Where From Here:
An Activist Forum on Post-Election Directions

Dik Cool

The Bush/Cheney regime’s November 2 victory will be trumpeted for the next four years as a “mandate” served up by the evangelical right. While this perspective has some accuracy, and is certainly scary, it is far from the biggest story. Think about it. A northern, liberal senator was running against an incumbent, wartime president just three short years after 9/11. It is an astounding TRIBUTE to millions of progressives that the margin was so thin.

In 1972 during the Viet Nam War, George McGovern (a liberal midwestern senator) got 17 electoral votes. Seventeen! In 1968 Hubert Humphrey (a northern liberal) got 191. In 1980 Jimmy Carter (a southern liberal) got 49 against Reagan and in 1984 Mondale (a northern liberal) got 13 against Reagan. Thirteen! Finally, in 1988 Dukakis got 111 against Bush I. So, as usual, we have to see through the conventional analysis to what really happened.

A large turnout of about 120 million didn’t guarantee success because the right turned out slightly more folks. But without the heroic efforts of millions of progressives to “take back America,” it would have been a slaughter. Unfortunately, the Democrats prioritized establishing Kerry’s Commander-in-Chief abilities rather than fervently addressing Bush/Cheney’s broad range of policies that hurt almost everyone and border on fascism.

I saw a new, formidable alliance of peace, labor, environmental, lesbian/gay, African American, Latina/o, youth, educators work together, with some tentativeness, but with increasing trust as the weeks rolled on. It is this alliance that we must preserve and build on as the underpinning for progressive change over the long haul.

Our first program priority must be ending this horrible, immoral war against the Iraqis. In doing so we should emphasize US and Iraqi dead and wounded and we must reach out to any and all US soldiers questioning the war. Linking with military families (there are at least two organizations) is also crucial. If we let the right claim the “support our troops” ground we have lost a powerful ally for ending the war and combatting US militarism.

At the same time we must show concretely who US empire building (and corporate globalization) hurts most – (everyday people here and around the world) and who is helped – (the rich and powerful). So let’s get to it – time’s a wastin!!!

Dik is the director of Syracuse Cultural Workers, a former SPC Staffperson and current member of the Peace Council Steering Committee.


Jessica Azulay and Brian Dominick

We all know what is coming.

The last four years have seen continued losses for working people. Millions of individuals and families are worse off than they were four years ago and it’s only going to get uglier. We can expect an enlarged health care crisis, more job losses and more poverty.With control of the Supreme Court, Republicans will almost certainly install justices in the coming years who will reverse Roe v. Wade, effectively denying women the option of a safe abortion in the US.
Everything from food and health care to heat for our homes and transportation to and from work is at risk for millions who have not already had these necessities stolen from them.

The creation of alternative institutions that provide for people’s basic needs is no longer a strategic option we can overlook in favor of taking the electoral route or merely protesting in the streets. Out of necessity, a significant number of us will have no choice but to seek alternatives to the current economy and other social infrastructure that will become inaccessible in the coming years. And we will need the help of those who are more privileged if we hope to obtain for ourselves any semblance of the services we are sure to lose.

If we meet these needs in an organized and determined fashion we will all have a better chance of surviving this chapter of our country’s history. We will also be closer to the position we need to hold anyway if we wish to make radical social change in the future.

When a movement is down as badly as ours is, reaching for small, achievable victories is the only sensible short-term goal. Lest we grow sullen over the prospect of another four years of losses, we’d best organize for some attainable gains that make people’s lives better. And that can rally us for success while showing the rest of the country (and the world) that we have not evaporated.

Jessica and Brian are long-time activists and co-founders of The NewStandard <newstandardnews.net>. Their full article can be found at <www.tools4change.org/uts>.

Jessica Maxwell

Did the largest block of eligible US voters in 2004 choose: a) Bush, b) Kerry or c) Nader?

The resounding answer is “none of the above.” The divide in the US is not a two-way split between Bush and Kerry, conservatives and liberals. Eligible voters were primarily split along three lines: those who voted for Bush (a little over 30%), those who voted for Kerry (about 30%) and those who did not vote (about 40%).

Electoral democracy in the US is fundamentally flawed. Much of the US population is disenfranchised and disenchanted – and has been for decades. Those who vote are disproportionately whiter and wealthier than the typical person in the US.

As organizers we must work on two fronts simultaneously as we continue the fight for justice.

First, we must incorporate electoral reform and independent electoral politics into our work in a way that complements our organizing efforts. They shouldn’t replace our issue-based organizing work – the two should support each other. If we truly intend to have an impact, this work must be ongoing, not a disjointed effort for a few months every four years. Our electoral work should not be centered on the personalities of individual candidates, but rather focus on issues and process. It should include demanding proportional representation and instant runoff voting. Such policies would allow third parties to participate meaningfully, opening up space for a wider range of candidates and issues as well as encouraging higher voter participation. We also must demand verifiable paper ballots from every voting machine.

