Populism and Meritocracy

Pundits – paid to assess politics and society – who cannot tell the difference between Bernie Sanders’ economic populism and that of Donald Trump are proof of the lie of meritocracy. They are dumb and lazy and paid handsomely to write or say dumb and lazy things about society and politics. If we were any more cynical, we’d say it’s intentional misinformation.

Let’s rewind to talk about meritocracy for a bit. Because the top 1% wealthy amass a not insignificant amount of wealth and income, but not because they merit it.

The share of income going to the top 10 percent of income earners—those making on average about $300,000 a year—increased to 50.5 percent in 2015 from 50.0 percent in 2014, the highest ever except for 2012. The share of income going to the top 1 percent of families—those earning on average about $1.4 million a year—increased to 22.0 percent in 2015 from 21.4 percent in 2014.

One tenth of the people in the United States now take how more than one-half of the income in the entire country. Consider that as we move closer to the top, the numbers only get more staggering. If that 1:5 ratio isn’t disconcerting, what about the 1:22 ratio of the top 1%?

In the 1980s, at the dawn of Reagan’s Trickle Down Economy, the number for the top 1% was closer to 8% of total wages. But now, 1% of families in the US take home the income of twenty-five families – significantly more if we want to compare to the bottom quarter. Is it because they work twenty-five times harder, or that their work (if it’s to be called that) is worth twenty-five times more than their typical employee? 

The disparities rise even more so with the top 0.1%, who take in 3/4ths of that 22% all by themselves. So, to recap, the average person at the top 1/1,000th makes as much money every year as a random sampling of 155 of the rest of the population. Not because their work or value is 155 times better than those other dupes. But because the rest of us are being systematically, daily duped to believe that these wealth-mongers are 155 times more valuable and important than the rest of us.

President-elect Donald Trump is not only high within that 1%, he is a symptom of that 0.1%. Contrary to popular rhetoric, he is not a game-changer in denying capitalism or trickle-down economies. Trump is the end result of the Trickle Down. He will not bridge the wealth gap. He IS the wealth gap. So he has a vested interest in protecting himself and investing in his class. If you doubt it, you can check his tax plan, in which the top 0.1% would see a tax break of 7.3 points and the bottom 3/5ths would average a one percent tax break. The difference will be known in the drastic lack of social supports for the working and lower-middle class, let alone those experiencing homelessness and hunger, those needing chronic medical attention, and others on the cusp.

In this light, if Trump is promising to bring economic prosperity back to the middle and working classes absent any form of wealth redistribution from the top back to the bottom, where does he propose that income will come from? Who is holding it? Who is competing with the (specifically White, Anglo) working classes? Trump’s answer is intentionally and dangerously distinct from Bernie’s – and that makes all the difference in the world.

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Trump may not have specifically stated it, but those that followed his word salads picked up on his undeniable wolf whistles. His voters either it figured out or conveniently ignored his scapegoat: The immigrants who occupy the bottom 5% of income earners are somehow hoarding all the goodies. Other white followers heard other messages, such as blaming Black families who, on average, hold 10% of the wealth that white families do.

In some perverted logic, agricultural, restaurant and other industry leaders want to pay white, native-born Americans (nevermind the obvious irony of ignoring if not attacking the Natives who’ve lived here a few thousand years before European colonialism and its chattel slavery) livable wages; it’s just that they can’t when there are so many immigrants who will work for lower pay. Pobrecito Millionaires! Ignore the fact that such logic is ludicrous – capitalism desires or at least needs a permanent underclass and the underclass needs to be occasionally vilified if not scapegoated.

The xenophobic, racial and religious scapegoating is a tool of this economic and political goal. They must appear to be criminals, rapists, plunderers – despite the very obvious fact that it is the top 1% and 0.1% that have done the pillaging and plundering. Similarly but in a different form of logic, Trump and his people have been targeting Black communities under Law & Order rhetoric, which since the times of post-slavery down to Nixon through Reagan and then down to Bush I and Clinton has been specifically anti-Black. The rhetoric against Muslims and Middle East refugees is clouded in internment and deliberately exclusionary language, where any child is pictured as a potential threat to democracy and Our Way of Life. Talk of restructuring trade deals with a China (like most of these racial discussions, far removed from reality) are also deliberately antagonistic and coded in racial terms and tropes about weak-willed Asians.

Purely for economic and political reasons, this campaign has decided to alienate people of color. This racial alienation is a last resort, creating insider/outsider groups when the people have come to understand the economics of scarcity. Two-thirds of Americans felt that the American economy was in bad shape, and Trump handily won those voters. Dishonestly, and by placing the blame and responsibility on non-white people, but handily.

Trump’s die-hard followers can talk about “division” now, even as they are practicing and endorsing it. It’s Newspeak that gets neo-fascists into the White House and running the country for the ultimate benefit of the 0.1%. For it’s not People of Color, unions, or activists that are dividing us – it’s the 0.1%, White Supremacists, and hyper-misogynists. And, ultimately, it’s those of us that accept their indoctrination and normalize their behavior and positions of power.

However, we are not a scarce nation. Bernie Sanders understood this even as the Clinton campaign was fatally ignoring the need to address the issue. And while his populism wasn’t without its own set of problems, he was on the right track, drawing poor communities of color and poor white people together towards a semblance of political solidarity.  To ignore the issue of widespread poverty – and the fear of poverty – in healthy, imaginative, and cross-cultural ways leaves the people with the lesser option of addressing poverty fears through disastrous, dull, and nativist ways such as cutthroat competition with any and all deemed outsiders. Being a capitalist and a real estate developer in the most cutthroat fields, Trump was acutely aware of this if nothing else.

