Time for a New Party

Against the Current, No. 39, July/August 1992

Ron Daniels

GOOD EVENING TO everyone. It’s a little hot in the room. I hope it isn’t any hotter when I’m finished.

We profoundly appreciate the invitation from the Community Labor Forum to be here this evening. It is indeed a real privilege to share this podium with folks who are building a new political movement in this country.

Terry Bouricius is here from Vermont. I was hosted by representatives from the Vermont Progressive Alliance as we made a quick one and a half-day sweep through the very beautiful state of Vermont–beautiful not only in terms of its physical environment but also because the politics are so righteous up there.

And to Daniel Sheehan, representing the 21st Century Party, and Tony Mazzocchi from Labor Party Advocates–I must say to you that I am a card-carrying member of Labor Party Advocates–and to all those here assembled: I have never experienced in my lifetime the disaffection with the Democrats and Republicans that we have now. We have a great opportunity to push forward the politics we believe in–that’s the “vision thing” I’ll talk about in a minute.

But speaking as an independent candidate for president, there are also some critical issues that we as progressives have to face–our ability to look at our own, to examine them and to do what Abel Thomas, the Black state representative, said we must do: “We are the leaders we have been looking for.” It’s not going to be a knight on a white horse or a black horse riding in from somewhere.

So I hope that the 21st Century Party (will consider my candidacy) in addition to its consideration of Ross Perot. [Daniel Sheehan, the legal counsel of the 21st Century Party who addressed this forum in place of Sara Nelson, remarked that the Perot candidacy was one of
several questions the party had to look at, citing Perot’s supportive attitude toward the Christic Institute’s investigation of the “Secret Team” involved in Iran-contra and other covert operations–ed.]

I’m not a billionaire but I think I have a billion dollars worth of service, coming out a tradition in the African American community for the past thirty years, which I hope qualifies me to have some of the gaps in my platform filled in, so that in the context of the progressive movement I might be considered a viable candidate for our politics. I hope I don’t have to talk about the eclecticism that Perot represents in this election.

A Vision and a Challenge

We need a visionary politics, I think we all agree on that. I come out of the African-American community, and twenty years ago I attended and indeed helped organize one of the most profound political meetings–the Gary political convention–in the history of Black people in this country. I want to quote a few passages from that convention’s declaration, because it’s been my Bible for the last twenty years:

“The crises we face as Black people are the crises of the entire society. They go deep to the bones and marrow, to the essential nature of American economic, political and cultural systems. They are the natural end products of a society built on the twin foundations of
racism and capitalism.”

It goes on to say:

“Any truly Black politics must begin with this truth: The American system does not work for the masses of our people. And it cannot be made to work without radical, fundamental change. Indeed, this system does not really work in favor of the humanity of anyone in America.”

And finally:

“A new Black politics must come to birth, since if we are serious that Black politics…must accept major responsibility for creating both the atmosphere and the program for fundamental far-ranging change in America, such responsibility is ours (African Americans–R.D.) because it is our people who are most deeply hurt and ravaged by the present system of society. That responsibility for leading change is ours because we live in a society where few people are able to assume the possibility of moving for a truly humane society.”

That was twenty years ago. It seems to me that the challenge put forward at Gary is as relevant today as it was then. That fact is that if we look at what just happened in Los Angeles, we are talking about the reality of twenty-five years of racism not being on the agenda as a critical priority of public policy.

But beyond that is the critical issue of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. One half of one percent in this country control 30% of the wealth; the top 10% control 80% of the wealth. We cannot begin to talk about a political process until we challenge straight-on the rule of the military-industrial complex. Any politics we as progressives talk about must have as its base the vision for the creation of a new society.

We are talking about a fundamental reconstruction of politics–and unfortunately racism has een and remains one of the major impediments to moving forward on that proposition.

Developing Our Movement

Racism is used as a way of diverting attention from the real contradictions–the vulturous behavior, the barracudas as Jesse used to call them, of the corporate elite. They run this country. So as we challenge the rule of the rich and the super-rich, we must continue to focus on racism, and sexism, and all the other isms in this society–but certainly racism is a very deep-seated reality in American society.

We as progressives talk about racism as if it were somewhere else. The question is, can we who are progressive challenge it in the progressive movement? Why is it that we have not been able to build the multi-racial movement, with Black people and Latinos and others at the center? We talk about it, but indeed we haven’t been able to make it so.

