A missed chance to support a real alternative

November 20, 2018

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for governor of New York, responds to a discussion about the decision of the New York City International Socialist Organization to withdraw its previous endorsement of the Hawkins-Lee campaign.

OVER A conference call with NYC International Socialist Organization (ISO) leaders in early October, I was asked to publicly disavow Jimmy Dore’s endorsement of my candidacy for governor of New York.

It was in the last few weeks of a New York gubernatorial election where my campaign often had me rising at 5 a.m. to get across the state to campaign events and finishing the day at 11 p.m. or later. Andrew Cuomo had the backing of everyone from the Working Families Party to the tycoons of big real estate, banking, insurance, oil and gas, and the charter school lobby. Capitalists didn’t even bother to fund the Republican candidate. Cuomo was their clear favorite.

NYC ISO’s request felt like being back on the playground and a kid I know says I should go fight this other kid I don’t know because they have a beef.

I had never even heard of Jimmy Dore before. I heard from no one during the campaign about Jimmy Dore and Syria except the NYC ISO, until the Friday before the election when a pro-Assad “anti-imperialist,” alerted by NYC ISO’s statement, posted an attack on my pro-Syrian revolution position on Facebook that began circulating among campaign supporters. I had to respond then, and it is appended at the end of this response.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

I told NYC ISO that I did want to address the problem of the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” including some in the Green Party, next year after the election and after I work 70-80-hour weeks during holiday peak season at UPS.

How to do that in a way that educates, persuades and moves people on the question will require more than issuing denunciations. It will require a lot of time and energy to patiently explain of the real facts on the ground in Syria, debunk bad sources, and build practical solidarity with Syrian democrats. I was doing what I could on that before the campaign. I am committed to doing that within the left and peace movements going forward.

But I had no time for picking a fight with Dore over Syria in the last weeks of the campaign. I think most New Yorkers following my campaign would have asked, “Who the hell is Jimmy Dore?” and “What does Syria have to do with the problems we face in New York?”

I know from experience on the Syria question that making a statement about the reality of the Syrian revolution brings a torrent of responses from the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” who will lie and put words into my mouth, such as saying I support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria. The responses come from around the world, from “peace” activists in the U.S. to East European acolytes of the Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin. One has to respond to set the record straight.

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Then there would be Jimmy Dore fans asking me why I was picking on him. I didn’t have time for all that. My campaign decided we would pick our own fights and focus on the pressing problems the people of New York face under Cuomo’s rule.

NEW YORK has the most income inequality of any state in the nation. Its housing and schools are the most segregated by race and class. The top 1 percent now takes home 33 percent of all income, up from 10 percent in 1978. Wages are stagnant while the costs of housing, health care, day care and public college are exploding.

The working class is being driven out of Manhattan, much of Brooklyn, and many other working-class urban neighborhoods across the state by exploding rents and landlord harassment under “progressive” Democrats Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Both are veterans of the Clinton Department of Housing and Urban Development that destroyed more public housing that it built. Both of their political careers have been financed primarily by real estate interests.

The housing stock is full of lead paint, with child lead poisoning rates of 40 percent in Buffalo and Syracuse, which has the highest rate in the nation. Cuomo’s fracked-gas power plants are increasing the state’s carbon footprint as the climate collapses.

Cuomo and the new Senate Democratic leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, promised not to tax the 1 Percent to pay for the tens of billions needed to fix the state’s infrastructure, which is falling apart, from New York City subways and public housing to upstate water and sewer systems.

The first post-election act by Cuomo and de Blasio was to announce a $3 billion corporate-welfare package for the world’s richest person, Jeff Bezos, the $160 billion man who is CEO of Amazon, which is now locating new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.

IT WAS in the context of campaigning to raise real solutions for these serious problems facing New Yorkers that Jimmy Dore and Syria came up. Contrary to the assertions in these pages, Dore did not appear at a fundraiser for my campaign. Nor did my campaign feature him in a livestream event. I did not ask for his endorsement.

What happened is that I was a guest at Randy Credico’s “Livestream on the Fly” program in Brooklyn in mid-September to talk about my campaign. The mercurial Credico, who I respect for his long and persistent advocacy for ending the mass incarceration in New York created by the Rockefeller drug laws, decided spontaneously on the spot to have Dore, who had Skyped in to the show, do the interview with me.

Later that week on his own show, Dore endorsed me in a segment focused on criticizing the endorsement of Cuomo by Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez, the newly-elected Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)-backed member of Congress from a Queens/Bronx district.

