… the Centre Cannot Hold

Jeff and Rose Roby are long time activists. This and other writings can be found at Saint Petersburg Independents

… the Centre Cannot Hold

01conventionWe’ve all heard the poem that goes:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
… The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

We are supposed to lament the “best lacking all conviction,” but in my book, those who “lack all conviction” hardly deserve to be called the “best.”  Rather than lamenting those tender sensibilities, let us rather embrace and exceed the “passionate intensity” of the worst.  It is time to make it our own.

Consider the crumbling center that neoliberalism extols:

  1. A state of perpetual war, driven by the desperate neocon policy of Full-Spectrum Dominance.
  2. An American economy so shaky that total stagnation is called a “recovery.”
  3. Austerity across the board, crumbling infrastructure, evisceration of the social safety net.
  4. Racists stalking the streets with guns on their hips and rallying fully-armed in stadiums.
  5. The largest prison population in the world.

… and … and … oh hell, you know all this.

The foremost champion of this collapsing center is of course Hillary Rodman Clinton.

The Establishment emits howls of agony over the “passionate intensity” arising on its flanks, right and left.  On the right, Donald Trump and his racist legions.  On the left, the Bernie Sanders movement.  Neither movement is going away.  The means  — financial, political and moral — of liberal appeasement (restoring the center) are exhausted.  Our only hope is that OUR passionate intensity can match and surpass theirs.

The right can afford a certain degree of mindlessness.  They can substitute dollars for brains.  We on the left have no such luxury.  Our passionate intensity must be accompanied by shrewd strategic intelligence.  In plain English, we have to build an independent political force that can withstand the hysterical urgings of the moment and dig in for the Political Revolution.  No matter how clever some Lesser-Evilists imagine themselves, this independent political force cannot be built under the banner of Hillary Clinton.

We wuz robbed!  So what else is new?

For us to actually build that force and win, the Black and Latino communities must be wrenched out of the grasp of the Establishment center.

We can argue, and rightly so, that Hillary has won the nomination because so many millions of votes were stolen by a thoroughly rigged system accompanied by outright thievery.  Yeah, we wuz robbed!  True as far as it goes, if we only see the world through the lens of the electoral system in isolation.  But it is indicative of this deeper strategic weakness — not merely in terms of votes, but in terms of social force, in terms of organized power — that has done us in, and will continue to do us in, if it is not addressed.  If we cannot organize our poorest communities …

In Cheri Honkala’s own words.

One leader who is filled with passionate intensity and has plenty of smarts is Cheri Honkala, 53, a leader of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), Jill Stein’s 2012 Green Party running mate, and lead organizer for a July 25 march on the first day of the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia.

03honkala 04A part Cheyenne Native American from Minnesota, Honkala grew up in poverty, sometimes homeless, sometimes a runaway, and often institutionalized.  Over 25 years she has been a leading organizer of the poor and homeless, having founded the anti-poverty groups “Women, Work and Welfare” and “Up and Out of Poverty Now” in the Twin Cities.  Moving to Philadelphia, she co-founded the Kensington Welfare Rights Union.  In direct response to Bill Clinton’s draconian Welfare Reform of 1996, she created the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign — “a network of over 40 poor people’s organizations from across the U.S.” — organizing direct action by poor families to occupy Philadelphia’s abandoned houses in defiance of the politicians and the police.  In the course of organizing countless protests, leading marches, holding demonstrations and setting up tent cities, she has racked up over 200 arrests for civil disobedience.

For that work, Honkala has received numerous honors and awards:

  • Philadelphia Magazine – list of the 100 Most Powerful Philadelphians
  • Philadelphia Weekly – “Woman of the Year” (1997)
  • Ms. Magazine – Woman of the Year (2001)
  • Bread and Roses Human Rights Award
  • Pennsylvania Association of Social Workers’ Public Citizen of the Year
  • Front Line Defenders (The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders), a Dublin-based human rights organization, named her one of the “12 most endangered” activists in America
  • Mother Jones magazine – Hellraiser of the Month (April 2005)

In July 2000, a PPEHRC marched on the opening day of the Republican Party’s National Convention in Philadelphia, and drew 10,000 homeless and poor people from around the country, despite its having been denied a permit by city authorities.