That is because in a real sense, while we talk about it I’m not sure we are prepared to do the internal, structural organizational development that requires putting Black people, and Latinos, and Natives and other people of color at the center and substantially, though not exclusively, in positions of leadership.

That isn’t something that just happens. It must be consciously looked to and put into place. So one thing we do in Campaign for a New Tomorrow is to raise that question. It’s sometimes uncomfortable, but I didn’t come to make people comfortable, I came to challenge us to try to move us forward. And again, if we aren’t able to do that the politics of divide-and-conquer, used so cleverly by the Republicans under the auspices of Reaganomics, will continue to play out.

Even in the progressive movement I sometimes hear people asking us to play a race-neutral politics–“we can’t address these issues because we would lose a part of the working class.” I am saying that what we have to do is build a political movement that addresses the historical experiences of African Americans, and how those experiences are different from those of other immigrant peoples who came to this country.

The same applies to Latino and Native peoples: We have to talk about their issues, and that’s why multi-cultural education has to be a fundamental piece in our agenda. We can’t ever rise above racism until we have incorporated their struggles<197>not just adding a few people, but the struggles, the triumphs and the failures– that actually happened in this country.

We need to talk about Native people in this country–once 30 million and now only three million left. About the 100 million Africans destroyed in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the impact of slavery on Africans today. It’s not an ancient question. And if some of you think it is, you need to be brought into the discussion to talk about these differences so we can move forward.

That’s how we can in fact move the working class forward–not by people of color sacrificing their agenda on the altar of the “working class,” but by understanding that within the working class there are particularities. And we meld a coalition based on those understandings.

Republicans and Republocrats

I want to talk very briefly on Reagan and Reaganomics. We all know what it was and how it was fostered by the Republicans. But what we are most chagrined about is the total collapse of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party in the last decade wasn’t a party of loyal opposition, but of loyal accomplices. In fact, without the votes<197>this is plain and simple politics–of the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, the Reagan revolution never would have been possible.

They cannot therefore now begin to say they have no blame. They are every bit as responsible as the Republicans for what exploded in south central Los Angeles, because they were the party that didn’t have the guts or the convictions to say that human beings are more important than profit and property.

I hardly need to tell labor people about the Democratic record of betrayal after betrayal after betrayal. One of the reasons that’s so is that big money controls the process. It assumes that the Republicans are pro-rich, so it turns to control the Democratic Party, putting more PAC money into the Democrats than labor is able to put in. Therefore labor and the working class no longer have a trustworthy ally.

That leads us to the conclusion–in a country where the biggest “party” is neither the Republicans or the Democrats, but the 91 million people who didn’t register or vote in 1988–that we must have something fundamentally different. Those non-voters don’t lack intelligence. They know in their heart of hearts that these politicians come promising a difference but nothing fundamentally different happens.

The message of H. Ross Perot is that people are so desperate they are willing to invest their hopes in anything. But in that desperation also lies the danger. What I saw in Nazi Germany is that desperation also brought on fascism. So we must be very clear that it’s not automatic that working people in their disaffection will move left; they may also move to the fascist solution.

We have to be very careful on the left, therefore, to have a coherent program and a coherent direction.

We are talking about a new political movement. And I am baffled in this particular election, how people could ask us to choose between a Republican and a Republocrat, between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We are talking about Bill Clinton–I see the button up here that says Dump Bush–and I want to do that, but what am I going to get? What is Bill Clinton’s record<197>on everything we care about Slick Willy comes up slick, short and shy.

So I am not prepared to accept rotating presidents, and that’s why we have moved toward a candidacy. The Campaign for a New Tomorrow is a movement candidacy. Ron Daniels is not going to be president of the United States. I know miracles happen, but after seeing “JFK” I’d be terrified anyway….

Building The “Vision Thing”

So we’re talking about using this candidacy. Let’s be clear that it’s an educational vehicle, a vehicle to mobilize the unmobilized, register the unregistered, and more than anything else, to build permanent organizations. And that’s what we’re doing in city after city.

This is a movement prepared to work with other initiatives. It’s distinguished, however, by the fact that it comes essentially out of the Black community. It’s reaching out to people of color in very emphatic and decisive ways. Within the next weeks I hope to announce something we’ve talked about throughout this campaign, a Native American woman as a running mate.

