For Progressives: a Moment of Grief, Pause and Reorientation

In this agonizing political moment where leftists, progressives, and former Bernie supporters are being implored, ridiculed, and even guilted into uniting with the Democratic Party and promising to vote for HRC as a way of avoiding a catastrophic Trump Presidency, I believe it’s worth taking a moment to step back from the widespread panic, fear, and the judgments coming at us from all angles. November is still a few months away. We have time to take a deep breath, grieve our losses, re-evaluate the political landscape, and choose wisely– whatever voting strategy we need to before Election Day 2016.

In this frantic rush for “unity,” the DNC is trying to silence dissent and critical thought about where we are now and how we got here. Even PBS’s Washington Week in Review featured guests this week, who referred to Sanders’ convention delegates as “hecklers” because they dared to show support for their candidate at their party’s convention. The mainstream media’s patronizing tone aims to shame Sanders’ supporters, who it now blames for any division within the Democratic Party, accusing progressives of being “in denial” and “being a baby.”

But behind the Democratic Convention’s Hollywood stars, its sea of red, white and blue balloons and US flags, and the “USA” chants designed to drown out the “No More War” chants of the Sanders supporters, there was a notable dissent in the crowd, which is reflective of a larger and growing movement against corporate-controlled politics in this country and around the world. Rather than calling it “disruption,” as so many news pundits have this week, I prefer to call it “democracy.”

In the spirit of democracy and free expression, I’d like to take a few moments to calmly take stock of how we got here. While the corporate media would rather write off Bernie’s “political revolution” like a bad fashion trend, there is no reason for any progressive to internalize this pressure or this shame game. Why is this anti-Bernie, anti-dissident, anti-progressive fervor so necessary right now? Is it because the elections take place tomorrow and we have to mobilize? Or is it because, after recent revelations into the inner workings of the Clinton machine (including the FBI investigation and Wikileaks/DNC email revelations), the invisibility cloak around her campaign is fading a little, so it’s time to bring in the clowns? Hammering us with a “unity” agenda at this particular moment is much more likely about pushing the public to move on, to “pay no attention the man behind the curtain.” It’s about maintaining HRC’s immunity from scrutiny, and ultimately, her status as untouchable.

So thank you, Wikileaks, for confirming what many progressives already knew or suspected about our election season. In late July, Wikileaks (not Russia) released nearly 20,000 emails, revealing several concrete examples of how the DNC was working to sabotage fellow Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders. This email leak supports the painful cynicism that many progressives have come to expect during this election season. We didn’t actually need Wikileaks to tell us that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC tried to rig the primaries in favor of HRC. That became obvious enough after the “voting irregularities” of New York, Nevada and Arizona, where independents, Bernie caucus-goers and progressive voters were largely disenfranchised and denied access to basic voting rights. And let’s not forget highest-delegate state of California, where a very tight race was taking place when the Associated Press and all major networks declared HRC the winner, disregarding some 2.5 million ballots remaining to be counted, largely those of independent and “no party preference” voters.

It was reasonable to be skeptical about Schultz, even prior to this election season. After all, she was Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign co-chair. And now, after her illegal campaign misconduct, she has been awarded the position of “honorary chair” and surrogate of HRC’s 50-state program. I believe this is the textbook definition of a “revolving-door policy.”

Also painfully obvious throughout the primaries was the mainstream (corporate) media’s unapologetic obedience to its own ratings and profits, inevitably eclipsing any meaningful role the media might have had in promoting a healthy democracy via covering diverse viewpoints. Take, for example, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s (FAIR) 2016 Media Poll or the Tyndall Center’s 2015 report on the media’s coverage of the major presidential candidates. Donald Trump consistently received the lion’s share of corporate news coverage, averaging nearly four times that of Bernie Sanders on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and NPR. Then there was the CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, who praised the horror show that is Donald Trump, saying, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say.” The corporate media’s own bloodlust for sensationalism, ratings, and advertising dollars has perhaps never been so clear.

In March of 2016, the Washington Post ran 16 negative stories on Bernie Sanders in 16 hours. While enduring an almost total corporate media blackout and backlash, Sanders was actually shaming the media, breaking all kinds of records and gaining public momentum—raising $228 million in small individual, non-corporate donations in 2016, while millions of supporters turned out to his rallies. Bernie’s popularity was also rising in the polls, and he consistently polled higher than HRC against Trump. But alas, the DNC relentlessly persisted in backing their insider candidate, apparently preferring to risk a Trump Presidency than see Sanders secure the nomination.

It’s important to note here that the leaked DNC emails not only contained widespread character slander of Bernie Sanders, but they also revealed that the DNC actively colluded with major media outlets, in order to create conspiracies about Sanders, to run stories that favored Clinton, and to protect Schultz from any media criticism.

So where is the public outrage? You won’t see it on the major news networks. No, you’re much more likely to hear about the Russian conspiracy coming from the Democratic Party these days. Isn’t there a term for this kind of political distraction? Is it “wag the dog” or rather “redbaiting?”

What we’re witnessing here is an almost impenetrable “corporate ceiling,” blocking non-corporate candidates and diverse viewpoints from effectively reaching the public. While the mainstream media is spending lots of time celebrating the shattering of the “glass ceiling” with HRC’s nomination, little attention will be paid to how the corporate ceiling subverted the entire democratic process during this election season. Would Clinton have won without corporate financing, voting irregularities, DNC media manipulation and collusion? I suppose we’ll never know. And that’s exactly why so many of us have lost trust in her candidacy, the Democratic Party, and the entire corporate governing system.

