By Kevin Hall
“There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge.”—Greta Thuneberg, age 16, 2018
We’re nearing the end of the most disastrous presidential administration in U.S. history. Donald Trump’s crushing defeat on Nov. 3 will be followed by an easily throttled redneck, biker and borderguard coup that—thanks to a severe lack of physical conditioning and months of foolhardy rallies from Sturgis and Tulsa to the White House and Vegas—will trip over its own coronavirus-infected dead and diseased before culminating in a late January, Trump-ugly final episode of the warped reality show we’ve been force-fed daily for four years now, Donald Gaslights America, with plenty of sputtering rage if not a stroke.
And that’s the rosy prediction for our immediate future.
The alternative is the final manifestation of a movement launched half a century ago in reaction to that era’s civil rights marches and anti–Vietnam War protests with the publication in 1971 of the infamous Powell Memo. A blueprint for business hegemony, the resulting rise in corporate control of government and melding together of private interests and public policy now threaten to complete this country’s turn to fascist domestic policies and governance that match its current international ones. The lower castes of U.S. society would be treated the same as any third world country occupied by a foreign army.
The Nov. 3 outcome will be determined by a simple factor: the number of people who volunteer to phone voters in swing states. After months of cascading personal and societal crises, many real conversations are being had between worried Americans across hundreds of miles in every language.
In close elections, such talks and a simple numbers game determine the winner. For every 10 calls you make, you will connect with a few voters and persuade a majority of those to vote Trump out. It adds up. Fast.
So immediately join a phone bank to call voters in swing states. Weigh the feeling of sacrificing a few hours between now and Nov. 3 versus four more years of this descent into madness and fasicsm, a trip being embraced by many of this region’s worst people.
Then brace for a long struggle to see him removed from the White House.
But let’s look away briefly from the most momentous presidential election in U.S. history, second only in importance to the 2016 one, and ask the burning question, “What do Fresno County and the State of Rhode Island have in common?”
Answer: populations of about a million people and a Democratic Party dominated by conservative political interests.
But the “Ocean State” has a positive lesson to impart to Fresno County progressives. The Working Families Party, the Bernie Sanders campaign and allies got the ball rolling with some wins in 2016 and 2018, but this year, as part of a larger coordinated effort, they motivated Rhode Islanders to prune their statehouse of a bloc of incumbent, corporate-friendly Democrats like so much ideological deadwood, becoming a powerful caucus themselves overnight—in the primary election.
According to Ryan Grim’s reporting in The Intercept, this band of upstart progressives went next-level when they formed the Rhode Island Political Cooperative (RIPC) in 2019 to recruit and support candidates. They shared resources and campaign expertise. Sunrise Movement chapters jumped in, doing critically important canvassing. Democratic Socialists of America and Reclaim were also backing most of the same candidates plus some of their own as they had in the earlier races.
The cooperative strategy is what broke the mold and created a path for better people to run for office, one driven by finding people of integrity who might otherwise not be able to serve rather than rely on candidates who compromise people’s future with the first corporate dollar they solicit.
“Our candidates will fight for a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights and getting money out of politics,” says the RIPC Web site. “All of our candidates pledge not to take any contributions from corporate PACs, corporate lobbyists or the fossil fuel industry. We rely entirely on grassroots donations.”
Which is where Fresno County comes in. Politically, the ideology of our local Democratic Party is the mirror image of the Rhode Island state house and lower seats that feed into it. More than 90% of our county’s Democrats would not openly sign onto the above pledge.
But in Rhode Island this spring’s primary, “[A] startling 15 won their September 8 primaries in either the House or Senate, including wins against the Senate president pro tempore and the Senate Finance Committee chair,” Grim reported. They are also running a slate of down-ballot candidates on Nov. 3 in plurality races for school boards and city councils.
This progressive push comes largely from the people who backed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and did not want to stop organizing. We have those people here in Fresno, too, and one of their most active organizers, Emily Cameron, was voted off the Fresno County Democratic Central Committee last month for being too outspoken while lobbying to stop accepting donations from law enforcement unions.
Annalisa Perea and Nelson Esparza are two of the committee’s most prominent conservatives to have joined in the attack. Though they’re young, like their predecessors, including two earlier Pereas, they have no interest in foregoing campaign contributions from such traditionally big backers; nor will they want to forfeit contributions from sprawl developers. Quite the opposite, they’re banking on them, and the RIPC pledge’s language reads like political suicide to them.
Far from alone, they are joined in their corporate Democratic politics by officeholders Jim Costa, Melissa Hurtado, Anna Caballero, Joaquin Arambula, Sal Quintero, Brian Pacheco, Luis Chavez, Esmeralda Soria, Miguel Arias, Tyler Maxwell; the list goes on and on. People desperate to be in elected office—like all of these people—are too often desperate for the money to get there.
Their malleable policy priorities conform with the conservative mind-set of major developers, as well those of the local union leaders affiliated with the Central Labor Council or the Building and Construction Trades Association for the four-county region of Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare.
Local Democrats shouldn’t be surprised to see some Rhode Island politics by 2022, the kind people across the country respond to, and it’s no surprise the answer is coming from collective action, principled candidates, and focus—the very reasons, ironically, it can’t come from organized labor in this community either, fatally compromised as they are by solidarity with Big Oil and Methane, as reported here last month.
The co-op focuses on finding people who understand—and are already acting on—the urgency of the moment out of a sense of responsibility for others rather than self-selected politicians who place their own ambitions above the needs of the children already born who face an increasingly hazardous, uncertain future.
Frankly, anyone destined to live beyond 2050 should have no time for corporate Democrats. The work ahead will only fail with people of such weak character in charge. Rhode Island–style collective political action around a sustainable future will grow exponentially. People are highly motivated because, as Thuneberg points out, we’re simply out of time.
Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate, coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for presentations and information.