by Bill Onasch
Some Bright Spots In Gloomy Elections
It’s not unusual for small socialist groups to run election campaigns. It’s a good opportunity to get their ideas out and gain some recruits to the cause. But in last week’s municipal elections in Minneapolis and Seattle the candidates of Socialist Alternative shook the Establishment in two high profile campaigns for city council.
The votes are still being counted in Seattle with more returns being announced later today. As of Friday’s tabulation SAlt candidate Kshama Sawant had 49.5 percent and trailed her incumbent opponent by 1,237 votes. She has steadily gained in the count and still might win.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports Socialist Alternative candidate Ty Moore lost a tight race to the DFL (the Democrats dba Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota) candidate 47-42 percent.
This is the most significant showing by avowed socialist candidates in major city elections in the past half-century.
In my opinion, this is due to two major factors. First, we must give credit to Socialist Alternative for exemplary campaigns that included union endorsements as well as support from community and other socialist and Green groups. Their supporters showed solidarity on every picket line, every demonstration during lengthy campaigns.
But even more importantly, their election results confirm a new mood among the working class majority that’s been noted in the Week In Review more than once. This is recognized in a post-election article on the SAlt website,
“Rooted in the Great Recession and the shallow economic recovery, there is a tremendous distrust of the political establishment, which fueled both campaigns. The government shutdown also stoked a popular rage that allowed the socialist campaigns to strike a real chord with ordinary people. During the government shutdown, the approval rating for Congress slumped to a historic low of 5%. In a Gallup poll, a record-high 60% said that a new party was needed in the U.S., and a record low of only 26% said the two parties were doing an adequate job. Many people in the U.S. often feel discouraged and demoralized by the rigged pro-corporate electoral system. However, these campaigns demonstrated beyond a shadow of the doubt that independent candidates and ordinary working-class people can challenge the establishment without taking a dime of corporate money!”
That’s true enough and such campaigns deserve our support. But just imagine what organized labor–with our human and material resources–could do with a party of our own. We could go far beyond what old socialists called “propaganda campaigns.” We could seriously contend for the political power to which our majority class is entitled.
Also last week, voters in Seatac, an entity around the airport serving Seattle and Tacoma, voted to approve a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage. And closer to home for me, a ballot measure to impose a new half-cent sales tax for twenty years to finance private, for profit medical research–denounced in this column a couple of weeks ago–was soundly rejected by Jackson County Missouri voters by an 84-16 margin.
Everyone knows of the SuperTyphoon designated Haiyan. After devastating the Philippines and killing thousands it kept right on going across the South China Sea, still as potent as Katrina, to hit Vietnam. It was far greater in size and intensity than SuperStorm Sandy that caused so much death and destruction along the U.S. Atlantic seaboard last year. In fact, this Pacific monster was the most severe storm to hit land ever recorded.
Not so familiar to most is COP 19–the nineteenth in a series of Climate Change Conferences organized by the United Nations, that began meeting yesterday in a stadium in Warsaw and will continue through November 22. These Conferences of the Parties began in 1995 but there were precursor meetings beginning as early as early as 1979. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of scientists who monitor and predict the impact of global warming, has been around since 1988.
The IFPC is in the midst of presenting a fresh comprehensive report. More alarming in substance and tone than ever, one of the effects they attribute to climate change is bigger and more frequent severe weather events. With such accompanying human tragedy, this most recent empirical support for the report’s predictions will bring no joyous celebration.
In her opening remarks to COP19, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told the delegates,
“‘We gather today under the weight of many sobering realities,’–the first being the new record of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere that was reached earlier this year. ‘The second is the devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons to ever make landfall. Our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of the Philippines, Vietnam and South-East Asia.’”
Exceeding the 400ppm concentration of carbon dioxide dooms the long held goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. That’s been considered the ceiling needed to avoid the worst effects on climate–and civilization as we know it. Sandy and Haiyan are examples of how we are already experiencing unwelcome, sometimes catastrophic effects. We could add the massive firestorms that have plagued Australia and the western United States. This is nothing compared to the bleak future we will leave behind for coming generations if the global economy stays on present course.
