by Dinho Bento
in Ponte Nova, Brazil,
by Dinho Bento
in Ponte Nova, Brazil,
Photo Credit: myillusion / Shutterstock
An interesting new study compares the leading causes of death today against the leading causes of death in 1901, providing a look at how much our world has changed over the course of a century.
One thing we never learned growing up, while watching “Bonanza” or “Gunsmoke” or “Rawhide,” was how truly fragile life could be in the Old West. If we took our cowboy TV seriously, we might think the leading cause of death was a gunfight, or hanging for horse thievery, or maybe falling off a horse. The truth was much more mundane. The leading cause of death in 1901, almost 59,000 cases, was actually diarrhea, or other intestinal distresses. Not far behind was tuberculosis at 55,000. Pneumonia was third at 48,000.
Today we take medicines like antibiotics or vaccines for granted, but without them our death statistics would likely look very similar to those of 1901. Here’s the rest of the list:
4. Heart disease
5. Bright’s Disease (kidney disease)
6. Congenital disorders (birth defects)
7. Apoplexy (bleeding of internal organs)
8. Unknown causes
9. Premature birth
Looking at this list, we can see that none of these causes of death, save for heart and kidney disease, is widespread today. The lack of medical knowledge back then made survivable circumstances fatal.
The leading cause of death in the U.S. today is certainly not diarrhea. (For that, we just down a few tablespoons of Pepto Bismol.) Instead, heart disease has leapfrogged to number one, with 614,000 deaths. Following heart disease is cancer, with 591,000, and chronic lung disease a distant third at 147,000.
The rest of the list looks like this:
6. Alzheimer’s disease
8. Influenza and pneumonia
9. Kidney disease
What strikes one most of all from this modern list is that most of these causes of death are age-related. The longer we live, the more likely we are to fall victim to heart disease, cancer, emphysema, stroke or Alzheimer’s. The reason most of these are not on the 1901 list is that the average life expectancy in that era was only about 50 years. People simply didn’t live long enough to get cancer back then. Meanwhile, most of the causes of death on the 1901 list are absent from the modern list because modern medicine has figured out treatments for them.
The modern list is also notable in that the fourth leading cause of death is accident, something missing from the 1901 list. We can speculate that the reasons for this have much to do with technology. Back in 1901, people got from here to there mostly by horse or railroad. Today, motor vehicles take us where we want to go, often at very high speeds. A horse accident was unlikely to cause death, and in fact, it was only the 11th-highest cause of death in 1901, about 550 deaths. Meanwhile over 32,000 people died in 2014 from car accidents alone. The list of deaths by accident in 1901 seems almost quaint today:
1. Heat and sunstroke (lack of AC, perhaps, or working outdoors under the hot sun?)
2. Railroad accidents
4. Burns and scalds
5. Bone fractures/dislocations
6. Birth injuries
7. Accidental poisonings
8. Gunshot wounds (now there’s a familiar cause of death)
10. Poisonous gases (we can speculate from mining, mostly)
11. Horses and other vehicles (very few cars back then)
12. Mine injuries
13. Chronic poisoning (probably workplace substances no one knew would kill people over time)
15. Hypothermia (think of this next time you complain your radiator is too hot in the winter)
Breaking down causes of death by age group, these days babies and infants under one year old are not likely to die from diarrhea, as was the case in 1901. In fact, unless a child is born with a fatal birth defect, she is likely to make it past one year of age. In 1901, those who died at age 2 likely had pneumonia as their cause of death; ages 3 to 9, diphtheria; and 10 to 54, tuberculosis—all curable diseases today.
Meanwhile, today at age 2 right up to age 44, having conquered most of the childhood diseases (although anti-vaxxers seem determined to roll back those gains), you are likely to survive unless you are the victim of an accident. In 1901, from age 55 to 79, heart disease was the killer. Today, from age 45 to 64, look out for cancer. Finally, in 1901, if you made it to 80, death came most likely from natural causes as a result of old age, while heart disease is the cause of death in modern-day older people, age 65 and over.
The bottom line? We may look back nostalgically on times past, but that’s mostly because modern science gives us that luxury. If we actually lived back then, we would more than likely have died well before we had a chance to be nostalgic.
Written and directed by Richard Tanne
Southside With You is a fictionalized account of the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama in Chicago in 1989. The film features a racialized view of society where white and black people do not get along nor can they even understand one another. It is also an attempt to humanize and legitimize an individual identified with the massive bailout of Wall Street, drone strikes and “kill lists,” and unprecedented social inequality.
In Richard Tanne’s film, Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) is a Harvard law student spending his summer working for a law firm in Chicago. Michelle Robinson (Tike Sumpter) works in the same firm, as his supervisor, and the two have plans to attend a community meeting in an impoverished neighborhood on what Robinson insists is not a “date.”
During the first portion of the film, Robinson repeatedly confronts Obama about his intentions, insisting that their outing cannot be a date because that would undermine her position in the law firm, where she already struggles as a black woman. Obama reveals that he tricked Robinson into coming with him several hours early and has made plans for them to attend an art gallery and eat lunch together. Robinson hesitantly agrees, but only if he agrees to be strictly “professional.”
