Many thanks to FPN member Amee Chew for sharing her provocative commentary which was originally published here.
Support Obama, and Vote McKinney? Not a contradiction
by Amee Chew
The Green Party Presidential ticket of Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente brings something special and unprecedented to U.S. politics. Not only are they the first all women-of-color ticket for President and Vice President with ballot access in most states. These women take racial justice seriously, and have made strides to put gender at the center of a progressive agenda. For these two, it’s more than skin deep.
They’re the Presidential ticket that talks about amnesty for undocumented workers, that opposes guest worker programs as riddled with abuses, because they believe a just immigration reform means addressing the trade and economic policies fueling poverty and migration. They’re the ticket that demands reparations in the form of federal investment in low-income families and communities of color, to end racial disparities in health, housing, education, and incarceration. They call for the right of return for Katrina survivors; an end to prisons for profit, to the War on Drugs. And they speak of reproductive justice – not just the right to abortion, but actual healthcare access; of freedom from coerced or uninformed medication and sterilization.
Nowhere do we see Nader, or white male Third-Party-politics-as-usual, bringing in these issues – this slice on life, or sensitivity. McKinney, for instance, points out that Social Security cuts will disproportionately harm women. The Green Party candidates offer to do us the public service of contesting Palin’s brand of “feminism.” Let’s take them up on it.
We starry-eyed ones know McKinney and Clemente aren’t going to win the Presidency.
But each vote for them contributes towards building unprecedented ballot access, federal funds, and an inroad to the national debates, for the Green Party. If McKinney / Clemente get 5% of the national vote, the Green Party qualifies for millions of dollars in federal matching funds for 2012 – a significant dent in the two-party system. Under the electoral college’s winner-takes-all system, not every vote for a major candidate counts; but by supporting a minor candidate, we can strategically use our votes to institutionalize a progressive platform.
It will take us more than four years to forge an alternative to the major parties’ imperialism, and their repeated failure to put people before profit. One important step is building the institutional vehicles to truly represent our voice. Previously in U.S. history, third parties have waged organizing efforts that mattered. The Republicans themselves, originally the party of Abraham Lincoln, catapulted from minor Third Party to major player in the 19th century, by jumping off a backbone of 16 years of organizing by the Free Soilers – another minor political party with an anti-slavery platform. Just as right-wing organizations in more recent times have planned ahead how to impact society over several decades, and invested in sustained efforts, we too must set our sights on strategies of significant long-term change. McKinney and Clemente won’t be elected now, but they are young enough to be elected in 12 to 20 years – or perhaps their successors, within our lifetimes.
In the words of McKinney herself: “We are in this to build a movement. We are willing to struggle for as long as it takes to have our values prevail in public policy.” She reminds us, “Voters in this country are scared into not voting their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations. But in Bolivia and Ecuador and Argentina and Chile and Nicaragua and Spain, and India and Cote d’Ivoire and Haiti, voters were not afraid to vote their hopes and dreams, and guess what. Their dreams came true. Ours can, too.”
If those of us who hold their politics don’t support them, who will? It’s time for us to say, these brave women – and those who follow in their footsteps – represent the future that we want for politics in this country.
A concerted front
There is not a contradiction between supporting Obama’s victory over McCain, and spreading the word on McKinney – because we believe her politics should be included in the debates; and believe all voters should be aware she and the Greens exist as an option.
There is not a contradiction between spending time to campaign for Obama in key swing states, and pledging your own vote to McKinney – particularly in Democratic strongholds such as California, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Oregon, or Washington, where Obama will win landslide; or Republican states where McCain is assured of victory.
As an example, in 2004, Kerry beat Bush in Massachusetts 62% to 32%, by over 700,000 votes. 5% of the vote would have been around 140,000 ballots, but third party candidates actually got around 1% altogether, or 27,000. This election, 35 states are not swing states.
While we might divide up our work, we can back each other in a larger strategy to shift politics to the left.
Stop the blackout
On a very practical level, supporting McKinney / Clemente is supporting their right to simply be heard.
