by Peter Bohmer, August 7, 2016
note: This is a letter I sent to long-term friends, Michael Albert and Steven Shalom on July 31st, 2016. They printed their revised question and answer commentary on August 4, 2016, https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/thinking-about-the-election/ We still have some disagreements, although less in their final version of August 4, 2016 than in their earlier draft, the one my letter below refers to. Their published version of August 4th is an important contribution to an important discussion.
Dear Michael and Steve, July 31, 2016
I read your proposed Question and Answer analysis of the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election pamphlet and while I think the tone is more respectful of those on the left who feel they can’t vote for Clinton than earlier writing by Michael Albert, I still have problems with it.
1) I think maybe because you want to highlight Clinton’s differences with Trump, which are real and significant, you are less critical of her than I am, e.g., her strong support for fracking, the Trans Pacific Partner, the TPP (in the past) without now saying she was wrong, her close connections to AIPAC and her intense anti BDS position, her connections to Goldman-Sachs and Wall Street, her positions along with Obama on Latin America, e.g., Honduras and Venezuela, her public support for the 1996 “Welfare Deform Act” and the 1994, 1996 crime bills, etc. You should not demonize Clinton but show a little more outrage at her and most of the Democratic Party’s imperialism and militarism.
2) Note how Bernie Sanders, Michael Eric Dyson, etc., in coming out in support of Clinton and Kaine also feel compelled to praise them. While not a logical necessity, there is pressure both from the pro Clinton people and in order to justify one’s position and to make one’s support meaningful to downplay criticism and even faintly praise Clinton.
3) I think we are in a period of danger (Trump, growth of white supremacy connected to Trump’s candidacy, climate change, etc.) but also a period of renewed interest in activism and political engagement, socialism, Black Lives Matter, etc. This period of potential growth of activism and social movement growth may be very short-lived. Your strategy of asking people to vote strategically contributes unintentionally to demobilizing people who are beginning to become very engaged. For example, although I have been quite critical of the Green Party in the past for their lack of grassroots organizing and their whiteness, I think there is a real possibility now of a significant growth in membership, in building chapters, and in votes for Jill Stein. Saying the Greens should wait until after November is likely to miss the moment. For example in Olympia some younger activists just formed a second Green Party organization as an alternative to the existing one which has good people in it, but has not been all that active or grown.
4) There is a difference which you ignore between asking individuals to vote for the lesser of two evils in swing states and asking that organizations, social movements follow this rule. It makes a lot more sense for an individual to do that. However, I question this strategy far more for a radical organization like Black Lives Matter or the Green Party as it is likely to be seen as a compromise with a pro-corporate and neoliberal militarist, Hillary Clinton and the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and furthers the skepticism people have for political engagement and for a new and radical politics.
5) I originally wrote Michael Albert many months ago that my position and many people I know is that we should simultaneously strongly and totally oppose Trump while building organizations, social movements that deal with the key issues of the day–a two pronged strategy. With regards to Clinton and the November presidential elections, we should not focus on Hillary Clinton and her campaign but of course say, she and the Democrats are not as bad as Trump and the Republicans, and leave it up to people whether they vote for her or not. I also expressed this in a commentary I put on Znet about a month ago which I am including here. It stresses being respectful to those, especially people new to activism and younger people, who are into rejecting Clinton and the Democrats. You may want to skip the following if you already read it.
“July 14, 2016
What I find missing from my friend, Michael Albert’s commentary in the Left Unity section of Znet, https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/we-need-a-united-left/ is an acknowledgement and a validation of the moral outrage felt by many people, mainly but not only young people, that they are being told to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Michael Albert is right that Hillary Clinton will do less harm than a Trump presidency but the harm of her militaristic, imperialist and neoliberal administration will be major to people inside the United States, and probably even worse for those living in other countries.
So I think people who say they cannot in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton, even in contested states such as Florida, Ohio, etc. should not be criticized nor pressured to change their mind. I know many, many people in this category and when I ask them what they are likely to do in November, besides talking about their anger at the mainstream media promotion of Clinton and the marginalization of Bernie, and the daily and massive coverage of Trump; almost all of them also tell me they will either not vote or vote for Jill Stein and the Greens. I do not criticize this decision although if they ask me what I believe, I say that voting for Hillary Clinton in states where it is not clear who will win, also makes some sense and is defensible.
Reducing voting to a strategic decision leaves out the moral dilemma felt by so many newly politicized and radicalized people, who are a natural base for the growth of an anti-capitalist transformational politics. My point is not so much that I totally disagree with the analysis that Michael Albert and others put forward; I disagree with the way they are presenting it.. This is important because it makes building social movements and anti-capitalist organizations that include both those who are making a tactical decision to vote for Hillary Clinton in some states and those who absolutely refuse to vote for her, more difficult, now and after the November, 2016 elections.”
In solidarity, Peter Bohmer