The two eventually make it to the meeting. Robinson is embarrassed when the attendees, with whom Obama has previously worked, refer to her as his “woman.” She overcomes her annoyance, however, after Obama demonstrates his oratorical skills. He gives a rousing speech and helps the assembled overcome their discouragement following the city’s rejection of their proposal to build a community center.
Robinson agrees to accompany Obama to the movies. They watch Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing no less! Unfortunately, after exiting the theater, the couple cross paths with one of the law firm’s partners, who tells Robinson to “take good care of” Obama. While she is initially appalled and tells Obama she does not ever want to go out with him again, she changes her mind after he buys her favorite kind of ice cream. She rewards him with a kiss. The two return to their respective homes and grin complacently to themselves until the credits roll.
The film is as dreadful as it sounds. First of all, a backward, racialized view of social life is present throughout Southside with You. When Obama tells his grandmother over the phone that he is going on a date, she asks whether his date is black. When he answers affirmatively, she answers, “Good.” When the couple arrive at the community meeting, the participants are excited that Obama is dating a “sister” this time. When the pair meet their law firm’s partner outside the movie theater, the white man is hopelessly inept when it comes to interpreting Lee’s film, and Obama comforts him by offering his insight as a young black man. (Of course, Obama is as much white as he is black.)
The foulest expression of this outlook finds expression during dinner when Robinson asks Obama whether he prefers white or black women. Obama explains that he once dated a white girl for two years—someone who offered him great comfort when he was lonely—but once he met her family and saw all of the family pictures on their walls with only white faces in them, he felt the need to leave, despite their generosity and kindness towards him. “I felt like such an outsider,” he complains.
The script for Southside with You was based on those details about the 1989 date that are publicly known, combined with the imaginings of writer-director Richard Tanne. Tanne prepared himself for writing and directing a film about the most powerful political figure in the world by acting in such works as 2001 Maniacs, Swamp Shark and Mischief Night and producing and writing Worst Friends.
The result is a 90-minute dialogue between two human beings competing to see who can give the most mind-numbingly predictable advice to the other. Obama attempts to psychoanalyze Robinson by probing why she has joined a firm that goes against her ethics, and Robinson in turn chastises Obama for his outburst of hostility when she asks about his father. When he finally explains that his father’s life was incomplete, she tells him that “every father’s life is incomplete. That’s why they have sons—to finish what they started.”
The exercise in banality peaks during Obama’s speech at the community meeting, where he tells his downtrodden audience that they only need to understand other people better and turn self-interest into “shared” interest. He reminisces about how exciting it was when Chicago elected its first black mayor, Harold Washington. He further tells them that it is not easy to get things done. “‘No’ is just a word,” he claims at one point, “but it means something else when you spell it backwards: ‘on.’ We need to carry on!” This is followed by ritualized chanting of the phrase “carry on.” This is a pathetic effort to maintain illusions in the present system.
Tanne’s aim was clearly to provide the future residents of the White House with human characteristics, but the couple’s existence throughout Southside with You is often far removed from the people around them. The discussions frequently turn to the motives behind their respective decisions to pursue law careers. Both express a desire to help the less fortunate, but they have both joined the firm hoping to make a good living and have somehow lost their way. Obama vaguely (and ominously) states that he “just want[s] to do more,” but adds there is also nothing wrong with enjoying life in the meantime.
The audience in the community center are depicted as simple people who are easily swayed by Obama’s inspirational rhetoric. This initially angry group swallows his patronizing platitudes without question.
Southside with You has been well-received by the popular media, which has labeled it a “feel-good” movie that could serve well on a “date night” for couples. The fact that such a stupid, flattering film could be made about the instigator of bloody neo-colonial wars and defender of the plutocracy speaks volumes about the current film industry. Tanne manages to present Obama, who has overseen the greatest transfer of wealth in history to the upper 10 percent of society, as an activist for the impoverished—a courageous man who just wants to do good in the world.
A final note: we have another “biopic” about Obama, Barry, directed by Vikram Gandhi coming out soon, to look forward to.
Capitalism and the US health care crisis
31 August 2016
Mylan Pharmaceutical’s enormous price hikes for EpiPen, an emergency drug for life-threatening allergic reactions, highlight both the outrageous practices of the US pharmaceutical industry and the deplorable state of health care in America.
A two-pack of EpiPen Auto-Injectors, which cost about $100 in 2004, adjusted for inflation, now costs over $600, putting the life-saving device out of reach for many adults and children. The device quickly delivers a controlled dosage of epinephrine to treat anaphylaxis, a potentially deadly allergic reaction to medication, food or insect bites.
Mylan’s price gouging has become a focal point of anger over the complete subordination of health care to huge corporations that are driven by an insatiable quest for profit. On a daily basis, working people see reports of multimillion-dollar bonanzas for executives at giant pharmaceutical and insurance companies, while tens of millions of people struggle to pay for essential prescription drugs and medical treatments because of ever-higher deductibles, co-pays and premiums.