Second, we must identify key local issues for improving our communities and the lives of those who are most disenfranchised under the current system. We should: 1) oppose existing policies that are hurting people (such as the Rockefeller Drug Laws), 2) support progressive reforms (such as instituting a living wage) and 3) build independent, democratic institutions (like the Ithaca Health Fund, a grassroots community healthcare program in Ithaca) that address real needs without becoming disempowering charities.

The way we structure our organizations and carry out this work must allow for direct democratic participation. We must be ready to use some of our time and resources to support the struggles of those we consider allies. Ultimately, if we are to grow as a movement, we need to show that we can create tangible improvements in people’s lives...and that we can win.

Jessica is a Peace Council staffperson and member of the Bread and Roses Collective House.

Tim Judson

“If we don’t do something real soon…we’re going to be forced either to use the ballot or the bullet. It’s one or the other in 1964. It isn’t that time is running out — time has run out!”
– Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet”

This year’s election raises many unsettling truths about our country and what is required to change it. Whether or not it turns out that there was enough suppression, disenfranchisement, and fraud in the vote-counting to change the outcome, we need to look seriously at how the right wing rose to power in this country.

It’s not just that they have vast sums of money and that corporations are able to buy cooperation from politicians and the media. It has to be much more than that because millions of ordinary people chose to vote for the greater, not the lesser, of two evils.

Confronted with the mass movements of the 1950s-70s, the right wing reinvented itself. It developed a decades-long strategy to seize power from local to national levels. But it began at the grassroots, creating constituencies and developing rhetoric and platforms those constituencies could buy into. Racism plays a central role.

We should take a lesson from the right wing. Grassroots groups need to put national politics on the back burner for now. Those echelons of power are either out of our grasp at the moment or are a distraction from the work essential to changing this country. We need to begin exercising power at the local level. We need to show, through results on the local level, that “progressive” policies are better for our communities and society than the far-right agenda. That could start breaking down ideological barriers.

Most of us are uncomfortable with the necessity of compromise in our failing political system. But in order to change the course of history, we must find ways to exercise power effectively across the spectrum of our society – from elected positions to the streets.

need to build a society that doesn’t just promise a vital, dignified, and meaningful life for every person – but makes good on that promise. These ideals and values are central to our country’s well being and sense of identity. It will take a long time, but there is no quick fix to this situation. This is our challenge in the next generation.

Tim is a former SPC staffperson and a member of the Citizens Awareness Network.

Frank Woolever

With more than a tinge of sadness, we removed our BUSH MUST GO! sign along with the front yard leaves on the weekend after the election. Throughout the campaign our sign stated the initial rational: Human Need Not Corporate Greed. Our neighbor continues to post on his sign: Protect the Earth. Our street may have held the record for these signs, with several variations of the main theme. All expressed a moral value!

That “moral values” of a particular kind ranked higher in the exit polls than the war in Iraq, the increasing polarization between the rich and poor, the environment, healthcare, the economy, or the way our country misuses the earth’s resources…. That was the surprise on November 2. That all of these issues are not considered as important as other “moral values” comes as a genuine shock to folks who don’t tune into “religious” radio or TV.

Our spirit is heavy realizing that many “progressive” folks have failed to raise human rights issues to a moral plane, at least in the view of many of our neighbors.

Martin Luther King made the case for civil rights as a moral issue. “Let justice roll!” was the movement’s rally cry that touched the soul of the nation. King trumpeted the moral dimension of that issue. That is exactly what many religious “leaders” have done recently in focusing their opposition on a select few issues like abortion, gun control and gay marriage. They have claimed the moral high ground, and received few challenges to their narrow definition of morality or values.

What can we learn from this loss? One lesson could be that we may not all agree on the moral rectitude of each and every issue. However that should not deter anyone from recognizing and appreciating their own set of moral values and those of others, whether they flow from the same or different religious or cultural roots than our own. We need to show forth a broad justice and peace tent, where individuals from different faith traditions or no faith tradition feel equally welcome to express their beliefs.

The Republican Party is now claiming that they have the big tent. While we may disagree, we know there are some painful lessons to learn from this election. Certainly, more openness to the deep beliefs of others is worth considering.

Frank is a longtime activist who works with Pax Christi and serves on the Peace Council Advisory Committee.

Horace Campbell

Now more than ever those who take peace seriously must break from the tradition of racial genocide. The idea of a liberal democracy was fraudulent from the start. The Electoral College was built on the backs of the enslaved Africans who produced wealth for the plantocracy. Tom Paine wanted a firm break with such “democracy,” but Jefferson’s democracy for a few won the day. The liberal conception of progress accepted the genocide of the First Nation Peoples as an unfortunate aspect of building a democratic state in the US. This “collateral damage” runs through the history of slavery, genocide, Jim Crow and other forms of physical and cultural genocide.

There had to be a Civil War before African Americans gained the right to vote. Even then, KKK counter-revolutionary violence rolled back the gains of the freed slaves. The society, then and now, did not seriously engage the issues of Reparations and Reconstruction.

