momentum. It could even lead to Trump's impeachment or forced resignation.

Second, the fight over message and which voters to prioritize will come down to specifics district-by-district and state-by-state. One-size-fits-all ideological formulas will not cut it. In 'solidly blue' areas we can and should aim for candidates that are rock steady behind a progressive program and have roots especially in working class and people of color constituencies (which of course overlap). In other districts, because of their socio-economic profiles or because progressives have not yet developed strong grassroots organization or potential candidates, we have to settle for less.

Given our overall initiative within the country we should be able to pressure more "moderate" candidates to strongly advocate of at least one of our key positions and to devote resources to door-to-door campaigning rather than spend it all on TV spots. Then support for that candidate both adds to the chances to hit the GOP and lays the groundwork for growing our strength for the next time around. Practicing "unity and struggle' (in old left parlance) within the anti-right front is never simple. But the simplistic route of planting our own flag and standing aside from a fight in which the vast majority of our potential base accurately sees immense stakes is a formula for marginalization.

Third, the left bears the responsibility of being an anchor force regarding the ways race and class are interlinked. Only a multi-racial, class conscious force of millions has any chance of winning lasting victories over the world's most powerful racist ruling class. Throughout U.S. history the Achilles heel of efforts to construct that force has been the susceptibility of its white component to view the non-white sector as something other than class brothers and sisters where "an injury to one is an injury to all." Playing this anchor role not only means battling Trump and his white nationalist crew, but playing an advanced role practically, theoretically and polemically within the anti-Trump front, the Democratic Party and even the progressive movement itself. For further elaboration of how such battles are unfolding at the current moment, see Linda Burnham, No Plans to Abandon Our Freedom Dreams; Steve Phillips, The Democratic Party's Billion Dollar Mistake and Democracy in Color's Return of the Majority' and Mid-Year Progress Report June 2017.)

Last, the consolidation of a grassroots-based, independent political formation that can fight both inside and outside of the electoral arena and the Democratic Party is absolutely crucial for making sure a victory against Trumpism translates into momentum for radical change. The building blocks of such a form have become visible. There is increasing political alignment between such groups as Our Revolution, Labor for Our Revolution, MoveOn, Color of Change, the Working Families Party, Climate Hawks Vote, the various national and state-based community organizing formations,, Planned Parenthood, NOW and many others. The left has a key role to play in working to increase that alignment and, over time, turning it into a solid alliance or even a single united form, perhaps a 21st century version of the 1980s Rainbow Coalition that has the Rainbow's strengths without the weaknesses.

Strategic patience as well as today's sense of urgency will be needed. Building a base in the multiracial working class, reviving the labor movement, constructing a unified, independent organizational vehicle on the basis of a progressive agenda cannot be accomplished in one election cycle. These tasks are likely to unfold unevenly, developing state by state and locality by locality as well as nationally.

And this strategic task will be orders of magnitude harder, if not impossible, if we have to attempt it for seven more years with the GOP holding power. That fundamental reality is the reason we need to take a different stance toward the corporate and centrist elements who are opposed to Trump than to the Trump/GOP camp. The path to a more advanced stage of the class struggle runs through using the divisions in the ruling class to our advantage; fighting full-out against all our class enemies at the same time is a dead-end road.


Today the anti-capitalist left is experiencing a period of rapid growth. The next few years will determine whether that can be translated into the construction of a U.S. left that is a relevant nationwide force for the first time in decades.

The strategy of building the broadest possible front against Trump/GOP while fighting for maximum leverage within that front will give the left the maximum possible strength and initiative if and when the right's grip on power is broken. It is the forces that actually contribute to beating the right that will emerge from this fight with the most influence and credibility among all those who have had a stake in that fight. A left that is in the thick of the battle, that galvanizes a base that others cannot or will not reach, and that helps keep diverse forces focused on the main immediate enemy – that kind of left will emerge from victory in a far stronger position than one that has stood on the sidelines or restricted its role to only pockets of the battlefield where it feels the most comfortable.

Max Elbaum has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical movements since the 1960s. Most recently was part of a team that prepared a three-part 2016 Election Curriculum, "The U.S. Electoral System and Progressive Electoral Strategy," and a follow-up Post-Election Discussion Guide "Changed Terrain Demands a New Orientation," both still available for download from Organizing Upgrade.


Monday, 04 September 2017 15:40
Published in 2016 Elections
Written by

The election of Trump has upended US politics. Across the political spectrum, activists and organizations are reckoning with the ascent of authoritarian white nationalism to the White House and the GOP’s headlock on 25 state governments and Congress. All of us feel it: the urgency to think and act in new ways, to expand our vision and take risks.

The questions of power and scale - how will we develop a base large enough to contend for power? - have moved to the top of the left’s agenda. The existing left, made up of unaffiliated activists and organizations with real strengths but also significant limitations, cannot meet the challenges ahead. We need a leap.

We believe that building a left trend - an alignment of organizations and individuals - based on strategic unity is key to making that leap. The current fragments that make up the left are agreed on many things, such as: being rooted in oppressed communities and the working class, and the need for grassroots social movements. We understand that elected officials, regardless of party or political belief, are pushed and pulled in many directions, making vibrant, disruptive social movements necessary to any project for social transformation.

But the left is badly divided on how to relate to the country's political system and engage in electoral politics. This won't work. Only determined, long-term, energetic efforts to break out of the margins based on a common view of how to engage in our electoral system, while also building mass protest, offer a chance to make the left a force in U.S. politics and, eventually, a contender for power.

Inside/outside strategy

Based on this thinking, a number of left organizations and activists have begun discussing the possibility of creating a higher level of political alignment based on an inside/outside political strategy.

"Inside/Outside" means organizing both inside and outside of electoral politics, and building power inside and outside the Democratic Party. We believe this strategy offers the best opportunity to build a force that directly fights back against white nationalism and the far right, while also working steadily to challenge the neoliberals in the Democratic Party. We also think this strategy is the only one that will set the left on a path to grow with the surging activism that takes civic engagement seriously, the large numbers of leftists and progressives deciding to run for office, and the increasing pull of an inside/outside perspective across the social movements we're immersed in. The alternative, we believe, is to be consigned to the political margins at a moment when everybody else left-of-center is embracing the fight against the right wing at all levels, including in the electoral arena.


Engaging in elections and inside the Democratic Party will be crucial to political strategy in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. Let's look, for instance, at the 2016 presidential election. We understood that a Trump victory would mean the emboldening of white supremacist organizations, a ramping up of state terror in communities of color, an assault on basic democratic rights, and - given GOP control of the House and Senate - an opening for the far-right to push a maximum policy agenda.

The presidential election was not unique. Although the Democratic Party leadership has been heavily influenced by neoliberalism since the 1990s, the polarization of the electorate according to ideas about race, gender, and religion, the growing organizational capacity and communications apparatus of the most reactionary sectors of the GOP, and the Republican Party's links to sectors of capital most staunchly opposed to environmental regulation, drives very real differences between the two parties. In elections around the country, stakes is high.

All this means something for our political work. The utter ruthlessness with which the right-wing wields power - look at the states where the GOP controls the state legislatures and the governor's office - means that ignoring elections, or seeing them primarily as opportunities to propagandize, puts our movements perpetually on defense.

And although working-class alienation from electoral politics is real, most civic organizations and politically engaged folks - especially union activists and people of color - understand that the outcomes of elections will have serious consequences for their lives. Most activists who care about progressive change, for instance, reasonably feel that defeating Trump in 2020 is an absolute priority, as is defeating Republican rule at the state and Congressional level in 2018 (while also challenging neoliberal Democrats in primaries). And electoral politics in general is one of the few ways the left will be able to engage with people at the scale we have to.

The fight against the far right is strongest when it is energized by an inspiring vision for economic and social justice. Campaigns for openly socialist candidates and progressive challenges to neoliberal Democrats must all be part of the political mix. And the opportunities for broadening the reach of progressive and left forces will be greatest when they both struggle within and work in tandem with the larger anti-Trump or anti-right front. That is, we have to “walk on two legs” by building the movement against the far right, while also challenging pro-corporate neoliberal hegemony within the Democratic Party.

A Left Trend

A left trend is an alignment of left organizations and organizers that self-consciously share a political analysis and strategy, and pursue some collaborative work. We see the left inside/outside trend as one crucial piece of the progressive alliance that we hope will lead the anti-Trump fight. This trend has an indispensable role to play in the anti-Trump front: strengthening the anti-militarist wing of the progressive alliance, projecting a vision of economic and racial justice, and elevating an intersectional feminist politics. There is also a conflict within the Democratic Party over which voters to outreach to and what its political vision will be; we don't believe the left can afford to sit on the sidelines as those questions are settled.

