In July, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan announced that she would challenge Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her California congressional seat in 2008. Explaining her reasons for running, Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, said “Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership. We hired them to bring an end to the war.”
Greg Beiter, Socialist Alternative, CWI USA
Declaring she was running as an independent in opposition to the “corporately-controlled ‘two’ party system,” Sheehan said: “An electorate disgusted with the policies of the Bush regime put the Democrats in the majority in Congress in November ‘06. We voted for change, however Congress, under the Speakership of Ms. Pelosi, has done nothing but protect the status quo of the corporate elite and, in fact, since she has been the Speaker the situation in the Middle East has grown far worse, with Congress’ help, and recently more of our essential freedoms were given to BushCo by Congress. That is not what we elected them to do!”
“With over 45 million American uninsured, we need universal healthcare… The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is rapidly disappearing along with the ‘American dream’ of home ownership.”
Sheehan’s break from the Democratic Party and her decision to run for Congress is symptomatic of a growing frustration with the Democrats among wide sections of the antiwar movement and among workers and youth.
Anger is piling up by the day against the Democrats, who have shown their true ruling-class colors by loyally continuing the slaughter in Iraq and failing to deliver any real improvements in the lives of working people.
Yet despite this, all the key Democratic presidential candidates are actively soliciting the antiwar movement for undeserved support, while simultaneously pledging to their corporate backers that U.S. troops would have to remain in Iraq for years to come. Until Sheehan declared her candidacy, no major challenger had stepped forward to expose the Democrats’ pro-war hypocrisy.
However, some on the “left” have criticized Sheehan’s campaign. In particular, The Nation, in an article entitled “Dear Cindy: Please Don’t Run,” argued that she shouldn’t challenge Pelosi, claiming that “Sheehan’s run is futile” and that she shouldn’t be supported because she stands no chance of winning.
It’s ironic that The Nation should put forward this “lesser evil” argument in this situation. The Republicans stand no chance of winning Pelosi’s seat. Her district in San Francisco is one of the most progressive in the country. In 2003, Matt Gonzalez ran an independent, anti-corporate campaign on the Green Party ticket for San Francisco Mayor against the Democrats, narrowly losing the race with 47% of the vote.
Of course, The Nation’s attacks are nothing new. The Nation and other left-liberal publications, along with many leaders of the labor, antiwar, civil rights, and women’s movements, viciously attacked Ralph Nader for having the audacity to run for president on an antiwar, anti-corporate basis against the Democrats in 2004 and 2000.
The Nation is essentially covering up for Pelosi and the Democrats’ pro-war, corporate-friendly politics. While the Democrats regularly line up with Bush and the Republicans to support the war or carry out attacks on working people, The Nation argues that in the end they’re the best we’ve got and that there is no possibility of building an alternative to them.
However, if the leaders of the antiwar, labor, and women’s movements – along with progressive publications like The Nation – threw their support and influence behind independent, antiwar, anti-corporate challengers, a powerful alternative to both parties of big business could be built.
Time to Break from the Democrats
Sheehan’s bold electoral challenge points the way forward, towards what’s needed to effectively build the antiwar movement and utilize the groundswell of opposition toward the war among the majority of the country.
Her initiative to run a left-wing challenge against Corporate America’s two parties needs to be taken up and spread across the country for the 2008 elections and beyond. All the issues Sheehan is raising pose the need for building an antiwar, pro-worker political alternative, not just in one congressional district but across the country in the upcoming local, congressional, and presidential elections.
With the early start of the 2008 presidential primaries, there is now a pressing need for such an initiative to counter the Democrats’ campaigns within the antiwar and labor movement and among workers and youth in general.
Antiwar activists, fighting trade unions, immigrant rights activists, the Green Party, socialists, and others should unite to build the strongest possible left-wing presidential challenge. Such a campaign could reach tens of millions of workers and youth, explaining the big business character of the Democrats and Republicans and the need to build our own political party.
With a clear lead and strong campaigns, millions of workers and youth would be prepared to support an antiwar, anti-corporate alternative to the rotten right-wing consensus in Washington, DC.
Such a challenge, even if it gained only 5-10% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, would shake the U.S. political establishment. It would do far more to further the fight for a single-payer national healthcare system or an end to the Iraq War than the hapless lobbying efforts that currently occupy the leadership of the antiwar and labor movements. Fearing the further development of a political opposition movement, big business and their governing representatives in both parties would be under far more pressure to grant reforms.
