by Keaton Weiss
Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Brana, founder and national director for the Movement for a People’s Party. Anticipating a possible repeat of the 2016 primary in which Bernie Sanders would be denied the nomination by a combination of Democratic Party chicanery and Democratic voter vapidity, I asked him how he thought his organization should approach the question of how progressives ought to vote in the general election, assuming someone like Joe Biden would be the nominee.
“I would say, stay out of it.” He said, “Encourage people to vote [for] whomever they want. . .we’re not going to take a position on that. We’re not going to fracture this coalition. What we do agree on is that we need a major new party in the immediate aftermath.”
His answer struck me as a wise one at the time, and it still does. Nonetheless, this banal and counterproductive debate over who to vote for in 2020 is still dominating online Left circles.
Many Leftists, myself included, feel a vote for Biden would grant undeserved legitimacy to a Democratic Party that openly despises us and rigs its primaries against our candidates. We will therefore withhold our vote from him in the fall. Joe Biden, after all, is the frontman for this callous and corrupt political machine that harbors such contempt for progressives that its paramount goal this campaign season was to crush the Bernie Sanders movement, whose core demand was something as modest as the de-commodification of health insurance in the world’s richest country. Even now, amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic, the DNC platform committee just voted 125-36 against Medicare for All, despite its overwhelming nationwide popularity. Given that their first priority was to destroy the leftmost candidate in the field and vanquish his coalition back to the fringes of the political landscape where they were once relegated, many Leftists are simply unmovable in our aversion to supporting the Democratic ticket.
Others, however, feel that in spite of their nearly identical critique of Biden and the Democrats, they simply must vote for him in order to prevent another disastrous Trump term, which, this time, would begin during a once-in-a-century crisis that he has proven woefully ill-equipped to handle. To be clear, these are not the comfortable upper-middle class #resistance suburbanites who opposed Sanders from the start, or the mindless Blue MAGA Twitter drones who delude themselves with nonsense about how Joe Biden is the solution to all of our problems. Nor are they the asinine “Settle For Biden” sheepdogs whose facetious tongue in cheek social media campaign is an unfunny and off-putting resignation to indefinite lesser-evilism. The Leftists I speak of are not blinded by privilege, brainwashed by corporate media, or ready to “settle” for anything; they share our contempt for the Democratic establishment, our disgust at how this election has turned out, and our eagerness to take to the streets to demand meaningful change. They differ from us only in that they feel too cornered in this particular election cycle to do anything but pull the lever for Joe Biden in November.
Once again, I am not neutral on this issue; I don’t plan to vote for Joe Biden. In a safe blue state like New York, this decision took all of half a second to arrive at. But whatever your opinion and wherever you live, it would behoove all of us on the Left to respect each others’ voting preferences. We don’t like it when centrist Democrats vote-shame us into supporting their candidates, and so why should we push each other around in the same way? Progressives should instead be willing to agree to disagree with each other on the question of how to vote in 2020, so long as we share a larger understanding of how to move forward as a movement up to and after November 3rd, no matter who wins on that day.
Remember, in the grand scheme of things, the act of voting itself requires almost no effort, and makes up a minuscule percentage of what it actually means to be an engaged citizen. If you’re reading this, your interest in current affairs is no doubt such that your contribution to political discourse extends far beyond the few seconds it takes to check a box on a ballot. Therefore, your vote, contrary to prevailing media narratives, is actually an extremely limited expression of your political power as an individual. Far more significant than how you vote is how you exercise that power between election cycles.
And so in the 2020 election, where there simply is no good candidate to vote for, to be overly precious about your selection is particularly misguided, in that it only serves to divide the progressive coalition. Such fragmentation would be especially unfortunate right now, as the George Floyd protests are proving every day how effective a united Left movement can be outside the realm of electoral politics.
