Winning 2004 & Beyond

— Brian Sandberg

ELECTION 2004 STANDS to be the point where the left implodes, drives once spirited young organizers out of the movement, and does little to stop the political slide (or is it avalanche) to the right.

“Anybody But Bush” Democrats have attacked and intimidated those few voters and activists who look for something outside of the two corporate parties to a degree I never thought possible from good liberals.

It is fair to question and discuss the wisdom of running a third party or independent presidential campaign this year. Having an open, civil dialogue on the effectiveness of various political strategies is a useful exercise for any democracy.

It is not fair to attack with personal vengeance those who rightfully question the utility of supporting a corporate Democrat with little political vision and no political courage—as if the only place the Democrats can mine for votes is the 2.7% that Nader and the Greens got in 2000.

If I had more pull in the Democratic Party I might suggest that the 50%+ who don’t vote is a more appropriate place to find a few votes. With that said, we cannot ignore the perception of the spoiler role that the Greens and Ralph Nader had in the 2000 election.

Many potential allies will never be able to move beyond this perception and any message of political reform, and corporate accountability will fall on deaf ears. While I believe this to be a false perception of reality, and an unfair indictment of a noble effort, we cannot ignore this perception.

In 2004 any third party or independent presidential campaign will be defined by their perceived spoiler role. Developing a strategy for the movement for peace and justice to find victories in this acid political climate is of paramount importance.

While plodding through this swamp of political desperation we should keep in mind our ultimate goal: to develop the political institutions and culture where George Bush would never have a chance of winning the presidency, and where no political party would nominate a candidate who runs away from his antiwar organizing, and to his war record.

It is important that we recognize organizing around the 2004 election cycle as but a small effort in creating that cultural shift—there is no silver bullet.

There is still opportunity for the left to win in 2004, but time is running short. A prescription for victory follows ...

Ignore the Presidential Election

Or, perhaps more appropriately, let folks do what they want.

I am not smart enough to figure out what is the best move for the left to make with regards to the presidential election. I have spent a long time thinking and listening but still can’t make heads or tails of it.

Should Nader run? Should the Greens endorse a safe states strategy? Should the left unite behind Kerry? I can’t figure it out. Rather than spend more time trying to repair my tortured soul, let’s just get beyond it.

You want to vote for Kerry? Go ahead. Think Nader’s got the right idea? Cast a vote for him. Voting Green the whole way? Good for you, we need more folks to do it. But let’s move on. There is no easy answer and probably no right answer.

The left needs to bunker down, survive the presidential election, and focus on things we can affect. What is most important is that the tone of discourse changes for those left of center.

Nobody is spoiling the election in 2004—numerous political and economic injustices have already done that. We need to recognize that many of us will never agree on appropriate strategy for the 2004 Presidential Election, and focus on things we can agree on.

Do What Mitt Romney Did

While it is unlikely that there is much we can learn from the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, he beat us to the punch in one important regard. He has recruited over 100 Republican candidates to run for the Massachusetts State Legislator in 2004.

Mitt is doing exactly what those left of center should be doing recruiting candidates to run for office at the local level and letting people know about it.

Strong local candidates and community organizations generate great opportunities for citizens to get involved with electoral politics, and serve as building blocks for larger movements, creating the potential for collective action on a grand scale.

At the local level, an organizer can see his or her own efforts making a genuine difference in people’s lives. In a race for school board, city council or state legislature, a candidate can win on good organizing alone. In these races, an activist can best develop the skills needed to be a successful campaign manager, community organizer, and civic leader.

Imagine, the Massachusetts Green Rainbow Party holds a press conference to unveil 25 candidates for state legislator, 30 candidate running for their city councils, and 50 candidates running for school board, county clerk and other local offices.

Better still, coordinate 150 progressives to run for local offices in 30 states. Not only should we recruit Greens to run, but invite in folks from the Progressive Party in VT, Workers Party in SC, and perhaps certain independent candidates.

Then we have to tell folks about it. Hold a press conference on the Mall in DC, emphasizing the direct connection between our efforts locally and the net effects that will be felt in the White House regardless of who ends up there in November. The press conference will kick off a weekend conference strategizing how progressive third party and independent candidates can best contribute to the movement for the peace and justice.

Campus Greens is making an effort to turn more young organizers onto local politics by instituting an electoral training and mentorship program designed to identify, train and place 60 young organizers on state and local campaigns across the country.

Do What John Eder Did

Win the election. Running is great, winning is better. Maine Green Independent State Representative John Eder won, so can others. For many local elections, all it takes is a pair of sneakers, some handbills, and a willingness to knock on doors every evening for three months.

Candidates are forced out of competing for national level offices because of the money primary, where only corporate America and the very wealthy can vote.

At the local level there is a hard work primary. Candidates willing to knock on doors every night for three months, attend countless town/community meetings, and ask everyone they know for $100 are viable. The hard work primary is one we can and need to win.

Do What Sam Smith Told Us to Do

Organize for November 3rd, the day after. Sam Smith, editor of the Progressive Review, wrote an imaginative, and inspiring piece a few months ago detailing victory for the long term.

While correctly emphasizing the similarities between Bush and Kerry, Sam suggested that we had already lost the presidential election in 2004 and we might as well get on with organizing for the day after the election.

He suggests the left should focus on the fact that whoever ends up in the White House will clearly be in opposition to most of the goals and issues we have. The left will be united in our opposition to whomever occupies the White House and in the many common goals we share.

Here is an appropriate place to bring in progressive Democrats, Naderites, Deaniacs, Kucinich supporters, Socialists, Sharptonites etc. To ensure that the conversation will remain civil, and that we focus on future visions not present or past conflicts, he lays out a few ground rules: no arguing over electoral strategy; the only issues that can be discussed are those with a reasonable opportunity for agreement; agreement would be expressed by some form of consensus.

A forum of the left from across the political spectrum—from to Campus Greens to Solidarity—committed to identifying common issues and coordinating our opposition to whomever occupies the White House would serve as an important organizing model to coalesce a fragmented political left.

Creating strong community organizations across the nation by running effective state and local campaigns will ensure the development of a sustainable movement. Intense debate and divisive political accusations concerning presidential strategy cannot distract our energies from the hard work—and opportunity—of effective local politics.

Understanding the 2004 election as but another battle in the movement for peace and justice gives us the opportunity to strategically use the energy generated during the election cycle to shift the political and cultural baseline from the radical right to the sensible left.

ATC 111, July–August 2004