“Rigged,” What’s New?

2016-electionsNew Orleans   Headlines in both the local and national papers focused on Donald Trump’s unwillingness to commit that he would honor the verdict of the voters in a democratic election. Clinton responded in the debate that his position was “horrifying.” My question continues to be, “What’s new?” Am I the only one who wonders why this is such a flashpoint now, and hasn’t been for the last eight years or longer?

Part of this is both personal and political for me, as I have noted before. But at least I’m not alone. David Weigel writing in The Washington Post this week had a memory that was longer than yesterday’s news cycle, and began his piece this way:

According to the Republican nominee for president, his opponents were “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history.” In an ad, his campaign warned of “nationwide voter fraud” that could swing the election. His running mate worried, in a fundraising letter, that “leftist groups” were trying to “steal the election.”

 

The candidate was not Donald Trump. It was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who in the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election embraced the theory that ACORN, a community organizing group previously embraced by Democrats and Republicans, was helping to rig the election for Barack Obama by filing fake voter registration forms.

Poor Weigel. He’ll probably be fired soon for pointing out that the emperors continue to walk naked in Congressional hallways and DC corridors. It also goes without saying, and time has proven this out, so I’ll bore everyone by saying, that no such thing happened, nor was there ever any evidence then or now to back up such nonsense about voting.

Even for McCain in 2008 this was an old saw, rather than something he was inventing. Such claims on voter fraud based on voter registration work have been part of the standard operating procedure on election tactics for Republicans for a number of cycles, certainly since the concept of “battleground” states became prominent and the George W. Bush election turned into a Supreme Court disputed umpire call after Al Gore won the popular vote. In Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania for a number of election cycles before 2008, ACORN had been the subject of similar attacks and fabrications with fake FEC complaints and state election charges all of which would be withdrawn by early the following year after the elections were over. Our assumption had been that McCain had wrongly assumed that the election might be close with Obama and was tactically hedging in order to prepare claims in some states and hope for a repeat of the Bush 2000 scenario. As it turned out, he was stomped by Obama, so none of that emerged, though thanks to McCain the target for conservatives would stay on ACORN’s back.

And, let’s be honest about all of this. Of the hardcore 40% base that is sticking with Trump and listening to all of this balderdash, I would put good money on the fact that a huge percentage of that base has still refused to accept the legitimacy of President Obama’s two election victories and the work of his eight years. The continuing drumbeat of the Republican faithful up until recently that ACORN stole both elections and was preparing to steal this one is more than sufficient evidence for such a bet.

Once the votes are all counted, the winner will be named, and whether Trump and his Trumpeteers accept it or not isn’t relevant come Inauguration Day, except that such schoolhouse door resistance to the choice of voters in our fragile democracy only assures even more polarization and extremist from Congress on down to the grassroots.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Election Gauntlet of Cameroon

Phillipe Nanga, head of an election observation NGO

Phillipe Nanga, head of an election observation NGO

Douala    Make no mistake. Any notion that Cameroon is a democracy is the same as believing that an obstacle course is the same as a straight road. Yes, there are parties. Yes, there are elections. But, there is no even playing field, so whatever one might want to call this form of government, no matter how you shake-and-bake it, there’s nothing particularly fair about it. It is no surprise that the existing president has been in office for more than 34 years, is 84 years old, and is expected to stand for another seven-year term in 2018.

We spent some time early in the Organizers’ Forum in a visit with Phillipe Nanga, the head of Un Monde Avenir, the World to Come, a fair elections NGO, and his staff, who gave us a good sense of the problem and a crash course in the election obstacles and voter suppression. They work closely with Elections Cameroon, called EleCam, a state agency that is responsible for registering voters. There is nothing easy about voter registration. I’m not saying that they invented difficult registration, but I will say that the system is reminiscent of the process used by many southern states even at the dawn of the 1970’s in the USA. A graphic illustration over his head went through their steps of training election observers down to protection of the ballot box. I asked Nanga if ballot box theft was common, and he answered without hesitation, yes.

difficult election process

difficult election process

To register you either have to personally go into the EleCam office nearest you and successfully present your documents or someone employed by EleCam has to somehow come to you in a meeting, rally, market, or some such. The reason EleCam is a good partner for Un Monde Avenir is that they are on a quota for registrations by the government so anything that is organized for them, makes their jobs easier, and allows them to keep their jobs. Voting of course requires an ID, but a national ID is required to do everything in Cameroon, so that is not an obstacle here since everyone has one. More than half of the population is under 19 years old, so, not surprisingly, you cannot register to vote until you are 20 years old. Un Monde Avenir has been focusing on registering youth. We were told by their staff that they had registered 100 people so far this year.

