The State of the Left

Reasons for participating in America's Occupy movements are as disparate as the individuals who gather at their various sites. The majority of participants consider themselves politically left of center, but they have not pledged their support en masse for any specific party. Some protesters raise objections to the very concept of organized politics. Others argue that as the demonstrations continue to gain momentum and recognition, the best form of representation is self-representation. However, it is worth noting that the Obama administration already plans to co-opt Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in the service of its own campaign. Indeed, the Democratic Party's front group's website is so saturated with #Occupy information, it almost presents itself as an official mouthpiece.

Despite White House advances toward OWS, protesters should be skeptical of the Democratic Party's willingness to foreground issues raised by Occupy movements: the corporate corruption of American politics, the impoverishment of the middle and working classes, the sub-prime mortgage crisis and foreclosures, taxpayers' bailout of bankers, Congressional brinkmanship, and unemployment. One needs only look at the President's record of empty promises: rather than a full and immediate withdrawal from Iraq, he gave us troop escalation in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay is still a functioning detention camp, and instead of taking bankers to task in the wake of the global economic meltdown, he followed George W. Bush's bailout policies and populated his administration with Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner. It's no coincidence that the financial sector bankrolled his first run for office or that it continues to contribute to his bid for re-election. If Obama is reelected, the Democratic Party will undoubtedly muffle the Left's most stridently critical voices in its ongoing strategy to occupy the right-of-center.

Where should the disaffected Left place their vote? With a third party is the obvious answer. However, the threat of "spoiling" a Democratic victory might dissuade voters from supporting political organizations that best represent their interests in order to keep Republicans out of the White House. The Republican Party represents a wide spectrum of conservative voters -- from moderates to the "teapublicans" on the far right. To a certain extent, it owes its broad appeal to its constituents' rejection of "The Great Society" public policies associated with 1960s Democrats. Indeed, the Republican Party's critique of the expansion of "big government" at the expense of individual taxpayers catalyzed its resurgence in the late 1970s despite the Watergate scandal. The Democratic Party wrestles with a fraught legacy: Medicare, Medicaid, and the Civil Rights Act are all laudable Great Society initiatives now subject to constant attack by the Right. Democratic politicians are quick to defend large-scale public programs in place since the 1960s, but they are also keen to distance themselves from the perceived economic recklessness of that era, which tainted the Carter administration and ushered in the Reagan era. The upshot is that there is now so much overlap between Democratic and Republican agendas that the issue of "spoiling" is moot. What the Occupation movements make patently clear is that its participants do not feel adequately represented by either organization. It doesn't really matter if one selects Political Party Brand X over Brand Y if they both contain the same ingredients for collusion and cronyism.

Given its strong association with the global environmentalist cause, the Green Party might not seem an obvious choice for voters concerned about domestic policies. However, its economic platform, which calls for a reform of the banking, insurance, monetary and tax systems, anti-trust enforcement, and economic sustainability should appeal to voters who are fed up with the two-party status quo, and its record of pacifism and anti-war activism will resonate with those who oppose the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of high-profile Greens, including Michael O'Neil, New York State Secretary, and candidate for Sheriff of Philadelphia Cheri Honkala, who visited OWS and spoke at Occupy DC, have aided Occupation movements around the country. A tireless defender of working-class homeowners and the homeless, Honkala is running on a "no foreclosures" platform. Greens accept no corporate contributions, and spokesperson Scott McLarty has stated that the party would "disavow" representatives tempted by corporate bribes. While the Party enjoys significant clout abroad, in the United States it's principally a grassroots organization with candidates running at every level of government. Earlier this week in Massachusetts, Dr. Jill Stein (Harvard magna cum laude, 1973; Harvard MD, 1979) launched her presidential campaign for a "Green New Deal" with America, with an end to rampant unemployment through the creation of public and green jobs as its keystone. With enough support, the Green Party might, at the very least, accomplish for the Left what the Tea Party has done for the Right by acting as an advocate for sidelined core values.