The historical amnesia has to be repaired. Issues of racism and genocide will not be dealt with by the ruling class. As the film, Fahrenheit 9/11, graphically showed, the Democratic Party and Al Gore proved this in 2000. The peace movement must be proactive to expose the disenfranchisement that took place again this year. In 2004, John Kerry again exposed the limitations of a liberal elite who don’t oppose the armaments culture and the militarized management of the global economy. For this reason, Kerry was unable to challenge the widespread fraud. Fallujah and the 100,000 dead in Iraq show that we are all complicit in the killing of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Colombia and other parts of the world where the imperial forces seek to impose their power. The peace movement must work to make itself a diverse movement within all communities — Latino, Asian, Black, White, Immigrant, Islamic, Jewish and Christian.

We have to see counter-revolution for what it is and confront it at all levels —tax cuts for the rich and exploiting the poor, struggles over the rights of women and gay/lesbian people, the mass incarceration of Black youth in the prison-industrial complex and the loss of civil liberties in the Patriot Acts. These are interrelated, not separate, issues.

Because of the links between war, the economy, racism and genocide, the peace movement cannot continue to be atomized. The peace movement must redefine and re-energize its base. Bush and the conservatives have thrown down the gauntlet. Are we equal to the task?

Horace is a local peace activist and teacher.

Liz Stacey

Some progressive activists say it with a sneer: “Moral issues.” We wonder how millions of Republican voters could cite morality in the exit polls while the current administration wages an unjust war. Another sneer: “Christian right-wing.” How can people say they follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and support new nuclear weapons? I think it’s time we take the disdain out of our voices and start listening to what voters in this country stated this Nov. 2: moral issues matter, and so does religion.

Many young activists I know describe themselves as atheists or “spiritual but not religious.” We often distrust religion, seeing it as a harsh authority without scientific basis. Yet for millions in this country, churches foster stability, community, and most of all, morals. “But it’s wrong,” we say as activists — be careful, the sarcastic sneer might sneak in again — “for people to be guided to a voting machine by their pastor like so many sheep.” Yet perhaps Americans, desperate for guidance in an unsafe world, have latched on to the best tool an activist could hope for. Traditionally, organizers educate people about the issues, but fall short because education relies on rationality to inspire people. Alternatively, we need to inspire people with the emotional, moral issues of peace, freedom and justice.

We must take back religion. We cannot shy away from it in a misguided politically correct attempt to dismiss its importance. Over the past year I’ve met and worked with many peace-preaching bishops, reverends, cantors, and other religious leaders. These men and women prove that religion can be a powerful progressive force. A great example of this is the School of the Americas campaign, a vigorous effort to meld progressive politics and religious morality. It’s not just Christians that we need to reach; I’m Jewish, and I want to attend my synagogue without feeling ashamed of Israel’s violent acts.

Some branches of Christianity preach that we will see the “End of Days” in our lifetimes. They even say that a nuclear holocaust represents such an end and that the use of nuclear weapons is “moral.” This is not my morality or that of the Christian peace activists I know. We as activists must reach out to religious leaders, and through them to their congregations, working with them to reestablish peace as a foundation of morality.

Liz is a staffperson for Peace Action of Central New York.

Rick Martin

In the US, voting based on “fear of other” has a long tradition as a conservative tactic. The strategy used by the right wing has been to organize and flood rural/suburban US society with conservative mythology delivered through a wide range of outlets. Religiosity has been a major conduit for these myths, but its effect has been multiplied by think tanks, talk radio/TV, civic groups, special interest groups, etc. Most US Americans have been conditioned to think in very narrow terms. They’re less than concerned with the fates of the 95% of people outside our borders, and they don’t understand that US actions can cause reasonable and predictable anti-US responses abroad.

If we hope to turn the US around, we need to work for much of the next 40 years, building structures which will not so much run candidates in campaigns as shift the vocabulary in which those campaigns will be conducted. So long as financially depleting the commonwealth is understood as “tax relief,” we can’t win. But debate the same issue in terms of “common sense budgeting,” or “responsible government,” or even cost/benefit ratios and we’ve got a real chance.

All the various grass roots organizations which came together to support the Kerry campaign can provide a jumping-off point for this sort of effort. But, to be truly effective in fewer than four decades, we’ll need liberal Christianity to step up to the plate.

The right got pasted far worse in 1964 than the left did in 2004. The right turned defeat into inspiration, and has been on a roll for years. But their strength is based on a very narrow (and largely un-Christian) definition of “moral values” and so is inherently brittle. Much of their support in this election came from people who, often unknowingly, disagreed with the positions they voted for.

Ignorance, or a little learning, works in favor of the right. Information and honest discussion will work in favor of the left. But for that to happen, we need to step back, take a look at what’s really going on in US society, and make a long-term commitment to affecting the cultural changes required for this country to become a responsible participant in the world.

Maybe the Democratic party can purge itself of the Democratic National Committee and other “Bush lite” triangulators, and return to its liberal/labor/Jeffersonian roots. If not, maybe it’s time for a real Labor party in the US (we seem to be the only industrial country without one). But the real solution lies not in parties and individual candidates. The real solution lies in subtly and continually changing the vocabulary of US culture.

Rick Martin lives in Madison County.