Dr. Jared Ball talks movement making and voter apathy in the deeply blue state of Maryland now that a Republican is the governor-elect
LT. GOV. ANTHONY BROWN, GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE (D): Tonight we fell short of our campaign goal. But it does not and it cannot diminish the work that each and every one of you have done in our communities throughout our state. So thank you.
(…) and a lot worth fighting for. I know that governing is difficult, demanding work. Larry and his team have a tough road ahead of them.
LARRY HOGAN, GOVERNOR ELECT (R): Tonight, tonight the voters of Maryland rejected the politics of deception and division. Tonight the voters showed that they were completely fed up with politics as usual.
ANGEL ELLIOTT, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Angel Elliott.
You just heard Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown give a concession speech, and governor-elect Larry Hogan’s victory speech, in what some are calling a stunning gubernatorial loss by a wide margin in November’s midterm election. What was key in this race wasn’t so much who showed up, but who didn’t. There were little over 130,000 votes cast in Baltimore City, whereas 253,000 came out in Baltimore County, and they were voted for Republican Larry Hogan by 60 percent.
What’s next for the left in the absence of electoral power?
Joining us to discuss this is Dr. Jared Ball. Dr. Ball is an author and coeditor of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, a radio host, and an educator.
Thanks for joining us.
JARED BALL, ASSOC. PROF. COMMUNICATION STUDIES, MORGAN STATE: It’s my pleasure.
ELLIOTT: So Anthony Brown thought that he was going to win last night. He said to people in a speech a couple of months ago that the primary was a hill, and that last night was a molehill. And that’s clearly a hill that he couldn’t get up. What went wrong with his campaign?
BALL: Well, I don’t think it was just his campaign. I think it’s his whole party. And I think even going with your initial question of what happens now for the left with electoral politics, the problem is the Democratic Party is not an option for the left. The real left has no electoral option. So, as people were looking back–and I think the Republicans did a good job of making these local campaigns about the national party and making it a referendum on Obama. And I think a lot of people took it that way, and I think a lot of people said, look, the Democrats under Obama for all these years haven’t done anything that is substantially changing our lives. So why would we think that this guy’s going to do it? So you add that with the normal lull in midterm elections, and I think clearly Brown and his team miscalculated. But, again, I think it really has to do with the fact that the Democratic Party is not an option for the left. And this is what I think is the real issue, that the left as it exists, or whatever that term is supposed to mean these days, does not really have an electoral political option.
ELLIOTT: So now that Republicans are in control, what do the left and grassroots movements have to do? I mean, they still have to look forward to 2016.
BALL: Well, I think we should be doing the same thing we should have always been doing, which is developing alternative political options, alternative electoral political options. So in part I think that that which calls itself or considers itself to be alternative media have to do a better job between now and 2016 in promoting alternative electoral politics, bringing in other people to talk to about their parties or to talk to–or people that they can talk with to strategize about the development of a new party. Or even those not really exciting to me, those who are wedded to the Democratic Party need to develop plans to–and I think the alternative media need to support those plans–to develop alternative radical moves within that party.
So I think alternate media need to do more and invite more people from the Party of Socialism and Liberation, the Green Party. There’s a black radical independent electoral political endeavor happening in Maryland right now. These people need to be brought in and made part of routine conversations to encourage people to new forms of organization around electoral politics if that’s what people want to do. Again, I’m not a big fan of voting as a method of addressing our most serious problems, but to the extent that people are, alternative media need to do more to focus on those alternatives, rather than just covering, even alternatively, existing mainstream elections.
ELLIOTT: Alright. Let’s bring it back to Hogan quickly. He is a businessman–he owns a real estate business. He is originally from PG County, so he connects with the folks there. But he is a Republican, which means that the gun control laws in Maryland, that civilian oversight, that the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, these are things that might not necessarily be changed. I mean, he has already campaigned on the fact that he is excited to repeal any gun control law that O’Malley put down. What does this mean for Maryland?
BALL: Well, also, I mean, we have to add, you know, I think the Latino community has a justifiable concern over what’s going to happen with the DREAM Act defenders or with immigration in general. And I think there is a legitimate concern also around this idea if universal pre-K that Brown was promoting in his campaign.
