One of the first thoughts I had today after I learned that Kerry was conceding to Bush was of something the late Dave Dellinger once said. I was with him in a group that was on a hunger strike in the summer of 1972, protesting the escalation of the war on Vietnam. At the time Democratic Presidential and peace candidate George McGovern was going down in the polls and war President Richard Nixon was pulling way ahead. A number of us were very concerned about what Nixon’s re-election would mean for the Vietnamese.
Dave’s input was to the effect that what happened with the Democrats and Republicans was ultimately not that important.
What was important was the strength and vitality of the independent movements and organizations, like the peace movement. If they were strong enough they could eventually force whomever was in office to change course. And six months later, following Nixon’s re-election, the Christmas bombings of North Vietnam and the shooting down of many B-52’s, the Nixon administration decided they had had enough. One month later, on January 27, 1973, a peace agreement was negotiated and signed with the Vietnamese, and the U.S. began its withdrawal from all of Indochina.
I’ve thought of Dave’s words more than once over the last many months as I’ve worked to help get the Bushites out of office. But since I’ve been working to strengthen the peace movement, the racial justice movement and the Green Party as my approach to that anti-Bush work, I’ve not felt too conflicted.
Today, however, I must admit that the thought fleetingly crossed my mind that perhaps my decades-long commitment to using the electoral arena to help advance the cause of justice and peace has been misplaced. It’s not just that Bush won and that the Republicans picked up additional seats in the House and Senate. It’s also that the Green Party and other third party campaigns, including Nader’s, did not fare well as far as total votes for their Presidential/Vice-Presidential tickets.
Maybe, I found myself thinking, I should put my energies into another kind of organizing for social change.
I’ve also been wondering what it was that lost it for Kerry.
One reason could be that his pro-war, pro-corporate, Democratic Leadership Council-type politics didn’t exactly motivate young people to come out and vote. Initial reports indicate that there was little change in the percentage of young voters in 2004 as compared to 2000. If true, this is huge. The voter registration effort among young people was one of the reasons why many people were optimistic that Kerry could win.
Another possible culprit, of course, is extensive voter intimidation, disfranchisement, partisanship and structural racism in the way our electoral system functions.
And how can it be that exit polls showed Kerry in the lead by several percentage points at mid-day and, by the end of the evening, he’s behind by several percentage points? Were those electronic voting machines pre-programmed after all, and will we ever know if they were or weren’t?
Certainly the anti-marriage equality referendums on 11 state ballots, including Ohio’s, helped to bring out the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists who make up Bush’s base vote. This may have neutralized reported anxiety among that constituency over his statement in an ABC interview a week before the election that he personally supported civil unions despite a Republican Party platform that opposed them.
It will be interesting to see analyses of how many low-income people voted. Kerry’s campaign rhetoric was all about “watching your back” for middle-class people but very infrequently about “raising the boats at the bottom.” And if Kerry did much outreach to inner-city Blacks and Latinos, it sure didn’t get much coverage in the news I saw. I know that he very rarely addressed their issues in a substantive and direct way.
And so now we have to prepare ourselves, psychologically, emotionally, politically and organizationally for four more years of the same group of dangerous, neo-conservative fools who’ve been messing things up for the last four years.
It’s not the end of the world. There are major obstacles in the way of the Bushites:
-a war in Iraq that is going very badly. Reports just before the election indicated that even Colin Powell was telling friends that he believes his government is losing; -serious economic problems, from the high price of oil, to massive foreign debt, to the growing weakness of the dollar compared to other currencies, to the huge budget deficit; -the growing strength of the Left in Latin America as reflected by recent victories in elections in Venezuela, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile, to go with popular movements that have recently ousted pro-IMF governments in Bolivia and Argentina; -the nearly-half of the electorate who voted against Bush/Cheney, many of whom will continue to feel strongly about their positions on issues. These feelings are not going away, and neither are most, if not all, of the organizations that have developed over the last several years in opposition to the Bush agenda; and finally, -a shaky electoral coalition that includes Christian fundamentalists and moderate, pro-choice Republicans. There are very real conflicts and divisions within the Republican Party that cannot be wished away and that will make themselves felt as the Bushites attempt to move their regressive agenda. There are a number of prominent conservatives like Pat Buchanan who are vocal about their opposition to the Iraq war and other Bush policies.
What is key, what is absolutely essential, is that those of us who have been actively building the peace movement, the global justice movement, the racial justice movement, democratic trade unions, strong community organizations, the Green Party, the Labor Party and other third party groups, women’s, student, youth and lgbt organizations-all of us need to keep our heads up, our minds clear and our hearts strong. We are needed, desperately needed, right now, and we can’t let down those in this country and around the world who are depending on us to fight these bastards.
In the words of Joe Hill, “don’t mourn, organize.”