But in order for the left to seriously tackle these challenges, it must do two things. First, it needs to find a way to connect with the tens of thousands of newly active people who may identify as part of the broad and ideologically diverse social justice left but who do not see themselves as part of a collective left project. This social justice left encompasses, as Bob Wing has written, "socialists, radical anti-racists, nationalists, and feminists, liberation theologists, strong social democrats, labor militants, pacifists, anti-imperialists and everyone else" who will fight against corporate and concentrated power. A stronger and more cohesive left depends upon connecting with the social justice left to develop a new sense of the "we" who are working towards fundamental social transformation based on a shared strategic perspective; this will be much harder to accomplish without a left trend.

Second, the organized socialist left needs to balance out the strengths and weaknesses of its different organizations and activist networks. All of the organizations and networks we belong to have important strengths, but also very real limitations in terms of size, demographics, or geographic or sectoral concentration. None of them, in their current form, are capable of playing the strategic role we believe the left must play in the next period. A left trend might have that potential - the ability to reach far beyond the existing left to create a force that can move us from defense to offense.

Having an alignment of left organizations and activists will allow us to move political discussion past the current debates - as important as they are - about whether or not to engage in electoral politics, whether or not to engage with the Democratic party. Instead, we can measure our ideas against our most exciting and inspiring victories, as well as draw lessons from our efforts that come up short. We can debate the questions we confront in our on-the-ground work: how do we build a winning majority while advancing the struggle for collective liberation? How do we scale up from local or state-level efforts? Through our dialogue, debate, and organizing work, we can build a deeper strategic unity (and clarify our differences) around the left's role in electoral politics and U.S. politics more generally. To do that, we need to create a venue for frank discussion across organizational and other boundaries, and a way for activists to communicate about and summarize their work.

The current lack of a left inside/outside trend has created real weaknesses. To take one example, racial justice organizers operating mainly through 501c3's have done important work with some of the most marginalized communities in U.S. society. But the constraints of working in a c3 means that, with some very important exceptions (you know who you are), our deep organizing has not translated into political power. At the state level, this has meant that even massive street protests such as the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina could do little in the face of a scruple-less right-wing with complete control of the state government. Nationally, this meant we could not provide an effective counterbalance to Clinton's machine in communities of color during the presidential primary, nor (besides some key protests) were we able to effectively shape the Sanders' campaign's program around racial justice.

Today, more and more 501c3's are asking questions about the limits of their work and how to move beyond it, looking to those community organizations that have made serious gains by integrating civic engagement work. A strong left trend with deep links to racial justice organizing could accomplish much; it could, for instance, shift local or state-level politics to push for effective civilian oversight of police, decriminalization of poverty, and funding basic social infrastructure in communities of color. All of those demands require both the hard, patient work of grassroots organizing and the willingness to use elections to move the political center-of-gravity in legislatures.

The 2016 presidential election marked an historic failure of the left; despite some important efforts, we were unable to unite in leading the fight to defeat Trump and the far right, to stand alongside the oppressed and the exploited. This has made it even more urgent to throw down in the struggles ahead that will shape the future of U.S. politics, to move the left out of its narrow silos towards the scale that can create collective liberation. The left we want to build is all of us.

In unity and struggle,

John Bachtell, Communist Party USA

Calvin Cheung-Miaw

Sendolo Diaminah, Freedom Road Socialist Organization

Adam Gold, LeftRoots

Harmony Goldberg

Shuron Jones, St. Louis Workers’ Education Society

Judith LeBlanc

Timmy Lu

Chauncey Robinson, Communist Party USA

Joseph Schwartz, DSA*

Thomas Walker, Freedom Road Socialist Organization

(* indicates organization is for identification purposes only)

Friday, 09 June 2017 22:26

Scaffolding for an assessment of the correlation of forces after the battles from Trump's inauguration through the GOP's failure to repeal Obamacare, and what the next year may hold in store.

Note added April 7: This piece was finalized just before Trump's air strike in Syria. For updates on that extremely dangerous escalation, see the links added to the paragraph terming this "an aggressively militarist, war presidency" below.

This assessment argues four main points:

1. The Trump administration has already pushed through numerous components of its racist and reactionary program, though it has not been able to establish the level of dominance and momentum required to roll over the remarkably wide, deep and sustained opposition. Via executive actions and winning approval for atrocious cabinet appointments, the White House has already green-lighted the Dakota Access Pipeline, ramped up anti-immigrant enforcement, gutted regulations combatting climate change, eliminated important workers' rights protections, begun escalating U.S. wars, moved toward shifting resources from social programs to the Pentagon and more. Trump has launched a blistering propaganda assault on the mainstream media which poses a grave threat to fact-based debate and political democracy. All this while retaining the support of Trump's mass base and the GOP coalition for the Trump-Bannon program of "racial and imperial revenge." At the same time, the White House has suffered some important defeats (a blocked Muslim travel ban, failure to repeal ACA) due to Trump's own mis-steps (lying, off-message outbursts, etc.); policy divisions within the GOP, and, above all, the breadth, depth and perseverance of the resistance (see next point). But the Trump-led GOP still holds the commanding heights of governmental power; it still sets the national agenda, and it remains bent on all-round implementation of its racist, give-big-business-a-free-hand, authoritarian program.

2. Resistance to Trump/Trumpism has been broad, determined and sustained enough to chalk up important accomplishments. Resistance has surged not only from the communities most immediately in the Trump-Bannon gunsights but from layers of the federal bureaucracy, the judiciary, the media, scientists and even a small layer of anti-Trump Republican intellectuals. It can claim several achievements: preventing the 'normalization' of Trump's presidency; etching in the national consciousness the fact that Trump lost the popular vote; blocking several administration initiatives; and forcing many Democratic Party elected officials (and other waverers) to take a much stronger opposition stance than they were initially tempted to do. These accomplishments are to be celebrated and built upon. But the resistance remains in a fundamentally defensive posture with an uphill fight ahead.

3. Within the broad resistance front, progressive and left forces have played a crucial role and grown both in numbers and political maturity. New members, donors and supporters have gravitated toward organizations from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood to Democratic Socialists of America. Important organizations and circles of activists have traversed a steep learning curve to break out of "silo" thinking; move toward meshing the fight against economic inequality with struggles for racial and gender justice; and grasp the importance of the electoral arena both to defeating Trump and building progressive political power long term. This growth has enabled various progressives to play an outsize role so far in the broad resistance front: issuing most of the calls for mass action; showing the way in defending all communities under attack; keeping the spotlight on the "white nationalist" glue that holds so much of the Trumpist coalition together; building on Bernie's campaign to establish a much stronger foothold for progressives for the crucial battles taking place within the Democratic Party. While energized and strengthened in all these ways, the progressive forces have yet to build sufficient unity, institutional strength and strategic clarity (or find ways to effectively incorporate into our ranks the tens of thousands stepping forward) to lead the broad coalition that is required to defeat Trumpism, much less go it alone.

4. The next year of battle will be difficult, complicated and likely decisive for the campaign to make Trump a one term President and firmly establish a progressive pole in mainstream politics. The level of turnout and spirit at the next round of mass actions (April 4 anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's 'Breaking Silence' speech through the Peoples Climate March to the May 1 strike) will indicate whether or not a mass protest, take-to-the-streets flow can be sustained. Key battles will take place that we are less likely to win than the GOP's first shot at ACA repeal: the Gorsuch nomination seemingly being rammed through this week; a corporate tax cut; stopping horrible executive branch actions on climate change, sanctuary cities and the rollback of (minimal) progress toward curbing racist police practices. These - as well as the heightening crackdown on all protest - will test the ability of the resistance to persevere through an even rougher patch than we've faced so far. The capacity of various progressive groups and 'tables' to roll out a set of large-scale, coordinated initiatives for the 2018 balloting would have a huge multi-leveled impact: a major breakthrough here would substantially increase the prospects for large voter turnout in communities of color and other key "Obama Coalition" sectors. This could lead to gains against the GOP at the federal, state and local levels; a leftward shift in the overall message and content of numerous Democratic 2018 campaigns, and lay the basis for progressives to have a major say in what candidate and program will oppose Trump/Trumpism in 2020.

*         *         *

A few key specifics and additional notes on each of the points above:

On #1 - Trump and the Trump Coalition:

*Steve Bannon quickly emerged as the most powerful person in the administration after Trump, cementing alt-right white nationalism as both the driving force of White House policy and key glue of the Trumpist coalition.

*Trump's administration is ramping up military action in existing war theaters (Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan); quietly expanding Washington's military presence in new places (Somalia); embracing repressive dictatorships (Egypt, Bahrain); threatening massive escalation on the Korean peninsula; giving a wink-and-nod okay to more Israeli colonial settlements, and proposing a $54 billion increase in the military budget. This is an aggressively militarist, war presidency that is woefully ignorant of international affairs, impulsive and amateurish. The potential for disastrous miscalculation is ever-present. (April 7 addition: for updates on Trump's escalation in Syria, go here, here, here and here.)

*Trump's lies; his installation of the most financially corrupt, kleptocratic administration in memory; his undisciplined off-message tweets and his general volatility have led to a lot of GOP worry and private grumbling about his capacity to lead. Even a recent Wall Street Journal editorial slammed him for lacking credibility. But all significant factions of his coalition calculate that they will get important benefits from his presidency (or fear his wrath) and continue to defend him. At the base, polls show 85%-plus of GOP voters approve of Trump's performance so far, and only a handful of Trump voters have been located who publicly express 'buyer's remorse' despite intense media efforts to find and publicize people in that category. This gives Trump the leverage to implement more elements of his reactionary program regarding budget priorities, financial and internet regulations, police practices, immigration, foreign policy, stacking the federal judiciary with reactionary judges and more.

*The health care repeal debacle has shifted the balance of forces within the Trump Coalition. The 'Establishment GOP' (Ryan and the remnant figures from the Bush/Romney/McCain period) is further weakened relative to the extreme conservative ideologues (Freedom Caucus), Christian Right and Alt-Right.

*Trump's drive to substantially shift the pattern of alliances that has long anchored U.S. foreign policy and his constant blasting of U.S. government departments (intelligence agencies especially) led to most Neocon intellectuals and important sections of the government bureaucracy opposing him even before the election. It seems clear now that at least some key people within and outside of government are seriously working to bring Trump down via the "Russia-Gate" scandal. (See the appendix below with details on U.S.-Russia relations, Putin and "Russia-Gate.")

On #2 - The Broad Resistance Front

*The Women's March set the tone. It was very important that women of color moved central and established anti-racism and intersectionality as a cornerstone of anti-Trump feminism. Also crucial: the experience of people from different issues/sectors, from labor to trans rights to Palestine solidarity and Black Lives Matter, all marching together. This was a huge cultural-psychological push toward mutual solidarity and a holistic spirit permeating the resistance in general. Immediately following the March, the large and militant airport protests were crucial for keeping the momentum going and reinforcing the movement's determination to stay united in defense of the most vulnerable sectors. It is noteworthy that women make up a disproportionate share of those stepping forward in the outpouring of mass actions against Trump.

*There is substantial unevenness in the level of activity, breadth and organizational strength of resistance initiatives across sectors and regions. The antiwar component is one of the weakest, and every day that underscores how much Trump is a war-making, militarist president indicates the urgency of incorporating peace and anti-militarist politics into the outlook and work of the resistance forces. The labor movement will come under even more pressure at the federal level and in many states, and, though still the largest institution of workers in the U.S., has not yet found an effective strategy to fight back. (Labor's task is further complicated because some unions are inclined to compromise with or even support Trump in response to his promises of job creation via his hyped but hollow infrastructure rebuilding plan.) And potential for energizing broad layers of the African American community - the most progressive sector in the country and absolutely central to any successful and durable progressive coalition - is very far from being realized, as is the potential for a tremendous Latino mobilization. These are absolutely crucial tasks.

*All forms of resistance face the prospect of heightened state repression and non-state right-wing attacks going forward. Reduced scrutiny of police, increased law enforcement violence against protesters, more surveillance and infiltration of opposition groups, orchestrated smear campaigns, death threats and physical assaults targeting dissident journalists and activists are all in the mix. These will accompany intensified attempts at voter intimidation and suppression in the Trump era. Developing approaches to defend against these while continuing to seek the broadest possible participation in direct action and electoral engagement will be a new challenge facing the anti-Trump camp.

On #3 - Progressive and Left Forces

*There is increasing dialogue, interaction and proposals for cooperation among the progressive and left forces who have gravitated toward a strategy of fighting and trying to build power both inside and outside of the electoral arena and the Democratic Party. Turning those steps into an aligned set of concrete initiatives and strong institutions while the resistance has such momentum and in time to be a major force in the 2018 elections is the prime immediate challenge now facing activists in that camp.

*Some others on the left are prone to overestimate the strength of the resistance while underestimating how deeply the white nationalist right is entrenched in positions of power and/or how dangerous it is. This mis-assessment contributes to ultra-left (divorced from real conditions) views that argue either (1) elections are relatively unimportant compared to street protests; or (2) the Democratic Party is either just as bad as Trump or at best an obstacle to defeating Trumpism, so the Democrats should be shunned completely in favor of building a third party immediately; or (3) we should be involved in the Democratic Party only to work for a rapid 100% take over, which can succeed because the centrist neoliberal Democrats are "on their last legs" and can be easily ousted if only we have the will power.

*The Ellison-Perez contest for DNC Chair was an important test of strength between different forces contending for influence in the Democratic Party. The progressives behind Ellison were not able to prevail. But Ellison came close; and Perez - though backed by the party's corporate wing to stop Ellison - was one of the most progressive figures in the Obama administration. Combined with Perez immediately appointing Ellison as co-chair, these factors indicate that a progressive agenda now has a measure of initiative even within the Democratic apparatus. At the base, meanwhile, the surge of support for new initiatives like Indivisible, Flippable and Swing Left, on top of the continuing work of Our Revolution, Moveon, Color of Change, the Working Families Party and other national or state-based progressive groups, gives the broad left tremendous opportunities to gain a level of influence not attained since the height of the Rainbow Coalition/Jackson insurgency in the 1980s.  

On #4 - Now through Early 2018

*We should expect the administration's appeals to racism and xenophobia to be ramped up each time they experience a setback. This is their default mode to gin up their base and keep the loyalty of a coalition whose main glue is white nationalism. We already see this pattern in operation: in the first daily press briefing after the GOP's debacle on ACA, Attorney General Sessions took the stage to bash sanctuary cities; the White House has responded to "Russia-Gate" by updating their racist hate-Obama formula with accusations that the former President (and now Susan Rice too) are the real criminals. Such gin-up-the-base rhetoric is sure to escalate between now and the next election. The chair of the GOP Congressional Committee has already made clear the other prong of their 2018 strategy: "Raise a shit-ton of money."

*Last, given Trump's impulsive personality and Bannon's many statements that "there is no doubt" the U.S. will go to war in the South China Sea and/or Middle East in the next decade, the constant wild card today is the potential for an incident somewhere to rapidly escalate into war or even a Cuban-missile-crisis-type confrontation. And one accompanied by threats of intense domestic repression. It is not possible to plan for such a scenario other than to recognize that we may need to get every single person possible into public squares across the country to oppose any slide toward catastrophe - hundreds of Tahrir Square protest/occupations in cities and towns across the land.

*         *         *

Appendix: A Note on Trump, Russia and 'Russia-Gate'

Trump's Russia connections and the charge that the Trump campaign collaborated in Russia's messing with the election ("Russia-Gate") have become a major controversy in mainstream politics. It is a complicated issue for progressives to deal with.

First, everything happening between Trump, Washington and Moscow is against a background of the U.S. expanding NATO almost to Russia's borders over the last two decades-plus, as well as supporting anti-Russian movements in countries close to Russia. Russia understandably regards this as a threat and betrayal of promises made by Washington not to push NATO east. It is in progressives' interest to reduce tensions with Russia and we should recognize that Washington, not Moscow, has been the main source of increased tension since the end of (as well as during) the Cold War.

During the presidential campaign, Trump said he would reduce tensions with Russia and criticized Hillary's hawkish approach to U.S.-Russian relations. This got him the opposition of most of the foreign policy establishment which held on to the Cold War view that Russia was an enemy to be confronted and weakened. (It also snookered some people on the left who started to think of Trump as a 'peace candidate'.)

But even at the time - and especially in light of all the verified reports that have come to light since November - it was clear that Trump's 'be-nicer-to-Russia' strategy had nothing to do with peace. Rather, it is due to his sharing a common vision of reorganizing global politics with Russian leader Vladimir Putin (and to the longstanding financial-business ties between Trump and Russian oligarchs tied to Putin as well). Both Trump and Putin envision a U.S.-Russia alliance in defense of white Christendom and 'traditional values' (anti-feminism and homophobia in particular), under authoritarian strongmen, confronting Islam in a 'clash of civilizations' battle and generally dominating the world. Putin has been working with, and subsidizing, right-wing parties across Europe and elsewhere in a bid to build global support for this kind of alignment, and to break up the EU in particular.

While reduced tensions with Russia are in the interest of progressives, this global strategy absolutely is not. We are opposed to retaining a Cold War approach to Russia. But we also oppose enmeshing the U.S. in a global right-wing Islamophobic "war of civilizations" alliance.

In pursuit of such an alliance, it seems virtually certain that the Russian government tried to influence the U.S. election to favor Trump. (Just as the U.S. has long meddled in other countries' elections, including Russia's.) What is unclear is how much, if at all, people in the Trump camp went beyond sharing a broad vision with Putin and having financial dealings with Russian oligarchs to outright collaboration to influence the election. Should that have occurred, it would indeed be an assault on U.S. democracy, and an almost unprecedented one at that. (Only "almost" because the Israeli government has been meddling in U.S. elections in collusion with U.S. elected officials for decades.) This makes "Russia-Gate" so volatile and important, even if the foreign policy programs of the elite players on both sides are not to our liking.


Max Elbaum has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical movements since the 1960s. Most recently was part of a team that prepared a three-part 2016 Election Curriculum, "The U.S. Electoral System and Progressive Electoral Strategy," and a follow-up Post-Election Discussion Guide "Changed Terrain Demands a New Orientation," both still available for download from Organizing Upgrade.


Friday, 07 April 2017 18:14
Published in 2016 Elections
Written by

March for Womens Lives 1The first two weeks of the Trump presidency ought to be engraved in our memories as if in granite. Politics is a blood sport and the far right takes no prisoners – except, apparently, those it intends to torture. The Republican Party has demonstrated for a very, very long time now that it has no use for a single one of the niceties of bi- partisanship. Yet most Democratic politicians dib and dab around as though living in a different political era altogether, though I’m not sure which one.

We are witness to three simultaneous crises: a crisis of the working class, which is fractured by race, by region, by citizenship status and, increasingly, by religious belief, and which lacks political cohesion or organizational representation. A crisis of the ruling class, which was bullied and backed into a corner by a megalomaniacal kleptocrat who stole their candy and who has no respect for the core institutions of class rule or for the stories his class brothers and sisters tell each other about the delights of the prevailing world order. A crisis of the state, in which far-right ideologues, autocrats and theocrats, having captured the governing apparatus, are rapidly concentrating power in the executive while bureaucrats scramble toward either dissent and defiance or appeasement and accommodation.

Historians, economists and political scientists will delve deep to examine the currents that brought us to this three-pronged crisis. Strategists of every political and ideological stripe are under intense pressure to map a way forward. These notes, focused on what might appear to be a side issue, perhaps could be subtitled, “Not the Way Forward.”

A highly consequential debate about the future direction of the Democratic Party rages among academics, pundits and politicians. This debate is most active among liberals, but it ranges both rightward and leftward as well. For two months now liberals have been ruminating on the role of “identity politics” in November’s defeat of Hillary Clinton. Essentially the debate turns on whether the Democratic Party and Clinton, in their embrace of racial, religious and sexual minorities, forsook working class whites, who in turn responded to their abandonment by casting their votes for Trump. According to this point of view, the journey back from the devastation of 2016 requires that the party take an indefinite break from identity politics to concentrate on winning back economically squeezed white workers. There’s a leftish version of this line – an economic fundamentalism that posits that pocket book issues trump all others. And a classic liberal version that, seemingly reasonably, demands the subordination of the part to the whole, the interests of particular groups to the national interest. Both boil down to the same thing: it’s time to subordinate the rights claims of various “interest groups” to an economic agenda that prioritizes the distress of white workers. Only this adjustment will create the conditions for Democrats to make gains in congressional and statewide races and retake the White House in 2020. (Or, in the leftish version, only this adjustment will set the foundation for building a successful workers’ movement.)

Where the Democratic Party lands on this issue matters enormously. The degree of traction this post-election analysis gains will, at minimum, impact the direction of the flow of attention and resources of the party, liberal think tanks and liberal philanthropy, as well as the focus of progressive organizations. It will likely determine how the Democratic Party positions itself relative to 2018 and 2020, and whether that positioning has the intended effect of creating a sufficiently broad electoral coalition to roll back Trumpism. With the tenor and thrust of liberal and left politics hanging in the balance, it is worth taking a moment to examine what might be problematic about analyses that lay 2016’s rout of the Democratic Party at the feet of “identity politics.”

It’s never a good idea to enter willingly into a frame your opponent has constructed to entrap you. The last I heard, “identity politics” was the terminology of the right, deployed to disparage and dismiss social justice movements that seek to expand the democratic rights of marginalized and excluded groups. Implicit in the term is the notion of placing the concerns of the part over the common good – of selfishly advancing narrow, particularistic agendas rather than the broader national interest.

The terminology of “identity politics” is part of a whole vocabulary including “thought police,” “politically correct,” and “liberal elites,” whose main intention is to undermine the legitimacy of liberal and left politics. In my experience, advocates and organizers for racial justice don’t think of themselves as purveyors of “identity politics.” Nor do immigrant rights organizers, advocates for LGBTQ rights or women’s rights activists. Rather, in fighting for the expansion of democracy for particular groups they rev the motor for the renewal and expansion of democracy for the whole. And they know from experience that purportedly universalistic solutions often work to make already embedded inequalities even more rigid.

Uncritically adopting the “identity politics” language of the right is the equivalent of dropping our guard and waltzing onto their terrain. Master’s tools, master’s house anyone? We need to recognize a toxic frame when we see one and refuse to be a party to its proliferation.

But let’s set aside the questions of language and framing for a moment. Because there is, in fact, an expression of identity politics core to the evolution of our nation and critical to how we understand the current juncture. White identity and nation building have been bound together as though co-terminus since way before the founding fathers and the drafting of our framing documents. The rest of us have had to fight our way into the body politic. Or, in the case of Indian nations, make the best of a spectacularly unequal and uneasy standoff. The conceptual contrast between white Christians and red savages underwrote relentless territorial expansion and genocide. Between white Christians and Black savages, the enslavement of Africans and the appropriation of their bodies, their labor, their progeny. Between brown savages and white Christians, the taking of the Southwest. Between the yellow peril and white patriotic Americans, various exclusions, internments, property appropriations and ghettoizations. And the colonial interventions in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were rationalized by way of the contrast between people who were brown, backward and incapable of self-governance versus white Americans who were enlightened and masterly nation builders.

One could go on, but who really wants to track back through the catastrophes and follies of U.S. national formation perpetrated, in substantial part, the name of whiteness? This is not about projecting the racial sensibilities of today back onto social and political environments that operated on completely different sets of assumptions. It is about reckoning with the degree to which the nation-building project has been, at the same time, a white identity formation project. This fusion of white identity and American identity, the bedrock of white nationalism, has such a long history that it has been internalized and naturalized. Only since the Civil Rights movement has it began to be somewhat disrupted. Until we collectively “get” this, some will continue to deny or be confused by the white rights subtext of “Make America Great Again,” and surprised at how powerfully it resonated. The shaping of white identity, premised on exclusion, is a central thread in the national narrative, bound up with capitalist development in general and manifested, in one way or another, to one degree or another, in every political, social and cultural institution.

Which brings us to an essential difference between white identity and the identities of groups forged in the experience of exclusion and subjugation. There is a reason that “Black Power!” and “Brown Power!” reverberate on completely different frequencies than “White Power!” And that “White Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or even “All Lives Matter” are misguided rejoinders to “Black Lives Matter.” An assertion of existential urgency by the marginalized and scorned cannot simply be inverted without carrying the connotation of both a rebuke to demands for justice and inclusion and a reassertion of the primacy of white lives.

Obama’s presidency was bracketed by two especially noxious racist tropes: the “birther” lies that first surfaced during the 2007-08 campaign and the vile “ape in heels” slur cast at the first lady in the waning days of Obama’s second term. Trump’s birther charge is a reinforcement of white identity by way of asserting that the Black president is not and never will be a “real American.” The “ape in heels” insult is, obviously, a resurrection of the never-far-from-the-surface characterization of Blacks as sub-human, primitive, uncivilized. These may seem like extremes of a coarse, atavistic racism – a good distance from current concerns about implicit bias and micro aggressions. And no morally grounded person with an interest in reinforcing our sense of shared humanity wants to spend much time contemplating such racist poison. But the point here is that the extremes of anti-Black racism still find a hearing among a substantial segment of white Americans, and that a master at reinforcing the exclusivity of the claim of whites to the national identity now prowls the Oval Office. He of multiple Eastern European wives knows full well that the son of a Slovenian will never be subject to challenges as to his national identity in the way the son of a Kenyan was.

This take on white identity is blunt and broad. It doesn’t take into account class, gender, regional variation or the infinite expressions of identity at the level of the individual. Nevertheless, Trump’s victory is virtually incomprehensible without a reading on the dynamics of white identity and national formation. The liberal inquiry into the role of “identity politics” in Clinton’s loss is pointed in a direction diametrically opposite to where it might find some answers.

