Movement-building and 2012
“But eventually, the greater danger to the movement is that it may dovetail into the presidential election campaign that’s coming up. I’ve seen that happen before in the antiwar movement here, and I see it happening all the time in India. Eventually, all the energy goes into trying to campaign for the “better guy,” in this case Barack Obama, who’s actually expanding wars all over the world. Election campaigns seem to siphon away political anger and even basic political intelligence into this great vaudeville, after which we all end up in exactly the same place.”
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a number of articles about what the Occupy movement/the progressive movement/the climate movement should do about the 2012 Presidential election. Here’s my view:
I see virtually no chance that a broadly-based and powerful progressive alliance is going to emerge to run either a credible third party Presidential campaign or an anti-corporate insurgent Presidential campaign within the Democratic Party. Either one of those developments would make possible a significant political realignment in 2012 given the emergence of the Occupy movement and other important developments, especially what is happening within the labor movement [Wisconsin and Ohio as the two best examples] and the ascendant climate/no tar sands-fracking-mountaintop removal-deep ocean offshore drilling-etc. movement.
Because this won’t be happening, progressives and regular folks who are not committed to either the Republican or Democratic parties will be divided as far as what to do about the Presidential election.
Many will give Obama critical support and their vote despite his repeatedly-demonstrated unwillingness to take on the 1%, the Pentagon, the fossil fuel industry, the health care industry, etc., etc. etc. Lesser-evilism and “practical politics” are still very much alive and well within the progressive body politic, for understandable reasons. The tremendous barriers to a truly democratic, multi-party system and the absurdly regressive and dangerous positions and actions of the Republican Party leadership are influential things.
Others will support either the Green Party’s Presidential candidate, likely to be Massachusetts doctor Jill Stein, or an apparent Ralph Nader-like independent Presidential campaign by Rocky Anderson, despite the fact that neither has a chance of winning or, almost certainly, gaining a significant percentage of the vote. This will especially be the case if it turns out that there are, indeed, two independent, progressive, third party campaigns competing against each other for votes.
And others very consciously and deliberately will not support any Presidential candidate and, for some, any election campaigns at all. The alienation from our undemocratic and dysfunctional, corporate-dominated, two-party system is deep and wide, leading to this reality.
From a grassroots activism standpoint, it is to be expected that there will be mass mobilizations around both the Republican and Democratic conventions, happening in Tampa, Fl. August 27-30 and in Charlotte, North Carolina September 3-6. If these mobilizations are significant, if tens of thousands of people take unified action throughout each of the 4-5 days of these events, that could be an important way to make visible the reality of a national progressive movement outside of the control of either party which is coming together and building for the real thing as far as “change we can believe in.”
And there is no question but that, over the course of 2012, there will be particular days of action or campaigns that attract the active support of many thousands or tens of thousands, manifested by street heat or building occupations. We should all be on the alert for these particular upsurges—like Occupy Wall Street, or the no tar sands pipeline campaign, or the Wisconsin uprising—which show strength and staying power and which can lead to short-term victories.
But what’s missing is a way that many of us, whatever our individual decisions about what to do on the Presidential question, can work together on a common project that keeps us out there, visible, shows our strength and unity, and keeps stirring up justice-seeking activism.
What about this: let’s give people another way to vote, other than just for a candidate.
How? By organizing alternative ways that people can vote for what they believe in and feel strongly about.
Two examples from the U.S. movement’s history come to mind. One was in the summer of 1963, when the civil rights movement in Mississippi organized a “freedom ballot.” Since black people were not able to register to vote or run their own candidates, they organized a way for people to vote at movement-organized locations for civil rights leaders for important local offices. 80,000 people took part, and the success of this tactic led to the emergence of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The MFDP organized a powerful challenge to the racist, all-white official 1964 Democratic Party delegation to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, and this inspired a stronger movement for black people’s freedom.
The other example, the People’s Peace Treaty, took place in 1971. This treaty was put together by leaders of the National Student Association and leaders of student organizations in Vietnam. It was explained by the NSA in these words: “This is not a petition. It is a Joint Treaty of peace. Endorsing the principles of the Treaty is just the beginning of our work. The Peace Treaty will provide a focus for all our efforts to end the war. We need your commitment, your energy—we also need money—to carry the People’s Peace Treaty into every home, church, professional society, union, city council, business group, school, club, and community organization.”
It was an outreach tool, and for much of the peace movement 40 years ago it was a major focus of work. At least 130 organizations endorsed it and large numbers of individuals signed it. It helped to keep the pressure on, and two years after this campaign was initiated, the U.S. government gave up on its attempt to take over the southern part of Vietnam and signed a U.S.-withdrawal peace treaty with the government of then-North Vietnam.
We need something that combines the best elements of these two successful campaigns, and builds upon them.
I think that we need a campaign in 2012 to “Vote for a Clean Energy Future.” I believe the climate crisis should be the central issue because, in my opinion, it is THE most urgent issue facing the entire world today, and the United States, under Obama, is mis-leading the world AWAY from facing up to the urgency of our situation. We are seeing this as I write at the United Nations Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa.
How urgent is it? Several weeks ago the International Energy Agency (IEA), by no means a radical group, warned publicly that we may have no more than five years to change course, to get serious about getting off fossil fuels, or it may be too late to avoid worldwide, catastrophic climate change.
In the words of IEA chief economist Faith Birol, quoted in The Guardian on November 9, “The door is closing. I am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”
2012 should be the year that the progressive movement as a whole demonstrates that it gets it on the urgency of the climate crisis and acts accordingly. Organizing a way for millions of people to vote clearly and unmistakably for a clean, renewable energy future would be a huge, hopeful step forward for all of humanity and all of the other species that are going extinct now or facing extinction.
How could people vote? There are lots of options:
-massive internet and social media outreach
-specific Days of Outreach are organized where tables are set up on street corners, people go door to door, etc.
-there might be an “election day,” similar to what happened in Mississippi in 1963, where all over the country local events/fairs/rallies are organized and people come to vote throughout the day of those events
-collecting of votes on the clean energy future pledge are combined with voter registration activities
-candidates for office who publicly vote for the clean energy pledge are called upon to publicly talk about it and urge others to sign it
Are we up for it? Are we up for making 2012 truly a turning point year towards a jobs-creating, clean air and clean water-producing, civilization-saving renewable energy revolution? Or is there a better idea for how to do this? It’s time. It’s time. It’s past time.