Republicans are celebrating. In less than two months they will hold a majority in the U.S. Senate and in the House of Representatives. Six years into the tenure of a president they openly revile, they will present a united front for corporate interests, religious extremists and gun enthusiasts with glee.

Voters turned out in historically low numbers (36 percent of those eligible cast ballots), and the rich poured in historically high amounts of money ($3.7 billion) to yield these results. How much of a crisis of democracy does this represent?

To answer this question I turned to Rosa Clemente, an independent journalist, hip-hop activist and scholar, and a distinguished visiting lecturer in the Pan-African Studies Department at Cal State Los Angeles. Clemente, an Afro-Latina woman of Puerto Rican descent, was Cynthia McKinney’s vice presidential running mate in 2008 for the Green Party. The duo made history by comprising the first presidential ticket in history to feature two women of color.

Clemente had no sympathy for the Democrats. After last week’s election, President Obama took responsibility for the results, saying, “We’ve got to sell it. We’ve got to reach out to the other side and … there are times where I think we have not been successful in going out there.”

This is a standard response from the Democrats: When they lose they worry they have not appeased conservatives enough. We rarely, if ever, hear Republicans openly worrying about winning over liberals and progressives when they lose elections. Clemente agreed, telling me in an interview on “Uprising,” “The thing about the Republicans, as we would say in hip-hop — they are gangster, they are hard core. They don’t care if they lose, win, whatever, they will completely be obstructionist.”

Democrats on the other hand, are expert at playing defensively, hedging their bets on political ploys such as the cynical decision Obama made to postpone executive action on easing immigration restrictions until after the election. Ultimately it was a ploy that likely lost Democrats significant numbers of votes, and possibly seats, such as Sen. Mark Udall’s in Colorado, where Latinos are 15 percent of the electorate. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank concluded that “all the Democratic Senate incumbents in red states that [Obama] was trying to protect lost anyway.” Clemente criticized Obama, saying, “A smart political strategist — even if you’re as cynical as the president and only doing that to maintain congressional control — would have signed the executive order months ago.”

Put simply, “He needs to sign the executive order now. Stop deportations immediately. That’s it. There’s nothing else to discuss,” Clemente said. But Obama has challenged Republicans to come up with and pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill or live with the consequences of his executive order easing deportations. Clemente responded, saying, “That’s sending a message to the larger Latino community and all of us who fight for human rights that while [Obama] is still negotiating with Republicans … lives are going to be destroyed on a daily basis,” through arrests, detentions and deportations. “There is no one in the Latino community that is not touched by immigration,” she said.

Another losing strategy, at least on the moral front, by Democrats was a near-complete avoidance of the topic of police brutality, incarceration and this summer’s events in Ferguson, Mo. The rallying cry “Black Lives Matter” summarized the angst and frustration of a generation of younger Americans, particularly African-Americans, who have been among the Democrats’ most devoted voters. Instead of agreeing with a sentiment so basic that it ought to comfort everyone but the most rabid racists, the Democratic Party failed to fold it into its campaigns.

Clemente was not surprised, given that the chain of command in Missouri is dominated by Democrats such as Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill. “Those young people,” Clemente said, “have been in their faces, rejecting the lies and racism coming from their own mayor,” a man who referred to protesters as “gremlins” in The New York Times. Just as immigration is a touchstone issue for Latinos, for African-Americans, “there is no one in that community who is not touched by mass incarceration.”

She pointed out that in both communities, younger voters defied older generations wedded to the Democratic Party. Latino voters, according to Clemente, “went against the Latino bourgeois political class,” saying, ” ‘we’re not coming out.’ ” And young blacks believe, she said, “that the black middle class and the professional class have completely abandoned them.” With both major parties failing young people of color so miserably, what recourse is there for political change through anything other than street action? Being a veteran member of a third party, Clemente was hopeful that progress could be made through the electoral system if third parties were better organized. She critiqued her own party saying, “I’m not going to sugarcoat it … the party has to deal with racial issues within the party and has to be very willing to be open to folks of color.” The Green Party’s platform incorporates racial justice issues such as calling for an end to racism in the criminal justice system. But, Clemente said, there are not enough people of color among its members: “It can’t look worse than the Democratic Party, visually.”

One of the most promising elections in years, won by a third party candidate, was at the local level when Indian American Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative Party won a seat on the Seattle City Council. Already her membership on the council has influenced decision making such as in the passage of a relatively strong measure raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle. Sawant’s lesson is that an overtly progressive political campaign, even one embracing the dreaded “S” word, can win support.

Clemente acknowledged that she was impressed by Sawant, saying, “What she’s doing is completely unapologetic … it’s a great thing. … I think the Green Party could learn a lot of lessons from the campaign that she ran.” In fact she had clear ideas for her party looking to the next major election: “I think we [the Green Party] should become a hard core oppositional force in 2016,” and, rather than running a presidential ticket, the party should focus on local races, state assemblies and possibly even gubernatorial races.

The fact that the Democrats lost the midterm election should ultimately not have surprised us, given how far removed they are from their constituency, and particularly from young voters. But the election did offer some clues about what sort of platform could win political support. Given that many ballot measures in states and localities around the nation yielded progressive results (higher minimum wages, marijuana legalization, easing prison overcrowding and defeating fetal personhood) suggests there is a hunger for progressive policies. “I think those speak to where people are at,” surmised Clemente, “and what a populist message should actually look like.”

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