by Ann Garrison
Noted Black public intellectual Dr. Cornel West recently gave the nod to backers of a new, People’s Party. But Green Party activist and BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon says that trying to build a new progressive electoral force by “poaching” Democrats is the wrong way to go. In an interview with the author, Dixon said the Green Party’s “political positions are reflective of what enormous numbers, perhaps majorities, of Americans, want.”
Dixon: Don’t Let Democrats Drive You to Desperation
by Ann Garrison
“It’s really time for Cornel and some of these other folks to drop their plans of poaching the Democratic Party’s politicians and joining folks who actually have a plan.”
Last week on Democracy Now, Dr. Cornel West and former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer Nick Brana announced their hope of persuading Bernie Sanders to lead a new “People’s Party.” I spoke to Black Agenda Report editor and Georgia Green Dixon, who responded to Dr. West in the Black Agenda Report.
Ann Garrison: Bruce, in his appeal to Bernie Sanders, Cornel West said that he was desperate:
“I think the Democratic Party’s in a crisis now that’s quite unique, and I think that you have somebody like Bernie Sanders or a host of others behind him who are hungry and thirsty, and especially the younger generation, especially the younger generation. And that’s why I think Brother Nick’s playin’ a crucial role here among the others is what excites me, because I’m desperate, y’know what I mean. As a progressive, a real progressive, not no neoliberal centrist, I’m desperate.”
A lot of folks are feeling desperate for good reason, including many of those who joined the national Climate March on April 25. What’s your response?
Bruce Dixon: Well, desperation is not a plan. One of the other things that Cornel said in his Guardian article was that the left lacks institutional heft or institutional capacity, and that is actually true, but the remedy for that is not poaching Democratic politicians and hoping you’re going to get their voters along with them.
Bernie Sanders has already shown where he is. He’s been traveling around the country with the new DNC Chair. I live in the Sixth Congressional District in Georgia, where Bernie endorsed a candidate who is an unrepentant Hillary supporter who is pro-war and pro-privatization, a guy named John Ossoff. He’s been traveling around the country with the DNC Chair Tom Perez on a Democratic Party unity tour. So those are the people Bernie wants to unify. That’s the institution that Bernie wants to strengthen, and it’s really time for Cornel and some of these other folks to drop their plans of poaching the Democratic Party’s politicians and joining folks who actually have a plan.
AG: This week Bernie Sanders said that President Trump is on the right track regarding North Korea. Would you like to respond to that?
BD: Wow. That speaks for itself more eloquently than anything I could ever say.
AG: OK, moving on. Dr. West supported Green Party candidates Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka after the DNC extended itself to make sure that Bernie Sanders didn’t the Democratic Party nomination. But, the Green Party’s failure to win the 5% that would make it an official national party that qualifies for federal funding is no doubt part of what made him and others feel desperate. The party was founded in 2001 and it’s been trying to get to the 5% in a national election for 17 years. So why are you still engaged in trying to build the Georgia Green Party?
BD: Well, I wasn’t around the Green Party until 2009. Up until then I was a lifetime Democrat in denial. I acknowledge that, but I’m not responsible for everything that went wrong in the Green Party before 2009. That said, the Green Party is a federation of state parties, so whatever’s going to happen inside the Green Party has to bubble up from the state parties. I’m in Georgia and many of us who are Greens have been looking closely at everything you said about the Green Party’s disappointing performance and its inability to scale up, even though our political positions are reflective of what enormous numbers, perhaps majorities, of Americans, want.
“Basing a people’s party on the people seems like it should have been obvious.”
Number one, there are many, many legal obstacles to Green Party candidates getting on the ballot, and to Green Party candidates being heard in the debates, and we’re working on all of those. And, number two, there are internal obstacles having to do with the structure and the traditions of the party that we are overcoming. We’re now, in several states, and in Chicago, Baltimore, and a few other places, turning the Green Party into a dues-based membership party because we believe that that is the only kind of party that has any chance of scaling up to compete with the big boys. And this is a new thing, not just for Greens but for left activists in the United States — to have a party that is supported not by the non-profits, not by exclusively volunteer labor, which there’s never enough of to support a real party, and not by the wealthy, not by the 1%. Basing a people’s party on the people seems like it should have been obvious, and so on behalf of the Greens, I guess i have to apologize for failing to pick up on this before. It’s how the landless movement in Brazil funds itself. It’s how the left mass-based parties all over the world fund themselves.
AG: What would you say to those who’ve concluded that electoral politics, or at least national electoral politics, is hopelessly corrupted by big money and that energy is better spent on sustainable culture at the local level. For example, affordable housing, community gardens, renewable energy buyers co-ops created at the city, county, or regional level, and the cooperative movement exemplified by Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi.
BD: Those are all good and worthy things to be involved in, and I’m involved in a number of them, but if you’re talking community gardens, who owns the land under your community garden? Almost every community garden I’ve seen has been shut down after three, four, or five years after someone asserted title to the land and took it away. That is a legal and political problem and it’s only going to be solved by changing the laws.
Look at affordable housing, who gets to decide what gets built where? Who gets to decide whether or not you have rent control? Down here in Georgia, you can’t even rent an apartment if you’re a convicted felon.
“Anyone who tells you that you need to drop the political work is playing mind games with you.”
What about renewables? Who decides to give tax credits to the fossil fuel giants? Who decides to subsidize nuclear power with our taxes?
Let’s talk about Jackson, Mississippi and Cooperation Jackson. They’re running a mayoral candidate in this year’s election. And I think that, in Mississippi, they’ve got specific laws against co-ops getting state funding. So we need to move those laws out of the way and pass laws that make sure co-ops get preferential treatment. Once again these are all legal and political problems that are gonna have to be solved through the political system. Anyone who tells you that you need to drop the political work and just take part in this other stuff is playing mind games with you.
AG: What about those who say that only local politics has any possibilities because national politics are hopelessly corrupt.
BD: It’s a seamless garment. Your local politicians are deeply involved with your politicians on the state level and the national level. There’s a good reason why your school board and your city council and your mayor’s office are recruiting grounds for your state legislature and the House and Senate. Even if you run as a maverick Democrat and you get people who wouldn’t trust the machine Democrat to trust you, campaign for you, vote for you and work with you, you will still be expected to bring the Democratic votes into the barn when it comes to the statewide elections for governors and legislators, and for House members, Senators, and President. So there isn’t any real division between local, state and national politics.
AG: I’ve seen that kind of pressure, and seen the punishment of local politicians who don’t endorse the Democrats on the upper rungs. You don’t do that if you want to survive and move up.
BD: And the class of people who contribute big money to local elections are the same people who donate big money to state and national elections, so again, it’s a seamless garment.
AG: The Black Agenda Report has a close relationship with Dr. Cornel West. Have you had a chance to talk to him since the Black Agenda Report published your point, counterpoint essays?
BD: No, but we expect we’ll be able to talk to him sometime soon.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in Oakland, USA.
Dr. Cornel West’s essay “The Democrats Delivered One Thing in the Past 100 Days: Disappointment” and Bruce Dixon’s essay “An Answer To Cornel West – A ‘Peoples Party’ Won’t be Imposed From Above“ can both be read on the Web, in the Black Agenda Report, blackagendareport.com.
See more here: