Liberation Road

The 2020 Elections – A Left Perspective

The stakes of this 2020 electoral cycle continue to be ratcheted up and this national election will be one of slim margins in the electoral college. Whether we are located within red or blue states, people we encounter and influence are not only in our states but also in crucial battleground states. Let’s pull together, learn from each other, build the tactical alliances we need, and to push through towards and beyond November 3rd.

Violence is on the rampage. We are living in an era of Neo-Confederate “revenge politics,” in which influential sections of the Republican Party have greenlit the use of violent and life-threatening measures by Party supporters against the “others”: people of color, people who are LGBTQI, women, immigrants from the global South. This ranges from overtly violent attacks by armed anti-immigrant border vigilantes and right-wing militias confronting peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, to the equally violent dismissal by Trump, and many Governors, of measures that would have kept alive the many thousands of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, disabled, elderly, and poor ‘others’ who have died of COVID19.

We are cast as the “others” who threaten “real Americans.” The message is that these “others”, rather than the system of capitalism, are responsible for the failure of working and poor white people to achieve the American dream. These “others” take jobs and use public goods and services that rightly “belong” to cisgender white Christian people. They blame people of color communities for their own misfortune and death by asserting that they catch COVID19 because they live in crowded conditions, aren’t clean enough, don’t follow the rules, or because they protest injustice. They stoke the fear and anger of large sections of white people that POC are invading their peaceful suburban neighborhoods. As the Trump ads preach, “Americans won’t be safe in Biden’s America.”

It’s realistic, not weak, to acknowledge that even united, left and progressives aren’t big or powerful enough to win on our own. We cannot by ourselves fight for and win (or even maintain) democratic rights, rights that literally are life-giving and life-sustaining, and which allow for communication and organizing.  Therefore, tactical alliances between leftists and liberal mainstream forces become essential, even lifesaving. We need allies of all kinds in the fight for democratic rights, and allies in the fight for human rights. In the current two-party system, those allies are largely located within the Democratic Party.

Making tactical alliances with neoliberal Democrats is a necessary response when the stakes are high and the balance of forces is against us.  Mobilizing for the neoliberal Democrat in this election cycle is one where we are making the tactical decision to “hold our nose and vote” because the threat of a rising neo-fascist movement is so great.  There are so many reasons why it is necessary at this moment to join with critical social bases of the Democratic Party, e.g. middle-strata Black voters and Black women in particular, in order to win this battle in the longer term war against the social movement of the right and the right’s tightening grip on the state apparatus. The stakes:

  1. The state-facilitated, right-wing militias and vigilantes;
  2. The stacking of the federal courts with lifetime appointments of right-wing fundamentalists;
  3. The encouragement of a right-wing populist and authoritarian global political bloc;
  4. The tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of needless deaths due to the malicious, racist, and classist intent of Trumpism;
  5. The urgency of addressing climate change, which itself disproportionately targets communities of color, working people’s communities, and the global South.                                                                                                                    

After four years of constant and intensifying attacks, we need breathing room. We enter tactical alliances to gain some space to advance some of our agenda and to position ourselves better for the advancing our work post-election. Moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party long ago discovered – and acted upon – the possibilities of tactical alliances among sectors, organizations, interests, and causes that were distrusted, or even despised, by Party leaders. Nationally, tactical alliances were built to support Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1 (H.W.), Bush 2 (W), and Trump. The questions those disparate sectors of the Republican camp asked were, “What do we have in common? Can this candidate serve to advance our agenda?”  For them, tactical alliances are not about shared ideology or even past betrayals.

Bernie Sanders offers us an example–he has repeatedly seized the opportunity to build tactical alliances. Sanders had an impressive campaign run. His campaign described declining living standards, called out neoliberalism, promoted the Green New Deal. In the end, he didn’t win. Sanders’ inability to win was not because he was sabotaged by the Democratic Party apparatus. He was unsuccessful because he was unable to win over significant parts of the Democratic Party electorate (e.g. Black voters, some rural white voters, etc.) and not successful enough in bringing newly activated voters into the fold.

Sanders initiated efforts to build a tactical alliance of left/progressives and parts of the Democratic electorate long before he made his first run for President. He allied with Democrats in the Senate around policies he believed would improve the lives of working people and poor people around the world. And he used his campaign as a blunt force object to push Biden and needle and kick the moderate factions of the Democratic Party to create some openings for progressives that didn’t previously exist.

Biden will not lead us to the Promised Land; but he, like other corporate Democrats, does leave the door open . . .just a crack. The Unity Task Force that Biden and Sanders had put together to create a platform for the Democratic Party is a prime and recent example of the door being opened a crack for left progressive ideals, demands, and people to influence the national agenda of the Democratic Party. The task force was made up of progressive heavy hitters: elected officials like AOC and movement leaders from the likes of The Sunrise Movement.

It’s ok to be honest with ourselves about who Biden is while also understanding that we need to vote for him and encourage others to as well.  Without question Biden is a neoliberal Democrat with a problematic record of his own. He is loyal to the private markets and big banks; he supported the segregationist states’ rights position against court-ordered busing; he is either unable or unwilling to see how crime bills he championed of the 1980s and 1990s contributed to the prison industrial complex and its disproportionate impact on Black and Brown bodies. Biden believes his unflinching support of President Obama and whatever relationship he may have had to the Civil Rights movement means he has the Black vote in the bag. And this is not to mention his support for the Iraq war or his record on issues of sexual harassment, ranging from his treatment of Anita Hill to his messaging of the “It’s on Us” campaign.

Can we trust Biden to do the right thing? No. Do we have to watch him closely? Yes. Do we have to push him relentlessly? You betcha.

In purple states, we need to use what influence we have to help turn the tide against Trump and to connect with intermediate forces. Most of us are already engaged in this, working for the Biden ticket in ways which strengthen our connections to key populations who we eventually want to win over to our politics. Other examples, are the work many organizations are doing to register Latinx and Black people to vote and virtual deployments to help defeat the far right in highly contested states (Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Pennsylvania) while bolstering the capacity of on-the-ground progressive grassroots organizations. In red and blue states, on the other hand, we should focus on campaigns at the state and local levels, seeking to elect progressive candidates and strengthen grassroots political organizations where possible. 

There’s hope on the horizon as long as we keep uniting and building power to shift the balance of forces both inside and outside of elections.  The horror of the Trump years, the law and order response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the multi-fold crises of the pandemic have broadened the understanding in our movements of the need to defeat Trump by activating multiracial working-class solidarity and people of color’s leadership in the electoral realm.  The uniting of national organizations with the primary objective to defeat Trump, the ongoing power of the protests to defend Black lives, and the fights to re-open schools safely are showing the necessity of actively organizing inside and outside of the electoral arena and staying visible in order to win policies that can lead to systemic change in our movement’s and community’s favor.