Mylan’s price gouging is a particularly disgusting example of profiteering in the health care industry. A 2011 survey found that 8 percent of US children had a food allergy and nearly 40 percent of these individuals had a history of severe reactions. With the six-fold increase in price, families are gambling on not purchasing EpiPens or paying for the auto-injectors by going deeper into debt and forgoing other necessities.
Mylan is the second-largest generic and specialty drug company in the world, with about 35,000 employees, more than 1,400 products, and customers in more than 150 countries. Mylan obtained the EpiPen franchise through its 2007 purchase of the generic division of Merck, another pharmaceutical giant.
To generate sales, Mylan has spent tens of millions on EpiPen TV ads. This includes $1.7 million on ads broadcast during the Rio Olympics that show a teenager mistakenly ingesting peanut butter at a party and losing consciousness while her friends frantically call 911.
Forty-seven US states now require public schools to stock the devices. Its use has grown by 67 percent since 2008, and over 3.6 million prescriptions were written for EpiPens last year. Sales of the device have generated annual revenues of $1 billion, accounting for 40 percent of Mylan’s profits.
Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s total compensation went from $2.4 million in 2007 to nearly $19 million in 2015. When questioned in an interview about the EpiPen price hikes, she said, “Look, we’re going to continue to run a business.”
But Bresch and Mylan, contrary to the media presentation, are not aberrations. Drug companies across the board are raising prices for both generic and brand name drugs. Here are some of the biggest recent price hikes:
• Between 2002 and 2013, the cost of insulin for treatment of diabetes rose nearly 200 percent, from $4.34 per milliliter to $12.92.
• Gilead prices a single course of treatment with Sovaldi, a hepatitis C drug, at $84,000, or $1,000 per pill.
• Turing Pharmaceuticals last year acquired US marketing rights for Daraprim, used to treat the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, and raised the price from $13.50 to $750 a tablet.
A 2015 report found that prescription drugs cost up to 10 times more in the US than they do in other countries. The EpiPen is a case in point. Meda sells a two-pack of EpiPens in France for about $85, while the price for the antidote syringes in Canada is about $100.
An article in Tuesday’s New York Times pointed indirectly to the involvement of a whole network of corporate players in the profiteering that rests upon the inflation of prescription drug prices. It quotes the head of a consulting firm for the drug distribution industry as saying that “if Mylan had simply lowered the price, it would have risked angering all the parties in the distribution network, including pharmacy benefit managers, wholesalers and pharmacies, which take a piece of the total amount spent on the drug.”
Commenting on Mylan’s decision, in the face of a sharp fall in its stock price last week, to offer a generic version of EpiPen at a price of $300, half that of the brand-name version, the drug industry expert said that introducing a generic was “a way to do it without making enemies with a bunch of Fortune 25 companies who control your fate.”
In other words, health care provision in capitalist America is a racket in which the spoils are divided among a number of corporate players, at the expense of the health and lives of the general population.
Another industry analyst noted on Monday that even at the “bargain” price of $300, Mylan’s overall revenue per prescription would be about $280.
The Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature domestic program, is not aimed at shaking up this state of affairs, but at entrenching and deepening it. The legislation’s central provision, the “individual mandate,” compels individuals and families without insurance to purchase policies from private insurers under threat of a stiff tax penalty.
In the fourth year of Obamacare, it is a scandal in itself that some 27 million people in the US remain uninsured, as many people are too poor to buy coverage, even with the plan’s modest government subsidies. Most of the least expensive ACA plans come with deductibles in excess of $5,000 and other outrageous out-of-pocket costs that render the plans virtually useless in covering medical costs, forcing people to self-ration their medical care.
Obamacare, a plan devised by and for the insurance industry, places no serious limits or requirements on the corporations. They can do as they please, jacking up premiums, co-pays and deductibles, or pulling out of the program altogether if the profits are not sufficiently high. That is precisely what the biggest insurers are now doing, with the result that next year nearly one-third of counties in the US will have only one insurer under Obamacare.
From the insurance leviathans, to the pharmaceutical firms, to the giant hospital chains, to the drug store chains—the entire health care system in America is dominated by huge corporations in operation for one reason: to make a profit. The needs of people for medical treatments, tests and prescription drugs are entirely secondary.
Quality health care for everyone is a basic social right. But it is incompatible with a system based on the capitalist market.
Socialized medicine as part of a socialist economy is the only basis upon which a rational, humane and egalitarian health care system can be developed.
Street art in Bogotá, Colombia,
by artist Vera.
Photo by Vera Vera Primavera.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president came to an end with the self-declared socialist calling on his supporters to back the choice of the Democratic Party establishment. But the campaign will have a continuing effect on the millions of people who were energized by Sanders’ challenge to the U.S. political status quo–and by his open advocacy of socialism.