But, again, I think that this should do, at minimum, more to encourage people to reorganize themselves around different methods of developing movements, electoral political options. There is always going to be a concern that there’s going to be a right-wing Republican backlash to everything that the Democrats claim credit for progressing. But my point is this is not real progress, even those issues and things that the Democratic Party has pushed to some extent. You know, nationally there’s been issues of drug reform, drug policy reform, gay marriage, other things that the left is happy about, but these are not real, I think, major advances. I think, if anything, that they are incremental, they look good given the state of affairs, which is so bad that the slightest bit of progress looks like that.
But what I think is at issue here is that people need to step back and say, well, what little we thought we had we have lost (almost quoting Bob Marley, by the way). And then say, well, the Democratic Party was not inspiring. It did not invest nationally or locally in getting people out to vote. It did not support its own campaigns in a vibrant way. It certainly didn’t want to even attach itself to the current president, who himself is looking bad even among regular grassroots Democratic Party, even black community members. A lot of the people in the black community have been like, what if you really been doing?
So I think the so-called left has to look at that and say, well, the Democratic Party didn’t inspire anything to stop Hogan or the Republican takeover nationally. So we need to step back and reorganize ourselves around the politics and the ideas and the goals and on new standards and say, again, these things were just minor so-called advances, so we should not be at all satisfied. And then we should look at the fact that they’re so easily rolled back or potentially so easily rolled back and say, we need to double down on some radical alternatives, because this is just not acceptable, and these standards upon which these two parties run this game are just not acceptable. So let’s reset the standard and reset the dial a little bit and reorganize and push in some new directions if, again, the vote is to be the method of choice for most activist endeavor.
ELLIOTT: Yeah. You know, speaking of Latinos, when President Obama was reelected, they came out in massive numbers to elect President Obama. And there were all these pundits and pollsters saying, oh, Republicans, you guys have a problem now, because the country’s turning brown and Latinos are coming out as a huge voting base for Democrats, and they’re turning states blue. And it made the Republicans take kind of an inner reflective look. Is that Democrats? moment? Was last night the moment for Democrats to take a look and say, who are we as a party? Are policies and the way that we’re operating in line with the way that the country is going, in the way that the country is feeling?
BALL: Well, again, see, in some sense, yes. I mean, the Democratic Party should say, well, we need–as I was saying–we need to reinvestigate what it is we’re trying to do and reinvest in our own party, in our own ideals.
But I think that the real point is that the trick bag we’re all in is that the neither party is really in opposition to one another, and I don’t think they have any real problem handing off so-called power to one another every years. So we hear Latinos upset nationally, saying, you know, all these Republicans coming in, they’ve walked away from our vote, they’ve used the voter ID regulations that they’ve instituted to keep us from the polls, and we’re going to pay them back in 2016–ostensibly by voting for the Democratic Party, which is the party of deportation and wall-building. So, I mean, what really are we looking at as an option here? Obama has deported more people than the Republicans, his Republican predecessors. He supported building the wall between the United States and Mexico. He’s done nothing progressive on this issue of substance. So what are folks going to do?
Similarly, folks have also learned in this midterm election that the sort of–the way districts have been gerrymandered, and the way even black and brown people have wanted to create majority black and brown districts, has really just allowed the majority-white remaining communities to reorganize themselves and supersede any power that those black and brown districts might have had in electing local and national politicians.
So my point here in all of this is that the two-party system has allowed for all this to happen. People have fallen into the trick bag of going for one party or the other or playing them against one another when in fact they work together. And the vote has turned into something that has become nearly useless in advancing progressively the real radical ideas, which really aren’t that radical but would now look to be radical, that most people in the country have across party lines.
So race plays a major issue in this. White supremacy keeps a lot of white people from voting in their own interests because they’re afraid of this black and brown numerical takeover, never mind the fact that white people have doubled down on control of the resources and the wealth anyway, so you might have what people have already called an apartheid situation in this country, where a white minority clearly has all the power.
So, again, I think all of this points to the fact that we have to find other avenues and the left has to think seriously about what it’s going to do.