While it’s easy to recognize that corporate media has excluded McKinney and Clemente from their election coverage, progressive and liberal media have also contributed to the blackout on these women. The Daily Show’s election website, Indecision2008.com, prominently tracks Nader and minor (male) conservative candidates, such as Ron Paul and libertarian Bob Barr – but not McKinney. Perhaps not surprising from a male-dominated show that dismisses Palin as a VPILF?
In August, AntiWar.com featured a line-up of McCain, Obama, Nader, and Barr. Incidentally, reflecting a common trend in much progressive media, over 80% of the site’s columnists and regular contributors are male. When challenged by readers about McKinney’s absence, the editors explained that both she, and ultra-rightwing, xenophobic, anti-abortion Chuck Baldwin – who seeks to cut all federal investment in communities of color – were omitted. Not due to bias against McKinney as a black woman, but because, as an editor flippantly wrote, both of the candidates are “pretty perfect” on foreign policy. If McKinney’s stance was so perfect, why wouldn’t the site choose to promote her as a standard-bearer? And why instead place her on equal footing with a racist, sexist Baldwin? Besides not considering economic inequality, immigration policy or internal colonization as relevant to imperialism, AntiWar.com must simply have not viewed her as a serious contender.
Why has McKinney had more trouble getting attention from left organizations and institutions compared to Nader, Green Party candidate in 2000? After all, she, too, champions universal healthcare under a single-payer system; progressive taxation; repealing free trade agreements and abolishing the anti-union Taft-Hartley act. She takes a stronger stance against war and occupation, urging an immediate and orderly withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan. And she has vocally opposed the bail out.
A few feminist, and gender-conscious progressive sites have offered the women a nod. But while the National Organization for Women has acknowledged Palin’s candidacy as historic, it has failed to mention the Green Party’s groundbreaking women-of-color ticket– at all.
Progressive organizations have a responsibility to help counter racism and sexism, rather than participate in it. The media may justify its coverage based on candidates’ popularity and relevance to viewers; yet it also plays a key role in shaping our perceptions – in McKinney’s case, by allowing us to even know she exists, and what views she holds. Intentions aside, the failure of progressive organizations to cover McKinney amounts to an information blackout. Rather than uphold the institutionalized racism and sexism that exclude McKinney and Clemente from public discourse, progressive media must support a progressive consciousness by covering our political allies.
Organizing to take power
This election, the Third Party candidates, from left to far-right, caught attention when they gathered around a common anti-war, pro-civil liberties, and anti-corporate welfare platform. But let’s be clear about our strategy. Progressives should work to unite around our own alternative worldview – promoting an ideology to challenge the dominant narrative, not simply a patchwork of reforms. When we are pigeon-holed into single issues, our movements are fractured and weaker for not being able to articulate a holistic vision. We shouldn’t be working to build up the Libertarian version of free market hell, or Constitution-party xenophobia – let’s take concerted action to make our own party and institutions of change (see note below).
In Boston, we have been organizing film screenings of “American Blackout,” to draw attention to the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004, as well as the strategic capture of the voting system by right-wing forces. The film documents McKinney’s candidacies as a Georgia Congresswomen, and her outspoken support for electoral reform and voting rights. It also details a Republican-organized cross-over campaign to oust McKinney in the Democratic primary election: Republicans stormed the Democratic ballot box to cast their votes for a conservative Democrat they had funded against McKinney, because they knew they couldn’t win running a Republican in the general election.
The right-wingers have meticulously learned to rig the electoral system in their favor. Let’s take it back.
Thank you to Thomas Chen, Catherine-Mercedes Judge, and Kaveri Rajaraman for their input on this article.
Note: A Green Party platform of the future might include valuing women and children by repairing the scant welfare system; providing good jobs through subsidized childcare and home help; redressing the poverty of elderly women without pensions. Women’s labor in the private sphere remains undervalued and an invisible issue to most political parties.
Amee Chew works at a community organization in Boston, and can be reached at hachew at gmail dot com.