John MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s, should know better than to claim that some like myself have spent our lives wanting to be “players” in the Democratic Party instead of being “outside the system.” In most countries, most activists move between social movements and political parties as the need arises. I have spent 50 years in social movements, 20 of them as an elected legislator who was opposed by the party establishment, which is far from being a “player.” I believe that change always begins with independent social movements, but movements can be expanded by political representation at certain stages.
If Obama wins the presidency, the social movements will rise with higher expectations to demand that President Obama end the Iraq war and focus on race, poverty and environmental issues at home and around the world. The left should not be a small elite outside this process.
Who, for example, can forget the willingness of Sen. Mike Gravel
to read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record at great legal and political risk to himself?
I am saddened by the strange argument of Chris Hedges, who cites MacArthur in his essay “The Left Has Lost Its Way.” Chris says we should “walk away from the Democratic Party even if Barack Obama is the nominee,” and vote for Ralph Nader. If not, “we become slaves,” a truly unfortunate analogy. What Chris misses is that millions of African-Americans and young people generally are throwing themselves into the Barack Obama campaign, and will not take seriously a white writer who preaches that they are marching in the wrong direction. The analogy to slavery is absolutely inappropriate.
My view is to be humbled and appreciative of this unpredicted upsurge of idealistic and fervent activism created in the Obama movement, and to be supportive of the candidacy while remaining independent and critical of the candidate’s moderate views on Iraq and NAFTA. It’s my sense as an organizer for 50 years that we should stand with spontaneous new waves of activism, not demand that they call off their campaigns at the most critical moment. It is possible to do so without having to surrender our independence on the issues we care most about.
For that reason, some of us have created a Web site called Progressives for Obama, including myself, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, Danny Glover, Cornel West, Jane Fonda, Jim Hightower, Jean Stein, Andy Stern, Anna Burger, and 300 more.
The social movements have not disappeared in 2008 but follow a logic of their own, like a river cutting its path. If the Clintons steal the nomination, the social movements will return in force.