And if I had one major point and wanted to come to with–to this interview today, it is to say that alternative media need to support that. And I think we need to do more, all of us, including my own little radio work. We need to do more in having guests on and discussions and even debates between all these independent and left alternative electoral political options and see if something new can come out in successive elections, if, again, the vote is to be what people want to be their primary avenue of making activist change, because what’s happening now is that everything is failing and most people in this country are suffering greatly and have no electoral option. And the left right now, currently, as I started with, has no electoral political option at this point. So we need to develop one.
ELLIOTT: Right. You know, it seems like they’re all in the club together, Democrats, Republicans. And if you look at the ballot initiatives, even though the Senate and Congress went to Republicans, people voted for the very progressive issues. They passed them, issues about abortion and the marijuana legalization. Those passed. So people wanted–.
BALL: Gay marriage.
ELLIOTT: Gay marriage. They want a different type of candidate. It’s just they might not have the money or the machine behind them to get out there.
BALL: No, I mean, that’s the point. And, again, most people–you know, I think the polls are still pretty clear. Two-thirds at least want real universal health care. We don’t have that. Most people cannot differentiate between the foreign policy of the two dominant parties. And yet nobody seems able to have an electoral option that will change any of that, because the corporate militarist state is well-funding both sides of the aisle and limiting what anybody might do with these two parties.
And again–I always think it’s important to bring up–this was the intent when the so-called founders arranged this thing called the electoral political system we have. The goal has always been what James Madison said from the beginning, to protect the true minority, elite white men, who have all the land and the wealth, from the rest of us, who would use the vote, as he said, to engage in the “wicked” projects, he called them, of distributing land, redistributing land and abolishing debt. And as we were just talking off-air, I mean, that is the number-one issue for most of us. We would love to be able to abolish debt, redistribute resources, and so on and so forth. But we don’t have an avenue, electorally speaking, to deal with those issues, because both parties have been set up to block any of that real change from occurring.
So I think that, again, we really have to push–you know, I was watching a lot of the coverage on left-leaning media, alternative media sources of this election, and I honestly find it to be terribly boring.
ELLIOTT: Yeah, msnbc was going to have meltdown.
BALL: But I’m not even talking about msnbc.
BALL: I’m talking about Democracy Now!. I’m even talking about some of what I’ve seen on this independent network here, The Real News Network. And I’m just saying that the discussions have to involve, they have to be moved to the left. They have to open up the gates to who’s having these conversations. And we need need to not be waiting for the next election to be talking about all that’s wrong with these two parties and with this electoral system we have in this country. Let’s be talking about that on a regular basis.
My own radio show, which is obviously a minimalist alternative option for people, needs to do more in doing that same thing. I mean, granted, we don’t hold–we don’t put the same emphasis on the vote that other people do. But I think to the extent that all of our audiences do, we need to provide them with other options. And there are some great things being said and attempted in these alternative parties. I mean, and what we saw with the gubernatorial race in New York, with Howie Hawkins and the Green party, I mean, they at least moved up the ballot, they at least showed that 100,000 or more people were interested in their style of politics. And they get very little support from even the so-called alternative press.
So what would happen if they were more involved, if the Green Party were more involved, even if it was to be critical of the work that that party does? What if we had the Party for Socialism and Liberation in these discussions on a more routine basis? I think all of us would benefit greatly in challenging our own ideas and giving our audiences much more to consider as they think about the politics of the day, rather than just turning them over to msnbc, CNN, or MTV, where people are just going to say, come on out and vote–and what does that mean, particularly to young and black people in particular? It means go vote for the Democrat. It doesn’t mean think about it or it doesn’t mean study it and understand who’s backing who and who supports who and what policies, this, that, and the third; just means go vote for them. And then we’re right back here at the next cycle. And I think that’s something that we have to really aggressively look to break.
ELLIOTT: Well, hopefully The Real News and alternative media like your radio show will continue to push to give people more to consider.
BALL: Yeah, we have to.
ELLIOTT: Yeah. Thanks so much for joining me.
BALL: It’s my pleasure.
ELLIOTT: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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