Now – Through & Beyond Third Party Politics

by Mark Lewis Taylor

What kinds of movements, organizing work and protest actions are necessary for taking on Clintonian neoliberalism, the policy tradition in which Hillary Clinton stands? (photo at right, ‘La protesta’ painting, David Alfaro Siqueiros, oil on masonite. Copyright 2010, Artist Rights Society, NY/SOMAAP, Mexico City.)

In this column I suggest a distinctive approach to Third Party politics, a kind that wouldn’t just be a choice of one from three parties, but a political way of taking one party (maybe taking it over) and moving it in new directions to create a liberating space of resistance against governance by either Trump’s protofascist authoritarianism or Clintonian neoliberalism’s record of destruction.

This should be seen as neither “purist,” nor simply  “voting one’s conscience,” nor a “utopian” dream that “puts principles over people.” These pejoratively used terms have often been used against those even considering the possibility of voting for a third party candidate, or abstaining from voting altogether this year. Let us not give up on an emergence of new creative and liberating political pragmatics from the social movements working in our day. Let us not foreclose the possibility. The moment is fluid. If we fear Trump, we need not simply give-in to Hillary Clinton as the only alternative we can envision. So consider some very real developments of the present political moment.

Defeating Clintonian Neoliberalism is a real possibility. This is because the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party in different ways, is in a weakened state. The two party system is now very vulnerable even as the U.S. populace is vulnerable to these two very destructive parties and their nominees. Trump, the Republican nominee has had to weather the desertion of a number of Republican elites, especially from the security establishment who have hustled over to Clinton. This is because Trump sheds the aura of sophistication and high-minded democracy speech that corporate elites traditionally prefer. These Republican corporate elites have also been made nervous by Trump’s at least rhetorical critique of the trade pacts (NAFTA, the TPP) a critique that resonates with many among the white working poor who also then often hearken to Trump’s white racist and nationalist rhetoric.

The Democratic Party, with Hillary Clinton at its head, is also weak. At this writing she is one of the least popular of Democratic nominees in its history. Democrats themselves are reportedly “freaked out” by how poorly she polls against Donald Trump, sometimes a bit ahead of him, sometimes even with him, sometimes behind. Although some more recent polls show her widening a lead over Trump after the RNC and DNC conventions, a Clinton victory is far from certain. If there ever was a time for populist political movements to “make their move” on the two party system, now should be the time. Hillary Clinton went into the Democratic National Convention with her own political platform attacked by contentious Sanders’ delegates on its platform committee. She faced a second-place finisher, Bernie Sanders, who in spite of his endorsement of Clinton is known to have chalked up 1,900 delegates. These endure as a reminder to the public of Clinton’s weakness in her primary campaign. They will remind viewers of the existing social movement(s) that supported Sanders, even though Sanders now seems to have set them aside.

Both parties and many voters are reportedly “unhappy with their nominees.” This then is a moment of vulnerability for both parties; a moment of possible change not just of personalities in power, but in the deep bedrock of political power structures in the U.S.

In this political moment, I would expect three phases of a popular movement to emerge for defeating Clintonian neoliberalism. Given history’s potential to surprise we must be ready for the unpredictable. (Every essay like this is a draft that history must rewrite.) In the meantime, I identify three phases we can anticipate. They each overlap one another, and featuring dynamics that will run concurrently at many points. Still, there is a logic of progression that leads me to order them as I do below.

A first phase of protest, interruption and cries for justice and for a new order has already begun. Under the pressure of continuing dramatic evidence of racialized police violence – especially around the murders by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castille in Minneapolis, Minnesota – many cities across the country feature protests. These are not simply against the police but more importantly are crafted by various groups in Black Lives Matter movements (as in Chicago recently) as a comprehensive resistance to leaders and political structures that seem toothless in the face of a full-tilt breakdown of trust between communities of color and the police. These protests show every sign of rolling on toward the Republican and Democratic National Convention sites in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Because Trumpian authoritarianism and Clintonian neoliberalism are features of one coordinating and always interlacing mode of rule, both convention centers should become sites of creative mass mobilization and protest. Our movements need to build a sense of the people’s rejection of both candidates, of both standing parties and of most of the electoral processes as we know them today.

This phase of protest is no mere romance of “storming the barricades.” Maybe there will be such actions. Just as importantly, though, we will need to occupy with protest the ordinary spaces of our lives. We will be called to speak and take stands in our workplaces, in our homes and families, in our mosques, synagogues and churches – in the everyday sites we move in. As Michelle Alexander intoned in a moving recent essay, “something more is demanded of us now.”

I’m thinking of this “something more” not only as one who wants to be on the streets with our creative social movements, but also as a teacher who heads back into the classroom in the Fall. How will I break from “business as usual?” How will I throw open the doors to this new moment, to the forces of a changing political terrain that demands our protest, a creative refusal that defeats both Trump and Clintonian neoliberalism?