I would have made the time to meet with NYC ISO membership about an endorsement. The initial ISO endorsement had been welcome when most of the New York left was starstruck with actress Cynthia Nixon and her primary challenge to Cuomo. The state’s chapters of DSA and the NY Progressive Action Network (NYPAN), the post-campaign group of Bernie Sanders supporters, as well as the many PACs of liberal advocacy groups, would not interview me and my running mate Jia Lee.

The only notable exception was the Buffalo Teachers Federation, whose political action committee interviewed me and whose membership overrode its executive committee’s recommendation of neutrality to endorse us by a vote of the rank and file in a membership meeting.

Some members of NYC DSA, such as Dan La Botz, argued for an endorsement of our campaign. The vote was closely divided — well, a vote on whether to consider an endorsement — but abstentions were counted as no votes. Counting abstentions is how Jimmy Hoffa Jr. just shoved the latest UPS contract down our throats after a majority of those voting rejected it. Unfortunately, NYC ISO’s statement withdrawing their endorsement came as DSA was debating their endorsement.

No one in DSA, the Working Families Party (WFP), NYPAN or the liberal PACs that supported Nixon seemed to have been aware that she, like Cuomo and de Blasio, was a Clinton Democrat.

Nixon had supported Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries, with maximum allowable donations to Clinton’s campaign fund and $5,000 more to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint campaign fund of the Clinton campaign, the DNC and 33 state Democratic parties that the Sanders campaign complained gave the Clinton campaign control of the DNC’s finances, strategy and staffing during the primaries. Nixon’s top campaign team came out of de Blasio’s campaign and administration staff.

No one joined us in late October protests of debates sponsored by the corporate media, which excluded statewide Green candidates this year after including us in 2010 and 2014. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and Charter/Spectrum have given $850,000 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns and received in return subsidies, tax breaks and regulatory favors. The corporate media acted like state media for the two-party state. The left was silent.

NIXON TOOK the energy she gathered on the progressive left and then delivered it to Cuomo by endorsing him after the primary. During the primary, she was not very effective in representing progressive positions. The Greens couldn’t get a word in edgewise as the corporate media was as star struck as so many progressive activists.

We were told that we would be covered after the primary. But with an immediate post-primary poll showing Cuomo with an insurmountable lead, the media decided there was no story to cover. We never got into the media narrative about the race.

On single payer, Nixon told the New York Daily News editorial board, “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it.” Though the progressive taxation plan in the bill would save 98 percent of New Yorkers money on their health care costs, opponents right and center used her statement to attack the bill.

On taxes and fiscal policy, Nixon proposed tweaking Cuomo’s signature austerity measure instead of repealing it. Nixon proposed letting local governments override the 2 percent cap on property tax increases by a majority instead of a two-thirds vote. Through unfunded state mandates on local governments and a freeze on revenue sharing, the state now balances its budget on the backs of working-class renters and homeowners through regressive local property taxes.

When Syracuse asked for state aid to upgrade its failing 19th-century water mains that have breaks almost daily, Cuomo said, “Fix your own pipes.” The tax cap forces local governments cut services, or face penalties for raising above the cap what are already the highest property taxes in the nation as a percentage of income and home value outside New York City.

On New York’s crisis of affordable housing and homelessness, Nixon was right to call for strengthening rent regulations and tenants’ rights. But she failed to raise the tenant movement’s longstanding demand to repeal state control of local rent regulations. Nor did she call for building more public housing to meet the enormous need for affordable housing.

THE GREENS have been calling for 100 percent clean energy by 2030 since the 2010 campaign. They helped draft the New York Off Fossil Fuels (NY OFF) Act, pending in both houses of the legislature, that would establish timelines and benchmarks to achieve that goal.

Nixon instead touted a Democratic bill, the Climate and Community Protection Act, that largely codifies Cuomo’s energy policy. It does nothing to stop flooding the state with fracked-gas power plants or subsidizing Exelon’s upstate nuclear power plants with $8 billions. It delays 100 percent clean energy until 2050 when it is too late.

The bill states that its purpose is to help achieve the outdated global goal of 450 parts per million for atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalents. For a decade now, leading climate scientists like James Hansen have been publishing research showing the goal needs to be 350 ppm goal to avert runaway global warming. The planet reached 412 ppm this year, which means not just halting emissions, but pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere with afforestation and regenerative agriculture that rebuilds soil ecosystems.

Nixon’s campaign reflected the state of the broad liberal left in New York, which counts on the Democrats to deliver progressive reforms. Even 350.org Action endorsed Nixon, despite her support for a bill with a goal of 450 ppm. They did not even acknowledge that we had submitted their questionnaire.

