Fight Within the Democratic Establishment or Build Third Parties?
T.M. Scruggs and Kwame Rose sit down with Paul Jay to discuss the Green Party and the role of a swing state strategy as opposed to symbolic candidacies in building an alternative to the Democratic Party – From TRNN’s Livestream of the DNC
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Now joining us in the studio is Kwame Rose, one more time (Kwame is now working with The Real News Network), and T.M. Scruggs, who’s on the board of The Real News Network.
Thanks for joining us again.
So, T.M., you’ve been working, campaigning for Bernie Sanders. I’m guessing–I haven’t asked you this, actually, but I suspect it’s actually a long time since you did anything, if ever, with the Democratic Party.
T.M. SCRUGGS: As a matter of fact, 1972–and that was with George McGovern–the big issue at that time was an international issue, right, Vietnam War. And that’s when I first learned how the Democratic Party, any major party, works for the elections. And when that was over, I kind of said, I’m done with this Democratic Party; I’m not going back to this thing. And it’s only been the candidacy of Bernie Sanders that kind of got me to to go out and make a little bit of a help.
JAY: And I think that a lot of Sanders supporters are in that position. Either they’re young and it’s the first time they got involved in politics, but even so, they were not drawn into any kind of political action that had to do with the Democratic Party before. How does it affect you now, going forward?
SCRUGGS: How does it affect–?
JAY: You. I mean, you were active for Sanders. Now there’s the issue of defeating Trump. Where are you in this?
SCRUGGS: I’ve always just considered the Sanders candidacy–I think Bernie Sanders, who–I knew, by just being aware of what was going on in the Congress, that he was the most progressive member of Congress. And I used to make small contributions to him instead of the liberal Democrat in the state of Iowa, because his vote counts just as much. So he was representing me, as far as I was concerned, much more than my own representatives.
And I think Bernie made the right choice to go inside the Democratic Party for the primary, ’cause it forced the corporate media to have to report on him. They ignored and dismissed him, but the word got out. And so I have always looked at that as a tactical maneuver. And even Mr. Sanders, he had to go past the Democratic Party just to become mayor of Burlington, and then also to be the representative from Vermont and so on. He’s always been technically an independent, even though he finds himself caucusing [inaud.]
So I think it’s a different situation for folks who are just getting involved. And I think it’s very much up in the air. I think some people are really sure that they’re not going to have anything more to do with the Democratic Party. There are some people who have decided, well, at least not this fall. The real question will be: can that kind of thing that we suffer from in the United States of organizing only around elections too much, can that energy be put into not only other electoral things but other issues that need to be struggled for in the community?
JAY: Sanders’ analysis and actions, clearly he’s saying the Trump danger is so serious that people need to kind of swallow their opposition to the Clinton and this whole kind of stratum that controls the Democratic Party, focus on defeating Trump, and then fight it out with Clinton.
SCRUGGS: Well, I would say it depends on which state you live in, as far as how you actually vote in November. If you’re in Texas or California, then you can afford to vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party. And it’s really only a question for those seven or eight states that elect our president, due to the screwy electoral college we have.
But November’s going to be here and gone pretty soon. It’s more important what happens after that and how are these different networks going to survive and how are they going to direct their energy to connect with other social movements. And a lot of people in the social movements intersected with the Bernie Sanders campaign this time around. So are they going to only be directing people towards electoral politics, like trying to bring in more progressive candidates in two years? Or Bernie Sanders says–what is it?–like, 300 people that they’re trying to have a list of progressive candidates that he’s going to work for. That goes all the way down to, I think, the local elections, even, for those 300. That very much remains to be seen, and I don’t think anyone has an idea of where that’s going to go.