This isn’t a gripe post. We don’t seek to complain about what could have or should have been. What we hope to do at Occupy the Democrats for People Power is seize momentum to leverage power that benefits the 99% by raising critical consciousness and encouraging people to band together. We believe that this will also benefit even that 1% whose lives seem to have little meaning but to keep their riches.

False Binaries

If there are two sides, it is of the oppressors and oppressed. Yet we do not live in such a simplistic, binary world where everything can be Yes or No, Black or White, On or Off. Even among the oppressors and oppressed diagram, there are overlaps, nuances, complexities, oppressions and liberations – there are organic movements and complex mechanisms and Schrödinger’s cat-like relationships that do not fit into these binary mechanisms. Oppressors are often abused and the subjugated often suppress. But, especially in regards to politi-social conflicts, we are inundated with Both Sidesism. Both Sidesists alert us to the fact that both Democrats and Republicans, both liberals and conservatives, both Whites and Blacks, and both immigrants and natives are wrong. Each side of whatever conflict is currently under the microscope, BS says, is equally to blame.

The most obvious and overheard comparisons of recent were between the two main contenders for the United States presidency who, according to Both Sidesists, are of equal evils. Yet while both have their deep flaws and both involved in social and economic actions that are hurtful to the most poor and vulnerable, to say that one is as deeply flawed as the other (“Sure, Donald Trump has bragged about sexual assault and is being credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors even as he’s threatened intimate violence and detention against Muslims and Latinx immigrants, but Clinton has emails!”) is completely disingenuous as well as functionally inoperable. How can we have a society that works if we can’t tell the difference between a qualified candidate and a woefully unqualified narcissist? Additionally, it not only misses the needed critiques of Clinton (neocon interventionalism, neoliberal fusing of government and corporations through nonprofit sectors including her own, and support for hyper-criminalization of black and poor people) for fake ones (BENGHAZI!), which makes it harder to move forward with progressive actions for liberation.

Democratic apologists are also guilty of this False Binary rhetoric, though in an altered way. By removing the Clintons and Obama from critique on economic and immigration issues because of how much worse “the other side” is – and thus arguing that the Obamas and Clintons are on the ‘right side’ and shouldn’t be protested against, often conflating the *right* or *wrong* side with racial and gender essentialism – they have decided to use working class and Latinx populations and their pressing needs as political footballs.

On a fundamental level, binaries simplify and squash substantial distinctions. It is impossible to have an honest conversation with those who accuse Black activists of the same levels of violence that White people have committed against Black and other People of Color. The Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter groups are thus reduced to violent reactionaries on par with the KKK, despite the very fact that the BPP and BLM operate as constructive ways for dispossessed people to resist systemic racist violence of the state. Whereas the KKK was born of the violence of enforcing racial codes. They may be related, but they are not at all similar.

Additionally, false binaries place the accusation of violence upon the recipients of violence. It allows sexual and domestic abuse survivors to be blamed as if they are willful participants in their victimation. Completely ahistorical and groundless equivalencies are not without precedent themselves. Then-governor of California Ronald Reagan and FBI Director J Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers “Enemy Number 1.” Previously, Hoover had put Martin Luther King, Jr. under heavy surveillance and tried to intimidate him to commit suicide. These were both in the era of the Ku Klux Klan and the *nicer* White Citizens Councils.

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Grossly, Both Sidesism allows participants to pretend that they care about violence enacted upon oppressed communities, allowing the oppressed – or at least some of their allies – to believe that they may have sympathetic ears. Because, you know, they agree that the KKK are racist killers. But then the other shoe drops. False Binarism is an entrapment scheme of the most dishonest order.

Finally, False Equivalences allow us to make calls for one-sided unity, whereupon the oppressed and the oppressors must meet under the terms and conditions of the oppressors. We are told to unite behind a  misogynistic, bullying, White Supremacist, ego-maniacal capitalist in his fake bid to become president simply because – against his own odds – he became president. Does it matter that such calls of unity come at the price of the death of our own selves, our friends and communities, our souls? Rather, these pleas of uniformity compile the worst that America has to offer and compel us to normalize them whole, to accept the genocides and humans-as-property apologia that America was founded on as the natural and right order of things. We must resist, for the sake of our individual and collective souls.

Do not demand or acquiesce to unity. Demand and practice solidarity.

We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

 

 

Jill Stein & Hillary Clinton: Allowable Pandering and Political Tokenization

Much has been made of Green Party’s Jill Stein and her take on vaccinations. The criticism is not without warrant. The fear-based and anti-science anti-vaccination (“anti-vax”) movement throughout the United States is creating a public health crisis particularly for people with autoimmune deficiency. This is a problem of course for anyone who claims universal healthcare. Additionally, anti-vax claims have been aiding the stigmatization of autism. Stein uses language that seems to neither support nor deny the anti-vaxx movement, saying, for instance that they have brought up legitimate questions that have not been answered. One could argue that Stein is taking a necessarily tact-based approach to dealing with anti-vaxxers, but there is also the charge that much of the Green Party faithful is of a privileged demographic (White, upper middle class, liberal) to which the anti-vaxx population belongs, and that she is trying to not lose that base. So these are legitimate criticisms, however….

However, what is interesting is that this and this alone is Stein’s chink in the armor. No Democrat who brings up the anti-vax waffling also brings up Stein’s other points of salience or her vision for America. The same Democrats argue that we shouldn’t harshly judge Hillary Clinton by one, two, three, eighteen relevant and critical points of criticism.* These same liberals complain about Purity Politics and the neglect of Hillary over valid criticism. They seem to ignore that despite multiple efforts to correct Clinton’s support of the Crime Bill and her use of the term “superpredators” to define poor black men (and thus harm their families), she still pandered to the pro-police movement four times in her acceptance speech before even mentioning – tepidly and in a manner that centered the police rather than families hurt by racist & militarized policing – police reform.

