The Conflict is Between Wall Street and Main Street within the Democratic Party
Thanks to the Sanders movement, corporate interests in the Democratic Party are a little weaker now than a year ago, says Michael Lighty of National Nurses United
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Chicago at the People’s Summit.
Now joining us is one of the people behind the people’s summit who helped craft all of this Michael Lighty, thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL LIGHTY: Thank you Paul.
JAY: Michael is the director of Public Policy for the National Nurses Union.
So going into all of this what did you hope would come out of this? It’s kind of a unique moment, historical moment. Sanders candidacy has at an unprecedented scale, challenged the Democratic party, maybe come a little bit short. We were talking off camera before that some people seem to be in dispair about Sanders losing when I think it’s rather miraculous that the campaign did what it did and there’s a moment where 3,000 people have gathered to talk about what’s next. I find it very interesting that what’s next is let’s go all out and elect Hillary Clinton the next President. Yes, defeat Trump but most of the discussion here is what’s next for the movement so explain that framing to me.
LIGHTY: The movement existed the movement before Bernie. Bernie coalesced a lot of movement forces that had been building for Seattle really when you’re thinking about we went after the WTO, Occupy, Black Lives Matter. Even the resurgence in some places of union militants has been a factor, has contributed to the soil out of which grew the Sander campaign. So it’s natural that it was never about Bernie and it never ends with Bernie. So it always goes beyond that.
So we’ve framed this as our movement moment that it’s not so much a pivot as it is a continuation and that continuation is all those folks were working to stop Keystone Excel, working to stop fracking, and the cases of nurses working for improved Medicare for all, found a home here. What we found is now we’re meeting in explicitly movement terms after having worked together on the campaign to figure out what it is to figure out collectively what it is we need to do to build the movement. And part of that is electing down valid candidates. Part of it is electoral.
JAY: I was about to say there’s a lot of discussing about electing down congressional fights, state legislature fights and so on, something Sanders called for Thursday night when he made his statement. In terms of the basic framing I’m hearing almost nothing about the Democrats and supporting Clinton for the election. Clearly defeating Trump means a vote for Clinton but there’s almost no talk about that half of the equation.
LIGHTY: I’ll tell you something Paul and it might sound a little harsh but in some sense Hillary Clinton is irrelevant to this event because it was never about Hillary. It was always about an affirmative agenda for change, for transformation. So that’s the beauty of a moment. A movement makes demands. A movement is aspirational. And so when we organize for these values of solidarity and justice then we’re talking about something that’s not related to a specific candidate, certainly not even a campaign. So we knew whether Bernie was elected or someone else, we were going to have to have something in place in January 2017 that we didn’t have in place in January 2009.
JAY: Yea the death of these kinds of movements is always been no second act. You guys seem to be planning a second act and even planning for 2020 a third act.
LIGHTY: That’s right. You should say that we have what RoseAnn DeMoro, our executive director, calls vision 2020 and that vision is very clear. When you hear folks like Nina Turner and Tulsi Gabbard, you have a vision of what’s possible for the kind of candidates who come out of this movement.
JAY: So the focus will be on congressional down ticket races on 2016. I would guess even more so in 2018 which I assume means a serious campaign to primary corporate democrats.
LIGHTY: Yes and some of that’s happening this year. For example, we’re very proud to support Tim Canova against Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
JAY: Proud or gleeful?
LIGHTY: Alright, both. She earned it. Let’s face it. I don’t think we should limit this to electoral politics. I think we need to understand that these candidates start first with issues and with programs and depending on their relationship to that program, their commitment to it and their base of supporters, their constituency around that program, that is out of which grows their candidacy. So we need to understand this as a movement tactic, electoral politics like civil disobedience, like legislative campaigns and lobbying.
That’s what we want to bring here. We want to bring these identities that have been parsed up by identity politics, reinforced by the liberalism of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, recognize those shared interests, shared program, and vision, and use that as the basis then to say okay candidate we expect you to carry out this program, we’ll hold you accountable to this program and we expect you to be a leader in our movement for that program. Not as a special program of high regard but as one of us activists engaging in your arena as we all engage to make those transformations.
JAY: The formulation we’ve talked about on the Real News, I don’t think it’s original but the idea of a movement with candidates and part of that idea is someway where the candidates when elected become accountable to the movement. How do you see that?
LIGHTY: It’s working in Chicago. It’s working here. We claim Chicago is a model for exactly that. As we speak, Carl Larosa who was elected based on a pledge to a program and then an organization was built around his campaign that is ongoing, it is working on those same issues that he knows he has to champion or we will then push back on him. And we’ve also see it in Chicago when a congress member was elected by that same organization and abandoned the program [inaud.] and has now lost their endorsement, lost their community support and yet the pressure continues on it. So that is literally the model and Chicago’s the place where it’s happening.
JAY: What do you hope is achieved at the fight at the convention? When Sanders spoke on Thursday night he had 2 big calls to action I guess. The second was this down ticket fight but what’s next is the fight at the Democratic Party Convention. How do you see that unfolding? What are your objectives?
LIGHTY: Our objectives are we share Tulsi Gabbard’s objectives to reform the party and eliminate super delegates. We think that’s a righteous and appropriate fight for the convention. We expect that the movement will be in the hall and demand platforms that reflect those movement demands. We think that the corporate domination of the party will prevent that likely but we also know that there are Hillary delegates that they were able to vote their politics. They were released to vote their politics on the issues will be with us. The majority of those folks in the room, not the lobbyists and the special interest super delegates, are with us on our program. And so we believe that we actually all are represent the base of the Democratic party and the constituency of the Democratic party but not the leadership and the institutional interest of it and we expect that clash.
