Getting Off the Fence: Mobilizing to Support the Top of the Ticket
Early this year, after Rep. James E. Clyburn’s endorsement and overwhelming support for Joe Biden from the African-American community resulted in him becoming the presumptive nominee, many progressives were uncertain as to how to proceed. In April, however, the National Organization of Women’s NOW PAC announced support in April for Biden, and called on him to choose a women for Vice-President. The list of endorsements of Biden from mass organizations continued to grow, and will grow further after the formal nomination.
Thus, in May and June, the North Star Caucus of Democratic Socialists of America debated and issued a statement later published in July in The Nation, with the support of other declared democratic socialists. It fell short of endorsing Biden for a variety of reasons, including a decision by DSA at the convention about procedures for endorsements. However, it has resulted in growing national discussion of the importance of support from the left in building the unity necessary to defeat Trump.
For instance, on August 5, veteran political strategist Paul Begala was interviewed on MSNBC. He had clearly read the statement in The Nation, as in the last minute or so about the role of the left, he said something which is absolutely remarkable to hear. He was clearly grateful that many activists on what he calls “the left” are actively uniting with others to prevent the re-election of President Donald Trump.
Never before in my 54 years of consistent activism, including being a reader and occasional Tidbit contributor to Portside since its founding, have I seen the level of unity of purpose which is developing in our country, as we strive to protect our democracy, confront the Covid-19 crisis, ensure that Black Lives Matter, and recognize that racism is a public health crisis and more: it is an existential crisis which must be addressed in every sphere of our personal, professional and political lives.
In 1952, Charlotta Bass, Vice Presidential candidate of the Progressive Party, said, “For there is an evil that stalks in our land.” She also connected the tuberculosis of the time to racism, just as we are now doing with Covid-19. To see how similar the problems of the past are to the problems of the present, and to see how the progressive politics of today rests of the shoulders of the activists of the past, and of the whole Exodus politics of social justice, see the 1952 Vice Presidential Nomination Acceptance speech of Charlotta Bass.
True, that was a third-party campaign. But by the mid-1950s, thousands of activists across the nation made a fundamental decision to engage in what was and is known as the struggle for representation. The goal was and is to transform electoral politics in the direction of electing women and people of color to offices high and low in our land. That struggle continues. It continues in the context of the need to elect a man as President who for 8 years was the loyal Vice-President to our first African-American President, and before that was a leading proponent of the Violence Against Women Act, and to elect a Vice-President who will be the first woman to serve as Vice-President. Doing so would continue the growing tradition of ensuring every slate of candidates at every level, and certainly the Presidential ticket, is culturally diverse in a significant way.
For white progressives and democratic socialists to hold back at this historical moment from embracing the movement to defeat Trump, and to deny the reality that this means mobilizing support for the Biden/Harris ticket, would be presumptuous for the relatively small democratic left. More, it would be almost insulting to our allies in the progressive movement. Whether you are a guest at someone else’s table, or are attending the potluck dinner of a coalition to which you belong, you may not like the soup but you smile when you are spooning it.
Unfortunately, based on my involvement in the progressive movement both locally and nationally, there is continued sentiment that Biden and Harris are not progressive enough to actively support or even to vote for. In my view, this reflects a form of reverse elitism, which I’ve defined as when a left group claims to be the voice of the masses and in doing so turns up its nose at the leaders and organizations which have the established support of those very masses. Often, we do not engage those very individuals and organizations, on the false grounds they are not progressive enough. This is a left form of elitism and sectarianism.
The tradition I come from calls for winning people over to the struggles against racism and sexism, and to involve them in the movement for peace and justice and for a socialism that is democratic and revolutionary in the deepest sense: committed to the primacy of human needs and human rights. Reverse elitism also reflects a misunderstanding of the meaning of what is progressive. Spanish Civil War veteran Saul Wellman used to tell me, “What is most progressive isn’t necessarily what is most left.”
The Democratic platform for this year is pretty darn progressive, much more so than the 2008, 2012 and 2016 platforms. Yes, we should “aim high” and continue to propose more progressive, truly advanced social policy measures. But we should not hold back from supporting the platform once it is finalized, and we should not sabotage the passable legislation which would come from a new Congress and Presidential administration.
The truly progressive thing now is to defeat Trump and then insist on real change. We cannot do that from the sidelines. We have to get in the trenches of the party, the campaign, and also work independently of the campaign.
So, what we should encourage progressives and democratic socialists to do, and do ourselves, is one or more of these things:
Work in the local Democratic Party’s apparatus to insist on support for the top of the ticket
Work in the Biden/Harris campaign to re-build the Obama/Biden coalition.
Work independently to encourage support by local candidates for the top of the ticket.
Work for Biden/Harris and other endorsed candidates of your union or professional group
Work with co-religionists to get out the vote
Work with non-partisan get out the vote efforts
Keep up the work of non-electoral campaigns that are volunteers during the election season
- Michael A. Dover is a social worker, sociologist, social activist and social theorist who resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He can be reached at email@example.com