I’m using my vote to fight another day

I am going to post something that some of my friends, even some of my close friends, may not like. But I’ve thought long and hard, and these are the conclusions I have reached based on what I’ve seen and experienced.

I am going to vote Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president. Am I happy with these nominees? No. Biden sponsored the crime bill, sponsored the bankruptcy legislation that makes it impossible to discharge student loan debt, and said he would veto Medicare for All.

So here’s why I am voting for Biden — and why as the Central Committee representative for Columbus Ward 79, I will do my best to get voters in my ward to vote for him too.

1. Climate. The climate crisis is an existential threat. There are no jobs, no health care, no nothing on a dead planet. If we don’t significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2030, the biosphere that supports life will come apart, and will be unable to continue supporting human civilization and life on earth. It will be an ugly death full of famine, disease, displacement, extinction, and war. We must do whatever we can to avoid that.

Joe Biden’s platform on climate is actually pretty decent. It promises to roll out thousands of clean energy jobs and move the country to 100% renewable energy by 2020. It doesn’t do enough to confront fossil fuels — for example, it doesn’t ban fracking — but the act of moving to 100% renewable energy would itself reduce dependence on fossil fuels. That opens up a window of time in which we can continue to work for an end to fossil fuel consumption.

By contrast, if Trump is re-elected, it is nothing less than the end of a livable planet. During his first term, Trump has gutted hundreds of environmental regulations, including on methane regulations from fracking operations. Methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A continued expansion in methane emissions would destroy our biosphere.

Trump is also attacking our nation’s bedrock environmental laws — the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and more. So far environmental organizations have been able to sue and prevent the worst of these attacks from bearing fruit. But another four years will chip away at that bulwark and those laws will be gone. The incredible natural spaces in this country will be unrecognizable after four more years of Trump. Our iconic species will be hunted, trapped, poisoned to extinction.

2. Democracy. Trump openly admires the most ruthless dictators around the world — for example, in Brazil, North Korea, Russia, and the Philippines. He sees the U.S. government as an extension of himself, and believes the function of government — for example, the office of the attorney general — is not to serve the American people but to serve himself.

Right now Trump is actively trying to undermine the main threat to his re-election — voting by mail — by destroying the post office. He is doing this openly — everyone can see it. Behind the scenes, billionaires including Trump are funding operatives all over the country to destabilize the vote and set up claims of voting fraud — in reality almost non-existent. Funding for such operations has sharply increased leading up to the 2020 election.

Are the Democrats great at democracy? No. We all saw what they did to Bernie not once by twice. I will never forget the dirty tricks throughout the 2016 primary. In 2020, in an effort to overwhelm such fuckery, Bernie built the largest base of campaign volunteers and small-dollar donors in U.S. history — but a few calls from Obama at a key moment got most of the other candidates to fall in line behind Biden, and soon after Bernie was out.

Now Bernie is urging his supporters to vote for Biden, in a move that some call sheep dogging. I don’t believe this is sheep dogging. Unlike most of us, Bernie literally suffered the loss of most his family on his father’s side to the Nazis during WWII. Most of us learned about WWII in the history books or from movies. Bernie grew up in its shadows. It shaped his formative years. Bernie has personally experienced the results of allowing a fascist dictatorship to take root. He doesn’t want that to happen here — and neither do I.

If Donald Trump is re-elected, the things we are seeing happen right now in the streets of Portland and Kenosha will look like child’s play compared to what we will see rolled out across the country. We have seen that large swaths of our police departments are willing to carry out the wishes of a fascist regime. We have seen that a significant portion of our fellow Americans will applaud them for doing so. We have seen that the major targets are black people, poor people, young people, and people of color in general.

In the words of Werner Herzog, we are waking up to the reality that one-third of our citizens would kill another third of our citizens while the rest watch. Well, I can’t stand by and watch. We have two months to prevent this, and I am going to do whatever I can to keep it from happening. It’s not that I think Joe Biden is great — but he’s not going to turn the country into a fascist dictatorship, and it is not an exaggeration to say Trump will. In just the first four years, Trump has done a lot of damage to our democratic processes already worn thin by 40 years of corporate rule. Another four years will let him loose to do whatever he wants. There likely won’t be another chance to hold him accountable by voting him out because there likely won’t be a 2024 election. Are things bad now? Yes, they are — but they could get much worse.

We are at a perilous moment in our country’s history, and I feel it is imperative to act in a way that minimizes the peril. Is the Democratic Party partly responsible for putting us in this situation? Absolutely they are. But right now our house is on fire. Right now a cancerous growth is overtaking our body. Use whatever metaphor you want, but we are in an existential crisis. We have to deal with that first, or it will be too late for anything else we do to matter.

3. Theory of change. “But if you vote for Biden,” I can hear some of my friends say, “what leverage do you have to get him to change? If you promise your vote from the outset, how are you going to get Biden to do anything about Medicare for All, student loan debt relief, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, and all the other progressive priorities we need?”