Now she is at it again.  This year it’s called the “March for our Lives,” and given the stakes we are fighting for, it is all too literally a march for our lives.  In an interview with St. Petersburg Independents, Honkala explained:

“We think this march is incredibly important, because Philadelphia hasn’t housed anybody in about 9 months.  The city has closed over 40 schools, and there is absolutely no affordable housing here.  We’re the poorest of the largest cities in the country, and so we can’t allow the Democratic Party to sweep these issues under the rug.”

Yet, Honkala noted, $43 million dollars will be spent on security for the Democratic Party’s nominating festival.

“The media and the city administration are still trying to play games.  Ours was the only event that the city tried to deny a permit, hoping we’d just go away, but we made it clear that we intended to march no matter what.  Our last march was 10,000 strong, and we could easily double that.  The organizing is going fantastic and we continue to rise to the top.  We’re getting ready to make a billboard that we’re going to drag on wheels around the city, and we’ve got people blanketing the entire city and on the phone every day making calls.”

Winning that permit proved to be an epic battle.  Honkala recalled in an interview with KPFA :

“For pretty much 48 hours straight, we received a lot of pressure  The ACLU kept telling us that the city wanted us to change our march route, wanted to change everything about our march.  I’m just very proud of the front line communities here.  They stayed very strong.  So we have won the right to march on the South Side of City Hall at 3:00 o’clock, going all the way up Broad Street to the front door of the Democratic National Convention.  We’re hoping that anybody who was afraid before will now come out in droves and join us. … We’re having several sessions of nonviolence training leading all the way up until two days before the convention.  We’ll have trainings before we step off on July 25th. It’s really important to us that the whole world understands that we’re a nonviolent movement.”

Honkala makes plain that this is not just another protest.  It is a fight for political independence from the two corporate controlled parties.  As she told us:

“Lots of money is being tossed around in this town.  We’re watching some of the folks who were originally on the Bernie payroll taking flight to Hillary’s payroll.  That’s a hard pill to swallow. … We’ve started getting reporters asking to embed themselves with us.  So we vet them, and they’re turning out to be Hillary supporters.  We have to be very careful right now.  The job of the whole town — whether it’s the church, the media, or the non-profit industrial complex —is to slight any notion of political independence or any desire to move away from Wall Street.  Their job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.  It’s hard to compete with their massive piles of dollars.”

02hillary nixonTime for the Sanders movement to decide.

Sanders endorsing Hillary was a blow to the movement, no doubt about it.  But it puts the issue of independent politics front and center.  It has become clear to only the most starry-eyed Sanders supporters that he will not be the Democratic nominee.  Nor is there any chance of him running an independent presidential campaign.  So what next for the Independent wing of the Sanders movement?

Honkala’s bottom line has always been “No to Hillary.”  Even while the Hillary endorsement was just pending, she had said:

“I think people are so devastated, from having spent all their time working on the Bernie campaign, from listening to the amazing things he’s been saying.  Folks are deciding that they can’t go backwards, back into the Democratic Party.  They’ve been joining the Green Party in droves, and linking up with Dr. Jill Stein [the expected Green presidential nominee].  They just know they have to do everything possible to create the loyal opposition, to go forward with the future.

“Anything in the direction of Hillary is a step back for the movement and for this country.  Definitely, low-income and poor people know that that’s all that that represents.  They’re not fooled by this.  Just the other day here in Philly, there was a demonstration around the issue of deporting of immigrants.  Whether we’re talking about immigrant rights, the need for our schools, the teachers getting a contract, healthcare, the Democrats are going to try to figure out how to stamp it out.  The Green Party is committed to making sure these issues are lifted up.”

Still, the Sanders movement has a variety of options.  Those desperately clinging to the Sanders aura want a write-in campaign although their votes, even when legal, will most likely not be counted.  Many are committed to working on state legislative and congressional races, turning their energies toward electing those Sanders Democrats who had the courage to support Sanders back when the going was tough.  Some are going Green all the way, and Jill Stein is now “hot.”

Yet the Green Party itself is leaving the vast majority of state legislative and congressional seats unchallenged.  So there are those who are both backing Stein while at the same time working for the most progressive local Democrats.