Is militarized, racist policing and mass incarceration not a public health issue? Is toxic air, water, and land not a public health issue? The lack of universal health care – which Hillary claimed we would never, ever get? The glut of living wage jobs in black, brown, and rural communities? The fact that 45% of children in the US live in poverty is not a public health crisis? Homelessness and housing insecurity? For that matter, supporting coups and despots while destabilizing regions and assassinating entire families throughout the world through the US military and State Department is also a public health and safety issue.

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Credit: AP/Elise Amendola via Salon

These are all issues that Jill Stein talks about and supports but because she is not part of the oligarchical two-party system, she is silenced and only one issue – a non-issue since she will not negatively effect vaccination rates, really, even if she were to become president – is talked about.

Are these not issues that disproportionately affect and harm People of Color and the working class? Poverty rates for African Americans and LatinX children are three times higher than those of white children. Three times as many unarmed black and Native people are shot and killed by the police as white people – though in general it happens more often in poor communities.

And maybe that’s the point. These issues are not talked about because the realization of them would drastically improve material living conditions for the working class and people of color. To keep them silent is to limit our collective imagination and political dialog, which means we can stick with the least amount of political power possible for the people. While the Republican Party has its heart set on turning us into the mole people, living underground and being afraid of the light, the Democratic Party seems content with merely tokenizing us for our own votes in a cynical ploy of cheap Identity Politicking.

We need to occupy the Democratic Party for collective people power. And that may mean taking our votes elsewhere until they are not taken for granted and we are no longer tokenized.

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*It’s important to note, because people are confused due to a two-party system, that not supporting one major party is not the same as supporting – tacitly or otherwise – the other main party, even in an effectual two-party system. But we’ve already said this. So, no, we do not support sexist, racist fascist fuckhead Donald Trump, nor do we support rightwing criticisms of Hillary Clinton, particularly their misogyny and xenophobia)

 

Is There an Appropriate Place to Protest for Our Existence? Asking for a Friend.

A number of Americans – maybe the majority – seem to detest protesting in nearly any form. That is understandable to a degree. Protests, in order to be effective, are disturbing. They bother, they upset, they rattle cages, they inconvenience.

Protests need to disturb in order to address immediate-and-longstanding concerns, which are usually pressing, necessary, life-changing.

And while there are a fair number of protests and actions at the behest of the establishment (these are normally called Astro-Turf. Many Tea Party actions such as their infamous ‘die-ins’ are signs of this; liberal and labor astroturfing is not as widespread as reported, but it does happen), oftentimes even the participants believe that their very lives or the lives of their loved ones are at stake. They may be mistaken, but they are still risking tremendously by putting their bodies, time, and resources on the line.

Protesters gather close to Spain's Parliament during demonstration in Madrid

However, both liberals and conservatives believe that there are fundamental lines that one may not cross in protesting – that there is a time and a place (and even an appropriate attire) for protesting. There are official protest zones, officiated by the police, often miles away from the very action they are supposed to protest. At a Pride event hosted at the White House, transgender LatinX immigration rights activist Janicet Gutierrez, who is undocumented, interrupted President Obama while he was addressing the crowd to demand the release of LGBTQ undocumented prisoners detained by ICE. The LGBTQ audience, many presumably white gay, cisgender men, shouted her down, yelling “Shame on you” and even “This is not for you. This is for all of us.”

“All of us” does not include undocumented LGBTQ people, apparently.

Later, social media was adrift in shaming liberals who dismissed Gutierrez as merely a “heckler” and said that the location of her protest was inappropriate. The underlying current is that one should not protest in front of the president, as that is a sacred space. That there are sacred spaces in which protest should not happen, even though – and perhaps because – it is the locus of the very power that needs to be challenged and changed. The president was the one to change the very things that needed to be addressed. And Gutierrez risked her very body and even her life for it. Yet, it was deemed inappropriate.

Black protesters often get the brunt of such criticisms. The Black Lives Matter movement* is about many things having to do with the material living and existing conditions of black (and other) people in the US. It has to do with mass incarceration and extrajudicial murder disproportionately affecting Black people – but also with housing, living wages, the court system, LGBTQ rights – none of these just for Black people, but including Native, white, brown. It also centers Black women, Black girls, Black femmes. In its own words:

Black Lives Matter is a chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life. We are working to (re)build the Black liberation movement…

Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.

The movement and its adjoining protests are perceived in the mainstream in a limited frame: it is the Angry Black trope, concerned solely about extrajudicial killings of black people. This kind of malfeasance means that even many who claim to support the movement complain about and deem inappropriate actions such as street marches, traffic halts, campus take-overs, and business black-outs. Blocking traffic is inappropriate. Protesting presidential candidates is inappropriate. While many conservatives lament that the protesters aren’t wearing suits and ties while getting billy clubbed and fire-hosed, liberal allies are constantly limiting where, when, how, and to whom protest is acceptable. This includes the nation’s first black president, who said that BLM activists “can’t just keep yelling“, furthering the derailing criticism that activists are do-nothing crybabies, when in point of fact Black Lives Matter and associated protesters have been outlining policy distinctions and demands from the beginning while putting their bodies on the line.

But there was also, from liberals, complaints about students. Whining, really, that black students and survivors of sexual violence should not be able negotiate rare safe spaces for themselves when, in actuality, the whole world is a safe place for most white men. Toughen up, butter cup, say white wealthy men paid to share their unfounded opinions. The middle of a campus embroiled in White Supremacist and anti-black images may be safe for white people, but they are not for black. A graphic scene describing sexual assault in a book or movie clip may be perfectly acceptable to one who hasn’t experienced the receiving end of it, but less likely for nearly 20% of women.