JAY: Kwame, if you look at the Baltimore situation–you’re in Baltimore, I’m in Baltimore–there is a Green candidate running for mayor. But you have a somewhat similar situation, where, at least so far, for a third-party candidacy, it’s very marginalized in Baltimore. And a lot of people–I’ve talked to even kind of progressive people who don’t even know–it’s Josh Harris, right?–Josh’s candidacy, versus if he had fought it out at the Democratic primary, it would have been interesting in the sense that he actually has a whole program. For example, they have developed a whole program for public banking in Maryland and in Baltimore, what that might look like as an alternative. And if he’d been up there on the stage of all-candidates meeting in the Baltimore primary, I think it would’ve actually killed everybody, ’cause I was at a couple of these all-candidates meetings and they couldn’t have been more mundane. As a tactic, take Baltimore. Does it make sense, running outside as a third party? Or would it have made more sense to fight it out in the primary?
KWAME ROSE: No, I think it’s challenging, because this Democratic primary in Baltimore, you’ve got over 20 candidates running on the Democratic ticket. So it would have been challenging, right? You had several good young candidates who have great ideas and represented young people, and you had the candidates at the top who had been city councilmen, state legislators, and represented the establishment, and the establishment had the voting bloc or the consistent voting bloc.
JAY: And the money.
ROSE: And the money, right?
SCRUGGS: And the money.
ROSE: And so, do I think that the idea for those of us who think a little more progressively than the current voting bloc in Baltimore City? [sic] I think the idea of a Green Party candidate is intriguing, but I don’t think that the idea is a realistic idea in Baltimore at this time. I think Baltimore needs a mayor or a candidate who can kind of be a bridge to a more grassroots type of leadership inside of City Hall.
JAY: Now, just to be transparent here, whenever we talk about Baltimore and municipal politics, you have a personal friendship with Catherine Pugh, who has actually won the Democratic nomination. But politically speaking, I mean, you might as well speak to it, ’cause here we are.
ROSE: I didn’t–.
JAY: In terms of policy and politics, she represents the same kind of essentially Democratic Party politics we’ve seen before, Catherine Pugh.
JAY: So when you’re saying you need something new and fresh, you’re saying that needs to be fought out in the Democratic Party or not?
ROSE: In Baltimore, I think it needs to be fought out in the Democratic Party first. And this is why. There is not another voting bloc. No other party has a voting bloc inside of Baltimore, right? There’s not a Republican candidate that ever gets taken seriously in Baltimore City.
JAY: You can’t get elected dogcatcher if you’re a Republican in Baltimore.
ROSE: Exactly. And it almost is about who’s more loyal to the establishment every year that there’s a campaign in Baltimore City. And Catherine Pugh, she goes against everything that young people are saying right now, her politics.
At the same time, I think that inside of the Democratic Party and the control that’s there–because it’s not just the mayor; you’ve also got to fight against a hard-nosed City Council president in Jack Young, who’s against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, who’s against several ideas that would help youth, revitalize inner cities in Baltimore City. And so I do think it has to be fought in the Democratic Party to have enough support to make it successful.
JAY: This issue of fighting at the local level, regionally, local, I know for The Real News–and as I said, you’re a board member of The Real News–well, we do international, national news. We think we’re focusing on a city to try to break through. Does that also makes sense in terms of the progressive politics?
SCRUGGS: That’s always been my complaint with the Green Party is that they run these symbolic candidates for president, right? Jill Stein, who I don’t think has been elected to anything, has never had public experience, so it’s kind of a symbolic thing.
At the same time, there are different parts of the Green Party that have been very serious about governing and gaining some power and making some changes, being able to say to people, look, this is what you can do.
Like, in Richmond California, right next door to where I live in Berkeley, they had several Green Party candidates win City Council positions and then the mayorship. And Chevron tries to own Richmond, and they dump more money, I think, per candidate than in any local election in the history of–at least in California, and it kind of was too much, alienated people, and they swept the election.
And when I lived in Venezuela in 2005-7, that’s where I had an experience that you don’t get to have as an American too much is to see when you have a large social movement that wins electoral victories at not just the local but the state and then the national level, and they’re there and then able to channel resources to the communities that have been deprived, and then people actually are able to see and sense the being cut into the wealth of the nation, and it motivates them. It’s that positive change that, whoa, look, we can do something. And so then they are motivated to do more. And then they pressure the people who get elected, and then the people who are elected then do more, and then that stimulates the base more. And it became this kind of wonderful mechanism that really was transforming the country.