Honkala, though a dedicated Green, has no problem with that:

“I think that whatever works, that’s what we need to go with.  We have to do both.  We have to put our foot in a few different places.  I’ve always been in favor of doing things that are effective.  I never hold on to one idea, particularly if it’s not effective.  The corporate party structure has been in existence forever, but it’s still too early for us to be judging exactly what it is that’s going to work.  This is a very exciting time in history, but also a very dangerous time.  We have to try a variety of different tactics and not become dogmatic.  Run with what works.  That means supporting whichever candidates we think are going to look out for the people.  It’s just that we have too much to lose to be supporting either Hillary or Trump.

07stein“I’d add that we Greens definitely have to start running more candidates and encouraging people to step forward and run on these different progressive platforms.  We can’t cry about it anymore.  Like the slogan says, we actually have to ‘be the change we’re looking for.’  We’re all pioneers in this process.  At the same time, the Green Party has a structure that has been in place for many years.  I’m not in favor of having to create a whole new structure like the one that took us 25 years to build.  I’m in favor of finding ways to have the Green Party be the party it needs to be.

“We’ve just learned that Black Women for Bernie are now supporting Dr. Jill Stein, and many different members of the Equality Coalition are supporting her.  Not a day goes by that some new folks aren’t telling Dr. Stein that they are supporting her.  That’s really encouraging and exciting, and I do know that her campaign is trying to figure out how people can begin to engage in the kind of dialogue and discussions that we’ve just been having.”

Further reinforcements have begun pouring into the Stein camp following Sanders finally endorsing Hillary.  According to the July 13 U.S. Uncut:

“Since Tuesday morning, the Green Party has received over $80,000 in contributions, over half of which comes from first-time donors, and half of which comes in the form of contributions under $50.  Tellingly, about 615 of those contributions totaled $27, the exact number commonly trumpeted and solicited by the Sanders campaign during his revolutionary grassroots funding movement.

“’There’s been an explosion of Berners coming in through every portal of the campaign, and it’s really exciting,’ Stein told US Uncut in a phone interview.  ‘There is so much courage out there to stand up to the marching orders handed down by the usual suspects.’”

This is creating some turmoil within the Sanders campaign.  Some still cling to hopes for a lawsuit that might overturn Hillary’s lead in delegates.  Others pray that Sanders has some mysterious secret plan to win the nomination, some 11th-dimension chess move, and all this endorsing Hillary silliness is just some clever trick.  A Hillary nomination is simply too horrible for them to face.

For the record, Sanders himself has bent over backwards to avoid cultivating a “cult of personality.”  But millions of followers, experiencing a real progressive political leader for the first time in their lives, are still waiting for more marching orders.  Since we are treading unknown waters, that’s hardly surprising.

There are Democratic Party operatives, some primarily loyal to the DNC, others loyal to Sanders, but rising in the ranks of the party, who want to squelch anything outside the Democratic Party box.  They prey on that unsought “cult of personality.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H., Tuesday, July 12, 2016, after Sanders introduced her and endorsed her for president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ORG XMIT: NHAH210

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally in Portsmouth, N.H., Tuesday, July 12, 2016, after Sanders introduced her and endorsed her for president. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ORG XMIT: NHAH210

They are painfully aware, if not scared to death, of the spontaneous anger that the Hillary endorsement has engendered, the gut level “fuck the DNC” or “fuck it all” embodied in the “Never Hillary!” and “BernieOrBust!” battle cries.  So they put out pathetic dreck like this piece touted by Tampa Bay for Bernie Volunteers from the Independent Thinker that goes:

“Bernie Sanders just sent millions of poor kids to college.
Bernie Sanders just saved millions of lives. …
So why will she [Hillary] keep up her end of the bargain?
Because she is driven by ego.”
etc., etc., etc.

The campaign has lied to its own delegates, that any delegates supporting “anything other than Hillary” can be prevented from going to the convention, since Hillary is ALREADY the nominee.  Not the “presumptive nominee” but the “official nominee,” based on Sanders having conceded the race.  Which he has not done.  Per one delegate:

“If I say anything other than Hillary, you realize I can be prevented from going to the DNC … And this could be the reason that Bernie was forced to endorse prior to the convention, because now if she is the nominee officially, Bernie delegates can be stripped of their credentials for opposing the nominee.”

