[The following is an open letter signed by myself and dozens of other activists in response to a September open letter to Common Dreams.]
As always, in 2020, mainstream Democrats have tried every possible means to thwart challenges to their left. A media smear campaign against Bernie Sanders and other progressive candidates, rigging of the Democratic primaries, and ultimately the uniting of the Democratic Party elite behind Joe Biden cemented the nomination of yet another corporate Democrat. Allegations of corruption and sexual harassment and assault, and Biden’s long track record as a faithful servant of corporate America, warmonger, architect of mass incarceration, and friend of the world’s worst polluters, have all been swept under the rug in favor of the story that Biden is a “decent man” who will return America to “normal.”
Anyone who questions this narrative, let alone backs a third-party Presidential candidate such as the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, is derided as “irresponsible” and regarded as essentially a Trump supporter. Fearmongering to the effect that fascism is imminent if Trump is not defeated is used to bully even progressives residing in “blue” or “red” states into voting for Biden. Electoral reforms such as ranked choice voting that would eliminate voters’ fear that withholding their votes from a Democrat could result in a Republican victory are ignored or opposed by most Democrats. Meanwhile, the Democrats have made a concerted effort to prevent voters from even being aware of Green candidates, using legal challenges to disqualify Green candidates from the ballot in several states despite their comfortably surpassing the required number of signatures on ballot access petitions; in New York, they tripled the number of required signatures.
Unfortunately, rather than challenging the Democrats’ fearmongering and scapegoating, many leftists are echoing it. For example, in a recent open letter (“Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden”) in Common Dreams, fifty-five prominent leftist activists and writers asserted that the “most urgent task” of the left was “defeating Trump . . . with as big an Electoral College margin as possible, to undermine his predictable efforts to steal the election” — as if attempting to steal Presidential elections were not already a standard Republican practice that succeeded in 2000 and 2016. They even advocated that leftists vote for Biden in solid “blue” or “red” states such as California and Alabama, apparently attributing to Trump magical power to steal electoral votes in heavily Democratic states and create additional ones out of thin air in states he is already winning.
Rather than making an empirical case that Biden being elected would be better for the country than Trump being re-elected, they resorted to empty hyperbole: “Protestations that Biden is beholden to elites are true but beside the point. The lesser evil is evil, but in this case, the greater evil is simply off the charts.” How the difference in perpetration of evil between Trump and a man with a 47-year career of war crimes and corrupt, bigoted, and ecologically catastrophic policies who, like Trump, has been credibly accused of rape is “off the charts” was not explained. It’s hard to imagine that Republican extremists such as John Kasich, John Negroponte, Bill Kristol, and Rick Snyder who have endorsed Biden do not consider him sufficiently evil for their tastes. More likely, the broad bipartisan coalition of members of the ruling class who have endorsed Biden consider him the “more effective evil.”
The authors of the open letter not only advocated voting for Biden without conditions, but they engaged in shaming leftists who refuse to vote for him, claiming that “the message that not voting in swing states sends in 2020 is that we are okay with Trump for four more years as long as we don’t have to sully our hands by voting for Biden.” The suggestion that those who refuse to vote for either Trump or Biden are doing so because they are “too pure” to vote for Biden, rather than because of deep dissatisfaction with both, and with a political system that has foisted them upon us is, frankly, offensive. Why is it “purist” to demand of presidential candidates that they not be men accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women? Or that they stop persecuting, jailing, and torturing whistleblowers and journalists, fracking and drilling the hell out of the planet, or engaging in perpetual war and the support of fascist-led coups against foreign governments? Why is it “purist” to demand that they support universal health care and a real Green New Deal, instead of spending more of the federal budget on the military than the next 10 nations combined?
In addition to failing to come to grips with why tens of millions of Americans — many of whom have been personally harmed by the policies of both parties — won’t vote for the likes of Biden and Trump, the authors focus on them as individuals rather than on the ruling class, whose objective of maximizing profits on the backs of workers will likely be achieved regardless of who wins. Though it prefers Biden to Trump, the ruling class was far more concerned with defeating Sanders than it is with defeating Trump. Fear of Trump is continually stoked by the ruling elite, and voting Biden in is portrayed as the most important political task before us. But a Trump re-election isn’t what they are afraid of. What they are afraid of is a militant mass movement that acts in its own interests in a principled fashion, rather than kowtowing to the demand that workers restrict themselves to registering their disapproval of perceived greater evils in the voting booth. Included in what they fear is the development of a viable third party that represents workers’ interests in a principled and independent fashion. If the Democrats weren’t afraid of such an eventuality, they wouldn’t have been trying for so many years to prevent it from happening by opposing easy ballot access, ranked-choice voting, etc.
As Ashley Smith and Charlie Post recently argued, voting for lesser evils in an attempt to stop evil has an extremely poor track record. Voting for Hindenburg did not stop Hitler and the Nazis, and voting for an alliance of republican and social democratic parties did not stop Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. Conversely, what brought about the abolition of slavery, the New Deal, and an end to legal segregation was not the election of lesser evils, but rather the emergence of powerful, politically independent movements that pressured them. In fact, reforms such as the establishment of the EPA and OSHA and the Roe v. Wade decision have been won despite Republican administrations or conservative courts. What matters most is the presence of a militant mass movement that refuses to sell out its principles to the lesser-evil flavor of the month. As Howard Zinn so aptly put it, “it isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in” that drives social change.
Jeff Melton, PhD, social psychology; former Green Party Congressional candidate, academic copy editor (Ocean Editors)
Steve Bloom, poet and activist, founder of Organizing Committee for a Democratic Revolutionary Left
Danny Haiphong, columnist for Black Agenda Report and co-author of American Exceptionalism and American Innocence
Ryan Knight, political activist and host of the podcast “Amped Up with Ryan Knight,” advisory committee member, Movement for a People’s Party
Priya Sawhney, animal and human rights activist and co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere
Anne Menasche, San Diego Green Party
Marian Swerdlow, New York, NY
Anthony Zenkus, LMSW, family/sexual violence advocate and educator
Jonathan Rich, PhD candidate, sociology, UC-Riverside
Louis Proyect, author and activist
Marc Bogonovich, PhD, evolutionary biology and geography; Green Party activist, academic copy editor (Ocean Editors)
John Palmucci, Jr.
William Barth, PhD, politics; author, Green Party member
Nejla Routsong, Green Party
Rochelle Glickman, Green Party
Remi Debs Bruno, organizer, member of Marxist Center, and co-founder of Cosmonaut, Inc.
Sean Cunningham, adjunct instructor of sociology
Marsha Carol Smith