I’m taking a minute here to grieve… because as progressives, even though many of us have long since given up hope on national politics, some of us carefully gave ourselves permission to believe in a truly progressive candidate, even after eight disillusioning years of “hope and change” under a neo-liberal Obama Administration. We fought for this “political revolution.” We caucused in our districts. We phone-banked in English and Spanish. We hit the streets. We donated $27/week for months. We saw young people all across the socio-economic spectrum get energized and politicized for perhaps the first time in their lives. And for just one minute, we allowed ourselves to be thrilled that a democratic electoral movement might actually be underway in this country—one that could overtake the corporate chokehold on our democracy.

This turn of the tide is worth grieving. This is the “rigged system” that brought us these two “candidates:” a billionaire, racist, misogynist, narcissist, who touts fascist rhetoric, exploiting and scapegoating the most vulnerable; a man whose own inherited wealth and power is a blatant symbol of the elite status he represents, while he pretends to be kind of “outsider”; and then our other option– an establishment Democrat, beholden to a corporate political party, whose ongoing cozy relationships with Wall Street and the military industrial complex have helped make her a war-hawk and executor of US empire abroad, a pawn of the private prison industry, a friend to the fossil fuel industry, and a rather spineless social moderate, in which her recent history of flip-flopping is more pervasive than consistent, principled positions. So what’s not to grieve?

I thank the courageous Sanders delegates who made their voices heard at the Democratic Convention, even though they were sidelined, ostracized and ridiculed. So what’s next? Are we all just going to swallow hard, vote for the lesser of evils, and bury our heads in the sand for another four years?

It’s time to take a deep breath and get sober and serious about the political and economic structures that govern us. Wikileaks shined a spotlight on one tiny facet of the corporate election machine, a spotlight that represents just one data point in a giant web of corporate control over our political economy. With the help of Citizen’s United and no campaign finance restrictions, unregulated capitalism has proliferated at the highest levels. As Pullitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges recently said in this interview, “You can’t build movements in a political system where money has replaced the vote.”

Looking at the most urgent social/political/environmental issues of our time, I’m hard pressed to name one crisis that isn’t fueled by corporate lobbyists in our government: Gun laws and the NRA, fossil fuel lobbyists and the climate crisis, health care, insurance companies and big pharma. Whether it’s fracking laws, water quality issues, public school funding, or the private prison industry, our movements have been rejected, stymied, squashed, or just plain ignored at the legislative level, as soon as our reforms begin to threaten corporate control over our economy. We have a democracy crisis in this country. Our pursuit of democracy is fundamentally at odds with unregulated capitalism.

Through this lens, it becomes abundantly clear why a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who unapologetically put people ahead of Wall Street on almost every issue, never really stood a chance. Sanders’ candidacy wasn’t just threatening to Clinton’s candidacy, which couldn’t begin to match Bernie’s mass popularity or his uncompromised politics. It was also threatening to the entire corporate ruling class of this country. So if we are to be sober, let the corporate obliteration of the Sanders campaign reveal to us, like a litmus test, exactly what was possible at this moment in our “democracy.”

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get strategic, and not just about the November vote. It’s about building long-term movements and reclaiming our power as the 99 percent. We need to reject corporate domination, austerity, and fascism in all its forms. And we need to build local, people-powered economic and political systems that sideline corporate oligarchy and render it irrelevant.

Perhaps the corporate media has already begun writing its own eulogy, having proven itself largely useless to younger generations in this election season, who have come to depend instead on independent media for their news. Thank you, Democracy Now!, The Young Turks (TYT), and hundreds of other journalism blogs and independent news outlets, for becoming the voice of the people.

Let us embrace electoral movements like Brand New Congress. If we must crowd-fund progressive, non-corporate candidates into office while waiting on Campaign Finance Reform laws, then we will. We’ve already proven that we can with the Sanders campaign. A critical mass of non-corporate Congress members could slowly turn the tide.

Let us collaborate with local and global models for building green economies and clean energy futures—models that at their heart, respect the sovereignty of indigenous and first nations people, as well as other non-capitalist models, like worker cooperatives. We can build a new economy that puts the good of the many before the greed of the elite few.

This November vote is just one decision, and yes, it could have huge implications. But it is not the beginning, nor the end of our revolution. As Bernie reminded us, “real change doesn’t happen from the top down, but from the bottom on up.” And so we keep building. We’ve already come this far. We are… the leaders we’ve been waiting for.

 Erin McCarley is a freelancee journalist in Denver, Colorado. 

Erin McCarley is an independent photojournalist, filmmaker and writer based in Denver, Colorado. Her still photography, videos and/or writing have been published by Dissident Voice, CounterPunchCommon DreamsReal Progressives, Yes! MagazineDue Dissidence, The Christian Science Monitor, the WestwordteleSUR EnglishFree Speech TV in Boulder, CO, KLRU TV in Austin, TX, the MIT Press, the Ford FoundationScience DailyThe Daily Texan, and others. She also co-hosts the political podcast Crawdads & Taters: Red State Rebels.