Even with the election having gone sideways, a bright ray of hope has appeared in the form of the resurgent and revitalized Black Lives Matter movement, which is forcefully and successfully protesting for racial and economic justice in cities large and small throughout the United States. Not only has public opinion shifted dramatically in support of BLM, but city councils across the country are accommodating their demands by defunding their police departments. Anyone who supports this direct action campaign and other social justice movements like it, regardless of who they vote for on November 3rd, should be welcome in our coalition, and encouraged to fight alongside us where it matters most. We lost the big prize at the ballot box, but the progressive movement is undoubtedly winning in the streets, where mass politics has always been most potent.
At this paradoxical time in which a groundswell of inspiring activism is flourishing against the backdrop of an utterly hopeless election season, picking our battles is especially important. Do we jeopardize the cohesiveness of our movement by sniping at each other over how to vote, or do we set such differences aside and unite behind our winning strategy of mass politics and direct action? To me, it’s a no-brainer; if you’re willing to join the grassroots struggle for justice, equality, and universal human dignity, and you understand that this fight must be escalated in the coming years regardless of who wins this farce of an election, then you’re good in my book. To be inflexible on the issue of voting Blue, or Green, or not at all, is, as Nick would put it, to unnecessarily “fracture our coalition.” It’s throwing good money at bad money, and driving a wedge through a movement that now, more than ever, needs to multiply its forces, not divide them.
None of this is to say that it doesn’t matter who wins in November; it’s simply to say that regardless of who wins the election, we’re going to need a powerhouse progressive movement that’s ready to rumble in its wake, and that keeping such a movement united will require some flexibility on our part on the issue of how our fellow comrades decide to vote. The devil’s advocate argument for the Democrats is that, as much as they share the Republicans’ indifference, if not outright contempt, towards poor and working class people, they at least seem to want the system to function; they want the trains to run on time. Republicans, on the other hand, have more of an overt death drive. Their leadership seems perfectly willing to sacrifice humanity at the alter of Reaganite austerity and bootstrap economics; they’re literally saying, in public, that seniors should be willing to die to save the market. Plus, much of their base has been preparing for a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak since the publication of The Turner Diaries; they’re heavily armed, they’ve got plenty of canned food, and enough barbed wire to circle the perimeters of their property lines. Their response to an apocalyptic pandemic-induced Depression is more in the vein of “Bring it on, motherfucker.” The Republicans are less inclined to blink first in a showdown with a mass uprising, because their ideological commitment to rugged individualism is so strong that they might simply let society crash and burn before succumbing to the necessity for government intervention.
Cosmopolitan liberals, by contrast, need bartenders to pour their Pinot, drivers to chauffeur them around, and maids to clean their townhouses and summer homes. For this reason, they’re much more likely to cave to the demands of, say, a general strike, or other disruptive protest movements that cause widespread societal disturbance. So just as I am not neutral on the question of how to vote (again, I’m not voting for Biden), I’m also not completely neutral on the question of who I would rather see in the White House come January, 2021. The composition of the Democratic Party is such that it’s more likely to cower in the face of a popular uprising and cave to its demands, making it the ever-so-slightly more attractive piñata for us to ruthlessly bludgeon over the next four years until they do just that.
But here’s the rub: without the popular uprising, we’re fucked either way. Therefore, our first priority right now should be to hold together our coalition through the final months of this campaign, and be ready to raise hell in its immediate aftermath.
For all of these reasons, I would like to see the infighting amongst progressives about peoples’ personal voting preferences dissipate. It’s pointless at best, given that an individual vote simply doesn’t matter as much as most people think it does; it’s 1 in 130 million. At worst, it’s destructive, in that neoliberal hegemony (of the Democratic and Republican variety) is ultimately the main beneficiary of a fractured Left.
So if you’re still wrestling with the pedantic question of how to vote in this embarrassment of an election, here’s my advice: stop worrying about it, and stop fighting over it. Vote however you feel you must, and allow others the space to do the same. This election will be over in less than three months, at which point, we’re going to need a robust and battle-ready progressive movement that’s strong enough to fight like hell, no matter who wins.
Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP