The Road Ahead After 2004: Building a Broad Nonpartisan Alliance Against Bush and the Far Right
By Carl Davidson & Marilyn Katz

On the Prospect of Right Wing Consolidation and an Ever-More-Repressive State at Home

Many are nervous about the prospects of a fascist state emerging in the U.S. The remarks made by former AFL-CIO Education Director and current CEO of TransAfrica, Bill Fletcher, at a recent antiwar conference in Connecticut, are probably a better estimate of reality:

“What we do not see, at least at this moment, is a mass movement that is attempting to end the party-system and end bourgeois democratic capitalism. What we do see, is a highly repressive State that is overseeing massive wealth redistribution from those at the bottom to those at the top, reducing civil liberties, tolerating limited terms of resistance and which is supported by a well-funded and highly organized, reactionary, theocratic movement. This reactionary, theocratic movement is grounded in a form of right-wing populism and as such could probably evolve into fascism, but at this juncture there is no indication that the capitalist class is in the midst of a political crisis that they believe that they cannot resolve through existing means and mechanisms.

“This should NOT make us feel warm and fuzzy....What is particularly dangerous is that this authoritarian-theocratic state is seizing upon the broad insecurities of the population, but particularly the white section of the population. We must keep this in mind since the November elections were not only a victory for political reaction in general, but also for racial politics.

“The insecurity much of white America feels is, in my opinion, not simply or solely about terrorism. Terrorism, in some respects, has become the focal point for the societal anxieties felt by white America as their world collapses--the collapse of the American Dream, the collapse of the notion that the lives of our children will improve over our own, the collapse of the bubble of ignorance that has surrounded us and within which we all too often found comfort.

“And while we forge an alternative vision and entity that hopes to address positively the insecurity from a progressive point of view, it is clear that all organizations that emerge, must battle to preserve civil rights, public space, women’s rights, gay rights and fight against the tide of racism, sexism, homophobia and jingoism that is inherent in the Bush agenda and critical to the Rove strategy.”

On Reforming the Electoral System Itself.

Here is the basic starting point of the American political battleground that we have to deal with: Until now, we have been stuck with the two-party system. There is nothing in the Constitution that says we have to be limited to a two party system. It is not chiseled in legal stone that we must have a two party system, but we nonetheless have it for a reason. It didn't used to be this way; we used to have the Populist Party, the mass Socialist Party of Eugene Debs and lots of other popular tools for change. During hard times, people made use of a variety of tactics like fusion and nonpartisan voting to build insurgent parties and candidacies and win a substantial number of elections. But the ruling class of this country was threatened by these expansions of democracy. That’s precisely why they rewrote and changed the electoral laws, state by state, to make it difficult for the broader people's voice to be heard.

Electoral law biased towards two parties has rotten consequences. Every two years for the last 40 years we have been involved in politics, the discussion goes this way: "How can you work with the Democratic Party- these people will sell you out! Work with the Democratic Party is the death of the mass movements!" Then the other side says "Third parties are diversions, irrelevant and marginal! The best thing you can do is become a spoiler and elect somebody worse!" Here’s the rub: both sides of this argument are absolutely right about each other! So how do we get out of that bind?

There is only one way to get out of it. We have to change the election laws. We have to build a massive grassroots citizen’s initiative, state by state, to change our election system from an anti-democratic polyarchy to a popular participatory democracy.

The election law has to be reformed to allow for instant runoff, preferential balloting, fusion tactics and other measures encouraging broader participation. These are not weird ideas. In every industrial democracy in the world, except this one, this is the normal way they do things. It is the American system that is weird! In nearly every state, there are already groups and committees dedicated to this work, but they usually have only a handful of people and allies working with them. This has to change. We have to take the energy and anger from 2000 and 2004 and get busy working with them in a big way, especially in the periods between elections.

It can make a significant difference. For example, in New York City, they have the left-progressive Working Families Party, which has won a number of local seats now. The reason why it’s having the impact it has is because in the state of New York, fusion is legal. Fusion means your party can cross-endorse and vote for somebody on another ticket - like the Working Families Party put Hillary Clinton on their ticket as their Senate candidate when she was running against a Republican. People could vote the Working Families ticket and, for better or worse, also vote for Hillary. But they also had their own local candidates, and in that way they could show and grow their strength. That is what fusion means. That way you do away with the spoiler effect. Fusion used to be legal throughout the whole Midwest; the Populist Party and the Socialist Party both used it to build themselves. That’s precisely why the ruling class took it away, and that’s why we have to fight to get it back.

Nor is fusion necessarily the main or even the best reform in the arsenal we need to gather. Preferential balloting, which now operates in San Francisco, made a huge difference in the last mayor’s race, where the Greens nearly defeated the Democrats and moved the entire political climate and debate in a progressive direction. Even non-partisan voting, like we have in Chicago in the City Council races, makes independent organization more feasible than otherwise. There are other simpler measures that can also increase participation, like same-day registration or having elections on a weekend.

One thing is certain. It will be an incredibly tough fight, since both the Republican right incumbents and the Democratic center-right incumbents have every reason to oppose election-law reform. Still, our next steps are clear-cut: Consolidate the gains of the election battles by forming new organizations, energize the grassroots by a wide range of decentralized local actions against the war and the Bush agenda (there are many events planned already for the holiday season), build a major protest around the Bush Inauguration, and come together as a newly organized network of activists from cities and towns throughout the nation.

History is not static. The United States is a changing landscape, with the young, Latinos, Blacks, immigrants and women becoming an ever-increasing majority in the nation. The demography of the nation points towards a progressive politics – but it will become dominant only if we have the vision, the breadth, and the energy to crystallize and organize it.

If the election of 2004 has demonstrated anything, it is that there is no one to do what needs to be done other than the millions of us who fueled the energy of the anti-war movement and the grass-roots activities the past 18 months. Sustaining that moment and movement may well determine the future of the nation. The task is daunting, but the alternative is not acceptable.

Carl Davidson and Marilyn Katz are Co-Chairs of Chicagoans Against War & Injustice ( www.noiraqwar-chicago.org ). Davidson heads up Networking for Democracy, a group working on "digital divide" issues in the inner city; Katz is the president of MK Communications, a public policy consulting group. Both live in Chicago and have a long history in the peace and justice movements going back to the 1960s. Email at CarlD717@aol.com or MarilynMKC@aol.com.


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