Cautionary Tales

Jeff and Rose Roby are long time activists who have frequently sacrificed their own comfort for a cause. Both have had experiences in the Democratic Party and the Green Party which are very similar to many of our experiences at the New Progressive Alliance – only the details change of Democratic Party betrayal and Old Guard Greens whose motto is, “But we’ve always done it this way…”  It is wise to consider these almost universal experiences before proceeding forward.

Under references at the end there is a link to another fine article by Jeff Roby as well as a fine related article by Sondra Miller.

We hope you visit Jeff and Rose Roby at the Saint Petersburg Independents.

In "Sir Isaac Newton and the Democratic Party" Jeff writes the following.

A cautionary tale.

Let me tell a small story to hopefully illuminate without playing the definition game:

In the 70’s, I was living in San Francisco. Municipal elections and ballot initiatives were formally non-partisan. And in 1978, rent control was a hot issue. Some tenant activists from the San Francisco Tenants Union and the Renters Alliance wanted to do a ballot initiative. The political experts patiently explained that such was impossible by the looming filing deadline. We silly tenant activists plunged ahead and got the needed signatures in about two weeks, Prop U, it became. On election day, it lost narrowly.

The experts chided us that we failed because we didn’t have a proper “broad-based coalition,” specifically, one that they were in charge of. So in 1979 we became part of the Monster Coalition, aka San Franciscans for Affordable Housing, with the experts grouping consisting mainly of their various organizations’ staff members. I was District 6 coordinator (Mission District). I was also a member of Tom Hayden’s California Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED).

We had long and bitter fights over how strong the initiative should be. During that brouhaha, the head CED operative in San Francisco took me aside and asked me to be CED’s liaison to the tenant movement, a nice little plum. But I recognized that I was being maneuvered into the position of becoming the Democratic Party’s hatchet man. I turned it down, and soon left CED.

The Revolution Betrayed.

Anyway, we fought it out. We were told that we had to water down what became Prop R. In exchange, we would get money and volunteers from organized labor, specifically Longshoreman’s Local 6 (Harry Bridges’ old union, for you scholars out there) And Local 2 of the Hotel workers. And we had to weaken the measure to get the support of the Chinese-American Democratic Club (CADC). The Democratic Party powerful prevailed. Prop R lost badly. The unions didn’t come through. CADC refused to endorse the very measure which had been weakened in their name.

The survivors of the tenants’ movement devolved into clutching the tender bosom of the Democratic Party. I went on to join Barry Commoner’s Citizens Party.

Here’s the point. The decisions I made in that period did not make me an independent. Rather, I made some independent decisions. After the smoke cleared away, my colleagues in that fight made some non-independent decisions, or more precisely failed to make independent decisions.

A Democrat under every bush.

Yes, Virginia, there is.  For good and evil, let us substitute independent and “corporate duopoly” istic, or something like that. The practical point is that one can make independent choices, anti-corporate choices, within the Democratic Party, or within the gravitational pull of the Democratic Party, regardless of whether that puts one on the edge of the slippery slope to hell. We are all on the edge of the slippery slope to hell. Rather than suspecting that there is a Democrat under every bush, they should just know that there is of course a Democrat under every bush. Being an independent party, or being a member of an independent party, does not automatically enlist one in the ranks of the truly independent.

Consider the support within the Green Party for variations of the “safe states” strategy, i.e., not running in races where there is a chance of actually costing the Democratic Party candidate an election, 2000 Nader vs. Gore constituting “original sin.” Consider how the Working Families Party is merely the satellite of the Democratic Party.

 

    (As Jeff implied above, working with the Green Party – or any other third party – does not mean you are automatically safe “in the arms of the angels.” Below is his description of working within the Green Party. See also references 6 and 7 for further details.)

 But the Greens are Safe. Right?

Here is the longer-term problem with the Green Party, beyond what I have articulated about my working with Sanders in hopes of creating something independent and possibly Green.

In working with the Green Party here in Florida, I had had hopes of turning it into something progressive, something serious. A couple of times I had made serious progress, once becoming both party secretary and managing editor of the GPFL website, having achieved such prominence by allying with what I considered the decent centrist forces. But when Rose and I were becoming “too powerful,” we were attacked by the right-wing forces, and our centrist “friends” supported the right in cutting us down to size. Happened twice.

To put it simply, the Old Guard was quite willing to let us work our asses off, but should we become a serious “threat” of changing the generally comatose character of the party, then we were ganged up on rather viciously. The last time around, we could have ridden it out, let the Old Guard collapse from their fundamental impotence, and made a comeback. But that comeback would have met the same fate. So we fought back, and fought back hard (I assume you read the two pieces I wrote, “This is what fascism feels like” and “now it’s a purge.”) For doing so, we were purged, me within 24 hours and Rose within 48. We publicized this scandal to the best of our ability, and focused our energies on the $15 minimum wage. We deliberately burned that bridge, in part because the “good people” in the party commiserated with us, but did not put their asses on the line in our defense.

That gave me a take on whether progressive forces within the party would ever get their shit together. The answer was not encouraging.

Now I see a similar dynamic taking place with the GP nationally. The left is not coherent, does not have a coordinated plan for either “taking over the party,” “building a working bloc within the party,” or “making a clean split from the party.” My assessment is that the best bet would be a large infusion of Sanders troops into the Green Party, transforming it into a party of radical, fighting liberalism. Which would be far superior to backyard gardening as a revolutionary strategy. For the Old Guard of the Green Party, it is much easier to hang on to a dysfunctional status quo than take the risk of creating something new.

 

References:

1-St. Petersburg Independents Facebook Page

2-Saint Petersburg Independents Website  
3-Sir Isaac Newton and the Democratic Party 

4-Mass Consciousness and its disconnects

5-Organizing? What Organizing?!?

6-This is What Fascism Feels Like

7-Now It's a Purge!

8-Jeff Roby on Strategy and Tactics 

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