With the general election campaign underway, SocialistWorker.org asked leading writers and activists for their thoughts on the aftermath of the Sanders campaign and the job of the left in the post-Sanders period. Here’s what Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Bhaskar Sunkara, Jen Roesch, Sarah Jaffe, Howie Hawkins and Amy Muldoon had to say.
Author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
With each passing week, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign reaches a new low, and the liberal establishment’s coalescence around Hillary Clinton’s candidacy becomes even firmer.
Of course, Trump is a frightening thug who should be relentlessly resisted, but the overwhelming focus on him threatens to give Hillary Clinton a blank check as president.
Since the two parties’ conventions in July, Trump’s unraveling has meant little attention has been paid to developments in the Clinton campaign. Not only have a rogue’s gallery of war criminals come out to endorse her, but the campaign is actively soliciting the support of Republicans who are jumping Trump’s sinking ship. The concerns of skeptical Sanders supporters are validated with each conservative embrace by Clinton’s campaign.
But more troublesome than Clinton courting Republicans is how the crisis within the Republican Party apparatus is used to discipline liberals into passive complicity with Clinton’s–sometimes anemic and other times reactionary–political program. The pressure to keep Trump out of office also works to silence people who would otherwise be wholly critical of Clinton’s neoliberal political agenda.
For example, Clinton has promised to spend $120 billion to reinvest in urban centers with high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure. But on further review, what Clinton is actually promising is to create “empowerment zones” in these cities.
This is an old approach to urban reinvestment that gives massive tax breaks to corporations on the promise that they will create jobs. This, of course, has never worked in the 60 years that it has been proposed as a solution to urban problems.
Clinton, however, gets a pass because she is not Donald Trump. And the problem isn’t just during the election, but that this passivity, if Clinton wins, will carry over into her presidency.
The pressure will be even greater once Clinton is in office to “give her time” to carry out her agenda. There are already stories being floated in the media by Clinton supporters about how difficult it will be for her to get parts of her agenda through a Republican-dominated Congress–including her much-touted pledge to raise taxes on the rich.
Sanders was denigrated as unserious for proposing universal health care and free public college tuition, but the idea that Clinton will convince Congress to hike taxes on the rich is pure fantasy.
The Democratic Party will then insist that we turn our attention to the midterm elections, just in time for a fresh crop of Republican boogeymen to arise, as a reminder to liberals that whatever faults Clinton may have, we must, once again, rally around her lukewarm campaign to stop the “greater evil.”
And so the important work of building social movements is also delayed or put on hold while we work to continue to put Democrats in office in what we are always told is the “most important election of our lifetime.”
This is a vicious cycle that has paralyzed the broad left from forming independent organizations and political parties that can weather the ups and downs of the election season.
It has also circumscribed our political imaginations in terms of what is possible in the realm of political struggle. Too often our conception of politics begins and ends with the question of which political candidate will cause the least harm, when what we really need to be asking is “how do we get free?”
This isn’t to say that elections are unimportant, but we should also not overestimate their importance. The reason that most Americans don’t vote is because voting in these elections has almost no impact on their day-to-day lives.
Millions of people in this country are already living in the nightmarish world we are told would be unleashed if Trump were to become president. Millions live in poverty; millions toil in underpaid service jobs; millions cannot afford health care coverage; millions suffer the indignity and terror of eviction and homelessness; millions live in fear of police abuse and violence; millions fear the turmoil of deportation and fractured families.
But these are the issues that are systematically ignored during election season, because in the contest to see who will run the American empire, the needs of the poor, oppressed and exploited aren’t even secondary–they don’t register at all.
And so the task of the existing left is to continue to build the developing movements against police terror, for immigrant rights, for workers’ rights, for education justice and beyond. Not only do we have to build these movements in their own right, but we also must work harder to connect them and show how these issues all overlap and influence each other.
We need a larger movement in general to stop the roaring freight train of gross economic inequality, privatization and the impoverishment of millions of people in this country. Another world is possible, but we have to organize and fight for it.
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Founding editor, Jacobin magazine
I think that fundamentally, the Sanders campaign was a huge triumph.
It may sound funny to say that at this moment, when a lot of people are rightly disappointed by Bernie Sanders’ decision to endorse Hillary Clinton in such a full-throated way. But the reason why I supported Bernie Sanders from the beginning–and I obviously had disagreements with comrades in the International Socialist Organization and others on this issue–was because I thought a self-described democratic socialist pushing a social democratic program could open political space and possibilities.
I really think that’s been accomplished. For one, we’ve shown that there’s a real majority for our politics, and in the short term, for a social democratic program.
We’ve also shown that there is a fissure–and I think it’s been opened further–within the Democratic Party between the base of the party, especially young people who supported Bernie Sanders, and the party establishment. Obviously, a lot of the wounds that were opened up will be healed by the relentless drive of lesser evilism to support Hillary Clinton and the fearmongering about the prospects of a Trump presidency.
Nonetheless, I think that things have shifted in a certain direction which will leave some sort of base to the left of Clintonite liberalism in the Democratic Party. And that base is our future constituency for any sort of left politics.
