Monday, November 03, 2008

A campaign of, by and for working-class people

Monday, November 3, 2008 By: Ian Thompson Reflecting on the PSL's struggle-based, socialist campaign In January, the Party for Socialism and Liberation publicly announced its first-ever intervention in the elections. Our candidates for president and vice president were trade union leader Gloria La Riva and student activist Eugene Puryear. Before us stood enormous hurdles: convoluted state ballot access rules designed to keep independent candidates off the ballot; financial costs that we would have to meet without corporate campaign donors; and a mass media bent on keeping left-wing voices—especially revolutionary Marxists—off the airwaves. But on our side was an army of socialist organizers, allies and friends, driven by boundless energy, a willingness to struggle, and the ideas of genuine liberation: ending capitalist exploitation, racism and all forms of bigotry. We launched our campaign to provide a revolutionary voice to speak for the working class amidst the unrelenting propaganda barrage of the capitalist elections. We know that the elections are a rigged exercise under this system. But the attention of over 100 million workers, students and progressives was fixed on the elections this year. The PSL set out to offer a true alternative to the status quo. After months of hard work, the PSL secured ballot status in 12 states—more states than any other U.S. socialist organization. The PSL’s La Riva/Puryear ticket achieved ballot status in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont in the Northeast; Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana in the South; Iowa and Wisconsin in the Midwest; and Colorado, Utah and Washington state in the West. In all, the PSL’s candidates will appear on the ballot before nearly 30 percent of the U.S. electorate. Accomplishing this was no easy feat. We had to decode complex ballot access barriers in nearly every state. PSL members and allies gathered a total of 45,000 petition signatures to get on the ballot. In New York state alone, in the course of six weeks of 14-hour days, the PSL collected nearly 30,000 signatures. We recruited over 100 electors and held state conventions across the country. We fought blizzards, tornadoes and hurricanes to win ballot access. Not only did we field national candidates for president and vice president, we also had 10 additional congressional, state, and local candidates in Washington, D.C., Florida, Chicago, South Dakota and California. All ran openly as socialists and members of the PSL; all received significant local media coverage and support from progressive people. Two PSL candidates for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors received 53,000 votes combined. ‘People over profits’ Unlike the capitalist candidates, who say anything to win voter allegiance, our goal is to build a movement. The PSL is not a party of professional politicians. We are revolutionary activists, organizers and working-class leaders. Our campaign has raised the banner of socialism everywhere the PSL has been in the last year. We have championed the cause and struggles of the working class. With our guiding slogan, “People over profits,” our message has reached tens of millions of people. The mass media, along with thousands of independent outlets, blogs, and websites regularly covered the PSL’s campaign. The La Riva/Puryear campaign allowed the PSL to speak to workers in the arena normally reserved exclusively for the representatives of the capitalist class. We used the elections as a way to expose the deep contradictions of capitalism and the racism inherent in its institutions. Unlike the Democrat and Republican candidates, the PSL’s campaign spoke out for the interests of workers on every single issue. We also struggled on the streets, in forums and in debates to get our positions heard. Some of the political issues highlighted by the PSL’s campaign were creating union jobs for the unemployed, ending layoffs, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and the necessity of free, high-quality health care, housing and education for all. Our candidates organized against the epidemic of racist police brutality and killings, military-style checkpoints, and anti-gang injunctions that target oppressed youth in U.S. cities and towns. In Washington, D.C., the campaign opposed the police checkpoint and dragnet sealing off part of the primarily Black neighborhood of Trinidad. Volunteers maintained a steady presence at the checkpoints and went door-to-door to distribute flyers against the checkpoints. In Southern California, PSL candidates used their local campaigns to condemn several racist gang injunctions that targeted Black and Latino communities. They intervened in televised Town Hall forums, joined protests, and stood out as the only candidates willing to challenge the forces of repression. In New York City, the campaign collected testimony on the trend of police harassment, abuse and brutality in oppressed communities. With frequent street meetings to bring visibility to this effort, campaign volunteers tape-recorded, transcribed, videotaped, and then publicized every story of police abuse that they could find as part of a general indictment of the capitalist state. Our campaign celebrated same-sex marriage victories and marched in Pride parades for full LGBT equality now. The PSL’s candidates strongly denounced the wave of racist raids on immigrant workers, demanding legalization and equal rights for all. We fought to stop the unjust execution of Troy Davis; and we struggled for reparations for African Americans. The La Riva/Puryear campaign traveled to the Midwest when devastating floods destroyed thousands of homes. Gloria La Riva sandbagged in the Iowa trenches alongside other PSL candidates and workers to stop the rising waters. The La Riva/Puryear campaign went to Louisiana on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to show solidarity with the people still struggling for adequate housing and social services. Our campaign demanded rebuilding New Orleans for the working-class and poor; we challenged the prevailing racism aimed at its African American residents. We were in New Orleans again with grassroots organizers as Hurricane Gustav threatened further destruction. The demand for the immediate end of the criminal wars on Iraq and Afghanistan was a central pillar of our campaign. PSL candidates organized and participated in mass demonstrations on the sixth anniversary of the U.S. war of aggression against Iraq. Our campaign demanded U.S. out of the Middle East, justice for Palestinians and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and an end to U.S. imperialist aggression worldwide. The campaign demanded freedom for the heroic political prisoners Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Cuban Five. In September, Gloria La Riva and others were arrested in front of the White House in defense of the Five. We fought to get into the elitist capitalist debates and forums—and we protested outside them too. A revolutionary program As millions of workers stood to lose their homes, the La Riva/Puryear campaign resolutely demanded an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. This pressing issue will never adequately be addressed by the bourgeois politicians. Decent housing must be a right for all. When giant banks and lenders crumbled in September, Obama and McCain stumped 24/7 for the capitalist class. Their united cheer was “Bail out Wall Street bankers” and, under their breath, “Workers be damned!” Despite the mass outrage aimed at the bailout, the two main pro-corporate candidates would not be moved. Long ago, they pledged themselves to manage the affairs of the U.S. ruling class. We exposed the bailout as an unparalleled theft from workers and made concrete demands. The PSL candidates led demonstrations, speak outs, and other militant actions. “Bail out workers, not banks!” was our campaign’s rallying cry. More than anything, the PSL’s campaign championed the urgent need for socialism—the reconstruction of society in the interests of the working class. Workers have everything to gain by doing away with the outdated, repressive, exploitative, discriminatory, much-hated capitalist state. Socialism does away with private profit and reconstructs society so that people’s needs come first. Preparing for struggles ahead The close of this election season does not mean that we will abandon the issues on which we have fought so hard. The opposite is true. We did not run for office to win. Any and all votes for the PSL's candidates were pointed at the heart of capitalism, but, unlike other candidates, we do not pretend that voting in the elections is where the final showdown with capitalism will happen. We ran to facilitate the building of a multinational working-class movement for real change—revolutionary change—in the United States. Our campaign gave workers, students and oppressed people the opportunity to vote for and work with candidates from a party that is fighting for their interests. We provided an avenue of struggle for our class in an otherwise one-sided contest of millionaire vs. millionaire. Along the way, we met countless workers, families, organizers and activists who support our message; people who are sick of the way things are and want something better; people who are struggling for a different world. These new members, contacts and alliances lay the groundwork for greater coordinated action and the spread of working-class consciousness. We encourage all of you to come to our upcoming National Conference on Socialism on Dec. 6-7 in Los Angeles. Join us as members or supporters of the PSL. Our party's members will continue to be the most dedicated fighters on every issue that affects our class. The 2008 presidential campaign may be over, but important tasks lie ahead. We will continue to struggle until the working class is victorious.

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