JAY: Yea you told me off camera when had said that a lot of people were wondering how much this would be framed as herding people into the Democratic party which a lot of people were suggesting Sanders would eventually do and so far has not. What’s your attitude towards third parties?
LIGHTY: Well let’s first make a distinction Paul between voting for Hillary Clinton and herding people into the Democratic party. Voting for Hillary Clinton is a defensive act against Trump. Adopting a program for transformational change like improved Medicare for all or Robin Hood tax, quality free college education, those kinds of programs are affirmative programs that are not partisan and not party based. So we’re going to work on those issues within the party and outside of it. It is what Tim Carpenter used to call from Present Democrats for America, inside outside.
The third party question is live. We welcome that discussion and we think at the national level you have to account for the difference in level for success between a Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat or a Green party candidate, a Ralph Nader or Jill Stein running as a third party. And that success is formidable. Putting issues like democratic socialism on the table, organizing, coalescing a political movement around that ideological position. That has not happened with third parties. Tom Gallagher’s written a very good book on that called the primary route and believe that those working the Democratic party on the left were active in the primary season each 4 years, you would have an infrastructure that could actually elect a nominee over a period of cycles.
So that’s the contest and let’s have that debate. There are third party advocates here. They are on the agenda; they are speaking about that. And if the local level is great interest now. we’ve endorsed a number of Green candidates at the local level. But you have to account for the different level of success between what Bernie [inaud.].
JAY: So let’s go back to the convention. I’ve been asking this question to a few people, I’ll frame it the same way. The Democratic party, I think if one looks at it objectively, it’s like a united front in a sense. You have the class of hedge fund guys and Silicon Valley guys and Hollywood billionaires and a whole section of the billionaire class that Sanders attacks, that they are the corporate Democrats.
We know Hillary Clinton and others are the face of that and you have trade unions and obviously there’s a split in the trade unions about unions that are satisfied to have tea at the White House and get very excited about that and others that don’t seem to depend on having that tea. Your union being one of that small group. And you have masses of ordinary, working, and other kinds of people in the party so it’s a real broad front except it’s a broad front whose leadership and control has always been the hedge fund guy essentially. It’s Wall Street really and Wall Street money that fuels all of this, so this isn’t just a debate about policy. It’s not just a debate about who’s got the best idea to get to the same objectives the way the Clinton campaign and the media seems to want to say.
This is a fundamental difference of interest and that fight as it plays itself out if it’s really waged, it does not lead to one side goes and just says okay you won the vote okay now me hedge fund guys we’re going to be all for social democracy or whatever, it doesn’t end that way. It ends as a bloodbath really, which I’m not suggesting’s a bad thing. How do you see this unfolding?
LIGHTY: I think that’s a very important analysis Paul because there are the structural reforms we mentioned about the party and ultimately it’s an ideological political question.
JAY: A question of interest.
LIGHTY: And interest. Whose interest are you serving? Literally because that’s what parties are. They serve the interest of their constituency, the institute, the perks and resources, and policies that benefit their constituencies what the party is supposed to deliver. That is clearly they’ve delivered for the Wall Street 1%. How you can change, you can’t change that inside out. You have to change that from the outside and from the bottom up.
So when we’re talking about electing down ballot candidates, we’re talking about eventually controlling the Democratic caucus in the house and the senate. So it is a process and we’ve got to start thinking the long game rule and understand what we can do with rules and what requires a movement together. Those are clear distinctions are important in both respects. No one believes we’re going to change the Democratic party and fill it to server the interest of Wall Street.
Is Wall Street getting weaker? Are they weaker in the Democratic party than they were a weak ago? Yes, they are. Indeed, they are. So we want to do things that are going to sharpen that divide. We want that conflict within the Democratic party to be further developed. Not more conflict in that political [inaud.]
JAY: So you’re planning long term and when you say you’ve got a session 2020 coming and you have Tulsi Gabbard and Nina Turner on the podium there both looking like they could be candidates in 2020 is that part of the scheming going on here?
LIGHTY: It would be a kind of wish fulfillment if Tulsi Gabbard and Nina Turner were running for President. But that’s obviously a choice. What we want to do is make it less of an individual choice and more of a movement demand that people like that rise up carryout the campaign because they’re carrying our agenda. That’s really what we want.
JAY: When Sanders called for this down ticket fight, just everyone get involved run even for school boards and such. He never said run for the Democratic party. I thought that seemed like such a conscious way to frame it.
LIGHTY: Well Bernie’s an independent. Bernie ran as a Democrat and that was big, big deal for him as you know. I had the opportunity to introduce him at Tim Carpenter from Present Democrats for America Memorial where Bernie was addressing a conference not originally planned as a memorial. I had the opportunity to introduce Bernie and the member of Present Democrats for America, he gave them a petition signatures and 10,000 people urging him to run as a Democrat. So there was conscious effort to make that somewhere between strategic and tactical call to run as a Democrat. But he never said I am a Democrat. And that is exactly the position I think everyone and not everyone but that’s the consensus position of the summit. We are active electorally as Democrats. We are not Democrats first. We are not Democrats.
JAY: So it’s more a tactic than a..
LIGHTY: It is and that’s what I say to the third party folks. Third party adherence elevate third partism to a principle. It is not a principle; it is a tactic. You have to justify that tactic on strategic grounds. Is it building your movement? Is it furthering your issues? Is it challenging power, shifting power from them to you tactic?
JAY: And sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.
LIGHTY: And that’s a tactic, that’s not a principle and certainly not a moral principle.
JAY: Alright, thanks for joining me. And thank you for joining me on the Real News Network.
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