Sometimes, protesters are just asking for the simplest things, the most basic of spaces to negotiate their existence. And it is liberals among with conservatives who take pleasure in mocking them for that. To be given a space for existence and an opportunity for flourishing, to given a chance to live out the preamble for the Declaration, that would-be promise of American democracy, where “All… are created equal” and should enjoy basic rights and liberties as a result

In speaking of ‘liberals’, we are not speaking of a political ideology so much as a political class – that of the entrenched Democrat who is quite satisfied with the status quo. And that is at the heart of the problem with the Democratic Party as it stands and the reason it needs to be occupied. Actions are being had right now to occupy the Democratic Party for people power.

Take the Democratic National Convention and Bernie Sanders’ delegates, for example:

On a night that was supposed to be about Democrats unifying behind Hillary Clinton as the official presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders supporters decided they would not go quietly into the night.

Angry over allegations of widespread voter fraud and orders to stay quiet during Tuesday night’s proceedings, an estimated 1,800 hard-core Sanders voters staged a spontaneous walkout Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Many said they felt disrespected and silenced.

Wearing “Black Lives Matter” tape over their mouths and holding pro-Sanders signs, they headed for the media tent adjacent to the Wells Fargo Arena where the roll call of states had just happened.

This is solidarity; it is protest; and it matters. What is happening in Philadelphia with protesting and booing Bernie Sanders delegates is in fact an act of political protest. It is a deliberate and risky act of resistance by relatively powerless people leveraging discomfort and comes at sacrifice. No one flew these volunteers to Philly to be booted out. To vote third party is also an act of defiance, an electoral act of sustainable protest. It says that we are voters and we are here and will be listened to. That the Democratic Party is not representing the people but is only primarily interested in the established plutocrats and the capitalist class that they represent.

We are people who demand health care for all. We demand an end to racist militarized policing in our neighborhoods and around the world (both interventionist practices and the War on Terror). We demand fair housing, progressive taxation, full funding for wrap-around neighborhood schools, and liveable wages. These are material needs for space for survival, and they are denied us. So we struggle. And protesting is part of that struggle for survival.

And if liberals don’t like it, then we ask if they are liberal – who by definition seek change over injustice – or merely tolerant conservatives.


*Often, Black Lives Matter is an umbrella term for BLM the coalition, BLM-inspired media activists, and similar Black liberation movements such as Black Youth Project 100, We Charge Genocide, and Dream Defenders. That is partially happening here.

 

Will Democrats Fight After Brexit?

The overriding narrative of the past month from the Democrats is that Donald Trump is someone to be reacted to. His is the kind of message that needs to be fought via Twitter Wars to be memed by the Occupy Democrats page.* Twitter is something to be won and the American people are either with us, to be ignored, or to be mocked.

But Brexit, a false campaign led by the worst kind of fear-mongering (the same kind trunked by Trump – that of xenophobia and extremely vague notions of fixing the economy) just narrowly ousted Britain from the European Union – and may in turn see an exit of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK itself.

Meanwhile in the US, we are acting as if what happened in our colonizer will happen to us. That we will allow uninformed and xenophobic voters (not always the same thing) to remove us from the rest of the world and plunge our currency over a shambles. It maybe could happen to us. It’s unlikely to if we make the right decisions and head these fears off, if we confront what could kill us now.

The white working class has been ginnied-up to fear the barbaric, thieving Other Mexican and Muslim who means to steal their culture, communities and health. The common calling card of the anti-immigrant since at least the late 19th century has placed its ire not squarely on immigrants, but those perceived to be such: undocumented Mexican citizens of the US, Mexican-Americans, child refugees from Central America, Muslims, Arab Americans, Persian Americans, Indian Americans…

Unfortunately, Democrats are not really assuaging these fears. They seem incapable of giving working class and impoverished people a better life with a working social safety net or livable wages. Rather, they are feeding into these fears of the Other.

While they are not promising to “build a wall” between Mexico and the US, Democrats are still empowering ICE to tear apart migrant families and sending to Mexico adults and teens who have not lived there since before they could talk. While not detaining all Muslims in the US, they commit to a gun control sit-in that centers on terror watch lists and call Republicans “soft on terror” – both detrimental to Muslim communities here while ignoring White racial terrorists. Trump would block Middle Eastern immigration; meanwhile Democrats send drones and help to destabilize the regions through military intervention.

It’s not an issue of who is better or worse here. Obviously Trump would be cataclysmically, apocalyptically awful for the United States, for international relations, for workers, for women, for people of color, for poor people, for middle class people, for anybody not Trump. Check that, probably for Trump himself. He’d likely be better off under a Clinton presidency.

But the Democratic Party’s playbook in the face of such a world-turning event has largely been one of derision. Democrats have become conservative in the fact that they do not offer any bold visions but rather react and capitulate – allowing Republicans to dictate the terms and the debate. The GOP has been controlling the ball for the whole game and Democrats are frantically playing defense, hoping for a slip up. And then giving the ball back to the Republicans and resetting the clock.

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Sooners V Hurricane via Wiki

There are many citizens and would-be voters out there who are waiting to be courted, who remain on the sidelines because they are losing hope in either political party. Many who are actually considering Trump because they figure he can’t be all bad. And many who are severely marginalized by society and feel left out of the democratic process altogether.

Things should not be this close. We need a new playbook that will rally the troops, protect them, encourage them, and welcome them on the field to advance the People’s Agenda for People Power.

 


*No affiliation whatsoevr.

What Have We Learned from Our Response to 9/11?