JAY: And there is a unique opportunity here, though, I think, for the Green Party because of what’s happening,–
SCRUGGS: Oh, yeah.
JAY: –meaning if they can get the 15 percent and get into the debates, that would be quite a breakthrough. And I actually have asked some of the Green Party people–.
SCRUGGS: I don’t think that’s going to happen.
JAY: Well, we’ll see what happens after this convention. There’s a lot of people that up until now were saying they were pro-Sanders, not pro-Green in this polling, and we’ll see if that changes. But I’ve asked some Green Party people so far, and I don’t get an answer, in the sense that I’ve been saying, why doesn’t Jill come out and actually say, use the swing state strategy and everywhere else get us to 15 percent so we can get into the debates? ‘Cause that would be a game-changer.
ROSE: I think the Democratic Party is good at co-opting the movements such as those, right?
SCRUGGS: Oh, yeah.
ROSE: I think that they’re good at getting Bernie Sanders supporters to say, I have to vote for the Democratic nominee. And that’s essentially what most of these delegates are saying. Like, I want the Democratic Party to be progressive even though they weren’t. Even though they’re not being as progressive as we would hope for, they’re still saying, well, I have to support the Democratic Party.
JAY: I have to say, a lot of the movement-building organizations like People for Bernie and Bernie Delegates Network and a lot of others, they’re talking about a swing state strategy more. They’re actually not necessarily saying, vote Democrat except maybe in these swing states. And, frankly, even there, I’ve interviewed two nurses earlier. The nurses haven’t even decided whether they’re going to ask their membership to vote for Hillary. I guess they’re going to poll them and see what they say, but they’re not ready to advocate it yet. It’s not a slam dunk here.
ROSE: You know, for me I think this weekend in particular almost sealed the deal for Hillary Clinton, and it was a good strategy. Like I said, I do think that the Democratic Party is great at co-opting movements. If you look at what happened with the Black Lives Matter movement and how that has been co-opted to a certain extent by the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton had victims of police violence. She had been campaigning with them for months and months and months when young people were more leaning towards Bernie Sanders, even with the vetting of DeRay Mckesson, who had a certain type of prominence on Twitter during this election, trying to vet him to become an official surrogate. So I think they are good at co-opting, they are good at getting people to the table and making compromises. So I don’t think the swing state strategy will necessarily be as effective, as good as it sounds.
SCRUGGS: Well, it’s all you’ve got for the nation. And if you’re ever going to build a third force, then you’re boxed in. I remember when Ralph Nader ran in the year 2000 and I lived in Iowa city. And so he was there early. And you had an amazing meeting. It was young people. There were middle-aged people. There were older people. It was very diverse. Everyone was fired up. And the result was, wow, look how effective this system works: this energy has nowhere to go, it has nowhere to go go, because people–Iowa was a swing state–maybe it still is; I’m not sure just where they’re coming out. They keep electing Republicans and Democrats. So people are afraid: Well, we can’t go for something like this, because then we’ll elect the Trump of the year, you know, whoever is elected there.
That’s why I think local strategy for the Greens is where you can have much better chance of starting to demonstrate that you’re a serious party and that you are not just a symbolic gesture, you are real and you’re here for the long haul and you’re not going away, and we’re a real choice and if you elect us we will really make things happen.
But something just like you pointed out, that the Green Party does not just talk about the swing state strategy in general, like, everyone’s supposed to vote for us no matter where, is just crazy. And they also don’t even talk about how we need to have a constitutional convention or something to change the electoral college system so we just have a popular vote like every other major nation does.
JAY: Alright. Thank you both for joining us. We’ll be back again over the course of the next few days.
Thank you very much for joining us on The Real News Network.
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