I have violated my life-long political and moral principle: Never vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate for President. I haven’t done so since my first election after turning 18 when I voted for Democratic candidate George McGovern in 1972. Since then I’ve cast my ballot each election for the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). That is, until now. This time I held my nose and voted for Joe Biden — definitely an evil, but hopefully the lesser one.
My liberal and conservative friends alike are probably asking, “Why have you thrown away your vote all these years? You knew your candidate wouldn’t win.”
My socialist and communist friends are probably asking more bluntly, “WTF! Why?”
“I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than for what I don’t want and get it.”
Eugene V. Debs
Why I Vote Socialist.
1. Capitalism Fouls Things Up
I became active in politics early in my youth. In high school I organized students in opposition to the Vietnam War. I helped set up and run a community food co-op and a monthly community recycling drive. I also volunteered regularly with the United Farm Workers (UFW) in its fight to win a contract for migrant farmworkers with better pay and working conditions. Locally we helped build the nationwide boycott against non-union grapes, lettuce and Gallo Wine. I later briefly joined the union’s paid staff before starting college.
I read quite a lot those days and thought about politics. I thought about the war and injustice in its many forms, and kept asking “Why?” What is driving these problems in the first place and why do they persist? None of the things going on in the 70s — war, poverty, racism — were new. Politicians of both parties had been promising for years to end them, but still they continued decade after decade.
As I assessed things it just seemed to me there was more going on than met the eye, more than what people were talking about. At some point around 1973 I concluded that the system itself is the problem. Racism, poverty, pollution, war and the rest persist because there are people who have a vested interest in things being this way. As an example, racism and poverty serve to keep wages suppressed which is good for profits. Racism serves to keep people divided and fighting amongst themselves rather than against the people perpetuating their misery.
I concluded that capitalism is the root cause of virtually all problems in society. With personal profit being its prime goal, capitalism is a system that requires inequality to function. There can’t be financial winners if there aren’t financial losers. Profit requires that wages be kept as low as possible, which in turn requires an ever-present threat that others worse off will get your job if you rock the boat. To help guarantee an adequate supply of losers in this system, certain groups are assigned that position including Blacks and other racial minorities, women and immigrants. Forces are in perpetual motion so there are continually gains and loses along the way, but the fundamental arrangement remains — and will so long as capitalism exists.
Upon seeing this, I became a socialist. I didn’t know much initially and the description above is a very simplistic overview. There are books running thousands of pages covering economic theory, social and labor history, political strategy and more. I learned over time.
2. My Break with the Democratic Party
I turned 18 in time to vote in the 1972 Presidential Election. I cast my ballot for the Democrat George McGovern after having taken a leave from work to volunteer full time with the campaign. McGovern opposed the war and supported the farmworkers among other things. He was regarded as the most “radical” of the Democratic field that year, which was precisely what I wanted.
A few months after the ’72 election McGovern came out in opposition to the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM). He called upon Attorney General Elliott Richardson to mobilize Federal forces to remove the indians, two of which had been killed. I was appalled and furious! To me this was an inexcusable betrayal by the man I saw as a champion of the oppressed.
McGovern’s action propelled my critical thinking about the two parties and system they serve. Along with my conclusions about capitalism it became obvious that the Democratic and Republican parties are incapable of creating real and meaningful change — indeed they are obstacles to change. The two parties are an intricate and inseparable component of the system. Posing as “good cop, bad cop” they serve to syphon off and neutralize political dissent, diverting it in directions that won’t threaten wealth and power.
So why vote for them? I broke with the Democratic Party and from that day forward, until this year, I have voted only for the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party. You can read about the SWP and its work in The Militant, a newsweekly.
3. A Vote for What You Believe is Not a Wasted Vote
It’s commonly thought that voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. It’s said that one is throwing away their vote if cast for a candidate absolutely guaranteed to lose. I’ve never seen it that way. In the words of Eugene V. Debs who ran five times as the Socialist Party candidate for President a century ago, “I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than for what I don’t want and get it.”
In 1976 I supported SWP candidate Peter Camejo against Jimmy Carter, and was able to meet Camejo at Kent State University where by that time I was active in the Young Socialist Alliance (YSA), a youth organization that supported the program and work of the SWP.
I’ll get to my Biden vote in a minute, but this year my true support remains with the SWP whose 2020 candidates are Alyson Kennedy for President and Malcolm Jarrett for Vice President. Their platform states, “The Socialist Workers Party presents a fighting working-class program. We need to organize to fight growing employer attacks on our jobs, wages and working conditions.”