I get that. But with all due respect, I disagree with that theory of change, which argues that we must use progressive votes as leverage to get what we want while Biden is still a candidate, because we won’t have that leverage after he is elected. Here is why I disagree with that approach.

a) Right now we don’t have leverage with the Democratic Party. Do the Democrats care what progressives think? Watch the DNC convention to get an answer to that. Clearly the Democratic Party is going after votes from never-Trump Republicans. They care more about John Kasich than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. People who think withholding their vote will create leverage over the Democratic Party misunderstand the party’s priorities.

b) If we withhold enough votes, especially in key swing states, then it won’t matter whether we have leverage over a Biden administration because Trump will win. The leverage theory seems to be predicated on the idea that Biden will be president, but that is not a given. In fact, the Democratic Party — whether out of incompetence, arrogance, or being sold out — seems to be doing everything it can to alienate the voters it needs, such as the people of Flint poisoned by former Gov. Rick Snyder, whose endorsement they touted last week. We can’t prevent the Democratic Party’s missteps, but we don’t need to add to them — not when the alternative is fascism.

This party has not learned a damn thing from 2016. Why would we expect them to learn anything from losing to Trump again in 2020? We have to proceed as if it’s a given that the Democratic Party leadership is arrogant, incompetent, and incapable of seeing what is obvious to everyone else.

At the same time, we also have to hold on to our democracy and our climate — and to me, that is a higher calling than sticking it to the Democratic Party. Yes, it’s true that party leadership scorns progressives and doesn’t act in our or even their own best interest. But I will still do whatever I can to keep them from losing, because if that happens, we will lose everything we hold dear — everything our lives depend on — in the process. That price tag is too high for me. I would rather swallow my pride and live on to fight on another day.

So here is my theory of change. It is too late now to vote for the candidate who we could have trusted to fight for the progressive agenda that we all know this country needs without us having to push. Instead, we should use our votes to choose the candidate who we can get the most traction from for our progressive agenda if he becomes president — and that candidate is Biden.

If Biden wins, I am not going back to sleep. I will be out there on Day 1 fighting for an end to fossil fuels, for Medicare for All, for student debt forgiveness and tuition free college, for criminal justice reform such as an end to private prisons, civilian review boards, and legalization of marijuana, for making billionaires and corporations pay their fair share of taxes, for a living wage and affordable housing, workers rights, and expanding animal and environmental protections. And I will be demanding Biden make good on his promise to create millions of good-paying jobs in a clean energy economy.

Can such a movement work? Hell, yes it can. I have seen that with my own eyes in Columbus, Ohio, where this year as a result of grassroots efforts, city leaders have put two critical initiatives on the November ballot: community choice aggregation for 100% renewable energy by 2022, and a civilian police review board. I helped lead the grassroots effort that get the renewable energy initiative, and others led the campaign that got the civilian review board and other criminal justice reforms. None of that was done without people-powered campaigns. It was 5,000 signatures we gathered that helped get renewable energy done. It was thousands of people flooding the streets after the murder of George Floyd that helped get police reform done.

We have made real progress here in the 14th-largest city in the country. If it can be done here, it can be done anywhere — but not against a Trump administration. In Columbus we have what is basically a one-party Democratic machine. It’s not like we had much leverage with our votes because they were going to win regardless. Where we had leverage is in people — strong grassroots campaigns. That is how we made change.

But it can only work in a democracy — even a flawed democracy. It doesn’t work in a fascist regime. We cannot risk moving this country to fascism to get what we want, because then what we want will be gone forever.

That is why, even though I am not a fan of Joe Biden, I will be voting for Joe Biden. I will not vote shame or pressure anyone else, but I will make the case for why I am voting for Biden, and I hope other progressives will consider what I have to say here, especially if they live in a swing state.

Regardless of whether we agree on this specific strategy and theory of change, I hope I can continue working with my progressive friends to enact the policy agenda we all know this country needs. Part of the reason we are on the precipice of fascism in the first place is 40 years of a neoliberal corporate regime that has taken over both parties. The policies we support would lower the risk of fascism, but we have to pull ourselves back from the brink first.

I also understand the role of third parties in this fight. As Marianne Williamson told the Movement for a People’s Party convention, third parties played a critical role in winning abolition of slavery, votes for women, and Social Security. The inside-outside strategy will be critical moving forward.

But while a third party will be important in the fight ahead during a Biden administration, it’s not a factor in my vote. I would love to have a truly multiparty system like many other countries have, but we aren’t going to get a viable third or fourth party by November. Our realistic choices in 2020 are Biden or Trump — and while neither are what I want, there is a difference. One allows us to live on to fight another day, while the other does not.

The choice seems pretty clear to me.

Image credit: Vote Trump Out campaign by RootsAction

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