The back and forth among pundits over whether Trump voters should be tagged as racist has been especially frustrating. Allegedly, some voters claim that they chose Trump despite his racism and misogyny, not because of it. Or there’s the view that all these voters couldn’t possibly be racist, because, back in 2008 and 2012, Obama won many of the same overwhelmingly white counties that Hillary lost in 2016. Individuals certainly contain within them contradictory impulses and sentiments (door knockers and phone bankers for Obama had plenty of stories about white voters who proclaimed, “I think I’m voting for the nigger,”) and we may never be able to divine the impulses, prejudices and rationalizations that lie deep in the heart of hearts of Trump voters. But a majority of white voters cast their ballots for a man who is furiously and floridly racist, and they are apparently thrilled that he won. Black Americans standing on the planet today are here due to the vigilance of forebears, close in and long gone, who were keenly attuned to the lethal consequences of white fury. While there’s surely room for debate about the misuse or overuse of the language of “privilege,” it does seem a signal marker of white privilege to doubt or minimize the racial animosity of Trump’s base.

The conflation of white identity and national identity ripples out into the further conflation of white interests with national interests. In the current debate about “identity politics,” this takes the form of maligning Black politics, feminist politics, LGBTQ politics, etc., as fragmentary and divisive while, evidently, a politic built on the economic woes of white workers would be unitary and representative of national interests. There are so many things wrong with this view that it is hard to know where to begin – not least the howling hypocrisy of the sudden attention to the plight of white workers whose precarious economic status has been decades in the making. But to note just two issues, we have here a problematic conception of U.S. national interests and a problematic conception of the U.S. working class.

Apart from soaring campaign rhetoric and outright propaganda, there is no idealized national interest. Every expression of U.S. national interest is actually the expression of the more or less stable, more or less contradictory, more or less politically coherent interests of different classes, economic sectors, geographies, demographic groups, etc., as projected onto domestic and international politics. The two political parties do their best to contain and manage these divergent interests and to present, each of them, a version of the “national interest” most effective at keeping their amalgamated electoral coalitions aligned. In other words, the content of what’s understood by the term “national interest” is not abstract, unitary and ideal but rather highly politicized and reflective of the relative strength of contending political actors. All interests are particularistic and fragmentary. There is no reason to countenance the view that any one of the constituent elements is more representative of a unitary national interest than any other. That is to be fought out in the arena of politics, and is determined not only by demographic weight, but by the capacity to craft a vision and political agenda capable of unifying and stabilizing a coalition that is sufficiently powerful to project its worldview and political priorities as the “national interest.”

As to the conception of the U.S. working class, the belated focus on the abandoned white worker traffics in a worn out motif that posits a white guy in a hard hat on a construction site or a factory floor as a stand-in for the working class in general, while declining to recognize that Black, Latino, Asian, female and LGBTQ workers have been battered by the same economic and social trends, that white male workers started at a higher baseline, and that there’s a racial and gender differential in the forms of and responses to the economic assault and battery. (Unfortunately, the long history of actively segregationist all-male unions is part of the backdrop to the conflation of “worker” with “white male worker.” The building trades unions’ recent warm embrace of Trump is not helping us out in this regard.)

Alarm bells have been rung, repeatedly, about rampant opioid abuse, rising suicide rates and detachment from the labor market in white working class communities. It is beyond question that political responses to these crises, by either party, have been inadequate, verging on criminally negligent, and that these communities deserve the compassion, social and medical services, and jobs programs that could begin to turn these trends around. And yet.... I remember the 1980s, the cruel terminology – “crack babies” and “crack whores” – that accompanied that epidemic, and the unyielding resistance to naming the extended episode of drug dependency and addiction that tore through families and poor communities as a problem of the class. No, it was the “culture of poverty” and failures of character. Meaning poor Black people were simply inclined to do dope. So too the current wave of Chicago shootings is not read as revelatory of bottomless layers of desperation on the part of young working class men who are stripped, practically from birth, of access to living lives that nurture their human potential, is not seen as a problem of class formation in the U.S., but is rather interpreted as inexplicable Black pathology (maybe it’s something in their genes....?) and wielded politically to reinforce both class and race division. So yes, empathy and understanding for stricken white working class communities, along with a better understanding of how the extension of empathy and understanding, like everything else in our society, is deeply racialized.

These notes should in no way be read as an argument against addressing the concerns and economic anxieties of white workers. It is an argument for

(1) addressing those concerns as a component part of a larger story about the declining fortunes of the class as a whole;

(2)  refusing to make concessions to racism, xenophobia, Christian supremacy, misogyny or heterosexism while addressing those concerns;

(3)  being clear that the displacement of white economic anxiety onto Black people and immigrants is neither warranted nor wise;

(4)  being clear that the post-war deal of expanding economic fortunes for a wide swath of white workers is completely off the table; what is on the table is the search for new forms of multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gendered worker organizing that applies itself to the riddle of how to effectively extract significant concessions from 21st century capital;

(5)  understanding that the work of addressing the economic and social concerns of white workers, and winning them away from thoroughly reactionary politics, is not principally an issue of crafting the best messages and communications strategies to produce results in the next election cycle, but a long-term, no-short-cuts proposition to which a battalion of people and organizations will need to devote their lives.

Fortunately there are organizations doing the hard, granular, on-the-ground work in counties and states that are overwhelmingly white and/or red. They know the importance of place and how history and culture shape their neighbors’ thinking. They know how many conversations it takes to get a first-time or infrequent voter to the polls. They know that race and gender bigotry, while tough to eradicate, are far from immutable. They have mastered the art of building complex coalitions in which no constituency feels abandoned and all can move forward together to win progressive policies. We all need to learn from these organizations and make sure their lessons are widely shared, their efforts resourced and replicated, rather than throwing buckets of money to Democratic Party consultants and operatives whose transactional, short-term, short-sighted approach to polling and messaging has much to do with the crisis we’re in today.

A hailstorm of executive orders and a blizzard of bad news blanket the nation. A man who thrives on stoking chaos and fear has enmeshed all of us in his need for daily doses of high drama. It is tough to modulate between stunned passivity and frantic reactivity. In this roiling environment, it may seem that a debate over “identity politics” is of relatively little consequence. But it is, in fact, central to how the Democratic Party and progressives approach 2018 and 2020, and to whether and how the party regroups to become an effective shield against the far-right onslaught. It is of enormous importance to a left that must focus its influence on shaping the political frameworks and strategies most capable of defeating Trump and Trumpism.

The liberal imagination has become perversely fixated on the alleged excesses of “identity politics,” forgetting that social movements of the marginalized are the spark and spur of democracy. The abolitionist movement and the Civil Rights Movement extended democratic rights to the formerly enslaved and perpetually reviled, removing a deep moral stain from the nation. The women’s movement unleashed the potential and talent of half the country’s population. While the small- minded argue about bathrooms and pronouns, transgender activists, at great risk to themselves, have gifted us with a far more capacious understanding of the evolving spectrum of gender identity and expression. None of these movements is “done.” Each has advanced not just the interests of a singular identity group, but also the ambit of freedom for all. Most assuredly, the generation that stepped forward in the wake of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown will not stand down just because some liberals are having a panic attack.

We are all navigating treacherous terrain, seeking a way forward. At least some of us know that not a single development over the past period indicates that the way forward requires that we abandon our freedom dreams. To the contrary.


References and issues for further exploration:

Mark Lilla, the piece that started it all: liberalism.html?_r=2

Katherine Franke, a cogent critique of Lilla:

Thomas Edsall on identity politics and DP messaging: democratic-party.html

Damon Young on race & Lilla: identity-liberalism-is-the-whitest-thing-ive-ever-read/

Jonathan Wilson on history and identity politics: response-to-mark-lilla/

Lovia Gyarkye on enduring importance of identity liberalism:

Salim Muwakkil: politics%e2%80%9d-takes-hit


And from anti-Trump conservatives:

David Brooks: march.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story- heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left- region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region

Ross Douthat: ***

These notes were starting to turn into a junkyard for a whole host of issues deserving of research, comment and analysis. I invite others to explore:

  • The gender split in the Black vote, larger than in any recent election. Were Black men motivated to give Trump 13% of their votes by a misguided masculinism? Fear of a female president? Anti-immigrant sentiment? Something else?

  • The thinking, motivations and political formation of white voters in deep red counties who bucked the trend and voted for HRC.

  • The differences in the gender voting gap between racial/ethnic groups.

  • An accounting for the allegiance of significant proportions of Asian and Latino voters to the Republican Party. How is that allegiance being motivated and organized? What might it take to counter it?

  • An accounting of the Democratic Party’s investment in voter education/voter registration/GOTV efforts in Black communities as against new voters registered and turn-out figures. Show us the numbers.

  • The higher than usual Democratic LGBTQ vote. To what degree a result of focused organizing and messaging versus spontaneous revulsion?

    Linda Burnham is an activist and writer whose work focuses on women’s rights, racial justice and national politics.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017 16:40
Published in 2016 Elections
Written by

This Power Point Discussion Guide and List of Additional Resources are available for download here:

In the wake of Donald Trump's victory November 8 partisans of equality, justice and peace are grappling with a number of knotty questions.