The full 2020 SWP Campaign Platform is available online but these a few highlights:
- Create Millions of Jobs. “Our unions need to fight for a federal government-financed public works program to put millions to work at union-scale wages building hospitals, schools, housing, mass transportation and much more that workers need. Fight for a sliding scale of hours and wages to stop layoffs and the effects of runaway prices. Cut the workweek with no cut in pay! For cost-of-living clauses in every contract that raise pay and retirement benefits to offset every rise in prices! … Demand immediate national government unemployment benefits at union scale for all those thrown out of work as long as they need it.”
- Workers Need Their Own Party, A Labor Party. “For our unions to lead a class break from the parties of the bosses, the Democrats and Republicans. A labor party can organize workers in our millions to fight in our own interest and in the interests of all those exploited and oppressed by capital. It can chart a course to take political power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers and establish a workers and farmers government.”
- Workers Control of Production. “Workers need to fight to wrest control of production out of the hands of the bosses. Employers care about profits, not the dangerous conditions we’re forced to work under. This is the only road to take control of and enforce safety and health on the job. Demand the bosses open their books for inspection by workers and consumers. Workers control of production is a school for learning to run the economy ourselves, in the interests of all producers, a crucial step alongside building a labor party to fight to take political power.”
- Amnesty for All Undocumented Workers.
- For Recognition of Israel and of a Contiguous Palestinian State.
- Fight Police Brutality.
- Health Care for All. “Fight for universal, government-guaranteed cradle-to-grave health care, and retirement income for all.”
- Women’s Right to Abortion. “Defend women’s right to unrestricted access to family planning services, including the right to safe, se- cure abortions.”
- Defend Political Rights. “Defend the right to vote, to free speech and assembly and to bear arms, under attack from Democrats and Republicans alike. Defend freedom of worship. Stop FBI and other government spying, harassment and disruption. No to reactionary ‘cancel culture’ and efforts to shut up people by public lynching through social media.”
Back in August Alyson Kennedy did an interview at KGMI News Talk Radio in Bellingham, Washington, and took listener questions. Have a listen.
I have differences here and there with the SWP, but I believe in the program outlined above — which is definitely not what Biden is running on. There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s so-called “socialist” agenda. I guarantee you, Biden is no socialist and he’s no communist. Nor is the Democratic Party’s left-most wing. Far from it!
OK… Then Why Did I Vote for Biden?
After all I’ve said here, what possessed me after 45 years to violate my principles and vote for Joe Biden? In a word: pandemic.
To me this is a unique once-in-a-lifetime period. I regard the pandemic as a clear and present danger with over 230,000 dead so far and potentially hundreds of thousands more to come. Immediate, responsible and sane action is imperative! I see no hope for this under Trump. His handling of the crisis can only be described as criminal negligence and willful obstruction. If the pandemic was a burning building, Trump would shut off the fire alarm complaining about the noise and tell us to stay put.
Trump has undermined science and medicine to an extent I’m not sure the situation can be salvaged, but to continue along this current path will surely be catastrophic. Even if Trump loses, Biden won’t take office for almost three months. If predictions bear out, we’ll be deep into a “dark winter” by January 20. That much can’t be avoided. To quote Trump himself, “It is what it is.”
A Total Gamble
It’s no secret that Trump has gotten under my skin like no other politician ever has. I find the man’s conduct vile and repugnant. He affects me like fingernails on a chalkboard where I sometimes can’t contain myself. Racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and misogyny are nothing new. What’s different about Trump as President is his openness and transparency. As bad as he is, though, absent the pandemic I would have voted for Kennedy and Jarrett.
This was not an easy decision. It feels like my own personal McGovern/Wounded Knee moment, but I’ll have to live with it. This post is probably an effort to assuage my conscience. There will be more to follow as I intend to discuss politics here and on Facebook and Twitter a lot more pointedly.
This decision is a total gamble. I have no faith or confidence whatsoever in Biden on virtually anything, or in Kamala Harris, or in the Democratic Party. I’m just hoping against hope at minimum for a better response to COVID-19.
Right or wrong I’ve made my choice. I pledge — to myself most of all — that I will never again cast another vote for any bourgeois party or candidate. I’ve given the Democrats their one freebie.
That’s it. I’m going to take a shower now.
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