The most important issue this presidential election? It’s not a single “issue” at all

In the streets of Manhattan, during a weekend in late September, the faces of steel and concrete behemoths staring down at me, I quickly weaved my way through stopped cars.  I moved with several thousand others.  A collective elation filled the air, surrounding us as we sped forward.  Cars honked in support, cab drivers flashed peace signs.  Our signs read, “I can’t afford a lobbyist,” and, “We are the 99 percent.”Â  We chanted, “How do you end the deficit?  End the wars, tax the rich,” and, “Whose streets?  Our streets!”Â  And with genuine surprise and delight I knew, I saw, I felt that we really had taken – for that moment of that day – these streets in New York City.

That day in late September I was among the participants in one of Occupy Wall Street’s early marches.  It was the first I know of during which, even with an absurdly large police presence, we walked and ran and danced off from the sidewalks onto the streets.  Now, after being apprehended in a mass arrest later that day and sleeping on Wall Street and organizing at my college and watching hundreds of camps get evicted and truly feeling and knowing and acting on solidarity, everyone is wondering where the Occupy movement will go from here.  As just a single person in the infinitely large mosaic of people and ideas and creations and action that makes up the movement, of course I can’t answer that anywhere close to fully.  But there exists an undeniable reality of heightened awareness and vocalization among the American public of one issue which affects everyone here and all people around the world:  the seizure of political and economic power by a tiny elite.

This will be the most important issue in the upcoming presidential election.  It will be the most important issue of this generation.  It is the most important issue currently facing humanity, precisely because it is not just another “issue.”Â  There is no place where a separation can be made between the top-heavy accumulation of power in our society and industry’s destruction of the environment or poverty in the United States and abroad or immigration or unemployment.  When several hundred people control as much of the resources and political representation of a nation as several hundred million, decisions in places ranging from the boardroom to local government to the White House to the classroom to the police department will inevitably favor that small, powerful group.  Nearly every decision a president must make is affected by this corporate hijacking of our society.  Whether it’s Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Ron Paul or Rocky Anderson or Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or whoever in office, they will all face incredible pressure at every turn from powerful interests pushing them to make decisions not for the public good, but for the good of the profits of corporations, profits which will undoubtedly go into the pockets of executives rather than workers.

How will each of these candidates react to the opposing forces of calcification of corporate, wealth-driven power and organized popular resistance to the gutting of American society?  As more people wake up and react to their position in the eyes of an increasingly powerful elite as disposable units in the globalized capitalist machine, how will presidential candidates react to being part of this dynamic which is so much greater than any one of them?  Popular opposition to a top-down society is already influencing the presidential election.

Barack Obama’s rhetoric certainly has a populist tone to it these days, but words are cheap.  At the same time that he invoked Teddy Roosevelt, Obama sought to undermine Social Security, one of the fundamental social safety net programs in this country.  Ron Paul and the newly Libertarian Gary Johnson, on the other hand, provide adequate solutions to some of the symptoms of this greater problem.  Both are opposed to the race-driven drug war and the military-industrial complex and the empire which sustains it.  They are even opposed to our modern “crony capitalism,” and in my eyes they are certainly better choices than any of the offerings of the major parties, yet their libertarian ideologies encourage corporate greed and power in some nasty ways.  Actual solutions, or at least the first steps toward actual solutions, to our systematic socioeconomic inequality are present in the campaigns of the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Justice Party’s Rocky Anderson.  Stein’s campaign is centered on the idea of a “Green New Deal,” providing employment and a fair, democratic redistribution of wealth while jump-starting American environmental efforts.  Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, recently formed the Justice Party and the central theme of his candidacy is, in his words, “to change the system and get the corrupting influence of corporate and other concentrated wealth out of our electoral system and out of our system of governance.”