  • What accounts for Trump's victory?
  • What can we expect from a Trump administration?
  • What steps are most important for mounting a sustained and effective resistance to the incoming administration and, over time, push Trumpism back to the margins?
  • How can we build progressive power? What do we need to do to mesh the fight against economic inequality with the crucial fights for racial and gender justice, peace and against climate change?
  • What is needed to battle effectively on both electoral and non-electoral terrain? What strategy should progressives and the left pursue in relations to the Democratic Party?

As one contribution to engaging these and other questions, we prepared a 32-Slide Power Point Presentation titled "Changed Terrain Demands a New Orientation" and an accompanying Resource List. This module is a follow-up to our earlier three-module 2016 Election Curriculum which you can find here. This new Power Point is designed to facilitate a two to two-and-a-half hour discussion in an organization or an informal group. It can also simply be read as an article contributing to the widespread discussion of post-election strategy.

If you have any questions about these, or want to offer feedback or engage in a dialogue about them, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For peace with justice,
Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Harmony Goldberg, Jason Negron-Gonzales, Tarso Ramos, Bob Wing

Wednesday, 07 December 2016 21:11
Published in 2016 Elections
Written by


Donald Trump was right: the system is rigged! But it is rigged for the Republicans, not the Democrats, for conservatives, not progressives. And the result is the election of an extreme racist, misogynist authoritarian who may change the course of U.S. and even world history.

Belatedly we learn that Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than two million votes, yet Trump still won the Electoral College. The public burst into an uproar in 2000 when Gore beat Bush by 550,000 votes but lost the Electoral vote. This time the public, the Clinton campaign and the press are quiet. We are glad to see Jill Stein taking the lead in contesting the vote in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.*

In fact the Electoral College system was created by slaveholders, and remains undemocratic and racist, and biased to the Republicans. Obama showed that the system can be overcome and even turned to our advantage, but the Clinton and Gore losses show it is an uphill climb.

The Racist, Undemocratic Electoral College

The 2016 election was only the fourth time in U.S. history that a presidential candidate has lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College, and thus the presidency. And Clinton’s winning margin of more than two million votes is by far the largest of any “losing” candidate.

Why is it that, in the 21st century, the Electoral College keeps trumping the popular vote on behalf of Republicans?

The pro-Republican bias of the Electoral College derives from two main dynamics: it overweights the impact of mostly conservative voters in small population states and it negates entirely the mostly progressive votes of nearly half of African American voters, more than half of Native American voters and a major swath of Latino voters.

For decades now, with a couple of exceptions, Republicans have dominated rural areas, small towns and small population states, and the Democrats control big cities and most big population states.

Well, the Electoral College rules give as much as three times as much weight to the mainly conservative and white Republicans in the rural states compared to states with large, racially diverse and majority Democratic populations.

This is because even the tiniest state has a minimum of three Electoral College votes, based on the rule that each state is allocated Electors based on the size of its congressional delegation (Senators plus Representatives). The Constitution provides that each state has a minimum of two Senators and one member of the House of Representatives, even if its total population is less than a single congressional district in a large state. (There are approximately 710,767 people in an average congressional district.)

For example, this year just over 245,000 people voted in Wyoming yet it has three Electoral College votes: one for every 82,000 or so voters. By comparison this year more than 12 million people voted in California which has 55 Electoral votes. So California has one Electoral vote for every 218,000 voters. Thus a voter in Wyoming carries almost three times the Electoral weight of a California voter. Indeed because every state has two senators, the general rule is that the higher the population of the state, the less impact each voter in that state carries in the Electoral College. 

And, since the Republicans carry all the small population states except Rhode Island and Washington D.C. (which also gets 3 Electoral votes), this rule strongly favors them. This year the Electoral outcome was able to reverse Clinton’s large popular vote margin because, for the first time in decades, the Republicans carried large population states Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan in addition to Texas.

Negating the Southern Black Vote

The Electoral College system also ensures, even requires, that given the historic racial voting polarization, about half of all voters of color be marginalized or totally ignored. 

Approximately 55 percent of all Blacks live in the southern states, and for decades they have voted about 90% Democratic in the presidential races. However, the pattern since 1960 is that white Republican voters defeat them in every southern and border state except Maryland and Virginia, and (in 2008) North Carolina. While whites voted 58% for Trump nationally in 2016, southern whites gave him over 70 percent of their votes. The white vote has been approximately the same since 1980.

Thus all Southern Electoral College votes except those of Maryland and Virginia went to Trump and the votes of almost half of African American voters basically do not count according to the College rules.

For example, Blacks constitute about 36% of the Mississippi electorate, the highest Black voter percentage in any state in the country. About ninety percent voted for Clinton. But whites are 64% of the state’s voters, and about 90% chose Trump. Trump therefore handily won 58% of the state’s total vote and all of its Electoral College votes.

In 2016, as for decades, the Electoral College result was the same as if Blacks in all the southern states except Virginia and Maryland had not voted at all.

Similarly negated were the votes of millions of Native American and Latino voters who live in overwhelmingly white Republican states like Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, the Dakotas, Montana and Texas. Further, the peoples of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam--territories ruled by the U.S.--get no Electoral College votes at all. The tyranny of the white, conservative majority prevails.

Thus, the Electoral College system violates the principle of one person, one vote, drastically undermines the impact of the Black vote and gives the Republicans a major advantage in presidential contests. Its abolition should be a key part of the progressive agenda.

Slaveholder Origins of the Electoral College

The Founding Fathers, led by slaveholders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, invented the Electoral College out of thin air to serve their interests.

They codified the notorious idea that slaves were non-humans, and thus deserving of no constitutional or human rights. The one exception to this rule was the constitutional provision that slaves were to be counted as three-fifths of a person, solely for the purpose of determining how many congressional representatives each state would be allotted. Thus, even though slaves had no right to vote, the three-fifths rule vastly increased the slave states’ power in the House of Representatives and therefore the Congress. 

The Electoral College, in which each state receives a number of Electors equal to their congressional delegation, was invented as the institutional means to transfer that same pro-slavery congressional allocation to determining the presidency. Slaveholders held the presidency for 50 of the 72 years before Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860, became the first U.S. president to oppose the expansion of slavery. The South, accustomed to wielding political power through the selective enumeration of slaves, promptly seceded.

Since the end of slavery the Electoral College has remained a racist and conservative instrument. It has given the Republicans a running head start to win the presidency ever since reactionary Southerners switched en masse from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in protest of the 1960s civil rights legislation.

The Electoral College is one of the most powerful legacies of slavery in the U.S. 

The system is rigged! And changing the system would take a constitutional amendment approved by three-fourths of the states. Consequently we are in an uphill battle that, if we master Electoral College strategy the way Obama did, we can win. Although the Electoral College is not on our side, history, including the rising progressive electorates, is.

Let’s make Trump a one term president.


Bob Wing has been a racial justice and peace activist since 1968. He was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper. He is the author of The Battle Lines are Drawn: Neo-Secession or a Third Reconstruction and Notes Toward a Social Justice Electoral Strategy.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a talk show host, writer and activist. He can be followed on Twitter, Facebook and He is the co-author, with Dr. Fernando Gapasin, of Solidarity Divided, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.


*Similarly many heaped scorn on Ralph Nader in 2000 when it was learned that he received more than enough votes to throw the Florida contest, and therefore the presidency, to Bush. In 2016 Jill Stein, who won only one percent of the national vote despite the massive Bernie Sanders campaign, nonetheless exceeded Trump’s thin winning margins over Clinton in Michigan and Wisconsin. And the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson got more votes than the margin of victory not only in those two states, but in nine more, including Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina.

At what point will voters learn that voting for third parties in the U.S. may be personally satisfying, but the main end result is to help our worst enemies win?*


Tuesday, 29 November 2016 22:28


These three 2016 Election Curriculum Modules are available for download here:

In a year that has seen racist demagogue Donald Trump capture the GOP presidential nomination and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders make a serious bid for the Democratic nod, social justice activists have been discussing electoral engagement and strategy with unprecedented intensity. Tens of thousands of people beyond the activist world are now looking to hold similar conversations.

What accounts for Donald Trump's rise? With Wall Street-friendly hawk Hillary Clinton as his Democratic opponent, is there a way to defeat Trump that will simultaneously strengthen movements for justice, equality and peace? Can the energy unleashed by Bernie Sanders' campaign and movements like Black Lives Matter develop into a durable progressive force that can fight inside and outside electoral politics?

As one contribution to engaging these questions, we have prepared three 20-plus-slide Power Point Presentations covering different aspects of the 2016 election and its political, economic and demographic background. Each is designed to facilitate a two-hour discussion in an organization or an informal group. Each can stand alone or all three can make up a comprehensive series.