A second phase of organizing people’s assemblies will thus be crucial to creative moves through protests. These assemblies need to begin at least by the time of the DNC in Philadelphia. My dream, in fact – dare I propose it (someone surely already has) – is that the rage and dissatisfaction of those alienated by the repressive politics of both parties will walk out of the Democratic convention in the Comcast/Wells Fargo coliseum – and during prime-time TV coverage.

Sanders’ delegates and others disenchanted with Clinton should be invited out to meet the people in the streets and parks around the DNC arena. This means, I think, that we should be working now to find venue for mass assembly in Philadelphia – maybe with our own arena or coliseum, with our own independent media (fusing Democracy Now! Black Agenda ReportRT NewsteleSUR, maybe even MoveOn to deploy its “Video lab” not just against Trump but against Clinton too). All these would challenge the mainstream media to cover another story, another party, this new assemblage: the people making a new political way.

To be sure these peoples’ assemblies should lift up local communities’ needs – from Philadelphia to Dallas, to Minneapolis, to Kansas City, Atlanta, Oakland and Baton Rouge. Nevertheless, in so doing, these assemblies need to be lifting up national visions for a new national order, alternative modes of forming national governance. The time is to dream and act big. The challenge is to assemble, and to steal the big political show. Take it away from the Trumps and Clintons, away from the RNC and the DNC.

A third phase will be that of building an alternative party from these assemblies. It must grow organically out of the previous two phases. Whether this is a full-formed party like a new “social democratic” party called for by Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, I do not know. Perhaps we need to think beyond the party form all together, at least as established in U.S. and European political histories.

The moral compass of this new instrument of power should take in the needs of all, especially the 99 percent. But the needle of our compass should continually point to the structural violence against the most vulnerable, those whom Cornel West has called “the unloved people” (West, The Radical King, 4) – those whom we followers of Jesus often call “the least of these”, i.e. the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, those without homes and usually as a result of institutionalized class repression, white racism and hetero-patriarchy.

In short, this new instrument of people’s power should focus on building an alternative party among those groups and movements built from and for the “least of these” – especially for the black, brown and poor who have suffered and led resistance among all the peoples. This instrument of power must hold accountable and strike fear into the heart of Clintonian neoliberalism and the hearts of the Trumpian authoritarianism that is both companion and foil for Clintonian neoliberalism.

The new instrument of people’s power might take over an existing party already on the electoral ballot and re-center it in a broader matrix of peoples’ movements today. The Green Party, for just one example, featuring now the candidacy of Jill Stein, might be embraced but supplemented by added candidates, coming say, from Socialist Alternative (perhaps Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant) or from movements that once supported Sanders (again, Cornel West has already left the Sanders supporters to join Stein of the Green Party).

The Green party has often not been ineffective in reaching out to radical grassroots movements. It has had trouble breaking from appearance as primarily about a “green” combat against environmental threats as they impact largely white communities. But even leading thinker of environmental movements today, Naomi Klein, calls for a full-tilt challenge to the U.S. corporate state, to its roots in European colonialism and to its white racist assumptions and structures (Klein, 72-3 and 314-15). Perhaps the Green Party can find its place – it needs to – within black radical movements and organizations, along with radicals from all the communities of color in the U.S. – Latinx, Arab and Asian American and more – and become part of a new fusion politics for subjugated peoples. Cornel West and YahNe Ndgo are set to address the Green Party convention in Houston this August. It is important to support this formation at present, and I do. But let us work for a thorough going political expansion of the Green Party, even while respecting its past contributions.

It may be premature, though, to settle deeply into only one party right now. If we endorse one or more now, we should also be ready to move and expand to other sites for achieving a politically emancipatory governance. As my colleague and former professor at Temple University Dr. Anthony Monteiro now wisely reminds us, it is time to listen to the people and to the movements, allowing them to unfold in their insurgency, perhaps producing a period of ungovernability. But I would add quickly that it is never too soon to start gathering, to plan, maybe to form alternative parties and institutions.

In the meantime, though, Trump’s demagoguery may indeed become a regime to repress our political struggle for this new day. But recall, Trumpian authoritarianism is closely intertwined with neoliberalism. If we are really effective in taking down Clinton and her neoliberalism we will also be taking down Trump’s authoritarianism. To repeat, Trump for all is talk is a neoliberal product. Bailed out of bankruptcies in classic neoliberal corporate style and relying on corporate moves typical of U.S. national elites to get him through his “hard times” – in all these ways Trump is himself one of Clintonian neoliberalism’s own offspring.

Are there risks in running hard against both Trump and Clinton? Are there things to be feared? Might Trump have his day – be a “price we have to pay?” Indeed yes perhaps. But, in Mumia’s words again, “So be it.” We’ll be on the way to defeating Clintonian neoliberalism which is the best way to take down any present or future Trump.

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