It is truly exciting to see candidates so adamantly opposed to the corrupt status quo.  Yet no single candidacy and no single presidency and no government at all can sufficiently address this issue of power and wealth inequality.  I’m coming to believe that the only way to work out all of these problems is the messy, exhausting, unpolished democratic processes we’ve seen at work in the Occupy movement.  As they continue to flourish in the various situations where they’ve been tried so far, ideas will grow into organizing which will bloom into action which will ripen into sustained democratic solutions to our problems.  And as those continue, as they affect many people in countless places, the seeds of new ideas to sustain and reinvigorate this process when it falters will be planted.  At Liberty Plaza in Manhattan, as well as in many other cities, food and information distribution systems were designed and implemented in a highly democratic fashion as they were needed.  Similar systems were established so that the Occupy community could use monetary and other resources, and consensus-based general assemblies are used to plan actions and make innumerable other decisions.  Any person who so desires can address an assembly, and anyone who feels it necessary can block a group decision.  It is a radical experiment in democracy and empowerment of the majority, rather than an elite few.  The spirit of collective will and mutual responsibility and communal fulfillment embodied in this process offers more hope in the face of a bleak future dominated by globalized corporate power, war, and ecological collapse than any candidate ever could.

This blog entry is part of a scholarship contest:  “This is an official blog entry for the Blogging Scholarship. If selected, I’ll receive $1000 towards my college expenses in 2012. This scholarship is sponsored by

We have less than a week to make history: Mark Miller CAN become MA’s first ever Green state representative!

Last year, Mark Miller ran for state representative with the Green Party in Massachusetts.  In a two way race with a Democrat, he got 45% of the vote.  Now, after that same Democrat got appointed to another job, he’s running again.  The election is October 18, and Mark has already received the endorsement (and with good reason, he recently stood with striking postal workers, for instance) of the nurses’ union, the UAW, and Planned Parenthood, among other people and groups.  He’s also raised more money than anyone else in the race (there are four candidate this time).

So now it’s our job to push him over the edge to victory.  We know that the Democratic Party – and, it goes without saying, the Republicans – is corrupt to the core.  We know that more competitive elections and more political ideas are needed.  We know that a credible alternative will do just that, and we know that one of the key ways to build up a political alternative is to elect officials to state office.

I’m going to keep this short and simple:  if Mark is elected next Tuesday, he will be the first Green state representative in the country since 2009 and the highest ranking Green in the nation.  Massachusetts will join places like Canada, Britain, Germany, and Colombia in a recent explosive growth in Green Parties worldwide.  We have a chance to make history – so please, donate whatever you can afford to Mark Miller’s campaign and if you live close enough, join me in driving over to Pittsfield, MA and volunteering for the campaign (I’ll be going this Sunday).  IT IS UP TO US to create a political alternative to the corrupt two party system – no one will do it for us and this is currently one of the best opportunities in the country to do so!

Website: Mark Miller 2011

‘I don’t know why you’re so surprised that there’s only two political parties. There’s only two of everything!’

An excellent video explaining why everyone should love America’s two party dictatorship, via Poli-Tea, via Rise of the Center.

Cheri Honkala, Green candidate for Philly Sheriff: ‘We have to get very serious about building some kind of independent political motion in this country’

The Green Party’s national convention was this past weekend and my absolute favorite candidate in the country this year – the election is November 2011 – gave an inspiring speech there, introduced by David Cobb.  The quote in the title is from that speech, as are those below.  The full video is posted below, as well.

“We will together send a message across this country that it was the Green Party that stopped foreclosures in America!”

“This coming year we have over a million families who are going to lose their homes.  We have an opportunity in Philadelphia, a historical place, to make history.  We have an opportunity to grow the Green Party like never before, to speak to those million people who are going to lose their homes, and to say, by voting for Cheri Honkala, on the Green Party ticket, foreclosures stop.  They stop NOW!”

“Many years ago as I sat in an abandoned property that I had to take over with my little boy at the time, because the shelters were full in Minneapolis–and so I decided that I would go and take over an abandoned house in order to keep me and my son from freezing to death…because I decided that it wasn’t up for negotiations whether me and my son were going to freeze to death.  Well it’s not up for negotiations for any of the men, women, and children who are going to have their homes stole[n] from them this next coming year.  The foreclosure crisis, this next year, with a million people going to lose their homes, is a preventable Katrina – it’s up to us to stop it, and stop it now.  Help me in my election, spread the word, vote for Cheri Honkala on the Green Party ticket, and let’s take back America!”

THIS is the economic populism – the genuine populism, not the faux corporate stuff so common these days – we’ve been waiting for.  It’s the real deal, it’s real independent politics, and I am so genuinely proud to be working on this campaign.  I hope those of you reading will join me.

Cheri Honkala at the 2011 NY Green Fest from Jason Bosch on Vimeo.

