In the first minute of his July 29 Democratic National Convention (DNC) acceptance speech, John Kerry told us that the Democratic Party has â€œone simple purpose: to make
The thousands of people who mobilized four years ago at the Los Angeles DNC to critique the Democrats are a very different crowd from the mainstream or liberal wing of the party that will vote for John Kerry this November. Kerry and the Democratic Party elite do not need the votes of activists â€“ they do not constitute a significant or influential voting block like corporations or other Republican constituencies that appear to be the targets of most Kerry campaigning. Furthermore, Kerry and the Party elite do not actually want peace activists to campaign for them, at least not as peace activists. This was demonstrated most tellingly at the DNC where not only was criticism of the war discouraged, but peace activists among the delegates were not allowed to bring literature or clothing that expressed an anti-war stance. Medea Benjamin, who advocates voting for Kerry in swing states, was thrown out of the convention hall after unfurling a banner calling for an end to the occupation of
Anti-war views were by no means rare at the Convention. Even within the narrow spectrum of the Democratic Party, ninety percent of delegates oppose the war in
The irresponsible idealism with which the antiwar movement is throwing its support behind a pro-war Bush-like candidate is disturbing. Little attempt is being made by the Party itself to reach out to those who are unregistered or uninterested, but private groups like MoveOn.org and individuals like filmmaker Michael Moore are doing it for them, under the slogan â€œAnybody But Bush.â€ The MoveOn Political Action Committee just sent a letter to its members that â€œhope is on the wayâ€ in the guise of John Kerry, parroting Kerryâ€™s own refrain (â€œhelp is on the wayâ€) during his DNC acceptance speech. After he wins, MoveOn tells us, â€œwe'll wake up that morning able to dream big dreams for a country and a world that are once again headed in the right direction.â€ Unless voters are aware of the problems of backing Kerry for President most will go home after election day, either happy that their candidate won or cynical that their actions had no effect. Being realistic about Kerryâ€™s background may prepare activists to begin organizing now, regardless of who wins, determined to involve themselves in struggle for the long haul, if thatâ€™s what it takes.
The constituency that Kerry actually listens to includes those who want the good old days of a glorious
â€œWe need John Kerry to restore life to the Global War on Terrorism,â€ said Jimmy Carter on the first day of the DNC. If the war on terrorism needed any more life than Bush gave it in
Carter and others have emphasized Kerryâ€™s tour of duty as a soldier in
Knowing that public disenchantment with Bushâ€™s foreign policy will not be enough to elect him (especially since he does not have much that is different to offer), Kerry has decided to highlight domestic issues like jobs, healthcare, and education. Outsourcing is a hot-button issue that Kerry has promised to reduce, despite his vote for NAFTA. Little mention is made of the inherent contradiction between his support of â€œfree tradeâ€ and protectionist measures to preserve jobs at homeâ€”or the contradiction between wooing organized labor by backing environmental and labor standards in trade agreements, and his support for corporate power. Kerry is unambiguous that his real constituency is Big Business. In an interview with BusinessWeek (August 2nd) Kerry revealed, â€œI am going to bring Corporate America to the table â€¦ to say: How do we make you more competitive? How do we get out of your way? Research-and-development tax credits? Iâ€™d make them permanent and larger. Manufacturing tax credits? Thatâ€™s a smart way to helpâ€¦ I am 100% in favor of companies going abroad to do business.â€
It is true that a small amount of positive change will accompany a Kerry administrationâ€“most certainly fewer people will die in the short term. If Kerry wins in November it will definitely be a blow to the ultra-fascist Neoconservatives and their allies. But those who are interested in long term radical social change, an admittedly marginal slice of the population, should not waste their time and effort in propping up the Democratic Party elite and their Republican-like agenda. There are plenty of people who are doing that already. Activism should focus on exposing Kerry before he ascends to the White House so that there will be few illusions that the Kerry era will be any better than the Clinton era; and so we can lay the groundwork for opposing Kerryâ€™s policies as soon as possible. Kerry should be put on notice that the rabble-rousers who see through his compromises will not for long indulge in a sigh of relief if he wins. Instead activism ought to focus on constantly pushing the discussion to the left, wresting it from the rightward trend of current political discourse. We should be clear: activists who want serious social change, like those who mobilized 4 years ago to hold Gore and the Democrats accountable, will not find it in backing Kerry.
Sonali Kolhatkar is co-producer and host of Uprising, a morning drive-time radio program on KPFK Pacifica Radio in