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Let’s Intervene in Elections

If the Left wants to be relevant, it must remember the ballot box.

BY Joel Bleifuss

As the weather warms up and the Occupiers adapt their strategies, they shouldn't lose sight of important struggles being fought in the electoral arena by progressives like Norman Solomon.

Adbusters’ Kalle Lasn, who initiated the call to “occupy” Wall Street, says that by working in the Republican Party, Tea Partiers are “blind” to how change actually happens. He believes the New “Occupy” Left would be better off starting a third party.

Were In These Times Founding Editor & Publisher James Weinstein alive, he would say, as he did in an August 2000 article: “The Left should begin thinking seriously about how to intervene successfully in our political system.” Amen.

Weinstein wrote: “The issue here is not whether we need a second force in American politics. There’s no dispute on this. But for us to realize this goal, we have to understand the structural nature of our political system and how to use it. … [W]e do not have a system in which the members of an elected parliament select the prime minister as head of the government; nor do we have a system of proportional representation for electing legislators. … n a system like ours, where the president is elected directly and Congress is elected in single-member majority districts, the system moves inexorably toward two parties.”

In 2012, as we enter the general election, we have a foreboding that the Tea Partiers–and their right-wing funders–are laughing all the way to the ballot box. Here in Illinois, where this magazine is headquartered, we are encircled by states beset by insurgent Tea Partiers. Our one Midwestern hope is Wisconsin’s anti-Tea Party recall elections – what Weinstein would call a serious political “intervention.”

Some occupiers appreciate electoral strategy, like the In These Times contributor who is running in Northern California’s 2nd Congressional District. In one of his first reports for In These Times, Norman Solomon wrote: “Occupiers swiftly unpacked their camping gear, and settled in to make themselves comfortable. The main gate’s sign stating ‘Private Property – No Trespassing’ was quickly covered with one saying ‘The People’s Property.’ ”

That was on August 8, 1977, when Solomon and his fellow protesters occupied the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant northwest of Portland, Ore. Solomon, one of 82 demonstrators arrested, wrote the article from jail.

This insurgent Democrat is going up against two establishment liberals for the seat of retiring Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the former chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In California’s new post-partisan election system, the top two vote getters in the June 5 primary (Democratic, Republican or Green) will go head-to-head in the general election. In the 2nd Congressional District, both candidates will be Democrats. Solomon is campaigning for the opportunity to challenge the current frontrunner, State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who, after having taken campaign donations from Walmart and Pacific Gas & Electric, has fashioned himself as a pro-union and environmentalist Dem.

As the weather warms up and the Occupiers adapt their strategies, they shouldn’t lose sight of important struggles being fought in the electoral arena by committed progressives like Solomon. While electoral politics cannot be the sole emphasis of Occupy, it would be a terrible mistake for this new progressive movement to simply cede the levers of the state to our enemies.

Poor and working Americans, particularly immigrants, have endured terrible hardships at the hands of Tea Party legislatures and governors.

Elections matter.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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