The marginalization of Cornel West

Flickr rnyk

If you’ve been watching the recent controversy over Cornel West’s statements that Obama is “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats,” among other things, you have been witnessing an interesting phenomenon.  What you are seeing – perhaps most prominently from West’s Princeton colleague Melissa Harris-Perry, although certainly extending to other sycophantic academics and corporate commentators craving to be seen as the most centrist – is the use of a familiar tool of those who hold the power in our country.

Cornel West is being marginalized.  I obviously can’t say whether this is because there is some nefarious plot to do so or whether he offended too many narrow-minded, vindictive people’s delicate sensibilities or if there is some other explanation, but the same is occurring to him that has happened to so many American political, intellectual, and even entertainment figures.  Once you venture outside the realm of comfortable, acceptable, Democrat vs. Republican politics, you’ve gone too far!

The best example I’ve seen so far during this most recent controversy, is Joan Walsh’s piece on  Walsh characterizes West’s “meltdown” as “tragic.”  Apparently, if you don’t agree with Joan Walsh – even if you have a long history as a talented speaker and activist and Ivy League professor – you have gone insane.  Walsh then goes on to temper her insulting and pedantic critique of West with the most milquetoast critique of Obama that could possibly be written by a human.  “I’m on record saying that despite my disappointments on the economic and civil liberties front, I support Obama’s reelection,” she writes.  And that’s all you need to know.  Either Walsh cannot credibly be called a progressive since she supports corporatist Obama or progressives as a group have lost any credibility they once had.  In addition, her critical judgment has clearly been suspended in favor of worship at the altar of elections, Democrats, and the presidency.  And if anything other than those topics, if any idea relating to politics that shows some honesty and complexity, is brought up, the person bringing it up is crazy in the eyes of small-minded pundits like Joan Walsh.

Now I’m going on a bit of a tangent, but if I weren’t borrowing a family member’s computer, I would be vomiting on the screen after reading what Joan Walsh wrote.  She seems to be the archetypal “progressive” Democratic pundit.  Avoid uncomfortable tensions (like real racial issues), always remain loyal to the Democratic Party (especially while it betrays you), focus on trivialities rather than the meaningful message of what you’re criticizing, and never EVER rock the boat (“This is the discussion we’re supposed to be having,” Walsh wrote in a typically Democratic authoritarian fashion about a more mild criticism of Obama).  The truth is that, given his harsh criticism of Obama, there’s little to nothing Cornel West could have done to soften the blow of it for people like Joan Walsh and Melissa Harris-Perry.  West is being criticized not for the racial aspects of what he said – which are in fact much more complex than he is being given credit for, while avoiding these issues as Joan Walsh does only serves to exacerbate them – but because he dared to show some backbone in standing up for his principles.

This is but one tile in a grand mural of political demonization directed at anyone with slightly original ideas in politics.  If you are a prominent American and you voice an opinion beyond what is deemed acceptable (or, and this is very much the same thing, you challenge the two party system or the way it shapes our collective political consciousness), you’re marginalized and shut out of the mainstream debate.  Noam Chomsky has not only explained this countless times, he has been an example of it countless times.  Ward Churchill lost his job as a professor for saying something unpopular.  If you haven’t heard of Roseanne Barr’s new book “Roseannarchy,” ask yourself whether that would still be true if it had been a noncontroversial book about her television career.  Ralph Nader has become the pariah of the American left – even though his positive accomplishments probably surpass any modern president – because he directly challenged the ideology of the two party system.  Even the one hero of the left whom no one can say anything against today, Martin Luther King, was marginalized in a similar fashion when he started focusing on poor people and Vietnam.

This marginalization plays very much into the hands of those in power.  It keeps new, exciting ideas that challenge their systems of power out of the national political debate, thereby limiting peoples’ political thinking, philosophy, and subsequent actions.  We are trained to think that the answer is either a Democrat or Republican.  If someone challenges that with support for a third party or the radical idea that elections aren’t everything, they are shut out of the mainstream media’s dialogue so that its initial flawed assumptions – which, needless to say, always help the corporate power elite – are never criticized in a meaningful way on a large enough stage to really matter.

This has happened so many times before.  Now, perhaps we can only stand up as individuals for Cornel West and hope that these stupid charades will be seen for what they are.