Each Module comes with a Facilitator's Guide, and there is a Supplementary Resource Guide listing additional materials. These can be downloaded here: If you have any questions about these, or want to offer feedback or engage in a dialogue about them, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For peace with justice,

Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Harmony Goldberg, Jason Negron-Gonzales, Tarso Ramos, Bob Wing

Tuesday, 06 September 2016 18:40
Published in 2016 Elections
Written by

Cooperation Jackson

Organizing Upgrade interviewed Kali Akuno from Cooperation Jackson about the election in June 2016. 

What do you think are the dangers and opportunities of the current moment?

I think this is a very unique moment. We haven’t seen a political period like this in quite some time.  One thing that sticks out in my mind most clearly is that the US (and transnational) ruling class doesn’t have a coherent strategy of its own, or at least not a long-term strategy.  They are trying to make a number of quick fixes and pieces of patchwork, but - as we’ve seen since the economic crisis - the quick fixes just aren’t working. They know that they aren’t working.  And there’s a mad scramble to hold the center.  There’s too much at play, too much confusion amongst their own forces about which strategies and tactics to pursue.  And it’s creating some dichotomies that we haven’t seen in some time.  

That’s why we have a right wing populist like Trump having a certain level of success and why you have Bernie, someone, who’s calling himself a democratic socialist, actually having had a real shot at becoming president of the United States. We haven’t seen this contrast in the US in a long, long time.  I think you have to go back to the 1930s or the 1940s to see anything remotely comparable.  Even then, socialism was still a dirty word to most of the people who were eligible to vote in the US.  It says a lot that you have so many people who identify with some variant of what they understand as socialism, given the decades of demonization of left ideas - particularly socialism and communism. It says a lot that - within the course of a decade since the economic crisis of 2008 - the limits on that have come crashing down and so many people are actually identifying with socialism as an alternative. Society is searching for some answers, and younger folks in particular are willing to consider some serious alternatives to a degree we haven’t seen since the 1960s and 70s.  

It’s a unique period, but it’s a dangerous one.  Trump has clearly now gotten the Republican Party nomination, but it’s also clear that there are significant forces in the Republican Party who are willing to support Hillary or to at least not mobilize in support of Trump.  The Republican Party is in a crisis. Over the last 6 years, the more right-leaning forces in the party were able to gain control.  That right-wing upsurge was mainly intended to undermine Obama, but now they’ve created a monster that they can no longer control.  They’re trying to control it, but I don’t think that’s going to work. I think they see that, but they keep trying.  This election may lead to a real split in the Republican Party.  I don’t think the Democrats are that different. It’s not being talked about in the same way, but people need to pay some real attention to the people who are supporting Sanders who are saying that they won’t support Hillary Clinton on principle. The Democrats are going to have to deal with that.  

Since it now seems that the election will turn out to be Hillary versus Trump, then it seems likely that it will amount to being one of the lowest voter turnouts in US history.  That says a lot about the legitimacy of the American project. There are a growing number of people who just do not see elections in the United States as a legitimate endeavor.  In large part, that’s because of what the two parties represent - the collaborative factions of the ruling class (now commonly called the 1%)  and the perpetuation of the exploitative, racist, sexist and homophobic status quo.  

Society is in a significant crisis, and I don’t think that most people on the left are seeing it for what it is.  It’s seen to some extent, but I still don’t think that there’s a full grasp of it. For instance, I work with people who don’t usually relate to electoral politics on the national level (and with varying degrees on the local level), young folks we work with here in Jackson, MS, particularly through activities of Cooperation Jackson.  Some aspects of their imagination has been turned on by Bernie’s campaign. But if it’s not Bernie on the Democratic Party ticket, they’re not going to vote in the Presidential election, not even for a third party alternative like Jill Stein from the Green Party. Many view disengagement and delinking as being more strategic than building an electoral alternative, and I’m not too inclined to disagree.  I think we’re going to have to think about what this level of protest in the form of disengagement and attempted delinking (i.e. building institutions and communities that attempt to disengage from the capitalist system via practices of social and solidarity economics or Indigenous forms of production) means.  I’ve been saying to them that it’s one thing to disengage and another thing to register a protest vote and quite another to build and promote an alternative. We need to figure out how to move people from being disillusioned with the electoral process and the status quo to figuring out how to build a movement that upends the dictatorship of capital and transforms the state.  Given the nature of the capitalist world-system at present, if you are going to stay away from elections, then you need to find another way to break the back of the ruling class, which I believe entails revisiting the strengths of the revolutionary organizations from the 19th and 20th centuries  and innovating new methods of organization based on the networked and horizontalist movements of our era. I’m not saying that I have the answers, but I am saying that we - the revolutionary left - need to seriously engage this question.  We have to think about organizing broadly and deeply and what that concretely looks like and must entail, given where this generation is at and what conditions necessitate.

However, despite all of this, from my vantage point, it’s a damn good time.  People are willing to experiment, willing to take risks, and willing to dream big in a way that we haven’t seen in quite some time.  We need to find a way to further merge, learn, educate (when and where necessary), and grow with this new awakening.  We need to ask ourselves: What type of organizing can really build the social and political power that we need to transform this society?  I see more energy and possibility of doing that today than I have since I was a kid in the 1970s.  We must think beyond the 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections, way beyond. Because no matter which one of the RepubliCrats win on November 8th the American empire will be lead even further to the right. We need to make sure that we develop a broad revolutionary program that embraces the strengths of each of the four historic revolutionary tendencies (anarchism, communism, socialism, and revolutionary nationalism), is committed to a politics of decolonization and upholds a determined anti-imperialist line and practice.  

What do you think about the different candidates in this election?

From what I heard in what Bernie is advocating, he’s really called for a return to the classical features of the New Deal.  He wants to fulfill the promises of the New Deal that didn’t really come through.  Take health care, for example. Many people wanted to implement universal health care during the New Deal, but that got shot down.  What we have today with “Obamacare” is clearly imperfect, but it was still part of this historic motion.   

There’s a lot of questions about what will happen with Bernie’s campaign after Hillary’s coronation and what’s going to happen with all that energy.  There are many questions we need to ask ourselves: How can we turn that momentum into an organized force?  How do we not repeat the mistakes of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign, when left organizers were deep in that fight but ultimately got stabbed in the back by Jesse?  They had limited control of Jesse’s campaign apparatus, so when Jesse made his deal with the Democratic Party leadership, the local vehicles they built had to be and were destroyed.  How do we not repeat that?  It looks like Bernie’s strategy - post-convention - is that he is going to do everything he can to make sure that Trump does not win. He sees the greater danger being Trump. Though I can understand his reasoning, it’s fundamentally a dead end, This strategy just subordinates the motion that he has been able to help stimulate to Hillary and the DNC, and it puts the forces vested in him in danger of abdicating to Hillary’s program.  Hillary will talk to the left and take safe left positions till the convention, but that won’t be her practice after it for sure. Once she secures the nomination, she will continue on the hard right march that has defined her career. The movement for Bernie is not strong enough to really move Hillary in any direction.  The movement for Bernie has been dynamic, and it’s been moving and engaging a lot of younger white forces, but it’s not strong enough or united enough to force her to the left.  

What I’ve been trying to advocate is that - although the two presumptive candidates’ rhetoric is different - they will both be catastrophic in office.  We know from Hillary’s practical record that she is extremely dangerous, as we saw from her promotion of regime change in Libya, Honduras, and Haiti for example. She is ruthless to the core. She is prepared and willing to ramp up ventures of conquest and regime change on a level that even Obama and Bush wouldn’t do.  Her frame is different than Trump’s, it’s more polished, refined and presumably cosmopolitan, but the end result would be catastrophic.

The danger with Trump is that no one knows what the hell he would do really.  He would probably  surprise us in many ways, and I think he’s smart enough to do that intentionally. On some things I’m sure he would crack down hard and take the most right position possible. On other issues, he would take a more left position to keep other forces off balance and to keep the white community divided on a number of issues.  I think he would do a number of things to appeal to white workers to ensure that they won’t want to forge a broader program of working class unity, and he would do it in a way that no one else - including Bernie - can do at this time. Trump has been masterfully tapping into white angst and resentment, that’s what’s appealing to white people throughout the empire about his campaign. He’s adept at appealing to this base from “liberal” left positions (which are really right) and the right, in fact on several issues he is rhetorically to the left of Hillary. That’s the danger with him, his right-wing, populist, white supremacist mass appeal that might enable him to “talk liberal, but walk right” at every turn.

Now personally, I’m a supporter of Jill Stein and the Green Party. With the exception of the candidates running for President from the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and the Workers World Party, Jill Stein possess the most left platform and program in the 2016 elections by far. I was actually looking forward to working with the Stein campaign during this election cycle, but unfortunately health challenges prevented it. I was not and do not support Jill or the Greens because I think they could win the Presidential election. Rather, I support her and the Greens because I think they provide the best option for building a genuine left electoral alternative in this empire at the moment. Before Bernie entered the race, I seriously thought the contradictions of the period would potentially move millions of people towards the Green Party via Jill’s campaign. Unfortunately, by the fall of 2015 it was clear that Bernie’s campaign was sucking all of the oxygen out of that space - which was more than likely by design, as it is a historic strategy of the Democrats to periodically run left-leaning candidates to suppress third party movements and initiatives.