Of the 23,130,708 people in the population as of June 2015, 5, 981,226 were registered. There are no accurate figures but a solid estimate would mean that between 40 and 45% of the eligible voters in the population are not registered to vote: a very large voting pool! When those who are successful in registering are allowed to vote, a fair number do so. 68% of the eligible voters in fact did vote in the 2011 presidential election, the last time they had a chance.

leader of largest opposition party

leader of largest opposition party

We spoke to two leaders of parties in Cameroon, one was the leader of the largest, Elembe Lobe Abel. His party, SDF, has close to a score of national parliamentarians in each house and more than 800 local office holders in the country. I asked him how he saw his party’s prospects in the election expected sometime in 2018. He answered that for any opposition party to have a chance, the constitution would have to allow for a runoff. The winner is now “first past the post,” which always favors an incumbent. He felt the only way anyone would have a chance without a change in the no-runoff election would be if the existing president somehow declined to run. Interesting to the Forum delegates was Abel’s description of Bollore as a criminally, corrupt corporation in Cameroon.

head of the CPP party and Cameroon Obasso

head of the CPP party and Cameroon Obasso

We also spoke to the dynamic head of another large party CPP which is also interesting in that it has a political, but nonpartisan operation called Cameroon Obasso or Cameroon Let’s Go which operates almost like a community organization with various marginal populations. They are also part of an amalgamation called Stand Up for Cameroon, which has attracted wide support. She had run for president in 2011. She was more focused on the transition or, said another way, the inevitable death of the existing president, when the country would have the opportunity for change.

There are hundreds of parties in Cameroon. The law also prevents them from fusing or cross endorsing, so each is on its own in the fight for democracy against great odds in Cameroon.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Is Labor Day for Workers or Politicians?

highlight-img2Berlin   Every four years Labor Day marks the official beginning of the “real” campaign for President in the United States. Of course these campaigns are endless and began years and years before for most candidates, like a Hillary Clinton. Even Mr. Surprise Candidate, Donald Trump, has been hard at it for at least a year now. Both candidates had their big-bodied planes in Ohio on the same tarmac on Labor Day. Reporters could run back and forth between the planes. Candidates could nod in each others’ direction and note how important Ohio is as a battleground state. Democrats could show up at some of the few remaining Labor Day parades, marches, picnics, or whatever we might call them and genuflect to what’s left of the remaining power of labor unions, much of which is in fact on the goal line stand defense of politics and elections.

It is worth wondering if Labor Day really exists anymore to celebrate workers and their unions or just an easy access bridge for politicians to have their photo ops with workers, and then move on to more fundraisers and other touchstones of micro-targeting. It goes without saying for most people Labor Day is more the mark of the end of summer and perhaps the beginning of school sessions, and a last chance at a 3-day holiday in the long stretch until Thanksgiving. What’s labor got to do with it?

Judy Duncan, ACORN Canada’s head organizer forwarded me this piece she had gotten commemorating Labor Day, and it’s worth sharing:

In 1894, it [Labor Day] became a national holiday in Canada. The Canadian government was seeking to accommodate the Labour Movement after the rise of the Knights of Labor and the strengthening of unions in the 1880s. Shortly after, the American government followed suit, wanting in particular to offer a counterpoint to May Day, which commemorated the state violence against the 1886 Haymarket demonstrators. The contrast remains between the North American Labour Day holiday and May Day, which is Labour’s day elsewhere. While May Day stands for the international struggle against capitalism, Labour Day signifies the accommodation of workers within the capitalist system. Canada and the U.S. are the only countries where Labour Day rather than May Day celebrates the achievements of workers.

Accommodations are much, much different than achievements, especially with the disappearance of any social contract between labor and management involving an equal sharing of the benefits of work and wealth. When Labor Day becomes little more than a showcase and access point for politicians, that’s an even further dilution of the critical content of the day.

We have to hang on to it of course. At least we have one day that we can still try to claim as our own, since almost every other day of the year seems to celebrate business and the rich for all of us, and perhaps especially for politicians.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Rigged Elections and Delegitimized Democracy Increasing Polarization

 A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

New Orleans    The early warning signal was a report that 40% of recently surveyed Republicans already believed that ACORN was going to steal the election between Trump and Clinton. Yes, that’s down from the even higher percentages reported on other surveys since 2008 arguing that ACORN stole both elections for President Obama, but it’s still total falsehood and fantasy backed by not one iota of proof, not to mention the fact that ACORN has not operated in the United States since 2010, which seems to trouble none of these conspiratorialists in the least about such a zombie attack on election purity.

