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I left the Democratic Party in 2000. At that time, I got the chance to hear Ralph Nader speak while he was running as the Green Party presidential candidate. He exposed so much for me. Having spent five years prior working at the New York State Assembly as an aide, I got to know the underbelly of not just New York State politics, but how the Democratic Party functioned overall. And it is not good. Everything I had been taught about this party was a fallacy.
To credit Malcolm X in his famous The Ballot or the Bullet speech, we know well that in 1948, a racist faction grew out of the Democratic party called the “Dixiecrats.” Now, it is only because the Republican Party is progressively the “white man’s party” that the Democrats can be seen as more open and diverse. Ultimately, the Democratic party is where progressive politics go to die. Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders got a first-hand lesson in this.
Sander’s politics, which were never really socialist or even that progressive, were still unsupported by a party that claims to be for the people. In fact, if he was seen as progressive it’s because many of his ideas were taken right out of the Green Party platform. So what does the Democratic Party represent? Well, all it has done for the last 50 years is use people of color for votes.
I came of age under President Ronald Reagan, but so often, I heard the moniker that Bill Clinton was America’s “first black President.” But Bill Clinton moved the Democrats back to the center right, and he did it off the backs of African-American and Latino men and women in 1994 when he signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. In 1996, he signed into law welfare reform that gutted the safety net for poor and working families. He deregulated Wall Street, passed NAFTA and ushered in a modern era of free trade that has had disastrous results for countries and people all over the world.
At the same time, I was witnessing the rise in mass incarceration under a Democratic president. Throughout Bill Clinton’s entire presidency, Hillary Clinton was by his side in every sense of the word. She was not just a wife, the mother of his child or a First Lady. Hillary was a trusted advisor, a confidant. Her efforts to get the 1994 crime bill passed included her comment on “super-predators,” which helped make a case for why mostly poor black and brown young people could be racially profiled and locked up. And, until recently, she was still taking money in donations from the same private prison corporations that benefitted from the incarceration of an entire generation of black and brown men in the first place.
What should the Democratic Party represent? What should be happening at this moment is Americans realizing that we need alternative parties and movements. No democracy should be a corporate duopoly. The American people cannot and should not expect adequate political representation from a party that was not created by them but only exists to assure that we have nowhere else to go. The presidency of Barack Obama should be the final nail in that coffin.
While many lauded the election of a black man, what exactly did he accomplish? Movements seeking to hold him accountable the last eight years have seen an endless engagement in war, increased drone use, a crackdown on whistle blowers, the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, an Affordable Care Act that still leaves millions of Americans without any form of healthcare. And he ushered the most deportations of any president in American history.
It is also under President Obama that the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings occurred. The Black Lives Matter movement rose in the midst of his silence and inaction. And, very personal for me as a Boricua, he ignored the island of Puerto Rico and those American citizens for more than eight years, but had no problem signing the PROMESA bill last week that put in place a financial control board that will stifle any opportunity for the island to rebuild its economy on its own terms.
Although her rhetoric is progressive, Hillary Clinton is not going to do anything to move further to the left in her actual polices. A key difference between Hillary and Donald Trump is that despite Trump’s rhetoric, Hillary has strong and deep ties to the corporate and military industrial complex. She has a skilled propaganda machine as witnessed through the latest scandal in the party ahead of its convention. She has the funders and tools of war and economic suppression.
Yes, I am afraid of Trump, but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good. As we see the erosion of the Republican party right before our very eyes, what if we could imagine and fight for a true democracy built upon the foundations of racial, economic, gender and social justice — a democracy that values humanity over profits? So far the only thing this election cycle has taught us is that we must keep organizing and vote for the future we want, not against the one we fear.
Editor’s note: The PBS NewsHour is hosting a series of columns to run during both of the 2016 national political conventions.
Joining the discussion:
Rosa Clemente is a community organizer, the 2008 Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate, is currently completing her Ph.D at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst-W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American studies. She is also a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter Upstate New York chapter.
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