Then they dance around the meaning of the endorsement itself.  They mask their subtle (or not so subtle) authoritarianism by relying on the atomized social character of the Sanders movement, and on the individualized, ostensibly anti-authoritarian “do your thing” ethic inherited from the Occupy movement:

“Are you voting for Hillary?”
“None of your business!”

“Are you saying I should vote for Hillary?”
“I’m not telling anyone who to vote for.”

“Are you telling the rest of us to vote for Hillary?”
“We would be infringing on our volunteers.”

“But Bernie did endorse Hillary, and if we’re supposed to follow Bernie …”
“We fight on, the political revolution continues. It was always about US, it is up to US to make this real.”



The Sanders campaign had to move very far, very fast, to get to the strong position it holds today.  The core of the campaign was an enormous top-down phonebanking operation that generated 10’s of millions of calls.  It was very effective, but it came at a price.  What there was not time for was building more than a skeletal infrastructure.  Anything other than recruiting more and more phone bankers was anathema.  At one point, even lifting a finger for progressive candidates such as Alan Grayson or Tim Canova was denounced.  The primary relationship for volunteers was with the national operation, not with each other.

On a conference call with delegates on the day after the endorsement, Sanders stated that he plans to create “successor organizations” to elect “like-minded candidates at the local, state and federal level,” hoping to back “at least 100 candidates all across this country.”

The July 15 USA Today announced:

“In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, the Vermont senator detailed plans to launch educational and political organizations within the next few weeks to keep his progressive movement alive. The Sanders Institute will help raise awareness of ‘enormous crises’ facing Americans. The Our Revolution political organization will help recruit, train and fund progressive candidates’ campaigns. And a third political organization may play a more direct role in campaign advertising.”

Structurally, the successor organizations will be like top-heavy foundations, or specialized campaign support groups.  He does make a nod to independents:

“Sanders said he wants to make sure candidates receiving such help are, in fact, progressive. But they don’t have to be Democrats.  ‘If you have some strong independents who would like to run, it would be my inclination to support them.’”

But it will be defined once again by the Democratic Party campaign structure.  They are not set up to be mass membership organizations, and hardly democratic with a small “d.”  The responsibility of the movement in general will still be called upon to give money and make phone calls.

Get this:  a volunteer is not a member.  Volunteers have the power of “voting with their feet,” doing or not doing what is offered them by an organization.  They do not have the power to determine what is offered.  A member, on the other hand, has not only the power to withhold, but also the power to define and determine priorities, to allocate resources, to choose their representatives.  Current plans do not entail this qualitative transformation from volunteers to members, which in fact would be the true essence of democracy.

Out of order.

The current discourse is right now along the lines of “vote for Hillary or not.”  “Vote for Stein or Trump.”  Good.  That dialogue has to happen.  But what kind of “successor organizations” do we ourselves want and need?  What is to happen to the volunteer lists in each state?  What is to happen to the donor lists?  Are we to be limited to being an appendage of the Democratic Party?  Are we to jettison the independent wing of the independent movement?  Such questions are “out of order.”

Bernie has consistently made clear that revolutions are made from the bottom up, not the top down.  He has insisted that it’s not about him.  I take him at his word.  But between Bernie and the local volunteers is a legion of operatives and advisers and consultants — born and bred within the Democratic Party — for whom top-down is just how it is done.

To be blunt, we can no longer afford to wait for the word from the top.  They say “We are the change we need.”  Catchy slogan.  So let’s take it seriously.  Those of us who are turning toward Jill Stein need to start planning how we are to go about this.  Many are already giving money and signing up for the Stein campaign, working on its ballot access.  Others are joining the Green Party itself.  But for that to be effective, some level of coordination is required on our part, some issues need to be at least temporarily resolved.

06recruitJoining the Green Party or even working with the Stein campaign is not a simple matter.  They don’t have a recruiting office we can walk into like the U.S. Marines have.

First, the Green Party is in fact a federation of state parties.  Some, like the New York Party, are very effective (their gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins got 5% of the vote in 2014 against neoliberal supreme Andrew Cuomo).  Others, like in Florida, are comatose at best.  Each state party has its own rules for affiliating locals.  Its own issues.  The Green Party does not run national campaigns.