To hear from our politicians, not much. Since 9/11, we permitted and greenlit the destruction of millions of families – women and children primarily – throughout the Middle East and South and Central Asia through rampant displacement, destruction of basic infrastructure, and air and ground war, snipers, coups, drones, air raids, governmental malfeasance. The priorities of the US and its European allies through the last fifteen years has been to promote an economy that works for those who it has been working for and spreading new markets into new lands through military imperialism.

The grotesque mass murder of fifty LGBTQ people (most of whom are LatinX) by a domestic violence-practicing police stand-in (remind you of anyone?) who worked for a global security firm but claimed ties to both ISIS and its rivals is opportune time to ramp up these priorities. Consider how similar the language is between these major players. And remember, always, that all war is against the poor.

George W Bush on 9/11:

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our Nation into chaos and retreat, but they have failed. Our country is strong.

A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Today our Nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature…

Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared

Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks…

Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business as well.

The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

I appreciate so very much the Members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks…

America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism…

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet, we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Donald Trump after the Pulse massacre:

We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer…

If we don’t get tough and if we don’t get smart and fast we’re not going to have our country anymore. There will be nothing – absolutely nothing – left.

The bottom line is the only reason the killer was in America in the first place is because we allowed his family to come here…

[Friends and neighbors of the assailants] know what’s going on…They didn’t turn them in. And you know what? We had death and destruction.

and..

We admit more than 1000,000 lifetime migrants from the Middle East each year. Since 9/11, hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in terrorism in the United States…

We need to protect all Americans, of all backgrounds and all beliefs, from Radical Islamic Terrorism – which has no place in an open and tolerant society… I am going to be a President for all Americans, and I am going to protect and defend all Americans.

[How did this clown get to this level of trolling I will never know]

Hillary Clinton, post-Pulse massacre:

Whatever we learn about this killer [Omar Mateen], his motives in the days ahead, we know already the barbarity that we face from radical jihadists is profound. In the Middle East, ISIS is attempting a genocide of religious and ethnic minorities. They are slaughtering Muslims who refuse to accept their medieval ways. They are beheading civilians, including executing LGBT people. They are murdering Americans and Europeans, enslaving, torturing and raping women and girls. In speeches like this one, after Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, I have laid out a plan to defeat ISIS and the other radical jihadist groups in the region and beyond.

The attack in Orlando makes it even more clear, we cannot contain this threat. We must defeat it. And the good news is that the coalition effort in Syria and Iraq has made recent gains in the last months. So we should keep the pressure on ramping up the air campaign, accelerating support for our friends fighting to take and hold ground and pushing our partners in the region to do even more.

So, yes, efforts to defeat ISIS on the battlefield must succeed. But it will take more than that.

We have to be just as adaptable and versatile as our enemies. As president, I will make identifying and stopping lone wolves a top priority.

I will put a team together from across our government, the entire government, as well as the private sector and communities to get on top of this urgent challenge. And I will make sure our law enforcement and intelligence professionals have all the resources they need to get the job done.

As we do this, there are three areas that demand attention. First, we and our allies must work hand-in-hand to dismantle the networks that move money, and propaganda, and arms and fighters around the world…

Second, here at home, we must harden our own defenses

 

It has often been said that our law enforcement, our intelligence agencies, our first responders have to be right 100 percent of the time, but terrorists only have to be right once…

 

We also need to work with local law enforcement and business owners on ways to protect vulnerable, so-called soft targets, like nightclubs and shopping malls and hotels and movie theaters and schools and houses of worship…

We already know we need more resources for this fight. The professionals who keep us safe would be the first to say we need better intelligence to discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out.

That’s why I have proposed an intelligence surge to bolster our capabilities across the board with appropriate safeguards here at home.

Even as we make sure our security officials get the tools they need to prevent attacks, it’s essential that we stop terrorists from getting the tools they need to carry out the attack.

 

We also have to use all our capabilities to counter jihadist propaganda online. This is something that I spend a lot of time on at the State Department.

As president, I will work with our great tech companies from Silicon Valley to Boston to step up our game. We have to a better job intercepting ISIS’ communications, tracking and analyzing social media posts and mapping jihadist networks, as well as promoting credible voices who can provide alternatives to radicalization.

And there is more to do offline as well…

Since 9/11, law enforcement agencies have worked hard to build relationships with Muslim American communities. Millions of peace-loving Muslims live, work and raise their families across America. And they are the most likely to recognize the insidious effects of radicalization before it’s too late, and the best positioned to help us block it. So we should be intensifying contacts in those communities, not scapegoating or isolating them…

 

Inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric and threatening to ban the families and friends of Muslim Americans as well as millions of Muslim business people and tourists from entering our country hurts the vast majority of Muslims who love freedom and hate terror

So does saying that we have to start special surveillance on our fellow Americans because of their religion. It’s no coincidence that hate crimes against American Muslims and mosques have tripled after Paris and San Bernardino…

Still, as I have said before, none of us can close our eyes to the fact that we do face enemies who use their distorted version of Islam to justify slaughtering innocent people. They’d take us all back to the Stone Age if they could, just as they have in parts of Iraq and Syria.

The terrorist in Orlando targeted LGBT Americans out of hatred and bigotry. And an attack on any American is an attack on all Americans.

A few things are sure here. One is that there is no way to go to the right of Donald Trump and that there is no way that he can or should be taken seriously. In an electoral sense, he is destined for horror.

While there is no doubt that Clinton and Sanders are less hawkish and more nuanced – less prone to use militaristic violence here and abroad, less likely to detain and deport Muslims and Arabs – than their Republican counterparts, there is no shortage of hawkish language here. From Bush to Trump and Clinton, there is the unmistakable language of surveillance and of war, of destruction within and of Muslim families, communities, nations. In fact, Clinton says, we cannot contain ISIS. We must destroy it..