The situation is so dire that some respected climate scientists are now desperately urging environmentalists to campaign for what they see as a lesser evil of nuclear power to partially displace carbon emissions. I’m not a scientist but you only need to read newspapers to recognize just how evil this technology is.
There are not only headline disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. There are growing stocks of radioactive waste, dangerous for centuries, for which there are no known methods for safe, secure disposal. And nuclear could only be a temporary reprieve at best because this energy source, ultimately dependent on uranium in the ground, is not renewable. As much as we respect some of these recent converts to nuclear they are dead wrong. We should instead follow the example of mass anti-nuke movements, that have won some victories, in Japan and Germany.
Probably without consciously realizing it, the motives of the pro-nuke climate scientists rest on a belief that the capitalists who dominate nearly all of the world’s governments would accept a profitable nuclear offset to leaner profits from declining use of coal, oil, and natural gas. That’s a dubious assumption. In any case, maintaining the unconscionable concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is incompatible with resolving the global climate crisis.
In an excellent article reprinted on the Climate & Capitalism site Australian climate activist Simon Butler argues a perspective long advanced in Week In Review,
“A public investment drive in renewable energy, energy efficiency, urban and intercity public transport, reforestation and low-input farming is the only conceivable way we could drive emissions down fast and prepare for survival in a warmer world….Such a change is not going to happen without the government stepping in to completely reshape the economy, similar to how the government reshaped the economy during World War II….A strong public sector is necessary, but real community and worker control over these institutions is just as important. Without real grassroots democracy – a system where the people decide everything – a public investment drive can be corrupted by unaccountable vested interests….The climate change policy discussion we need is whether we can afford to leave the economy under their [the One Percent] command and control for much longer. The evidence suggests we can’t.”
It’s unlikely such discussion will take place at COP19. First we need it in our union halls, workplace break rooms, community centers, and on college campuses. There’s no separating class and climate justice.
Some Restrictions Apply
It was the first protest where I had to go through a police security checkpoint–complete with metal detectors–to enter. I had seen some in front of me turned away because they had bags or plastic water bottles. I had neither but got called out for my Swiss Army Knife. Even after stowing that weapon back in my car I still set off alarms. We finally determined it was the foil in a pack of Lucky Strikes in my jacket pocket.
The men in Blue, all with skin tones matching mine, were polite, even a bit apologetic. They explained strict rules were adopted for the “others” and the same restrictions had to be applied equally to us. Los otros were the neo-Nazis who were scheduled to hold a rally on the Jackson County Courthouse steps across the street, as I described in the last WIR. But the rules weren’t completely equal, The Nazis had a powerful sound system. We had only our lung power.
Unfortunately, our protest didn’t have much structure. People shouted what ever popped in to their head. Some were efforts to make a political statement but a lot was just obscene. But despite this disorganization I was proud to stand with this diverse group determined to send the message that our town didn’t welcome those bedecked in swastikas spreading the poison of hate.
The Nazis were bold with their bigotry and threats. They could afford to be. They were behind a phalanx of cops–some mounted on horseback–at least twice the size of the sieg heil contingent. Fortunately, our side didn’t get baited in to any foolish adventures. There was only one arrest that I know of. Responding to a Nazi call for change one protester ironically threw some coins in their direction saying “here’s your change!” The KCPD aren’t noted for their sense of humor and promptly pulled the man from the crowd and led him off. I’m not sure who collected the crime scene evidence.
There was another, semi-official rally about a mile and a half away at Liberty Memorial. It was billed as a “high ground” protest. Presumably that consigned our downtown event to the underground. According to some in attendance it was well structured with prepared speakers addressing the various threats of fascism.
Between the two separate, concurrent events of roughly equal size, the counter-protesters outnumbered the Nazi scum by at least a twenty-to-one ratio. Not bad for a proportional response put together in relatively short time.
Back on schedule after a vacation/holiday break, we resume today posting of news links on the Labor Advocate Blog. This is updated Monday-Friday by 9AM Central.
That’s all for this week.