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Make Your Vote Count for Socialism
Posted on Feb 28, 2012
By Scott Tucker
Tucker: The Socialist Party has a strong tradition of commitment to democracy, both within the labor movement and within the realm of electoral politics. But the legal and corporate obstacles have grown greater with the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court and anti-democratic “reforms” such as Prop. 14 in California. In every big election the public is told, make your vote count. Yet in reality, many of our votes are discounted. How do we make our votes count at the state and federal levels especially? What reforms are necessary to challenge corporate politics and make electoral politics more democratic?
Alexander: As far as electoral reforms that are necessary to create a democracy in this country, we can divide them into two—first, those that need to be enacted immediately, and second, the longer term restructuring we would like to see. Obviously, both Citizens United and Prop. 14 need to be repealed. Consider Citizens United a kind of high point of neoliberalism—corporations as people capable of openly operating in the electoral finance arena without restraint. If the existence of the Occupy movement is any indication, neoliberalism’s life span might be in the process of being dramatically shortened by grass roots resistance. And this is the best way to think about overturning such undemocratic decisions—not primarily through a legal strategy, but through a democratic revolution from below.
Long term, we might learn some lessons from Latin America. In places like Venezuela and Bolivia, left-wing electoral parties were able to break through two party deadlocked systems. They did so by rooting themselves inside the struggles of poor and working class people. This is one lesson for the American left. However, what they have as yet failed to do is to transform the electoral system from one in which they are one of two parties into a pluralist political system where multiple views are represented.
This is why, in the longer term, we want to fight for electoral reforms such as public financing of elections, proportional representation and a uniform open ballot access law. Even more importantly, we should, wherever possible, seek to encourage direct democracy through more radically democratic reforms such as participatory budgeting which will allow people to have a real say in how public money is spent. The current electoral system—from local to the federal levels—is rigged to privilege moneyed interests. The Democrats and Republicans monopolize every aspect of it from the process of getting on the ballot to the debates. It is going to take more than an electoral campaign to make such changes happen. It might take a revolution.
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Alexander: I think we should keep in mind that in the 1970s, the prison population in the United States had declined so rapidly that there were serious discussions about placing a moratorium on building prisons and only slightly more utopian proposals about ending incarceration entirely. Prison populations had declined about 1 percent a year since World War II and reached a low of 380,000 inmates in 1973. This, of course, was not to be, as politicians and policymakers took what academics call “the punitive turn” leading to mass incarceration strategies that disproportionately targeted people of color.
This too did not happen in isolation from other factors. The rise of neoliberal economics meant the end of the manufacturing sector, the destruction of social safety nets and the privatization of the education system. The prison-industrial complex is then used to warehouse and discipline those who have been left behind by an economic system that only considers the needs and interests of the 1 percent. It has been poor African-Americans who have suffered the brunt of this turn.
I believe that we need to enact policies emphasizing decriminalization while also creating spaces for the self-empowerment of poor and working class people. We must immediately end the destructive drug war by creating a legal justice system based on prevention, mediation, restitution and rehabilitation. That’s why, as president, I would support heavy investment in programs of restorative justice and other community based alternatives to incarceration. Where neoliberal politicians use force through criminalization to deal with social problems, a socialist would see the welfare state, rehabilitative services and economic empowerment as alternatives.
Tucker: Ever since the First World War, the Socialist Party has taken the position that a class conscious movement of workers must by necessity also be a movement working against militarism in culture and in the economy. We have barely begun accounting for the human, environmental and economic devastation of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The semi-secret drone war in Pakistan is not consistently reported by major news networks. We do not know the true cost of military bases scattered round the globe, as this has also become something of a state secret. And now we are on the verge of escalating hostilities with the regime in Iran. What are your immediate demands to prevent war? What are your long-range proposals for transforming the war economy into a commonwealth dedicated to peace?
Alexander: I want to be very clear about what my campaign’s position is on war and the military-industrial complex. I’ll start by saying that it is very easy to hold an anti-war position. Ron Paul has one. Plenty of Democrats and Republicans have them. But what makes a democratic socialist position so distinct, and, I would add, so important, is that we are not only anti-war but we are also anti-militarist. In other words, we seek to put a permanent end to the role of the U.S. military-industrial complex in our country and in our world.
You are correct to say that such a position is deeply rooted in the history of American Socialism. Comrades such as Eugene Debs went to jail in the early 20th century because they opposed World War I and the role of militarism in U.S. society. And, as John Nichols documented in a recent book, it was Socialist Party of America comrades who saved the First Amendment when militarists sought to restrict the right to free speech. Socialists have been present in every anti-war movement since—from the burning of draft cards in the Vietnam War to opposing the invasion of Iraq.
These same reasons hold true today. Military spending is a monumental waste of resources. Nearly 50 percent of the annual federal budget is consumed by paying for current and past wars. These funds could be better spent on dealing with serious social problems such as inadequate housing, the lack of health care and the dire need to rebuild our infrastructure.
Deeper than that, the death and destruction that the U.S. military has caused throughout the world—most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—has destroyed millions of potential bonds of global solidarity. We want to repair these bonds with socialist values of solidarity, compassion and justice.
Policy wise, we think this means at least three things immediately. First, we support the immediate removal of all U.S. troops from foreign countries and the ending of covert actions such as drone bombings. We also call for a 50 percent reduction in military spending and a redirection of those resources into social needs programs. Finally, we believe that we can develop a new global good will by closing all foreign military bases and the responsible elimination of all nuclear weapons.
I want to emphasize firmly that being anti-militarist is about more than just opposing the latest war. It is about seeing the American military for what it is—a force for global destruction and a serious threat to civil rights in the U.S.
Tucker: How did you find your way into the socialist movement? I’m not asking if you had a single big epiphany, but I am always interested in the background story of how people break away from “our two party system” and commit themselves to class conscious and independent politics. What experiences shaped your political views, and which social movements were decisive in your life?
Alexander: There really is no one single way to get involved in radical politics. For every active socialist I meet while campaigning, I hear a different story. Mine begins, funny enough, in the military. I saw the military-industrial complex from the inside and so did my running mate, Alex Mendoza, who was a Marine. My time in the Air Force led me to believe that the war in Vietnam was wrong—wrong for our country, morally wrong and politically wrong. This opened the door for me to ask some bigger-picture questions about how society works.
Perhaps, though, it started earlier. When I was a very young child I went with my father to hear Malcolm X speak when he visited a mosque in Watts. I cannot tell you that I remember anything that Malcolm said in particular, but I do vividly remember the presence that he commanded. He was a respected leader in that community, and I was impressed by how seriously he took that role. I hope to bring an equally serious approach to my presidential campaign since the problems we face as a society are just as serious.
As I grew older, I realized that there was political strength in numbers and I got involved first with the Peace and Freedom Party and later the Socialist Party USA. I liked the fact that both organizations place the interests of poor and working class people at the center of their political projects. Peace and Freedom provided me with the opportunity to run for statewide office, and I was quite happy to receive the nomination of the SP-USA convention to run a national campaign. I think that it is time to present a positive socialist alternative to the American people. I hope to play my role in doing so and ask you to vote Socialist in 2012!
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