We must be vigilant. We must ramp up our efforts. We must wage a never-ending war… on terror.

We have here pre-crime rhetoric.

This is the kind of political language that puts poor people and people of color (in this case, those from and in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South and Central Asia) in the crossfires, literally.

As in poor urban communities of color, the language from political leaders is that of hyper-ostracizing, of pitting against each other, of pawning. Both Clinton and Trump believe that Muslims should be reporting against Muslims – or in the popular phrase of W, If you see something, say something.

But this is the root of this violent radicalization. It starts at home with alienation. That is when urban youth join gangs, rural youth use drugs, Muslim youth pique interest in these radical armies, and white youth join White Supremacist movements.

When our political power is used against us and the workers of any nation are turned against each other over demographic reasons, we all suffer, both here and abroad. Wars are fought for the interests of the capitalist class but always at the expense of the working class, who are the first to fight, the first to die, and the most heavily-taxed and hurt. Clinton seems to know this and warn against it even as she uses words to describe doing exactly that.

A Party of the People will seek to unite, not ostracize. It will be radical, but a radical act of saving lives and making them bountiful, flourishing. We are, instead, witnessing the wanton destruction of poor people’s lives.

The Demographic Wars: Where Democrats Look Like Republicans

What we call Identity Politics, and particularly what is called Intersectionalism, is a response and a defense against the normalization of Heterosexual White Supremacist Patriachy. It has been a way to identify, band together, and speak out against in mass culture the ways in which White Supremacy and gender roles hurt, destroy and minimize non-White people, non-gender conforming people, non-heterosexuals. In other words, Identity Politics is a way for people who are minority in political and economic representation to mass organize and achieve political power. In many ways, it has worked to band together those from disparate backgrounds and 1) assure them that they are not alone and, even greater, 2) mobilize them to pressure the Powers That Be to change racist, sexist, gender-ist, and ableist policies and practices in order to create a more equitable, just and flourishing existence. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has been one of the most notable and successful such campaigns.

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[Quote with image of Audre Lorde: There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.] via 360.org

But we also see that Identity Politics can be a tool of Neoliberalism*, keeping intact and even empowering these very same racist, classist, sexist, ableist systems through a form of representation that serves the interest of the Elite while making cosmetic changes, leaving the structure not only unchanged, but less challenged than before. “See, we now have a Black Man as president! If you resist what he is doing, you are an agent of White Supremacy!”

Instead of fighting the works and machinations of White Supremacy and Heteropatriarchy, we fight against White, hetero men while supporting (sometimes unquestionably) representatives of the elite as long as they share the identity of (and some identifiable markers with) oppressed groups – whether or not they actually hurt, minimize, or even disempower these same groups. In some meaningful ways, this makes sense, of course. For President Obama, shortly after he got into power, racist Newt Gingrich led an all-out assault to ruin him and plunge his legislative ideas into a White Supremacist Congressional Black Hole – this despite Obama’s conciliatory tone. This battle was fueled by the most racist iconography we had seen in fifty years. Black Americans, who had voted for him in overwhelming numbers, rightly felt attacked and defensive of Obama and the First Family – who were also under vicious racist and sexist attacks. Just this week a lawmaker recited an assassination Psalm he wishes listeners would pray for Obama. This while Obama has faced assassination attempts since he was a nominee for the simple reason of being Black.

However, attacks from the racist, homicidal Right are not on par with critiques from the marginalized struggling to survive – including the fact that Obama had agreed to massive cuts in the social welfare system and, through the expanding drone wars, was responsible for the murder of thousands of Brown and Black children and women. Criticisms of Obama’s insurance reform being too weak and not protective of the middle and working class were also dismissed in the same breath as those calling for its overhaul for unspecified or ridiculous reasons (the unconstitutionality of universal healthcare is simply ludicrous). Criticism of Obama’s policies were themselves ignored or maligned. Those like Cornel West who dared continue to protest were considered traitorous fame-seekers even as their options for public engagement dwindled due to closing channels.

Likewise, intersectionality is understood to identify and protect those who have intersecting identities of marginalization and privilege, of oppressor (male, heterosexual, documented citizenship, able-bodied) and oppressed (Mexican American, working class, Autistic, high-school dropout). The concept’s originator, Kimberly Crenshaw, called it ‘mapping the margins.’ It can be used to analyze and understand how, for example, white cisgender women are treated differently from black cisgender males and black cisgender females, and then how they are treated different from black trans women. Moreover when you consider the United States’ standing as a global empire of violent domination, consider also that status as a US citizen as a form of privilege and citizen of the Global South as not one. Intersectionality is an analytical tool, largely, but like any other tool can be and is being used by neoliberalism to defend the status quo while looking hip, progressive, brave, and even helpful.

 

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Screengrab via Rania Khalek via Ashon Crawley

[Photo: Screengrab of tweet from @jesselehrich, rapid response communications for Hillary Clinton, about Hillary Clinton. Text:”I’m down with a woman who can give a badass national security speech one week & a badass intersectional feminism speech the next #ImWithHer”]

The use of Identity Politics has also manifested through this year’s primary electoral season. Of course we expect the GOP – and especially Donald Trump who had already singled out Obama with his racist Birther controversy – to expand and attack marginalized people based on their race, gender, and sexuality. Black and brown people, Muslims or Muslim-identified people, in addition to LGB people and especially now gender-nonconforming and trans people are all at heightened risk due to incendiary, fear-inducing, violent, and disempowering rhetoric thrown at them from Trump, Cruz, and the GOP-allied Religious Right. But both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns have also made the same mistake of Identity Politicking, though in more subtle ways.

