INDEPENDENT YOUTH | Any Blue Won’t Do: The Future of the Progressive Movement

By Evan Vann | 9/13/16

As the curtains close on the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, despite perhaps one of the most powerful insurgent campaigns in the history of American politics, the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders is officially over.

For many Sanders supporters, the coronation of Clinton as the Democratic nominee signals the end of a chance to create real, progressive reform for the working class. It is popular opinion among Sanders supporters that the Clinton Kaine ticket embodies the failure of an attempt to bring the Democratic Party in a more progressive, populist, democratic direction. Instead, it seems that the party will once again shift back to the neoliberal, corporate politics that have dominated the party in recent years.

For many progressives, this poses the question of where to lend support now. The immense power of grassroots progressivism that was centered around Sanders demonstrates an increasingly powerful tool of a politically educated working class. However, despite key differences on issues that are cornerstones to the new populist movement (such as campaign finance reform, free trade, education and the general decentralization of political power), many Clinton supporters have called on Sanders supporters to support Clinton – in most cases, solely for the reason of stopping Trump.

However, many progressives including myself have rejected the Democratic Party’s fear tactic against progressive reform. While many Clinton supporters say the stakes are too high to express dissatisfaction with the Democratic party by voting third party or writing in, I tend to disagree. The time for American progressives to stand up to the neoliberal establishment is now.

It is a trend that has persisted in liberal politics for years: insurgencies are crushed, and the inertia of progressive, leftist movements is absorbed by the centrism of the Democratic Party. While the DNC’s rigging of the primary against Sen. Sanders is perhaps the most damning evidence of this political trend, it is by no means the only example of the Democratic Party’s defeat of populist, progressive campaigns.

Another campaign that faced heavy bias against the Democratic elite was that of the 1972 presidential hopeful Shirley Chisholm. The first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, as well as the first African American woman to announce candidacy for president, Chisholm’s ‘72 presidential bid raised many similar issues that the Sanders campaign did.

As well as having a heavy focus on social and economic equality for minority groups and women, Chisholm took a strong stance against corporate influence and lobbying in politics, much like Sen. Sanders, with her campaign slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.”

Chisholm’s campaign was heavily centered around grassroots politics rather than establishment politics. However, in the words of Chisholm herself, “When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.” At the 1972 DNC convention in Miami Beach, Fla., Chisholm was defeated by her democratic opponent George McGovern.

Similar to today’s split in the Democratic party between Clinton and Sanders, while McGovern tried to bill himself as progressive, and was undoubtedly a better choice for liberals than his opponent Richard Nixon (who won in one of the biggest landslides in electoral history), critics aptly claim that he was not the kind of the grassroots, insurgent candidate that Chisholm was. While the shift in the political spectrum in the past decades to the right has changed the political landscape, by timely standards, McGovern was, for all intents and purposes, a neoliberal, especially in comparison to Chisholm’s platform.

Chisholm’s campaign ran into many roadblocks, mostly regarding her race and gender, but her progressivism also garnered hostility from the Democratic elite. This, however, is not an isolated incident.

Another African-American Democratic presidential hopeful, Rev. Jesse Jackson, took third in the 1984 DNC behind Gary Hart and winner Vice President Walter Mondale. Jackson’s platform was similar to Chisholm’s in terms of its progressivism. He supported cost-free education and universal healthcare, had a heavy emphasis on equal rights for minorities, the immediate reversal of Reaganomics, and (perhaps most controversial of all) supported a Palestinian state. Upon his defeat, Jackson remarked that despite gaining around 21 percent of the popular vote, he only received about 9 percent of the delegates, similar to the recurring issue in recent state primaries in which Sanders was awarded fewer delegates than Clinton – even in states he won such as Wyoming.

The list goes on. Jerry Brown’s defeat at the 1992 DNC by neoliberal posterboy Bill Clinton also signified a failure for his populist campaign to enter the Democratic Party. Almost every primary season there is a common trend regarding these insurgent, populist, liberal campaigns focused on the decentralization of wealth and power. They don’t succeed, more often than not, because of the strong bias against them from the liberal elite. This bias heavily tips the scales in favor of establishment politicians that toe the party line in an attempt to garner progressive support.

Time and time again, the Democratic party has made it clear that the party does not welcome progressive proposals, especially those centered around the redistribution and decentralization of wealth and political power.

With solid evidence of the DNC’s bias against Sanders, as well as Clinton’s appointment of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as honorary chair of the campaign, this year could very well be a tipping point for progressive, leftist Americans. Not only do we have citable evidence of the DNC’s bias against us since the Sanders campaign kicked off last April, we have gained enough traction and organization to be a deciding factor in politics. I, for one, will not allow our momentum to be slowed by the Democratic party’s anti-progressivism. It is clear to me that the only suitable place for our momentum to carry us is the Green Party.

The Democratic Party will never be a friend to the progressive movement. Issues that are key to the economic equality called for by progressives directly contradict the party’s establishment platform. For example, the progressive mindset that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, is directly challenged by the donations from those involved with the health industry. Similarly, stronger regulation of the finance and banking industry, a staple of progressive leaders like Sen. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is incompatible with the gross amounts of money contributed to the Democratic Party by securities and investment firms.

The Democratic Party’s involvement with industries whose profits would decrease as a result of progressive reform and consumer protection presents an impassable roadblock in moving America in a better direction for all.

Although there is always heavy focus on presidential candidates, the trend also extends to lower offices in this election cycle. One by one, progressive Democratic candidates have been defeated in the primary season by their establishment opponents. In Ohio, with the help of the establishment, Ted Strickland beat progressive primary challenger P.G. Sittenfeld (Strickland has an “A” rating from the NRA). In Pennsylvania, establishment candidate Katie McGinty prevailed over progressive politician Joe Sestak. McGinty’s campaign was bolstered by over $1 million of  funding from the national party. Across the country, progressive democrats like Sittenfeld, Sestak and former president of the Chicago Urban League Andrea Zopp are being defeated in their primaries by establishment opponents.

This begs the question: why try to transform the Democratic party? Why try to force corporatists and establishment politicians to bite the hand that feeds them, to go against the neocapitalist fundamentals of the party elite, when the Green Party of the United States welcomes progressive reform and is unburdened by corporate ties?

The only reason the Democratic party has is to stop Trump. However, as progressives, we must acknowledge that we are fighting an uphill battle, and that the time for appeasement is not now. We mustn’t be focused so harshly on the next four years, but the following four years, and each year following. The time for the progressive movement to rally behind the GPUS is now, not as an alternative, but as an imperative. America cannot operate under the “lesser of two evils” system that it has for so long, and unless we vote with our values, vote for hope rather than fear, there will be no change.

It goes further than Jill Stein though. Much like Stein is a progressive, safe alternative to Clinton, in Colorado, Arn Menconi is the Green Party senatorial candidate running against Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, who time after time has sold out the well-being of Colorado voters in the name of profit. All across the country, people like Menconi and Stein are running against Democratic and Republican candidates to stop endless wars, achieve environmental and economic justice, fight for single-payer healthcare and move our country in a better direction for all Americans, not just a wealthy handful.

I, for one, will not bow to the same party that has fought tooth and nail against my values. It is evident that the Green Party is the only party that will fight for working Americans against a predatory political climate. If not now, when? As Americans, it is time to stand up, reject the lesser of two evils, and vote for the greater good. So get out, volunteer and get active, because it’s on us to create real change in American politics.

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About the Author

Evan Vann

Evan Vann is a student at Ouray High School in Ouray, Colorado. He holds interest in government, current events, and activism, and aspires to study political science in higher education.