The Luxury of Opting Out of This Election

People whose livelihoods can turn with an election can’t afford to wait for a third party to rescue them.

James Thindwa

A woman exits a voting booth in the New Hampshire primary. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

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In the 40 years that In These Times has spoken truth to power, few topics have generated more discussion from its readers and writers than how the Left should relate to the Democratic Party: whether to challenge the neoliberal establishment from within or to build a competing political structure from without. This is an old debate, but carries more relevance and urgency today than ever, given the rise of a neofascist Republican presidential nominee. 

People whose livelihoods can turn with an election don’t have the luxury to wait for a messianic third party—or a political revolution, for that matter—to rescue them.

A core mission of left movements is to promote the interests of working-class and marginalized communities. Yet for many such communities, this debate is far removed from everyday realities. People whose livelihoods can turn with an election don’t have the luxury to wait for a messianic third party—or a political revolution, for that matter—to rescue them. As just one example, for those making minimum wage, this election could make the difference between their pay plummeting (if Trump carries through on abolishing the federal floor of $7.25 per hour) or doubling (if Hillary Clinton makes good on the Democratic Party platform promise, pushed through by the Sanders campaign, to raise the minimum to $15). On purely humanitarian terms, progressives must help ensure relief for vulnerable communities by voting without apology for the candidate—yes, Hillary Clinton—who will embrace a minimum wage hike.

There are strategic reasons for doing so, as well. In this election, polls show that African Americans and Latinos overwhelmingly favor Clinton. To engage these communities in movement-building, progressives must listen to them. We cannot say, “To hell with your fears. We know best what’s best for you.” The total rejection of the candidate who is supported by a significant segment of the progressive base undercuts the mutual trust necessary for such a conversation.

Bernie Sanders' insurgent campaign indicates that the Democratic Party can be pushed left. Thanks to the Sanders campaign, the Democrats embraced the most progressive platform in their history.

The challenge going forward is to sustain this new energy and translate the noble aspirations of the platform into concrete policy. This can only happen if the progressive movement, in partnership with allies in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, demands that Democratic elected officials advance the platform.

Since its founding, In These Times has championed an inside-outside strategy of political engagement— pushing the Democratic Party left by working through the electoral system while simultaneously building popular movements. That strategy works. Outside, the climate movement forced President Obama to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline in November 2015. Inside, the Sanders campaign pushed Clinton to abandon her support for the pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Partnership. Should Clinton be elected, it will be up to the progressive movement, mobilizing on the outside and organizing on the inside, to encourage her to tack to the left, rather than, as was her husband’s wont, to the right.

Here at In These Times, we pledge to continue to help build a national progressive movement by reporting on conditions on the ground and providing a forum to share strategies, solutions and lessons learned. As In These Times’ 40 years on the beat demonstrate, we are up to this historic challenge.

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James Thindwa is a member of In These Times’ Board of Directors and a labor and community activist.
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