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This is what it has come to.
Hillary Clinton seems poised to damage Barack Obama so badly in the Democratic primary that he will end up flopping around like a suffocating trout in the general election when he faces John McCain. From the progressive left, the Green Party, totally strapped for cash and lacking an effective platform, seems intent on running former Democrat Cynthia McKinney for president, known in mainstream America only for her ugly spat with Capital Hill police. And of course there is Ralph Nader who is running another quixotic campaign on sound issues and moral fortitude, but with absolutely no grassroots base to form a rebellion against the powers that be — a campaign that will inevitably become mired in expensive ballot-access battles that will drag on far beyond the election itself.
It’s a dismal time for electoral politics indeed. Candidates that oppose the Iraq war, Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the oil cartel, the banking industry, the PATRIOT Act and the death penalty, are shoved to the political margins, starved for cash, lacking an organized movement and ignored by the press.
Back in 2000, during Nader’s most spirited presidential run, anti-globalization sentiment, fueled by the WTO protests, was coming to a head. Nader spoke forcefully about the concerns of the activists that took to the streets of Seattle one year prior, addressing the corporate takeover of our natural resources, the exploitation of labor in developing countries and the fallacies of neoliberalism at home. For many, Nader’s candidacy was less about Nader the persona and more about what his campaign represented. Sadly, the reality today is much different than it was eight years ago.
Unless Hillary Clinton somehow pulls out the Democratic nomination, Nader’s struggling campaign will likely draw only a fraction of the support it did in 2004 despite what a few cherry-picked polls are saying about his chances. Barack Obama has all but sealed up the progressive vote, riding on his airy rhetoric of “change” and “hope”. This no doubt will deflate Nader’s campaign even further.
Nader often speaks of the role third parties have played in past social movements. But what “party” does Mr. Nader speak for now? What movement is pounding the pavement day in and day out in support of his candidacy? What stadium will be sold out to hear him speak later this summer? What election is he going to spoil?
This is where Barack Obama steps on to the scene. The fact that Obama has been able to mount a battle against the Clinton controlled Democratic Party, throwing Bill and Hillary into a few tizzies along the way, is deserving of respect. No Democrat has dared challenge the duo’s control these past two decades, and those that have been silenced and marginalized. But that’s right about where my respect for Obama stops. While the senator from Illinois claims to oppose the war in Iraq, he has nonetheless voted numerous times to continue funding its continuation. He supports the death penalty, nuclear power and “clean” coal, believes Israel has a right to occupy Palestine and promises to bully Iran with the threat of warfare. All-in-all Obama is a candidate caught in the same old empty cul-de-sac, and progressives ought to jump off his wobbly bandwagon at the next stop.
The Green Party, or what’s left of it, isn’t a much better alternative. Just last December the GPUS was forced to borrow over $6,000 from its members in order to send out a direct mailing. The party is dead broke. Or maybe just dead. If the GPUS were a corporation they’d have filed for bankruptcy years ago. It’s also hard to tell what party their leading candidate Cynthia McKinney is exactly working to build — is it the Greens or the Reconstruction Party?
As a former Democrat, how loyal will McKinney be to the Green Party? Is she, as a few Green loyalists have expressed to me privately, just using the Greens for her own gain in order to help build the new Reconstruction Party? Regardless, it probably doesn’t matter all that much as to where her allegiance resides, for neither party is likely to amount to anything significant in the end.
All this may lead one to a state of electoral despair. Who is then to challenge John McCain’s 100 year war and the corporate takeover of the planet? Barack Obama isn’t going to put on the breaks on American empire; in fact, if elected, it’s likely he’ll face less opposition than Bush has during his two terms.
But don’t fret. Opposition to grave social injustices is most effective when it takes place outside the presidential election racket.
Activists on the ground fighting to stop the conveyer belt execution industry of Texas, organic farmers battling Monsanto in North Dakota, Native Americans challenging the federal government over ancient land rights, unionists fighting for a fair wage, environmentalists working to hold polluters accountable for their actions — all of these activities will rage on under the radar despite who is in power in Washington. And these are the campaigns that we ought to be supporting.
So don’t worry too much if the left seems dead in the water this year. It may well be, but grassroots activism is alive and well across the land in some of the most remote, forgotten places you could imagine. Jeffrey St. Clair and I chronicle a few of the more vibrant local movements in our forthcoming Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland. People in our own backyard are fighting over the essentials of life: water, food, human liberty. And while up against tremendous, insurmountable odds, many are steadily gaining momentum.
This election season surely won’t sidetrack their valiant efforts. Nor should it your own.
JOSHUA FRANK is the author of Left Out! (Common Courage Press) and the co-editor, with Jeffrey St. Clair, of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland (AK Press).