The party is ambivalent about welcoming Sanders supporters.  There is a calcified Old Guard that is comfortable with a small social club ambiance.  They are feeling very threatened right now.  Some are implacably hostile.  Sanders’ past votes on foreign policy, in their view, leave his ex-followers irredeemably tainted.  The majority of Greens, however, welcome new blood, some tentatively, others enthusiastically.  We can’t be either shocked or disheartened by the negativity of a few.

It’s called “growing pains.”  In some areas, the party is quite feeble.  At every level, having to integrate this large influx of new blood is quite daunting.

Finally, the Green Party’s sprawling platform leaves room for a diversity of practical activity.  Perspectives range from revolutionary socialist to utopian, from committed decentralist to outright anarchist, whose cure for urban poverty would be to have the poor growing backyard gardens and installing solar panels on their rundown apartment complexes.  The core politic is environmentalist, but not exclusively so.  Attitudes toward the Democratic Party range from treating it as the direct spawn of Satan to working with it as a tactical ally, especially in non-partisan local elections.  Even the purest of the pure have to work with Democrats in non-electoral issue work.

There is a strong affinity between Stein’s Economic Bill of Rights and the general Sanders platform.  The main programmatic difference between Stein and Sanders is that Stein is solidly anti-imperialist and Sanders is, to put it tactfully, much less so.

The Sanders movement has much to gain from the Green Party, including ballot status in many states, and an existing structure, at least on paper, that the Sanders movement has yet to develop outside its Phonebanking operation.  The Green Party, for its part, could be completely revitalized.  After the post-Nader collapse after 2000, the Greens are on the upswing.  Some Greens are terrified by the prospect of the spoiler label should Stein do “too well,” but younger Greens no longer consider the risk of costing the Democrats an election to be the equivalent of drowning puppies.

Presidential numbers:

2000          Ralph Nader                     2.74%
2004          David Cobb                       0.10%
2008          Cynthia McKinney           0.12%
2012          Jill Stein                             0.36%

Gaining the magical 5% of the presidential vote to gain major party status is not out of the question.  Stein is polling at least 7% and is on the upswing.  While articles like that in the July 13 Huffington Post (“Bernie Sanders Just Made Jill Stein The Most Powerful Woman In American Politics”) might be stretching things a bit, Stein is sending a sharp jolt through the American political scene.  And just as the Sanders campaign was the right campaign at the right time, so the Stein campaign is now the right campaign at the right time.

A perilous time it is.  Armed mobs in the form of Trump rallies.  Hillary Clinton seeking a head-on collision with Russia in Syria and the Ukraine.  Trumps calls for mass repression against Muslims.  Hillary plans the massive expansion of the Surveillance State that Obama and George Bush have begun.  As I have written elsewhere, there are No Safe Choices.  The Greens and the Sanders movement must come together as a single force.

08 poverty killsPhiladelphia is where it can happen, with both the Stein campaign and the Sanders movement planning to be there in strength.  They now have the opportunity to meet each other face-to-face and arm-in-arm in struggle, linked with the poor and homeless people of Philadelphia, against the bipartisan Establishment.

The Time:
3:00 p.m., July 25, 2016

The Place:
Broad Street South of City Hall, in the City of Brotherly [sic] Love

The Destination:
The Front Door of the Democratic Party National Convention

The Event:
the March for our Lives

As March for our Lives organizer Cheri Honkala states:

“The tipping point is here. The March for our Lives is more important than ever.  From the recent police murders in Louisiana and Minnesota, to wars that are sure to kill women and children all over the world.  Suffragettes who went on hunger strikes, who were arrested for us women to be able to vote, didn’t envision a first woman president like Hillary.  Please join us.  This can be the year when a third party becomes forever real in our country.”

We can Make “independent” not just another word for nothing left to sell!


1-Cautionary Tales by Jeff Roby

2-Jeff Roby on Strategy and Tactics

3-Mass Consciousness and its disconnects by Jeff Roby

4-So You Say You Want a Political Revolution by Jeff Roby

5-An Interesting Conversation on the Way Forward by Rose Roby

6-On Becoming Dependent Upon Incarceration by Rose Roby

7-There are no "Safe Choices"! by Jeff Roby

8-On This Bloody Morning After...  by Jeff Roby

9-It’s Us. Period!    by Jeff Roby 


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