If you combine that with the development of social movements such as Black Lives Matter and of other activity such as within trade unions, there have been some promising developments. Thus, I think all of us can say that as of August 2016, the prospects for building a left and a socialist opposition in the United States is stronger than it was one year ago today.
That said, the success in energizing people around the Sanders campaign may not translate immediately and directly in marshaling all these people and directing them toward the left and various non-electoral struggles right away. Instead, it represents a kind of terrain for the left for some time to come. These people will be the raw material and a receptive audience for us to continually engage with over the next five or 10 years.
It’s important that the left learn to relate to everyone. We have to figure out how to connect to the Bernie supporters who are following Sanders and will critically support Hillary Clinton. And I think it’s very important to relate to young people who are basically saying, for lack of a better term, fuck it, and refusing to support any establishment candidate, whether they are voting for Jill Stein or are staying home,
I think we need to relate to all those people while trying to keep alive the vision of the politics we want, which is independent class organization. We have the opportunity to push that line wherever we can.
I think there’s a real opportunity–particularly at the local level, in cities like New York and Chicago–to challenge Democrats. And it’s there that I think we need to aggressively push against the idea that the Democratic Party can be transformed and used in any shape or form.
Often, we rightly criticize attempts to transform the Democratic Party from within at the national level, so we rightly criticize, for example, Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton. But I think it’s a better use of the left’s efforts to organize independent political challenges at the local level, because we can actually, in many places, run viable, competitive campaigns for the City Council or for state Senate, and challenge the Democrats there.
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SocialistWorker.org contributor and member of the International Socialist Organization
Since the end of the primaries–and long before, actually–there has been a chorus of complaints from liberals about Bernie Sanders supporters who hesitated to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton. They have been derided as ridiculous, childish and entitled for failing to understand the realities of the system.
But their anger is fueled precisely by the fact that they do understand those realities.
Sanders spent the last year exposing the Democrats as a party of the wealthy and powerful. His supporters are right to be skeptical, even bitter, at the idea that a vote for Clinton will have any meaningful impact on their lives.
It isn’t simply that Clinton is the candidate of Wall Street. The inequality in this country is so widely felt that people instinctively understand this election will do little to change things–even those who hope that Clinton will at least do less damage than Trump.
There is a growing sense that the “radical political change” dismissed as unrealistic by Sanders critics is the only solution to the multiple crises we face. It is this deeper vein of anger–one that goes far beyond this election cycle–that Sanders tapped into. But for the generation of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, the Sanders campaign wasn’t its first attempt to fight for that change.
The last five years have seen many struggles that emerged seemingly out of nowhere, but receded just as quickly. It has been difficult to translate these into sustained movements capable of winning lasting reforms, let alone posing a challenge to the system. But theyhave had a cumulative impact on consciousness.
The Sanders campaign amplified this, but it also gave it a language–that of socialism. Interest in socialism has been growing for years, but few could have predicted how forcefully it would burst onto the political stage this year. Even if Sanders’ socialism is far from my vision of socialism from below, for millions of people, it has created a new way of thinking about the problems we face.
This provides a framework for talking about the interconnected nature of our struggles and the potential for solidarity. By putting forward demands for the redistribution of wealth, it can provide a bridge between the massive anger that people feel and the kinds of struggles that could bring them into organized activity.
But the question remains: With Sanders abandoning his call for a “political revolution” and joining in the celebration of Democratic Party unity, where do we go next?
Many people, including Sanders himself, believe we should draw the lesson that a socialist came close to winning the Democratic presidential nomination, and we should focus on running other progressive candidates.
But despite running arguably the most successful insurgent campaign the Democratic Party has seen, Sanders was unable to shift the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential campaign and message even slightly to the left.
Instead, Clinton boasts about her endorsements from war criminals, campaigns for Republicans votes and assures Wall Street that she is their best friend. Sanders has been relegated to using his popularity to shore up the left vote for everything he campaigned against.
To build on the radical potential of Sanders’ campaign, we must break from the Democrats. Jill Stein’s Green Party campaign is an important opportunity to register opposition to a system that tells us we deserve nothing better than the lesser of two evils.
But the most important steps lie outside the electoral arena. This year showed that there are massive numbers of people open to socialism who aren’t yet organized. We need to bring them into discussion and activity. Those who were inspired by Sanders are, in many ways, the potential future of a new socialist movement in this country.
But there is nothing inevitable about the conclusions people draw from their experiences–whether they become active and are convinced that their own self-activity is indispensable. The process of discussion, debate and organization is critical.
The austerity, racism and repression that have driven the radicalization haven’t gone away. They will continue to deepen, regardless of who wins the election. Fighting these will require sustained, democratic struggles involving masses of people around concrete demands. It will also require stronger and larger socialist organizations that can provide an alternative to the system as a whole.
