Houston, We Have a Problem!

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Sen. Bernie Sanders made efforts to move the Democratic party to the left from within. (Photo by Peter Maiden, taken in San Francisco on September 22, 2017).

By Yezdyar S. Kaoosji

The equation is getting more complex every day. In a normal Presidential election year, the duopoly is focused on presenting their candidates to suit the preferences of the voters they want to attract.

But in 2020, each day we are awakened to mind-blowing new issues that complicate the existing dilemmas we face. Besides the countless doses of supremacist, illegal and immoral behavior the Trump administration has spewed during the current term, we have experienced the uncontrollable Covid-19 pandemic, the military suppression of dissent and protests of police brutality, followed closely by natural disasters of fires and hurricanes exacerbated by the impact of climate change.

And then we are shocked on the eve of Rosh Hashanah upon learning of the passing of the eminent jurist, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her passing has thrown another spanner in the works of the 2020 Presidential election. 

These simultaneous equations might only be resolved through thoughtful strategy. But that is something we cannot expect from the duopoly that has ruled the nation for at least the past half a century, if not more.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties are beholden to the 1%. While the Republicans hang on to the faulty Reagan premise of trickle-down economics, the neoliberal Democrats pay lip service to people’s causes and rarely match it with significant action.

Add to the above, the polarization between the neoliberal and progressive forces that surfaced in the Democratic Party with the bid by Sen. Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Presidential nomination and his efforts to move the party to the left from within. A few progressive young politicians have been elected, but the party remains in the clutches of its “moderate” establishment.

It is now six months after the en masse withdrawal of all significant opponents in favor of Joe Biden on the eve of Super Tuesday. It is now a month after the virtual convention where Biden was nominated. And, as in 2016, Sanders is again vigorously supporting the Democratic Presidential ticket and is committed to defeating Donald Trump in November.

Concurrently, after Sanders’ 2016 failed attempt to move the Democratic Party to the left from within, progressives began to initiate a political force outside the Democratic Party. This energy adds to the work of established “third parties” such as the Green and Peace and Freedom parties. The Working Families Party, formed more than two decades ago, gained new momentum.

Sanders started the Our Revolution organization to advance young progressives in political office, often successfully challenging establishment supported neoliberal Democratic incumbents. Then, in 2016 the Movement for a People’s Party was launched committed to Sanders’ platform issues.

A week after the 2020 Democratic Party Convention the Movement for a People’s Party held a six-hour virtual convention that was addressed by a broad range of eminent progressives. At the conclusion, 99% of the thousands of online Zoom participants from across the United States voted to form a People’s Party.

Whether these various left-leaning forces merge together or remain informally aligned, an organized leftist movement has started to take shape and grow outside the Democratic Party. It will comprise the large Sanders following of left-leaning Democrats and Independents, as well as progressive members of existing political parties.

The challenge: In this climate of polarization between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party, the Sanders supporters might feel that they face a Hobson’s choice this November, between the neoliberalism of Joe Biden and the continuation of the reign of Donald Trump!

The title of this article is more than an attractive attention-getter. Recall what happened after the now famous paraphrased quote “Houston, we have a problem!” was radioed down to earth by Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert in April 1970? The actions that followed worked on two concurrent tracks: keeping the spaceship on course and repairing its damaged equipment.

This analogy works well for the progressives who are working to design a political system to serve the country, while dealing with the challenge of electing a President.

The answer is not as complex as the challenge appears. It calls for us to “walk and chew gum” simultaneously. To do so, Dr. Cornel West offered the most concise and clear direction when he said, “I will vote for Joe Biden; I will not endorse Joe Biden.” 

The Takeaway

Our “walk” as progressives is to defeat Donald Trump. We can accomplish that only by voting for the Biden-Harris ticket.

Simultaneously, we can “chew gum” to build an effective political force to move the nation in the direction that will support its 99% for a long time.

Vote Biden-Harris on Nov. 3, and start working to build a progressive alternative to the duopoly starting on Nov. 4, 2020.

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Yezdyar S. Kaoosji, a progressive activist, is a retired nonprofit organization executive and consultant. He writes a frequent column, “Progressive Voice,” for the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at yezdyk@gmail.com.