Now Trump partnered with the hate mongering, fact-adverse Breitbart bunch is putting out its first television advertisements with the subliminal headline, “Rigged,” flashing across the screen. Trump told his rallies in Pennsylvania that the polls were all corrupt and that the only way he could lose the election in Pennsylvania was if the election was stolen and the whole process was rigged. Normally, these would be tactics only associated with what we would usually call, “sore losers,” except that Trump seems to have virtually trademarked the word “loser,” and may not realize yet, as he undoubtedly will soon, how permanently that moniker will stick to him for the rest of his life, perhaps even in epic, historic terms.

If this were just about Trump, we could easily ignore his attempt to inoculate his fanboys and girls from what is increasingly seeming like the inevitable. The problem, as we have all sadly seen in the eight-year war by the right to delegitimize Obama, is that such a strategy is designed to polarize and erode democracy, which in the vicious circle of our political life, also paved the way for a Trump candidacy. Many will remember from his earliest days in office when President Obama, then a naïve democracy advocate, tried to remind the Congressional Republicans that he “had won the election,” believing that the mandate from the voters came with an understanding that some of his positions should be implemented in policy. We don’t believe any of that nonsense in Washington anymore that somehow the voters will deserves respect. It’s dog-eat-dog period, and the people take the hindmost, which is happening on a state-by-state basis where the rightwing has been able to work their will without restraint.

What does this augur? If Hillary Clinton prevails, will we once again watch her try to be bipartisan, as Obama did, and fail while the right quickly tries to reframe a defeat as not about them but about the flawed Trump candidacy?

Some are advancing the theory that the Senate could change hands if the Trump defeat continues on its current abysmal trajectory. A turnover of four or five seats would make the difference there for four years until 2020 when more Democratic seats are up for grabs, but that wouldn’t break through the logjam, even if it would hedge against our worst nightmares. For the House to flip, thirty or so seats would have to change, and most pundits are estimating only half of that will happen.

It’s depressing when the end of this polarized dysfunction still seems nowhere in sight, even as November’s outcome seems more and more inevitable.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Alternative Parties have to be Built Now to Contend in the Future

third-partyNew Orleans    In recent weeks Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor with deep roots on the left dating back to the 1960’s, the student movement, and the Students’ for a Democratic Society (SDS), wrote an interesting survey piece called the “Bernie Sanders Moment” in the New York Times.

He looked at the rise of Bernie Sanders from alternative politics in the sparsely populated conservative communities of the frozen north in Vermont to these days where he is exciting crowds with progressive plain talk on the presidential campaign trail in what many had assumed would be at best a quixotic exercise. He quoted Lee Webb, another former student activist and director of a program on alternative state and local politics from DC decades ago as having advised Sanders that “you’re never gonna get anywhere in politics if you don’t join the Democratic Party.” He astutely underlines a strategy for progressives that he refers to as building “the left wing of the possible,” attributing the line to writer, activist, and socialist Michael Harrington. He then runs through the long shots, near misses, and moon shots sometimes exploding on takeoff from the Citizen Party and Barry Commoner through Jesse Jackson’s two shots within the Democratic ranks and Ralph Nadar’s Green fling, saying “…to put it mildly, third-party politics has not been popular on the left.” For Gitlin it’s enough for Sanders, like so many others before him, to be “a force” and for his brand of progressivism to achieve a longer half-life with “influence” that will “persist.”

As a broad brushed overview all that seems fair enough, but part of his conclusions are based on a weirdly perverse view of organization and party building and a contradictory understanding of his own analysis of Sanders’ success in Vermont as someone who proved he could deliver to voters and constituents. Perhaps the victim or participant in too many sectarian political debates, Gitlin believes working within the Democratic Party is hard, tedious labor and building alternative parties that achieve electoral success as Sanders did, is somehow easier, saying “Because deliverable results are so hard to come by, progressives of various ages have gone for electoral politics of the proudly, defiant independent sort.” Contrary to Gitlin’s argument or assumptions or whatever is driving his viewpoints here, not only is independent politics brutally hard work, as veterans of the New Party, Working Families Party, Richmond Progressive Association, and countless others can attest, but also, like Vermont, with persistent effort and commitment, such work elects people!