None of this will be easy to accomplish. But we do know the best aspirations raised by Sanders’ campaign can’t be realized through the Democratic Party. The goal of the left should be to engage this new generation and create a political home for those who are ready to fight.
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Journalist and author of Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt
In the last week or so, I’ve had several conversations with people who had spent a lot of time and energy on the Sanders campaign, wondering where to go next.
It’s a fair question. Presidential elections suck up all the air in the political space for the years that they take up, and as big donors spend more and more money on them, they expand to take up more and more time.
But actually, I think the most important work is done outside of the presidential arena. Sanders stepped into a space that had been created by tens of thousands of movement activists around the country, striking workers and Occupiers, and members of the movement for Black lives, and articulated something that had been in the air: Capitalism is not working for most people.
I think it’s worth saying that any campaign you put your heart into that loses will leave you feeling the need to grieve. That’s a human response.
But after that, where do we go? The genie, as they say, isn’t going back in the bottle. The anger and frustration and, most of all, hope for something better that people are feeling, the raised expectations, are still here, and they need to go somewhere.
That might be into local elections in cities and towns like the one where I live in New York’s Hudson Valley, where the energy that Sanders tapped into can go into making real change on a community level, electing people who see outside of the narrow choices that are on offer.
But more importantly, at least in my opinion, that energy can go into existing movements or into creating a new political force within the community that demands better of the power structures that exist.
People who just began to think about the way power is wielded in the workplace can come together to support workers struggles, walk picket lines, adopt stores as groups did during the Verizon workers strike. The demand for free college can go into organizing around student debt and for reinvestment in public higher education.
As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to stumble and to be insufficient, Sanders’ call for single-payer health care can be renewed on a state level and in a national push for a public option, which is once again on the public mind as yet another private insurer pulls out of the ACA exchanges.
Even as the Sanders campaign grew and won millions of votes, plenty of movement activists continued to do work that had nothing to do with the presidential race.
Around the country, organizers with the movement for Black lives worked on local issues, defeated prosecutors who gave carte blanche to police who kill and also put together a platform, the Vision for Black Lives, that lays out demands for a truly free society, one in which not only state violence, but the economic violence of capitalism comes to an end.
The Sanders campaign was something we should understand as another iteration of the social movements that have rocked the U.S. and the world in the last several years.
It was not the beginning of the political revolution, and it will not be the end, as I have said elsewhere. But like every other part of the struggle that has happened, it has brought in new people who are frustrated with the world as it is and ready to take some risks to make it better.
Regardless of how they vote in November, what really matters is that they find ways to connect to the struggles that will continue no matter who is in the White House.
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Green Party member and former Green candidate for governor of New York
The Sanders campaign revealed two realities that demonstrated the socialist left can build an independent mass party of the left.
First, the big Sanders vote demonstrated mass support for progressive social and economic policies. Second, the 2.5 million contributors who gave $230 million to Sanders’ campaign in small contributions revealed that the ordinary people will finance a political movement for progressive change on a scale that can compete with corporate candidates of the two-party system.
The Democratic Party will be a graveyard for Sanders’ demands. The Democratic Party is not only ideologically capitalist; it is structurally capitalist. The real power structure of the Democratic Party is a shifting coalition of entrepreneurial candidates and their campaign organizations that compete for donations (investments) from the corporate rich.
These campaign organizations trump party committees and platforms. Democratic candidates and politicians owe their investors, not formal party structures. If Sanders supporters enter this swamp, they will lose their very identity as an alternative.
The other swamp to avoid is a retreat to single-issue movements that try to pressure, instead of replace, the politicians of the two-corporate-party system.
The nonprofit industrial complex is another capitalist market where professional staffs compete for foundation and government grants whose ultimate source of funding is rich corporate donors to the foundations and the politicians. The power over who gets the grants pacifies these advocacy organizations, reducing them to supporting and lobbying Democrats for minor ameliorations. It is a divide-and-rule process that pits issues and constituencies against each other.
The Sanders campaign demonstrated that there is a mass base for different kind of politics–for a mass-membership party where party candidates and leaders are accountable to the membership and the platform they approve. Such a party can participate in or initiate movements demanding reforms with significant resources and organization that are accountable to a popular base, not corporate funders.
The mass-membership party, where formal members are organized into locals and finance the party with their dues, was an invention of the socialist left in the late 19th century. It was how the workers’ movement and its small farmer allies were able to build movements to win the universal franchise, to organize labor unions and cooperatives, and to effectively compete in elections against the older top-down parties of the landed and business elites that were based on their legislative caucuses and wealthy sponsors rather than a formal membership with democratic rights in their party.
The Democrats and Republicans are organized on the old top-down model favored by business elites. It is time to organize a democratic mass-membership party in opposition.
Supporting the Green Party presidential campaign of Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka should be next step in building a mass-membership party and the next step for Sanders supporters who want the “political revolution” to continue. A sizable Green vote will yield real gains.
First, the Green campaign is fulfilling is the traditional influential role of left third parties in American politics, which is to force popular demands that the two major parties are ignoring on to the legislative agenda. The Stein/Baraka campaign is keeping the Sanders’ domestic program in the national debate and adding the crucial missing piece in Sanders program, an anti-imperialist foreign policy.
Second, there are 37 state ballots where the Greens are up for qualification, needing 1 to 3 percent of the vote in most of those states. These ballots can be used by local candidates for municipal, county, state and federal office in coming elections. Most electoral districts in the U.S. are one-party districts due to bipartisan gerrymandering of safe seats for members of both corporate parties. The minority major party doesn’t compete seriously, if at all, in most of these districts. A left third party, with a relatively small core of activists, can quickly become the second party, the primary opposition party, in these districts and determine the policy debate.
Third, 5 percent of the vote qualifies the Green Party for public funding in the 2020 presidential general election. It starts at about $10 million for 5 percent and increases the higher the vote.
Fourth, the experience, organization and supporter lists developed in canvassing voters in support of the Stein/Baraka ticket can be used to build local movements and party organizations starting right after the November 8 election. The fight to defeat Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame duck session of Congress begins on November 9. The process of building a mass party of the left from the bottom up continues right after the election.
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Communications Workers of America member at Verizon and shop steward in New York City
The strike of 39,000 union members at Verizon in April and May got an invigorating boost from the attention that Bernie Sanders brought to it with his presidential campaign. But the strike in turn contributed something critical to the discussion of socialism that Sanders helped opened up: class struggle.
The Sanders campaign highlighted the progressive role that government could play in curtailing corporate greed and closing the wealth gap, but our strike showed how ordinary people could directly confront–and stop–the bosses’ assault on our living standards.
Since the strike, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to multiple audiences about how and why we were able to win. What I’ve seen is a serious interest in class politics, especially from young people who form the heart of the Sanders demographic.
However, people coming to politics today don’t have the experience or exposure to strikes and class struggle that earlier generations did. Unfortunately, there isn’t a wave of copycat strikes that can push a discussion forward about class power as the avenue for challenging the bosses and politicians that work for them.
I don’t think the radicalization that drove the Sanders campaign will evaporate, but it could go in many different directions.
Within the labor movement, the pointless loyalty to the Democrats is as thick as ever at the national leadership level. My union, the Communication Workers of America, was probably the largest labor organization to endorse Sanders. There was widespread support for Sanders, some of it very enthusiastic. The feeling that finally someone was talking class politics and actually walking the walk inspired more interest in the election than I’ve seen in years.
Since Clinton won the nomination, I’ve seen a lot of frustration with the attitude coming from the leadership–and liberal forces everywhere–that we have to vote for Clinton. More politically savvy members see voting for Clinton as a short-term stop in a longer fight to turn the Democrats back into a “party of the people.”
I doubt Clinton will have any kind of “honeymoon,” given how disliked she is pre-election. The strike and the Sanders campaign raised people’s expectations, and I don’t think you can put that genie back in the bottle. The nomination process may have blunted some of the optimism that the campaign inspired, but it sharpened the anger and clarity among a portion of Bernie supporters.
Unfortunately, the unions tend to be some of the most loyal adherents to the Democratic Party machine. Rumor has it that unions left the Working Families Party (WFP) in New York after the CWA–a driving force within the WFP–endorsed Sanders, even though Sanders voted with the Democratic Party line as an independent in the Senate more than many formal party members.
There has been a wave of leadership changes across local unions in the last five years, but the Democrats are still hegemonic, even among reformers. Assuming Clinton wins, she can expect a rocky term of office. Will the unions sit on the sidelines during protests? When, not if, the Trans-Pacific Partnership economic deal is approved, how will unions react?
We can’t answer these questions today, but we know the dissatisfaction with establishment politics that was exposed during the Sanders campaign lives on. Within the labor movement, this inevitably raises questions not only about the status quo in formal politics, but organizing the unorganized and negotiating contracts.
Raised expectations can turn into real change, if the left continues to transmit the lessons of actions like the Verizon strike to the broadest audience.
Judging by many accounts in the media and from the statements of leading US politicians, race is a central issue in the 2016 elections.
At a point when the American people are more tolerant in their social views than at any previous time in history, they are informed on a daily basis that the US seethes with racial and ethnic hatreds, along with violent misogyny and homophobia.
The Democratic Party, supported by all of the various left-liberal and pseudo-left trends, is particularly aggressive and vociferous on this score. Identity politics, the self-centered, upper-middle-class obsession with race, gender and sexual identity, has become one of that party’s principal pillars.
As opposed to earlier periods, today the question of race is not associated with civil rights, with a major program of social reform, with improvements in the social conditions of the working class as a whole and certainly not with socialism. The debate on race is largely built around demands for the allocation of greater economic resources to sections of the black petty bourgeoisie. There is a marked and noticeable absence of democratic demands and sentiments within the leadership of these upper-middle-class movements.
The character of the present campaigns, including the narrow and vicious tone of much of the rhetoric about race, can be explained if one examines a singular fact: the sharp growth of social inequality within the African American population.
The data suggests that while African Americans still play a very limited role at the heights of the corporate hierarchy, there is a highly significant and influential section that has benefited enormously over the past several decades. These people live in another universe and are deeply estranged from the broad layers of the black working-class population, which has suffered continual impoverishment.
From the administration of Richard Nixon onward, US ruling-class policy has been to cultivate a black upper-middle class that would be loyal to the status quo. In return, this layer abandoned any connection to mass struggle, social protest and opposition to capitalism. This helps explain why there is no leading African American figure, in any field, who today speaks for and to the broad masses of the people.
The facts and figures are striking.
Nielsen, the global information and measurement company, produced a report in 2015, “Increasingly Affluent, Educated and Diverse,” which “focused specifically on a segment of African-Americans who are often overlooked, those with annual household incomes of $75,000 or more. Their size and influence is growing faster than non-Hispanic Whites across all income segments above $60,000.” (The data comes from the US Census, American Community Survey, 2014.)
In fact, black households earning more than $75,000 are the fastest growing income group in the country. According to Nielsen, “In the years from 2005-2013, the income bracket with the largest increase for Black households occurred in the number of households earning over $200,000, with an increase of 138 percent, compared to an increase of 74 percent for the total population.”
In 1960, around the time E. Franklin Frazier wrote his pioneering work, The Black Bourgeoisie, there were an estimated 25 black millionaires in the US. That number has grown 1,400 times. Today there are an estimated 35,000 black millionaires.
The concentration of wealth among African Americans is extreme. According to the Pew Research Study, 35 percent of black households have negative or no net worth. Another 15 percent have less than $6,000 in total household worth. Nearly 7 million of the total of 14 million black households have little or nothing.
Commentator Antonio Moore in the Huffington Post this past May noted that the wealth difference between an American black household in the top 1 percent and the average black household was several times larger than that among comparable white households.
“[T]he median net worth of the few black households in the top 1 percent was $1.2 million dollars, while according to the Census, median net worth for all black households was about $6,000 in total. A black family in the 1 percent is worth a staggering 200 times that of an average black family. If black America were a country, we would be among the most wealth stratified in the world.”
“Income segregation,” i.e., the tendency of people to live in either poor or affluent neighborhoods, has increased sharply among black families since 1970. “Segregation by income among black families was lower than among white families in 1970, but grew four times as much between 1970 and 2009. By 2009, income segregation among black families was 65 percent greater than among white families.” (Residential Segregation by Income, 1970-2009, by Kendra Bischoff of Cornell University and Sean F. Reardon of Stanford)
According to the Washington Post in 2013, the black middle class, measured by the number of families earning at least $100,000 a year, has grown fivefold in the past 50 years. About one in 10 black households are now in that income category. Between 1970 and 1990, the percentage of black physicians, lawyers and engineers doubled. From 1990 to 2013, there was a 30 percent increase in the proportion of black managers and executives and a 38 percent increase in the proportion of black lawyers and engineers.
Decades of “black capitalism” and affirmative action have benefited a narrow but still substantial layer of the African American population. This is the social element that is most aggressively pursuing wealth and economic advantage today. It cannot be mere coincidence that the central figure in the University of Missouri protests in November 2015, hunger striker Jonathan Butler, came from this milieu. His father, Eric Butler, is executive vice president for marketing and sales at Union Pacific Corp. and raked in $2.9 million in total compensation in 2015.
Importantly, African Americans have gained virtual parity with whites in the professional upper echelons. By 2004, blacks with a doctorate had a median income of $74,207, slightly higher than the median income of whites with doctoral degrees ($73,993). (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education)
As a recent report (“Closing the Race Gap: Alleviating Young African American Unemployment Through Education”) argued, “African Americans and whites have nearly equal probabilities of employment at high degrees of education.”
What are the implications of this relative parity?
The obsession with race and gender involves the striving for privileges by a layer of black and female professionals, determined to carve out careers and incomes—under conditions of an intensely competitive “marketplace”—at the expense of their white or male counterparts. The shrillness and falsity of the current campaigns on race and sexual violence has much to do with the need, in the face of the fact that there is no significant racial or gender pay gap for these already affluent layers, to leverage past crimes and injustice, and exaggerate the present conditions, to justify continued or greater privileges. This is a bitter conflict taking place within the richest 5 to 10 percent (approximately $190,000 to $130,000 in annual income) of the population.
There is nothing “progressive” or “left-wing” about these campaigns and conflicts. Whether or not the president of the United States is a man or woman or the CEO of a bank or major corporation is white or black is of no possible interest to the working class. E. Franklin Frazier noted half a century ago that black business and political interests had “exploited the Negro masses as ruthlessly as have whites.”
Socialists reject racialist politics in whatever form it appears. In the context of the 2016 elections, this means repudiating the racialist and nationalist filth promulgated by both the Democrats and Republicans and all those who orbit around bourgeois politics. The election campaign of the Socialist Equality Party alone represents the independent political and historical interests of the working class.