Democrats Say Impeachment is “Off the Table”
On July 25, Sheehan and 300 other protesters descended on the office of Democratic Congressman John Conyers, demanding that as chair of the House Judiciary Committee he introduce legislation to impeach Bush and Cheney. Conyers, who had previously introduced such legislation when Republicans controlled the House and wrote a book about why Bush should be impeached, refused, stating that there would be no way impeachment could get enough support in Congress.
Sheehan responded by pointing out that his arguments were full of holes: “Firstly, Congressman Conyers told us to put Democrats back in Congress to end the war and impeach BushCo. We did that, and instead of ending the war they gave George Bush more money to wage it and to conduct his deadly and tragic surge. Secondly, ’08 will be too late to hold George and Dick accountable. Thirdly, thousands of more people will die in these last months of the worst presidency in American history…”
After Conyers refused to initiate impeachment proceedings against Bush, Sheehan and the other activists occupied his offices and refused to leave. Conyers graciously responded by having her arrested!
Conyers’ actions demonstrate the craven capitulation of “left-wing” Democrats to the right-wing big business leadership of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, many leaders of the labor movement and antiwar, civil rights, and women’s organizations still argue that we need to elect progressive Democrats to pull the party to the left.
However, the impeachment issue shows the complete bankruptcy of this strategy. Rather than pulling the Democrats to the left, the real role of left-wing Democratic politicians is to channel activists and mass movements into the confines of the Democratic Party and to water down our demands to what is acceptable to the Democrats’ big business backers.
Bush and Cheney should be impeached for deliberately lying to pave the way for the Iraq War along with repeatedly trampling on our democratic rights. They have on their hands the blood of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the thousands of U.S. soldiers needlessly killed in a war for oil and empire.
However, the Democrats are unwilling stand up to Bush. Pelosi, Conyers, and the rest of the party leadership have explicitly stated that impeachment is off the table.
The movements that forced Richard Nixon to resign in 1974 did not start with Congress, but started in the streets with ordinary people taking action on their own in the form of the huge movements against the war, for women’s and civil rights, and militant strikes for better wages and conditions. Similarly, over the past decade, numerous Latin American presidents have been forced to resign by workers and the poor organizing mass protests, general strikes, and road blockades.
While millions of ordinary people throughout the U.S. and the world will welcome a defeat of the Republicans in the 2008 elections, the reality is we can’t expect a Democratic president to be a real alternative. We shouldn’t forget that the Democrats voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, and the bloated Pentagon budget, to list a few examples of their complicity with Bush.
The Democrats are funded by the same corporations and mega-rich backers as the Republicans; they are completely hostile to the aspirations of working people. This is why it’s vital that we have our own candidates in the 2008 elections: antiwar, pro-worker alternatives that stand up to both Bush and the Democrats for what we need.
Mass Anger at Iraq War, Bush, and Democratic Congress
New Party of Workers and Young People Needed!
Bush, largely as a result of the continually unraveling situation in Iraq, is making a serious bid to leave office as the most unpopular president in modern history. A Washington Post-ABC News survey from July 25 found that 65% disapprove of Bush. Only Harry Truman (66%) and Richard Nixon (scoring 67% four days before resigning) have beaten that. However, Bush still has 16 more months to go.
The Democrat-led Congress, however, not to be shoved out of the spotlight by Bush, is making serious progress themselves in the unpopularity contest. A Quinnipiac University poll in June found that Congress had an approval rating of just 23%.
Remarking on this, one pollster concluded, “People voted for change. But they don’t think they got it.” Another commentator accurately added, “People have problems in their lives and they don’t see the White House or Congress dealing with it.”
The incessantly worsening situation in Iraq, the pouring of more oil on the fire by Bush and Congress, and the worsening economic and social conditions for workers and young people is causing many to look for a political alternative. A USA Today/Gallup poll from July 20 showed that 58% think that a third party is needed and that both the Democrats and the Republicans do an inadequate job.
Activists need to build on this hunger for an alternative to Corporate America’s two parties. Running a strong challenge in the 2008 elections can help prepare the ground for a new broad-based antiwar, anti-corporate, working-class political party.
Such a party would only be able to succeed if it was fundamentally different from the existing status-quo parties. It would need to refuse money from big business, consistently fight for the interests of workers and the oppressed, and base itself on the active democratic participation of its members.