Who’s Co-opting Whom?

An article from Filler  #3 by A. Sid
[Filler Collective // Students for Justice in Palestine // Pittsburgh Student Solidarity Coalition // Pgh Autonomous Student Network]


For centuries, the American political system has served one primary function: to act as a safety valve for this nation’s most vital dissent. By funneling voters into one of two camps, the American ruling class has effectively nullified any and all populist causes that do not receive lip service from either political party. When one of the parties does decide to embrace the desires of their constituents, they do so in the least effective manner possible, opting instead for surface level changes that appease enough of the population to defuel the cause.

Bernie Sanders’s recent call for a “political revolution” has ignited a fire in the hearts and minds of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. Sanders’ economic populism is a welcome sight for a nation still struggling to escape the mire of recession. But for many on the left, Sanders’ decision to run as a Democrat is disheartening enough to dismiss him altogether. In conjunction with his stances on the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and the Black Lives Matter movement, this has made Bernie seem soft in the eyes of the far left. Once again, our end of the spectrum has chosen to forsake the political process in favor of the tried-and-true methods of direct action and outside agitation.

Herein lies our failure. Our refusal to work with the system is borne out of an entirely justified fear of having our causes co-opted and our missions left incomplete. History has taught us that expecting the system to deliver the reforms we seek is a futile task. But if we’re willing to dig deeper, we find that systemic change can indeed be achieved through the system. A prominent example can be found in the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1989, a bevy of Soviet satellites held elections – preceded by massive protests – which freed these newly independent nations from Moscow’s clutches. By ousting the Communists, the former Soviet republics established democratic systems that, although still plagued by corruption and oppression, allowed for infinitely more freedom than the USSR did.

After centuries of inadequate solutions to economic injustice, systemic racism, excessive militarism, and every other battle the left has fought and lost, our fear is that the system will embrace our cause with one hand and legislate it into irrelevance with the other. But when the people cry out for the destruction of the system itself, the political elite find themselves in a bind: either deny the people’s wishes and reveal their so-called democracy to be a sham, or accept and cede control over the American political process.

Drastic restructuring of the American political system is not as radical a cause as one might think. Voters from all walks of life – whether Republican or Democrat, young or old, white or black – feel that the system does not serve them. Specifically, Americans harbor a great deal of resentment towards a bipartisan political system that is increasingly polarized and ineffectual. Although politically moderate (at least relative to the far left), these citizens can easily be convinced to support a seemingly radical cause so long as it comes draped in the phony fabric of political legitimacy.

As it stands, the only candidate capable of conveying such a message is Bernie Sanders. A lifelong independent, Sanders has repeatedly called for measures – such as the public financing of elections and rigorous campaign finance reform – which would drastically reduce the power of the two political parties. It is not unreasonable to assume that Sanders could be pushed further. But for this to happen, the restructuring of America’s political system must become the defining issue of the 2016 presidential race.

This is where we outside agitators must direct our efforts. By no means am I suggesting we devote our energy to the Sanders campaign. Rather, we must create an environment in which any viable presidential candidate must be dedicated to substantive structural reform of the American political system. Thus far, the only candidate for whom such a stance seems feasible is Sanders, but the identity of the mouthpiece matters not. What matters is that the only cause captivating the public during the much-touted first hundred days of the next Presidency be busting the two biggest trusts this nation has ever known: the Democratic Party and the GOP.

The ebb of flow of American political power has reached a pivotal point. We live in a nation ostensibly bound to the democratic process whose citizens feel alienated enough to abstain from democracy altogether. In this time and in this place, we have a chance to change everything. Our job? Converting America’s widespread political disaffection into action. Our targets? The very visible elected figureheads preserving the American oligarchy. By making our presence known in the traditional political sphere – through local direct action everywhere we can reach – we can break through the false dichotomy that permeates the chambers of power across the nation. By focusing on campaign finance and electoral reform, we can tap into two issues that draw the ire of broad swathes of the population while also possessing the potential to decentralize political power.

Eliminating legal barriers to entry for third-party candidates would be the next step, ensuring that the most pressing issues – whether local, state, or federal – have someone to speak for them. Further reforms to combat the exclusion of undesirable voters would be needed on a case-by-case basis, in situations such as Jeb Bush’s 2000 purge of Florida’s voting polls or the recent spate of voter ID laws. The specifics can be dealt with later. What cannot be postponed is the struggle to revitalize our democracy.

To many of my comrades who fight to end capitalism and bourgeois democracy, this may appear a betrayal. If our ultimate goal, however, is the decentralization of economic and political power, then certainly any step in that direction is progress – so long as we continue the fight. Furthermore, the existence of a mass movement can serve as a buffer to political subversion, particularly a movement with these goals. So long as there remain voices within the movement clamoring for further decentralization, power cannot remain apart from the people forever. These first steps are nevertheless vital, and it is vital we accomplish them quickly, for the clock is ticking. Climate change poses an existential threat to all humanity and dark clouds of war loom on the horizon. Will our system stand between us and destruction?


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