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Why we need an alternative to the Democrats

June 2, 2006 | Page 4

TODD CHRETIEN is running in the California Green Party's June 6 primary to be its U.S. Senate candidate against Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Here, he explains why the Democrats are betraying the hopes that many progressives and activists place in them--and argues why we need an alternative to the political status quo.

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ON JUNE 6, the California Green Party will hold its primary election to determine its statewide candidates. This leads many people who want peace and justice to ask: "Do we really need a new political party?" I believe we do.

Here are some arguments in favor: John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Michael Hayden, USA Patriot Act II, No Child Left Behind, troops to the border of Mexico, $458 billion for the Pentagon (plus $120 billion more for the Iraq war), preparing military action against Iran, and cutting off all aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Hear Todd Chretien speak at Socialism 2006, a political conference scheduled for June 22-25 at Columbia Univerisy in New York City. For more information, go to the Socialism 2006 Web site at
The list of reactionary appointments and policies that President Bush has achieved while having one of the lowest approval ratings in presidential history is a testament to his administration's commitment to doing the right thing for America's most powerful corporations.

And it goes to show that there is no opposition party in Congress. The Democrats have given Bush almost everything he's wanted, even as more than 70 percent of the American people turn against him. Why?

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FIRST, THE Democrats are making a crass electoral calculation that Bush's accumulating catastrophes will take down the Republican Party; therefore, all they have to do is wait until November and try to avoid seeming "partisan." This means giving Bush enough rope to hang himself.

This strategy might actually work for them; however, it has been a disaster for the rest of us, accepting a profoundly conservative Supreme Court, a determined opponent of the Bill of Rights as head of the CIA, an assault on undocumented immigrants, a dangerous escalation of war threats against Iran, and hundreds more dead American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Second, despite their desire to scrape back some power in November, the Democratic Party leadership shares a deep-seated agreement with their Republican counterparts on the most important issues facing Corporate America.

This is why the Democrats are swimming in the same pool of corporate cash as the Republicans. They would prefer to have their man (or woman) in the White House and a majority in Congress, but the Democrats differ with Bush primarily over tactical applications of shared strategic goals, including: military domination of Middle Eastern and Central Asian resources, as well as military supremacy against any potential competitor; neo-liberal transformation of the global economy in the interest of the most powerful American corporations; and the continuation of the approximate structure of racial oppression, sexual discrimination and class structure within the United States.

These shared goals--not some special failure of character on the part of leading Democrats--explains their continued rowing in Bush's sinking boat.

Despite all this, some people who genuinely want peace and social justice continue to insist that the Democratic Party can be reformed. Honestly, at this point, I can't understand what gives them any hope. There is a long history of the corporate soul of the Democratic Party using this illusion of reform as a means of co-opting the hearts and minds of generations of labor, antiwar, civil rights and environmental activists.

That case has been made very effectively elsewhere and I won't repeat it here. Instead, on the eve of the Green Party primary in California, I want to speak to people who have already decided we need to build an alternative party.

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AMERICAN HISTORY shows that social change always begins with a determined and organized minority of people who set their sights on justice. This minority is normally marginalized, ridiculed, repressed or, for long periods, simply ignored.

Samuel Adams, Tecumseh, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Eugene Debs, César Chávez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would each testify to this frustrating truth. They all labored for years beside thousands of activists whose names we will never know.

All of them had to face the question that Martin Luther King Jr. posed in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail--should we "wait" for the liberal politicians to grant us some small part of our demands when it is convenient for them? Or must we recognize, as Frederick Douglass put it, that "power concedes nothing without a demand? It never has and it never will."

Every successful social movement in American history has recognized that King and Douglass were correct. "Waiting" is always just another word for "losing."

Having answered King's question, this determined and organized minority does its best to popularize its ideas, expand its organization, sharpen its arguments and prepare for the days when objective conditions jolt thousands, then tens of thousands, then millions out of their passive acceptance of the status quo--and open their minds to new ideas that only yesterday seemed radical, marginal and dangerous.

For instance, right up until 1775, only a tiny radical minority believed independence from England was justified, and an even smaller minority believed in revolution as a means to achieve it. If Thomas Paine had written Common Sense in 1770, instead of 1775, it would have fallen on deaf ears, instead of becoming the most popular political pamphlet in the history of the world.

This same relationship between years of patient organization and education and relatively rapid change happened when the United Auto Workers took over General Motors plants in 1936-37 to demand union recognition--and when Rosa Parks sat down on the bus in 1955 to demand human recognition.

After the fact, liberal historians want you to believe that these great breakthroughs in history were "spontaneous." In fact, they would have been impossible without the determination of the radical minority to stick to its principles.

Jesus told Peter, you are the rock upon which I will build my church. Whatever your religion, Jesus was a good organizer and knew that without principles, organization and tenacity, the best ideas in the world will not take root.

Today, the most powerful American corporations and the two parties that serve them are creating conditions that millions of people can no longer passively tolerate. We are catching glimpses of the potential for radical ideas to travel from the margins to the mainstream.

When Cindy Sheehan sat down in that ditch in Crawford, she showed the most powerful empire the world has ever known that its own citizens are turning against it. When Katrina hit New Orleans, the anger caused by the racist contempt our elite have for poor Americans, and specifically for African Americans, sent a shiver of rage through everyone with a heart and almost boiled over into action. When millions of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets to demand dignity on May 1, the power of workers to frighten their bosses returned to our consciousness.

We no longer have to ask the question: "Will anyone in America take a stand?" Now the question is: "Is there a political party ready to defend the millions who are standing up against racism, poverty and war?"

As I argued above, the Democrats and the Republicans are united in their support of the very structures (imperialism, neo-liberalism, and class and race oppression) that are sparking the new movements.

At best, the Democrats will prove Malcolm X right when he said, "If you stick a knife in my back, and then pull it out halfway, you are not a friend."

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ON JUNE 6 in California, the Green Party is holding its primary to choose its candidates to run in the November elections for all stateside offices.

The hundreds of millions of dollars the Democrats and Republicans will spend on these elections mean we cannot hope to win. However, we have another goal, which is just as important. We can show that there is a determined and organized minority that intends to fight--and that there are millions of people who want to vote for this alternative.

We can offer an alternative to 1 million people who marched for immigrant rights in California on May 1. We can offer an alternative to the hundreds of thousands of Californians who hoped that Cindy Sheehan would challenge Dianne Feinstein for Senate. We can offer an alternative to the tens of thousands who took action to stop the execution of Stan Tookie Williams.

And by offering this alternative, we can find those who want to do more than vote. In short, we can do what every successful social movement that has come before has done--we can popularize our ideas, sharpen our arguments and build our organizations.

1775, 1860, 1936 and 1955 may be closer than we realize. Are we ready? Don't waste your vote on June 6. Make it count by voting for the Green Party.

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