When Cuomo beat Nixon by a two-to-one margin in the primary, Cuomo dismissed the progressive challenge to him as “not even a ripple.” His primary challengers, Cynthia Nixon, her Lieutenant Governor running mate Jumaane Williams and the Working Families Party then affirmed that judgment by endorsing him. Cuomo’s vote was up by 1.3 million in the general election from 2014. In his victory speech, Cuomo boasted that he was the “pragmatic progressive” who “gets things done.”

The Green vote was down from 2014, from 184,000 to about 100,000, even though the statewide voter turnout increased from 3.9 million to 5.8 million. If Greens had maintained the 5 percent share they received in 2014, they would have ended up with about 300,000 votes and leaped over the Conservative Party to third place on the ballot.

As it was, the Greens are now fifth on the ballot, about 10,000 votes behind Cuomo’s votes on the Working Families line, which saw their vote drop from 2014 by about 20,000.

WITH THOSE election results, Cuomo is going to be even more insufferably arrogant in dismissing those to his left while doing his donors’ bidding.

Cuomo will use the newly elected conservative suburban Democrats against the more liberal city Democrats in the same way he used the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of state Senate Democrats who had caucused with the Republicans over the previous eight years, allowing the Republicans to block many long-overdue social reforms such as abortion rights, ending discrimination against transgender people and a DREAM Act to help undocumented students attend college.

The WFP is describing the defeat of six of the eight IDC Democrats as “revolutionary.” But it is hard to see what is revolutionary about Democrats caucusing with Democrats, especially because the suburban Democrats signed on to Cuomo’s program of not raising taxes on the rich to fund pressing needs like fixing the subways.

Cuomo will use the suburban Democrats to stop single-payer health care, continue underfunding high-poverty public schools, support charter schools, limit reform of the expiring rent laws, cut or kill the expiring millionaire’s tax and flood the state with fracked-gas power plants.

Contrary to one assertion in this debate that the Greens are moving to the right, we ran as eco-socialists from the start and got no negative feedback on that from our members or supporters.

Our campaign offered socialist solutions to pressing problems: public health care, public power for planning the transition to 100 percent clean energy, public broadband, public banking, more public housing, fully-funded public schools, tuition-free public college, worker co-ops, and progressive tax reform to pay for this Green New Deal. With co-sponsorship by the ISO and the Socialist Party USA, we held forums across three New York City boroughs on socialist solutions to six problems: low wages, education, segregation, housing, health care and Puerto Rico.

But socialist alternatives never got a hearing from the broad public. The election was about Trump. Cuomo campaigned against Trump, not with a program for New York. Cuomo had Democratic line and $50 million to promote his already high name recognition. Voters in the broad center-right to left choose Cuomo on the Democratic line to repudiate Trump.

The Trump era has been and will continue to be hard for independent left politics. But the Democrats do not have real solutions to the problems we face. The climate crisis is accelerating, and the working-class majority is in daily crisis just trying to pay their bills and keep their home.

I hope that we in the independent socialist left quickly figure out how to work together better than we did in this election because real solutions can’t wait.

HERE IS my response to a Facebook thread by David Rolde that started circulating among some of my supporters the Friday before the election, urging them not to vote for me “because Howie is an imperialist who supports the Zionist/U.S./NATO/Gulf-monarchist regime change campaign against Syria:

I don’t support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria.

I support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and cutting off U.S. aid to Israel as long as it violates Palestinians’ human rights.

The Syrian struggle is three-way: (1) Assad and his foreign backers, (2) Islamic fundamentalists and their foreign backers, and (3) a democratic movement of Syrian people against Assad and the fundamentalists. Socialists should support the democratic movement.

Assad is a murderous capitalist pig, but it is up to the Syrians to take care of him. Same goes for his authoritarian capitalist ally, Putin. That’s for the Russian people to deal with. And the same goes for the repressive fundamentalist Iranian regime backing Assad. Iranians will have to deal with that regime.

David Rolde calls Syria and North Korea socialist. These are authoritarian, repressive regimes. Syria is a neoliberal capitalist regime with favors and protection for monopolistic businesses in Assad’s family and cronies. North Korea is state capitalist. To equate these states with socialism is to discredit socialism. There is no socialism without democracy and no real democracy without socialism.

And to support Russian and Iranian imperialism against Western imperialism is to become a pawn in the inter-imperialist geopolitics of rival states and imperialist blocs in the new Cold War. Socialists should solidarize with the popular movements who fight for freedom and democracy in their own countries.

Sectarians who make up fantasies about my positions on Syria to oppose the only socialist option on the New York ballot give Cuomo a free ride to a third term as the capitalists’ choice.

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