Democrats were lifted to victory by the mass movements that swept the US during the Trump years, writes Virginia Rodino. Virginia Rodino is part of Marx 21
Baltimore/DC; Maryland Green Party co-chair; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Maryland convenor.
Donald Trump’s threat to challenge the results and to illegally occupy the White House was met with a galvanisation of hundreds of liberal and progressive groups across the country, including Labor and the Movement for Black Lives (BLM). At the moment of writing, all legal means to challenge the validity of the elections have been exhausted by Team Trump. Since 3 November, there has been a wave of celebration by liberals who had lifted up Biden and Harris throughout the race. There was a justified sigh of relief by most of the Left, since Trump is and continues to be such a horror show. For revolutionary socialists, there is a clear view of what the challenges are. We saw Joe Biden lifted to victory through the votes of activists who had been marching in the streets to ‘defund the police’ and demanding that black lives matter, while Biden distanced himself from the movement and argued that police forces should be given an additional $300 million.
It is a wonderful moment for the world that Trump was voted out. The work remains on how to continue building the movements that have come together to protect the democratic right to vote and have every vote be counted whilst maintaining our momentum into a Biden presidency. We must continue insisting that our movements in the streets are the real arbiter of our power, not surrendering that power to politicians who can never represent the interests of our class. Shortly after the elections, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez remonstrated the Democrat Party elites after they criticized socialist visions and demands to Abolish or Defund the Police as the reason the Democrats did so poorly up and down the ticket across the country.
Cortez is right to underscore how all the Democrat candidates who backed Medicare for All in swing states won, how it was the Left who brought the enthusiasm to defeat Trumpism, and how organising by immigration justice activists brought out Latinx voters. There needs to be an open political challenge to racism rather than the Democrat Party establishment’s need to cover it up and dismiss it through platitudes for “healing.” The ultimate step would be for individuals like Cortez, her political forbearer Bernie Sanders, and organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America to use their strength to coordinate and build the movements rather than focus on elections and voting out conservative Democrats. Reformism cannot bring the changes to the system. Recently indigenous, racial justice and climate activists staged an occupation outside the Democratic National Convention in Washington DC, calling on Biden to approve the Green New Deal.
Protesters called for a cabinet free of lobbyists and others with industry ties. Cortez joined a number of lawmakers speaking at the protest: “The movement is why I was elected to Congress....Because they’ve got money, but we’ve got people. And at the end of the day, dollar bills don’t vote. We vote. People vote. Young people vote. And it’s about time, long past time, that we recognize and understand that we owe our seats, we owe our political power, because of young people, because of the Movement for Black Lives, because of women, because of the working class across this country.
And it’s a class issue, it’s a race issue, it’s a gender issue.” While there had been huge momentum for building protests in the streets if Trump does not willingly leave the White House, these have largely been called off as Trump’s gasbagging exhortations about election fraud have been proven false. Yet as the pandemic rages, the climate crisis looms over the planet, people remain hungry, homeless and without health care and jobs, it is protests and our shows of strength in the streets that will bring change. These must continue no matter which capitalist is in the White House. Youth-led climate activists haven’t paused in holding Biden accountable. The Sunrise Movement, the youth-led progressive climate group that reached 3.5 million young voters in swing states took part in the protest in DC last week, and they also marched to Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters office to protest an oil and gas executive’s appointment.
Continuing protests are essential because while Trump is working to push through environmental rollbacks in its last few weeks that could weaken protections for migratory birds, and expand Arctic drilling and hamstring future regulation of public health threats, Biden is already selecting profracking and fossil fuel and anti-Green New Dealers to handle environmental issues. Biden is reportedly considering former Obama energy secretary Ernest Moniz for a cabinet spot or for a new international climate envoy post. Climate groups have called on Biden to reject Moniz for any position because he joined the board of directors at the electric utility Southern Company after his time in the Obama administration. Moniz has also been a fracking advocate.
The recent climate protests occurred after Biden named one of the Democratic Party’s top recipients of fossil fuel industry money to a high-profile position focusing in part on climate issues. He is appointing Cedric Richmond to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he is “expected to serve as a liaison with the business community and climate change activists.” Richmond served as a co-chair of the Biden campaign and has not committed to supporting a Green New Deal.
Richmond received the fifth highest total of oil and gas industry contributions among House Democrats over his ten years in Congress, raking in that money while representing a congressional district that is home to seven of the 10 most air-polluted census tracts in the country. He has repeatedly broken with his party on major climate and environmental votes. During the climate crisis that has battered his home state of Louisiana, Richmond has joined with Republicans to vote to increase fossil fuel exports and promote pipeline development. He voted to approve the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline. He also voted against pollution limits on fracking — and he voted for GOP legislation to limit the Obama administration’s authority to regulate the practice more stringently. It is a powerful sign that Biden’s decisions have been immediately met with action. It shows a mass recognition that the movements are the only force that will hold politicians accountable to reverse the environmental rollbacks.
The task ahead is to ensure that the youth-led climate justice movement is multiracial, and includes organising and strategy to win the millions of working people to the ideas of a green economy, which necessarily cannot be built on profit. Because Trump isn’t an aberration, he is a product of everything that is wrong with the system itself. Trumpism will be a problem whether he is in the White House or not. White supremacy and white nationalism will not only continue but is likely to increase under a Biden/Harris, as it did under Obama. We must meet this hate with a united front against the far-right. Politicians in the White House will continue to be useless in identifying and addressing neo-fascist forces. An initial look at the potential selections for Biden’s Cabinet demonstrates the impossibility that Biden’s calls for “healing” will ever be adequate to meet the enormous crises that have long been shouldered by the working class.
“Healing” for the ruling class means repairing the fractures to the status quo and the civility of business as usual caused by the past four years of a Trump administration. Healing will not extend to the hundreds of millions suffering from lack of health insurance, crippled by systemic racism, struggling with poverty, hunger and homelessness, threatened by climate injustice and a burgeoning far-right movement intending to occupy the vacuum of leadership engendered by our broken political system. This year we in the United States, as in so many other countries, are facing multiple crises and the tragic failure of response by the two parties: the pandemic, the economic collapse, racist police violence, and climate chaos, as well as the long-simmering crises of inequality, inadequate healthcare, and a renewed arms race.
There is a need for working class politics independent of the Democrats and the Republicans. It is the same battles and struggles we must be prepared for with Biden that we would have had to deal with under Trump because economic justice and the basic needs of the mass of the working class will still be at the heart of the struggle. The Democrats are not a party of the working class, they are a party of and for the capitalists, so we will always be railing against economic injustice under either of these capitalist parties. Ordinary Americans must continue fighting for a country that truly embodies freedom and democracy for all. We cannot do it as individuals, so we have to continue pulling folks away from capitalist frameworks and analyses, building a revolutionary socialist movement, and leading united fronts against racism and fascism that will reverse the suffering of our planet and its people caused by the capitalists who populate the boardrooms and ballot lines, the White House and Wall Street.