The current petition - to have the Green Party officially adopt an anti-capitalist platform and agenda - is just further confirmation of this potential. This is not to say that the Greens historically don’t have some issues and limitations, it definitely does, plenty of them, particularly in regards to its understanding of race and national oppression. But, there is plenty of room within the party at present to address and rectify these limitations with effective organizing. So, to the extent that I make any conscious contribution towards advancing left politics in the electoral arena in any concrete way, it is through this vehicle at present.

But, before independent party building, we - the radical left by which I again mean anarchists, communists, socialists and revolutionary nationalists -  need to develop and advance an independent political program that includes electoral politics, but is not defined or bound by it. There are all these relatively newly conscious forces that are going to disconnect from the electoral process once Bernie’s out of the race. But regardless of who wins, there’s going to be a drift even further to the right than we saw under Obama.  The question is: Can we be a counter-force that organizes in the other direction, uniting with the momentum from Bernie and building a broader front that engages working class people from different races, nationalities and intentional communities? Let’s figure out a solid outside-inside strategy on how to do that.  That will force us to answer a number of other questions: How do you really build multi-class alliances?  And how do you translate that into a program for effective governance, given the constraints of this era?  From my experiences here in Jackson, that would mean that we would be trying to push a program of major experimentation with aspects of the solidarity economy and participatory democracy that strengthen self-organization amongst the oppressed and exploited.

Speaking of your work in Jackson, what can the rest of us can learn from your experiences while Chokwe Lumumba was mayor of Jackson?

There are some interesting challenges that we confront here that probably only make sense in similar-sized towns in the South and the Midwest, if people are looking to replicate the political success that we’ve had.  But there are a few big lessons that other people could draw from our experience in the Lumumba administration here in Jackson.  

First, we, the left in the US, don’t have a solid enough analysis of what it means to govern.  We really don’t.  It was very valuable to have had 8 months of governing here in Jackson.  Here we are better for having dealt with that experience. After sitting in those chairs and those offices, we have a better sense of what it really means to govern and what you can do within the confines of a municipality and within the limited US and Mississippi state constitutional frameworks. We have a deeper understanding of how you can actually go about implementing a progressive program.  It changed what I saw when I was watching what played out in Greece with Syriza in 2015; I could understand what was happening there from a deeper perspective than I’d ever had before. It was interesting watching the internal struggles and battles that they were going through, because we went through many of those same struggles in our short time in office. We were having the same arguments, but it wasn’t all public.  A lot of it comes down to a question of revenue: where do you get the revenue you need to move a progressive program, which I’ll talk more about in a minute.  But I want to really emphasize this first point:  we need to engage in more serious thinking about what it actually means to govern, before we’re in office.  

And when we think about governance, we need to ask: how do you combat capital as it operates on local, state, national and global levels?    We got a real wake-up call on that. We did some very effective local electoral organizing, and we won. But we didn’t have a grasp on the revenue-generating mechanisms, the bond mechanisms and so on.  We thought we had a grasp on it because Chokwe had been a city councilor before he was mayor, but - once he became the mayor - we saw the real books, and there was nothing there in terms of revenue.  We had studied municipal revenue generation, but we didn’t fully grasp that bonds are held by international finance. And the folks that are doing these bonds, they’re making calculations based on their profit motives, that informs when they will invest and when they will sell.  We learned that aspect of capital, how deeply intertwined municipal bonds are with global capital at this time.  Most of the time, people are just looking at the local forces and local economic dynamics, and asking things like “Are there jobs in this city?”  They aren’t thinking about what a city’s credit rating is saying to an international investor and what that means for our ability to generate revenue for a progressive program.  That’s equally important.   We have to understand how that’s shaping the terrain of our struggle.  How do we get people to understand, what is possible within the constraints of the system that we have?  What will financial capital actually allow?  And how do we organize for what we need outside of the constraints and limits of financial capital?   Our next city budget will be in a deficit, and we are about to be in a crisis with our water delivery system. The banks may take over the water delivery system.  But revenue from the sale of water constitutes over 40% of Jackson’s budget.   The banks may take control over the budget. So if we lose control of that, what can you actually govern?  

We are going to have to take a whole different orientation. We need to create alternatives outside of the state to push the state; we need to build a counter-force to the right-wing elements that are using the state to push and advance their agenda.  That is why we developed experiments with the solidarity economy: to push those constraints and to build that counter-force.   We are really trying to learn from Syriza.  I think that the program that they put out in 2014 was a decent transitional program, but I don’t think they did enough to prepare folks on a material level and to start getting the social solidarity networks revitalized and fortified for when the hard times came - which they knew they would.  Once they were in power, it would have been better to think about how they could utilize the state to stave off some aspects of the demands of international finance. I think they waited too long to figure out how to meet some basic material needs via the development of the social and solidarity economy on a mass scale. We need to start getting in gear with that on the front end of these processes. We can develop some real strength at the local level; that’s where our greatest strength is, but there are limits to what a local economy can do. There are real questions:  what scale can we build?  Can we create a meaningful number of sustainable jobs? We are seriously thinking about developing an alternative currency here to deal with the potential deficit if they seize the water. Can we create a network that will serve some basic functions and needs, to make sure that people have enough food to survive, if the city can’t secure enough revenue?   It’s been amazing to see the right’s reaction to our solidarity economy experiments. Right now, we have a small farm and three small cooperatives that are operating now, and the right is acting like we’re about the storm the gates.  I’m telling people to get people prepared for the ideological and political onslaught that comes with starting these solidarity economy experiments. There are still a ton of roadblocks that keep us from growing here and growing there. There are hindrances enough, but now we’re moving in a whole other way.  

And we need to stay in tune with changing conditions in our work.  The political dynamics are not the same as they were three or four years ago.  Back then, we - specifically the New Afrikan People’s Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the Jackson People’s Assembly - very much appealed to a broad cross-section of people in Jackson, and so we had a popular-front type of orientation and campaign.  You’re talking about a city that is 85% Black, so most of that front was other Black people. We built a multi-class alliance in Jackson to win the election. The thing that was critical for Chokwe’s election for mayor was making sure that there was a significant Black working class turnout; that was the critical thing. That was going to stem the tide and break the normal flow and operation of the traditional Black petit bourgeois forces that had been deciding the electoral outcomes in Jackson. At that time, it was very easy to build a multi-class alliance, based in the Black working class forces in the city.  This time around it’s going to be significantly different. For the 2017 Mayoral election we are not going to be able to rely on that same formulation, that multi-class formation, for Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s, Chokwe’s youngest son, campaign.  Too many of those forces now have really given their pledges to Hillary, and they’ve bought into the reorganization of the Democratic Party that has happened since 2013 here in Jackson. Chokwe ran within the Democratic primary but from an oppositional place within the party structure which exists here  in Mississippi.  He ran as a member of Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which still exists as a separate entity, and it still has the ballot access it won in the 1960s.  But  outside of a couple counties close to the Mississippi river, it’s mostly functioned as a political club, and not so much as an organized political force.  Chokwe’s election turned it into a political force. One of the things that happened since Chokwe died (and honestly it started happening even while he was alive) was that the Democrats at the national level wanted to cut it off, because it was an organized left political force within the party.  So they did a lot of organizing, and they spent more money in Jackson in the last five years than they did in the last fifty years, trying to re-consolidate their power.  That’s put some of the traditional forces that were close to us in 2012 - 2013 opposition to us. We’re in a context where it’s easy to be critical of what Obama has been doing over the last couple of years.  We’ve been very vocal about that.  That’s put us in opposition to some of the established Black petit bourgeois forces that are aligned with him and national Democratic Party. Things may change over the next few weeks and months, we’ll see.  But at this point, our movements electoral salvation if you will, depends squarely on the Black working class vote.  So if we do enough to deal with the crisis that our city is in, to put forth a solution that people can see a way out of the crisis, then people will say,  “We have faith in them, and we trust in them to fight for us.”  


Kali AkunoKali Akuno is a co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson. Kali served as the Director of Special Projects and External Funding in the Mayoral Administration of the late Chokwe Lumumba of Jackson, MS. His focus in this role was supporting cooperative development, the introduction of eco-friendly and carbon reduction methods of operation, and the promotion of human rights and international relations for the city. Kali also served as the Co-Director of the US Human Rights Network, the Executive Director of the Peoples' Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF) based in New Orleans, Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. And was a co-founder of the School of Social Justice and Community Development (SSJCD), a public school serving the academic needs of low-income African American and Latino communities in Oakland, California.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016 15:04
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