This election season has been dominated by Republican candidates making one reactionary statement after another. Radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh got in on the act, calling a women’s rights activist a “slut” while encouraging her to make internet porn and attacking women’s right to contraceptives. All of this is occurring in the context of a right-wing assault on the poor, public-sector workers, immigrants and people of color.
This has provoked real anger and brought people into the streets. 1,400 protesters gathered outside the Virginia capital building protesting the “personhood” bills, which would bar a woman from getting an abortion even in the case of rape or a threat to her life. Major marches to defend women’s rights have been called in all 50 states for April 28.
This is the way to combat the right wing now. We need to do massive outreach to make April 28 a historic day of protest. We need to take to the streets to demonstrate against this outrage and raise awareness about the need for full access to contraceptives, free quality health care (including reproductive care), living-wage jobs and access to child care. Protesting has been decisive in helping change society throughout history, from the civil rights and labor movements to the more recent uprisings in North Africa and the Occupy movement.
Unfortunately many on the left, especially those close to the Democratic Party, have been attempting to steer political activism into a narrow focus on the elections and support for Obama. It is essential that the left resist this pressure.
While no one should downplay the right-wing threat, we need to go beyond the simplistic knee-jerk reaction of backing “lesser evil” Democratic candidates to protect us. The point is, the Democrats have failed to stand up to these attacks.
For example, during the attack on contraceptive rights Obama failed to expose these attacks for what they are – part of a 30-year, wholesale attack on women’s rights that covers the whole spectrum from welfare, healthcare, contraception and abortion rights.
The Obama administration’s position on the Keystone pipeline also demonstrates this process well. After grabbing headlines for standing against the Republican attempts to ram the pipeline through, Obama has now approved the southern half of the pipeline, setting the stage for approving the whole project once several environmental reviews come out to provide political cover. On civil liberties, the Obama administration has broadened the definition whereby legitimate protests, like those conducted by Occupy, can be categorized as “terrorist.”
While we must mobilize into the streets to defeat the right-wing offensive, we need to recognize that the Democrats are not allies in fighting these attacks on the social and economic gains of the last 50 years. Leaders of the Democratic Party have refused politically defend the necessity of these essential programs. Instead, they have ducked and weaved, offering weak compromises and usually painful concessions, which result in the right wing winning the political debate and marching forward step by step.
While pointing fingers at the Republicans, the Democratic Party is surrendering gains won through heroic struggle waged by previous generations in order to “win” increased votes for their party. This is sacrificed in an attempt to grab the political center while labeling Republicans as “radicals.” We should not forget that Democratic president Bill Clinton was willing to abandon the whole welfare system in order to grab the center and get reelected in 1996.
We have to ask, what is the point of electing politicians who concede basic rights and crucial political issues to our enemies, and give up concessions without a fight? The answer has to be that they are a distraction from what really needs to be done - organizing the most powerful struggle to stop these attacks.
It’s not like the right wing has a majority on these issues. They don’t. Polls have repeatedly shown a majority support progressive social programs and policies. For example, in a New York Times/CBS News Poll published on February 12, 65% of voters said they supported the requirement that health-insurance plans cover the cost of birth control, and 59% said the health insurance plans of religiously affiliated employers should cover the cost of birth control. It’s just that no one has recently been decisively mobilizing that majority.
That is the lesson we need to learn from Occupy. It was its determination to confront the corporate agenda that won it such support. However, Occupy has only fought the first, but very necessary battle in this struggle against corporate power. New struggles and movements will be needed to build on the success of Occupy, to expand and intensify the struggle.
We need to bring out into the streets the millions of Americans who oppose the right-wing agenda. We need bold demands and campaigns that expose the right-wing and corporate onslaught. We need to resist any attempt to curtail our struggles or limit our demands to fit the narrow electoral calculations of Democratic candidates. Only in this way can we build the kind of movement that can defeat the attacks from the right, corporate America and both major corporate political parties.
But we won’t win just with struggle. We also need to build an anti-corporate political movement. This starts with developing a bold political program that reflects working people’s interests on the main issues of the day: housing, social programs, women’s rights, living-wage jobs, health care, the environment, war, racism, etc. We need to challenge the right-wing and corporate candidates in every electoral arena we can – city, state and federal, including the presidency.
We need to reach into the homes of the 99% who represent the American working class. We need to build a new political party of working people and the poor that explains how this system is driving down the living standards of the majority, and how by uniting we can not only roll back the agenda of right-wing and corporate America but also build a new society based on the interests of all poor and working people.