This is important, both because the issue of Native Americans is crucial and because it’s important to have a woman as a co-partner in this process. In 1992, 500 years after the Columbus fiasco, we need someone who will tell the experiences of Native Americans. Let America know what happened 500 years ago, but also that Native Americans are being exploited, preyed upon, dispossessed even as we speak tonight.

But there are other things we talk about. The idea of a progressive Cabinet for example, not just a president and vice-president but a Cabinet of progressive people who would be a part of this campaign. That idea hasn’t really caught hold, but the next idea has: I’ve argued over and over that what we need is to convene ourselves after the Democrats have met and the Republicans have had their little show.

Progressives in this time of disaffection must have our own mass progressive convention. That convention will happen in Ypsilanti, Michigan August 21-23. It is important that we come together to lay out our analyses of the crisis, our view of what the political direction needs to be, to re-emphasize that we cannot be satisfied with rotating presidents.

More than anything else, we need to network–because when I was in Vermont people didn’t know about the Pacific Party organizing in Oregon, and when I went to Oregon they didn’t know about the Progressive Alliance in Vermont. We need all these movements to meet each other, to understand we are doing good work, and to leave convinced that we are on the right track.

Let me also say that I have never felt, as an organizer and a person coming out of a strong history of struggle, that electoral politics is the only thing we must do. I am not worried about whether George Bush will be there or Bill Clinton.

We have the capacity, however, to become ungovernable in this country. In one single act, urban policy is back on the agenda, not because anybody voted for anything but because people took to the streets in Los Angeles. I regret that some had to go violently, and some of the things that happened were regrettable, but out of that also came massive non-violent protests all over the country. People blocked bridges, highways, airports.

Can Workers Be Ungovernable?

We don’t have to accept violations of our basic human rights. We can become ungovernable if it is necessary in the interests of working people in this country.

I’m saying, as we move beyond the elections–we have all these (union) boycotts and not much success. We need to pick one boycott, put our combined energies behind that one and make it stick, to give us some juice.

Just recently, when those workers had to go back at Caterpillar, anyway you slice it that was a defeat for the working class. And I say to Tony (Mazzocchi) and other people in labor–think about April 6, 1993, which is two days after the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. A Martin Luther King who had moved way beyond the question if “I Have A Dream,” who was excoriating capitalism and imperialism as he died, who said that any system that produces beggars needs to be restructured, that any system that puts more money into military systems than into human beings needs to be changed.

He was moving with the (striking Memphis) sanitation workers, he was calling for a Poor Peoples Campaign. And I am sick and tired of all these ceremonial Martin Luther King marches, teas and dinners. Even our massive protests–like the (April 5) NOW march, which was great, but so orchestrated. As Malcolm said, we were in town in the morning and out of town by sundown. Same thing with the (AFL-CIO) Solidarity Day march.

On April 6, 1993 we need to have a general strike. Let’s shut America down. I don’t have a billion dollars, but I have a strong voice. It can be reverberated. Maybe the labor leaders wouldn’t do it, but the rank and file, Blacks, Latinos–let’s say, if we don’t have legislation to block scabs, if we don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment, if we don’t have a domestic Marshall Plan, if the defense budget isn’t about to be cut by at least 50%, let’s show our power by shutting America down for one National Day of Action.

Our Campaign for a New Tomorrow isn’t just someone running for president. I challenge you also because people who aren’t going to work actively in the campaign should at least be willing to endorse it. Because otherwise, are you really saying underneath that you are afraid of being held responsible for re-electing George Bush?

I take the position of Eugene Debs, who said it is better to vote for what you believe in, and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t believe in, and get it. Let’s stop voting for the lesser of evils. Let’s vote for what we believe in.

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men”–and women–“who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

“This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to”–and thank god the people of south central said we are no longer willing to submit, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired–“and you will find out the exact amount of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them. And these will continue until they are resisted, either with words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants”–and I might add, of oppressive ystems–“are prescribed by the endurance of those they oppress.” (Quote from Frederick Douglas–ed.)

If there is no struggle, there will never, never be any progress. And I thank you.

[Ron Daniels, presidential candidate, spoke at a Community Labor Forum on independent parties in Philadelphia along with Tony Mazzocchi of Labor Party Advocates, Daniel Sheehan from the 21st Century Party and Terry Bouricius of the Vermont Progressive Alliance.]

July-August 1992, ATC 39