So, fifty years of organizing and what do we have to show for it, many days older and deeper in debt? Building an alternative progressive party is long, disciplined work, but it needs to be done. If Gitlin’s point is that it cannot – and should not – be done from the pride and presidential level down, then I heartily agree, but whether it is or not, the work absolutely needs to be done from the ground up now, so that ten, twenty, thirty, or another fifty years from now there is a viable political party formation that may have roots and branches in various other local and statewide manifestations, but can legitimately contend for power at every level from bottom to top. And the work needs to start yesterday, as it has in a number of communities and states around the country, and it needs to be pursued earnestly and aggressively today in the wake of what Gitlin calls the “Sanders Moment,” and build the momentum to carry forward into the future. I even think that Sanders needs to help out in the building.

The existing two-party political structure is not ordained from on high or embedded in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. These were built environments and not part of a natural order. They are political institutions welded together by people and politicians in other circumstances in local soil. These parties have been deeply embedded and privileged for a long, long time, but around the world we see regular evidence of similarly calcified institutions unshaken and unseated. It confounds me to believe that it is impossible to imagine, and then to build, something different and something better.

Or, that it is impossible for quite a long time for us to walk and chew gum simultaneously, as Sanders is doing now. Progressives can make it for a long time into the future by voting as Democrats, if that’s the best choice, every four years, while building an alternative formation from the ground up in the meantime. Candidates walk on their knees to move independents to vote for them every cycle, why should progressive not be wooed with the same ardor, rather than forced to vote by default, hand pinching nose?

That’s just sound tactics, but sound strategy is building now so that we have real options – and real power – in the future.

***

Please enjoy Pattie Griffin’s There Isn’t One Way.

Thanks to KABF.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Field Operations are Still Key in the Land of Big Data

maxresdefaultNew Orleans     Sitting around a barbeque grill in Missoula, Montana recently,  I found myself in a mini-debate with a former political science professor at the University there who taught Jim Messina, a former Obama campaign manager and master political consultant. My friend’s position echoed Messina’s own post-election spin about bad political polling, arguing that “Cameron was the only one who wasn’t surprised at the election results.” I took the position, based on discussions with ACORN United Kingdom organizers throughout the country who were in the streets organizing in the communities of Bristol, London, Newcastle, Edinburgh, and Birmingham that the extent of conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s victory might have been a surprise, but from listening to our organizers on the ground, the fact that he won over the Labour Party candidate was predictable.

My friend’s point was that the campaign mechanics had gone past “big data” allowing micro-targeting to the level that in his words the Conservatives “could count the individual votes.” My point, held with equal stubbornness undoubtedly, was that field work still mattered the most and that no one trusted polling anymore anyway. Outside of the range of the barbeque’s heat the debate is really one where there is little difference in the distinction. I would agree that the tech side of political campaigning is now off-the-chain as it has advanced over the last decade, and my friend would probably agree that the field programs have as well. Our real argument might have been how in the world could we reconcile Jim Messina, long known and admired by both of us, working for David Cameron?!?

Reading reports of the early work in Iowa, the field is still the trigger there. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has 47 paid organizers already on the ground and is recruiting up to 7000 volunteers to work the caucuses more than a year away. Senator Bernie Sanders’ effort isn’t slouching on the field front either,  claiming 33 paid staff and 10 field offices. Those are small organizing armies!

Many of the organizers in both campaigns are veterans of the Obama campaigns. It is worth noting that the campaign manager for the Clinton machine is Robby Mook, who, according to the New York Times “rose through the ranks of field organizing, which has revolutionized modern campaigns.” Wish I had that quote with me in Montana!

Part of the new volunteer field methodology Mook drew from “organizing techniques of labor groups like the United Farm Workers,” according to the Times. Much of this seems to focus on the work of volunteers, using them to recruit other volunteers, and now in the Clinton campaign promoting some of the volunteers as “engagement directors” who develop the “internal organization” or “’captains’ who oversee specific tasks like canvassing.” Of course all of this is coupled with digital technology, both counting and targeting. And, of course none of this really sounds all that novel or unique, and most of it sounds like the reporter was being spun by the campaign. Other reports have already quoted Marshall Ganz, a UFW veteran, essentially prospecting for work, and we’ll be reading about “relational” organizing soon I’ll bet as well.

All of which is important for sure, but the classroom and the computer are still no substitute for hitting the doors and doing the work on the ground. Heck, the candidates – and the issues — even turn out to be important still in campaigns, which is worth remembering, too.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail