woensdag, november 03, 2004

Prepare for the Rapture

The letter W is destined to go down in history as a symbol as hated as the swastika and the rising sun. (Just go onto the CSPAN site and stream the Bush victory speech and get as creeped out as I was by the giant golden W in the corner.)


Despite my mid-October jitters, I really did think Kerry was going to walk it in the end. I may have supported Nader over Kerry, but above all, it was imperative that Bush lost.

The Dems' internal polling that a number of people on places like Air America Radio and elsewhere had hinted at in the final days suggested that the election was Kerry's. And then the turnout seemed to confirm that too (even though ultimately, some 48 per cent of eligible voters stayed home, despite the round-the-block queues outside polling stations). And by the time I went to bed last night, having spent the evening packed into the to-do put on by the Wall Street Journal Europe and the American Chamber of Commerce Belgium at the Renaissance Brussels (it sounds frou-frou, but really it was just sweaty and I only went because I don't have a TV), the exit polls had all been pleasantly surprising, with Bush even having to duke it out in South freaking Carolina, and pollster Zogby calling a Kerry victory of 311 electoral votes.

But Kerry hasn't just lost; he's lost by almost four million, in the popular vote, as it currently stands. So what do we say about this catastrophe?

First of all, as Greg Palast, Democracy Now, the Nation and others have thoroughly documented in the months leading up to the vote, from the voting machine shenanigans of Diebold Inc. (whose CEO, Walden O'Dell last year said in a fundraising letter to Republicans that he was 'committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president [this] year.') to the shredding of Democrat voter registrations by Republican operatives, as well as the usual blatant Jim Crow-stylee suppression of black, Hispanic and native votes across the country, there is no reason for Democrats or anyone else to accept these results as any more legitimate than those of a Pyongyang school board by-election.

Nonetheless, it is abundantly clear that even without such rigging, there's no guarantee that Kerry would have won. The Republican theocrats have cemented their hold on middle America.

So secondly, to turn this around, progressives must not demonise these 'retro' states as culturally backward compared to the civilized cities (often more than eighty per cent of voters in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and on and on gave their votes to Kerry), but first recognise that this is an area that includes millions of the very farmers and blue collar workers who have been at the receiving end of the attacks on wages and social programmes and the fall-out from free-trade and the corporatisation of agriculture over the last twenty-five to thirty years. These people have nothing to gain but the pink slip and the iron heel from electing Republicans. And yet they do.

As the Democrats walked and then ultimately galloped away from their defence of working people in the eighties and nineties, embracing free trade, privatisation and deregulation, they left a vacuum that the theocrats filled. In such areas, plainly, the cultural-political social cohesion represented by such trade unionism as existed in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States was shattered and then replaced by a thoroughly modern Christian fundamentalism.

Meanwhile, there were a range of social issues which essentially cost little to advance - gay rights, abortion rights (which, in order to truly exist do need to be funded, but Dems throughout this period were in heavy social-cutback mode, voting for abortion rights but cutting back health funding across the board), and affirmative action, which mirrored the identity political struggles in the academy.

Now, these issues are important - vitally important - but in order to combat conservative ideas about social issues it is elementary that you deliver the goods economically. When I was at university and active in the Canadian Federation of Students, so long as we were delivering a decent fightback over tuition fees and student loans, Joe Student couldn't care less what we did for Guatemalan transgendered vegan solidarity or whatever (apologies there to any Guatemalan trangendered vegans, but you know what I mean) and maybe, just maybe, we began to change his mind a little bit about the subject because, heck, if we managed to win a tuition fee freeze, then maybe these treehugging Commies were okay about a few other things too.

And now, for the last three years, on top of that, has been added the spectre of terror - which will never hit rural America, and instead repeatedly go after the more populous cities that voted against the war and the Patriot Act that are supposed to keep them safe. But fear works on the undereducated.

The progressive movement that has bloomed in the United States over the last five years in the cities - from Seattle in 1999 to this year's anti-war demonstrations, is truly a powerful, numerous and enduring movement. But it needs to now go and proselytise, as sure as the religious right did, in the suburbs and rural areas and across the country.

There is nothing inherently Main Street USA about eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade or investor rights in trade agreements. We can win them back on jobs and health care and education.

It's a cliché, but it is no less true for being so (and at such an emotionally crushing time as now, fuck do we need such a cliché): as Wobblie organiser Joe Hill said, 'Don't mourn: Organise!'

But what about Nader?

Clearly, had every last Nader vote gone to Kerry, it wouldn't have done an inch of good. But, ironically, this also should suggest a reappraisal of Nader's strategy. I still believe that it was vital for there to be an anti-war candidate. But it is also possible to be politically and strategically correct, but still be unsuccessful. Indeed, this happens all the time. However, Nader was spectacularly unsuccessful. Where in 2000, Nader could command tens of thousands of people paying to attend his rallies, regularly dwarfing the crowds Gore attracted, this year, while occasionally meetings saw a few hundred, Nader repeatedly spoke to rooms of ten or twenty.

The most coherent and non-belligerent argument I heard against Nader came from Tim Robbins on Air America the other day. He said that when Nader ran in 2000, it was never about him running, but about his using the spectacle of an election to help build a movement, to build new and activist progressive organisations. But after 2000, Nader went away and didn't stick around to help build. The organisations built themselves. Now there are dozens, such as ACT and Moveon.org, and a half-dozen think tanks. Yes they're all led by squishy liberals, but that's exactly what Nader has always been. He's no Marxist. He's not even a socialist.

Still. He was right to run - there needed to be one genuine anti-war voice.

But now it is the responsibility of socialists and other progressives to get stuck into these new organisations. Shackled to the Democrats they may be, but one cannot cut oneself off from where thousands in the movement are at. They will be back on the streets in weeks, or even days - certainly if Bush starts to really go after Fallujah and other Iraqi towns now that body counts on either side have no effect on any his re-election.

Nader should be in the streets with them, but really I don't care. It was never about him anyway. It was about the movement, and the movement may be demoralized, but it's still moving.

The greatest shame of all of this is that there will be no Democratic war president for the movement and the rest of America to be sickened by. However, after all this effort, all this organising for an election, it will be difficult for anyone to say, at least for a couple years, that we just need to get Democrats elected. People will say we've tried that.

The streets are the only avenue left.

¡A las barricadas!