Clinton and her surrogates continue to attack Sanders’ youthful base as being naive dupesinfantile, childish, and emotional; meanwhile, young women were joining Sanders rallies because they’re sex-crazed and want to go after the BernieBros, according to feminist icon Gloria Steinem at a Clinton event. Sanders’ campaign for its part minimized the entire Southern Black bloc that came out strong for Clinton. This after early Bernie supporters were flooding social media, infantilizing black and women voters by explaining simple things they understood, not accepting rebuttals or boundaries, and speaking over them and demanding that they (marginalized people) vote for their candidate – all within the realm of Identity Politics.

Democrats in general have been painting Trump supporters as not just racist (which they are), but in classist fashion as uneducated, poor whites (which is not necessarily true). These same supporters – and even Sanders and Clinton themselves- use ableist language, calling dangerous demigods and those who support them “crazy”, as if mental disability were the problem. These myths and language further the divide between those who should have common aims while promoting the notion that being poor, white, or having mental difficulties is a problem. This is Identity Politics at its most dangerous.

Being White is seen in and of itself as the problem – rather than the unimpeached system of Whiteness and White Supremacy. Straight people are often interrogated for who they are rather than heteronormativity. Should we interrogate sighted people rather than anti-blindness?

Instead, what of the fact that one percent of citizens holds the same amount of wealth as fifty percent of citizens? That is a problem. Debt and incarceration are problems. That the system favors injustice is a problem. Skin color is not the problem. Racism is.

Identity is not something to be weaponized, but wielded. Power does not come from identity, and identity does not threaten power.

Cheap electoral positioning for power will use Identity Politics to oppress marginalized groups and pit us against each other. But oppression and liberation from oppression are actions, not loci. Intersectional feminism would not allow droning of Muslim women and children, nor would it tacitly or covertly support corporate-backed military coups that murder indigenous women leaders and activists. Intersectional feminism does not tell asylum-seeking children who flocked thousands of miles through risky situations to go back home to the sam  It would not try to send back . A campaign ostensibly for the poor would not swipe aside Southern Black voters simply due to inconvenience, nor would it ignore how free trade affects the global poor.

This is where solidarity comes into play. Solidarity recognizes and respects our distinctions, our differences, and doesn’t try to meld us all into one (white, heterosexual, cisgender) mode, but allows us to work together. It says we have common goals – for example, our liberation from White Supremacist Heteropatriachal Capitalism – yet mobilizes and organizes the people to fight together for these goals in ways that serve the objective and utilize our personal assets while respecting our personal property (work, community, home).

Solidarity with workers around the world allows us to not be fashioned against each other, complaining that jobs are being sent overseas when in reality, they are being shut down and replaced by an even worse form of exploitation. Under neoliberalism, Identity Politics has become Individualized Politics. We need to reframe it as Solidarity of Politics for People Power. 

And people united cannot be divided. So we cannot afford to leave out disabled, Black, South Asian, LatinX, genderqueer. We are either seamless or we will be ripped. The elite economic and military powers are together; we must be as well.

And we will be forever yours, Occupying the Democrats for People Power.


* Adolph Reed argues that it is a tool of neoliberalism. I disagree, but can see his point. The difference lies in how neoliberalism uses anything – particularly crises – and refashions it for its own privatizing, crass consumption ends.

On the Premise that Not Voting for Candidate C Means Voting for Candidate T

A little election math.

Let’s say that we have two numerical unknown factors out of a larger body. We’ll keep this simple. Let’s call them T and C. Now, T and C are at-play in every state in the Union, and then a few other districts. In each state, then, the amount of representation will be figured by who gets the simple majority of votes. Let’s make a hypothetical state, then and call it Ø. To win that state To needs to have more votes than Co.

To > Co.

It could be one vote or it could be three million votes, the total number of eligible voters that o offers. Does that mean that 3,000,000 people will vote altogether? No, because of disinterest and disenfranchisement and dirty tricks with voter rolls, etc, it’s much more likely that 1,750,000 people will be voting.

But T and C are unknown variables at this point, and for the sake of math, it doesn’t matter if the numbers are 145,369; 7,738; 12,542; 89,076; or 77. The principal is the same. But let’s see how the scenario in question is patronizingly explained to us.

if you don’t vote for C, you give a vote to T.

This relies of two misleads – a false assumption (more on this later) and really, really bad math.

Let’s start under the premise that the assumption is correct. You are a person who was going to vote for C but you end up not doing so. The equation looks like this:

C-1; T

Notice here that the removal of the number from the C column does not translate to an addition to the T column. That would only happen if this alleged person actually casts a vote for T, but otherwise removing (again, assumption) from C’s column does not strengthen T, except inasmuch as it may weaken C’s. This will be true no matter how many times this is replicated (let’s call this factor B[1]). Of course, this is where it gets tricky but it is also where we talk about this false assumption.

      B was never a guaranteed factor within C.

The simple truth is, no votes are owed to either C or T. Even among their bases and most fervent supporters, any number of things could happen and remove their vote (sickness, emptying of voter rolls, ID laws, late polling openings and early polling closings, absentmindedness, tampering, etc). While many of these are or should be illegal, it only serves a point that no vote is guaranteed (politicians are well aware of this and why incumbents have backup plans for their backup plans for Plan C).

More importantly, votes should never be taken for granted, and this is the main problem within the current Democratic Party. The votes of liberal, decent people as well as people on the margins – union members, the working class, LGBTQ people, and people of color for instance – should go for Democrats because if not, the Big Bad (who are honestly truly big and bad) will get us.

