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Five Choices

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Now would be a good time for progressives, populists, and socialists to review a few ideas on which way to go next. Democracy in the United States is in danger of dying out altogether. That's not a recent development--democracy has been in serious decline for 30 years or more. We have to save it. We have to save democracy because it's the only thing that can save us.

We need to give some thought to our various options, discuss and debate them, and then choose one. Of course, it's very unlikely we'll all choose the same one. But each of us should try to choose just one option--one idea or plan that we prize above all others. The most popular ideas will attract individuals who will start putting those particular plans into action. Once all the various plans start competing with each other (so to say), then it will become obvious pretty quick which one is making the most headway and shows the most promise. So! Let's get started.

As I see it, we have five basic choices:

1) We "take over" the Democratic Party

2) We all go into the Green Party

3) We draft "Bernie"

4) We launch a massive campaign of non-violent civil disobedience with the goal of overthrowing the corporate thugs who have seized control of the U.S. government

5) We establish a new, independent political party of working people, adopting a basic package of progressive legislative goals and running tens of thousands of smart, articulate, angry people for public office at the state and local levels.

Let's evaluate each of these choices, one by one. We'll have to fill in some of the background, the parts of the story that not everybody is familiar with. And to make it concrete and real, I'll try to avoid grand generalizations and ideology as best I can. I'll focus on my own experience and the historical record.

1) We "take over" the Democratic Party

Progressives have tried time and again to assume the leadership of the Democratic Party. Many years ago I tried getting behind the "insurgent" in the Democratic presidential primaries. I registered as a Democrat in 1984 in my home state of Ohio so I could vote for Jesse Jackson in the primary. Come 1992, I was a Brown volunteer. A fellow volunteer predicted that we'd end up getting pushed off to the side, as indeed we were.

I had always been a little dubious about the Democrats and indeed about the whole two-party system, and my experience in the '80s and early '90s made me even more skeptical. So I decided to go outside the old party and try to help establish a new party. In fact, I found an opportunity to do just that in 1993, with an organization called (yes) the New Party. Unfortunately, this group--which later on changed its name in New York to the Working Families Party--almost never ran its own candidates but instead simply "cross-endorsed" Democrats. Disenchanted, I moved on.

From 1994 to 1999, I devoted many nights and weekends to the Labor Party, which I hoped would grow into the fighting, independent party I'd been looking for. But sadly, the LP never ran a single candidate for public office. (Well, except for a state legislature candidate in South Carolina who dropped out of the race halfway through. I heard that he quit because the incumbent had also dropped out, to be replaced by a better Democrat--as if influencing the Democrats, not fighting for Labor directly, were the real purpose of his candidacy.)

In 2000, I joined the Green Party to volunteer for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. When about 2.8 million Americans voted for Nader, Democrats denounced him with a ferocity seldom seen in American politics. In the summer of 2003, the leadership of the Green Party itself turned on Nader and his Green supporters, urging party members to consider staying out of the 2004 presidential election altogether or dropping out late in the campaign in order to throw support to the Democrats.

This was a very different process than the one used in 2000, when Nader and three other candidates competed for the nomination and Green volunteers did a tremendous amount of work gathering signatures and eventually winning a spot on the ballot in 43 states. In 2003, by contrast, the Green Party steering committee gave precious little reassurance to those of us Greens who wanted to run an aggressive national campaign in 2004. The committee casually stated that the decision regarding how--or if!--the party would run a candidate for president would be made at the Milwaukee convention in June 2004--at which point any Green presidential campaign might be left high and dry and abandoned by its own party. (For the full text of Nader's letter, see In December 2003, Nader wisely withdrew from seeking the Green Party nomination for president, arguing (correctly) that the steering committee was making it impossible for any serious candidate to pursue the nomination under such conditions. (Possibly trying to give the Green leadership the benefit of a doubt, Nader called their actions in 2003 "a confused retreat." To me, it always looked like a very orderly retreat.)

Some years later, I was not exactly shocked to learn that the Democratic National Committee had tried to undermine the candidacy of progressive Bernie Sanders and to promote their preferred candidate for president. Sanders, who had done so much to energize millions of voters in the 2016 primaries, threw it all away by enthusiastically endorsing a candidate who had voted in the U.S. Senate to invade Iraq in 2002 and who gave secret, closed-door speeches to the same big bankers who had swindled the taxpayers out of hundreds of billions of dollars in 2008. Picture that: The democratic socialist who wanted to lead a "revolution" against "the billionaire class" actually urged his supporters to vote for the darling of Wall Street, Hillary Clinton.

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Jerry Kann has made his living in New York City since the late 1980s in a variety of odd jobs--proofreader, copywriter, messenger, secretary--all while pursuing the very challenging avocation of independent politics. For years Kann's primary (more...)

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Five Choices

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