It’s the Boogey Man approach to gathering us. And it’s effect is starting to wear off after decades of being tossed aside, neglected, sold out, ignored, thrown under the bus, and cheated on. Now that we have seen alternatives, this C OR T false dichotomy is losing its power. We are recognizing that while the Big Bad is bad, the ones supposedly on our side aren’t that much better.

Especially if you recognize the devastating and ruinous effects of Neoliberalism over the last two and a half decades on your community. While some middle class professionals may call the B’s “privileged” and others “losers”, try telling that to those who lost family to neoliberals’ reliance on mass deportations, mass incarceration, austerity, welfare reform, and drones. Ask them who has the most privilege: they or those who depended on Democrats and lost everything because of it?

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San Francisco protest against ICE

If our interests and needs are not met, but rather we are the sacrificial fodder of the current Democratic Party, do not assume that we will cast a vote for the people actively destroying us and throwing us under the bus.

——————————–

[1] While the immediate reference is to the Bernie Or Bust phenomenon, many others in the liberal/leftist field who are not supporting Clinton have little-to-nothing to do with Sanders. But we shall call them Busters for the sake of this argument not least because the argument is that they’re “busting” the Democratic Party.

Democracy Now!

We know that democracy means Rule By the People, but what does that look like? The first democratic practices were centered around land ownership, as acquiring land was the primary mode of wealth generation and wealth and power go hand-in-hand. Later, when trade became big, the right to decide political machinations was  extended to merchants, opening the door a bit to the peasant class since owning land was not the only way to become a voter. However, for most of democracy’s life here in what we now call the United States, voting has been a white man’s task. However, even after the passage of the 14th, 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments, the Indian Voting and the Voting Rights Act (all possible through many social movements for expanding suffrage), the majority of electoral power is given to a few, powerful individuals – most of whom are wealthy white men.

Take this presidential cycle, for instance, where anti-democratic practices among Democrats and Republicans are the norm rather than the exception:

  • voter disenfranchisement;
  • caucuses;
  • winner-takes-whole-state (even in states where the “winner” has only 35% of the vote);
  • inaccessible voting locations;
  • failure to supply interpreters;
  • super delegates;
  • Super PACs;
  • shut-outs of third party candidates;
  • media giving weight to oversized personalities and numbers;
  • voting fraud;
  • reduced polling locations;
  • reduced polling times;
  • restrictions to early/absentee voting;
  • restrictive registration rules;
  • reversals on the Voting Rights Act.

Even within these systems, there’s severe, gross inequality and injustice. The rich fund SuperPACs and can do with them precisely what they want, apart from normal regulations. But consider the revelation that 40% of SuperPAC funding comes from a paltry fifty individuals and we have a clearer picture of who is running our democracy. Consider who can arrange long car rides on election day to attend a several-hours long caucus, and who these caucuses are accessible to? You would need to be very mobile, have strength, child sitters if you have children, have the physical stamina for it, and preferably speak and understand conversational English.

Scratch underneath these problems and we see a fundamental flaw. Right from the outset, we are dealing with a system set on how many delegates a particular candidate can win. This means that at its heart, American national elections is a game – a complex chess game that seemingly necessitates armies of lawyers and Scrooge McDuck vials of gold. It is not about how many raw voters, let alone support, one wins from the people. Many of these decisions run down to which name is more positively identified than the other in the public’s consciousness.

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Not only is spending obscene amounts of money unquestionable, but so is the fact of outright lies and fabrications against the opponent – which becomes a normalized and rewarded practice in a political climate based on fear. This fear-, lowered-expectation-, and deceptive-filled climate in itself results in the most undemocratic practice: That of political disenfranchisement.

While the Republican Party worries about a capitalist-fascist like Trump fracturing the entire party, the Democratic Party feels more secure with its superdelegates. But they would not need superdelegates if they could and would actually engage the common voter outside of the bastions of power and environment of control.

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“Yes in May to the Alternative Ballot” by Elektra Grey Photography

These practices will not be undone any time soon. There will be no magical Supreme Court Judge who can overturn Citizen’s United, much less reverse the Age of Fear in Politics. The bell has been rung. But that is also how the constitution was framed from the beginning.

See, American democracy has always been a mixture between Rule of the People and Rule of the Oligarch. The 3/5ths compromise, after all, was not a description of the humanity of enslaved people, but of how much power their bodies – absent their wills – would be to the slaveholding states. The same principal is applied to regions with high prison populations, as these folks are robbed of their ability to vote, but are still counted in terms of representation – just a representation that they are not allowed to partake in; a representation that actively works against their best interests. In many regions, even after having committed their time, ex-cons are not allowed to participate in the vote (and often not allowed to participate in an above-ground economy that works for them).

Looking at the interests of the major players in the presidential race, we see that not one of them – not even Bernie Sanders – questions the role of the United States empire, a perpetual war-making catastrophic death machine that siphons billions of dollars a year to prop up oligarchical machines while murdering countless abroad and perpetrating economic catastrophes that harm workers the world over, and then back at home.

Most Americans, however, are not involved in politics save the occasional presidential run because they have been disenfranchised from politics. They do not see nor feel the effects of policies and military actions on them, their families or their communities. Truthfully, with national elections, they may not.

It may be time to bring it all home – to take the economic investing that Sanders is talking about, using the people’s money for the people’s benefit, but to start at the local level and move up from there. Here, it is easier to hold elected officials accountable, to show up and cause them trouble, to hold pressers, to organize with folks who share similar concerns as the police trample civil liberties while the city shutters basic services and the rents sky-rocket.

It will be at the local level where we can convince our friends, neighbors, teachers, workers, stay-at-homes, the unemployed, the returning deployed, the homeless, parents, college students that they can get involved in political maneuvering that will guarantee them water, walls, well-being.

Democracy – the people who rules themselves, one zip code at a time.