On Tuesday, the Senate narrowly advanced a bill giving President Barack Obama—and the next president—"Fast Track" or Trade Promotion Authority to ram through the Trans Pacific Partnership with almost no democratic oversight. The vote is a major victory for multinational corporations and the global one percent. While hundreds of unelected, unaccountable corporate big-wigs literally wrote the rules that will shape our global economy in coming years, our democratically-elected leaders will only be allowed an up-or-down vote on the final agreement. Congress, in essence, has just written the corporate elite a giant blank check.
"When it comes to the fight for people and the planet, almost just isn’t good enough."
The vote was a big defeat, that much cannot be denied. But the fight over fast track shows the growing power of populist progressives. Millions of Americans raised their voices and demanded Congress put people and planet before corporate profits. Thousands wrote letters, made calls, and marched in the street. Hundreds of organizations, from grassroots community organizers to environmental groups to unions to food safety activists and internet freedom groups, pushed Congressional leaders to stand by their constituents. Barack Obama and the Republicans were expecting a slam dunk but they had to use every play in the book to squeak through the corporate agenda. What seemed like a foregone conclusion a few months ago passed by just one vote in both the House and the Senate.
Ultimately though, coming close to victory won’t protect our communities from corporate power grabs like TPA. It won’t stop the mammoth backroom trade deal from allowing corporations to challenge U.S. laws—and the laws of other sovereign nations—from common sense protections. It won’t help workers at home and abroad who will see their wages plummet and their labor rights undermined. It won’t keep money-hungry corporations from running roughshod over environmental protections. When it comes to the fight for people and the planet, "almost" just isn’t good enough.
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We lost because too many Democrats still belong to Wall Street. Corporate America owns the soul of the Democratic Party and is fighting tooth and nail to contain the progressive populist rebellion. This bill—a top priority of Democratic President Barack Obama—wouldn’t have passed without millions from corporate lobbyists and the votes of 13 pro-Wall Street Democrats: Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Dianne Feinstein of California, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Ron Wyden of Oregon. These thirteen Senate turncoats were joined by 28 pro-Wall Street Democrats in the House.
And Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, remained largely silent. While in recent months Clinton has embraced progressive populism in her speeches, her silence on trade reveals her posturing as little more than cheap talk. She once called the TPP the "gold standard" trade agreement and she has gone to great lengths to avoid taking a firm stance on TPP as a candidate, reinforcing the public’s impression that she can’t be trusted to stand with everyday people over Wall Street executives. When the opportunity arose to take a progressive stand for people and planet, the supposed Democratic standard-bearer stayed mum.
"The TPA vote is one more example of why we need to radically transform our political system, not just tinker around the edges."
For many of us, this loss is a bitter pill to swallow. For many millions of families here and around the world, this loss will mean less food on the table, more toxins in the air, less rights in the workplace and a smaller voice in our governments. We are facing a triple crisis: rising economic and racial inequality, a hijacked democracy and a planet in peril. Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans Pacific Partnership will heighten, not alleviate, the crisis we face.
The TPA vote is one more example of why we need to radically transform our political system, not just tinker around the edges. We can’t settle for Wall Street Democrats who turn a deaf ear to the voice of the people. We can’t limp along when corporate bosses rake in more and more while workers scrape by with less and less. We can’t stand by while Black lives are stolen and our planet slowly boils.
We’ve got to be prepared this November, but we can’t afford to be distracted by a single appealing candidate or by a single important election. The problem goes beyond one candidate or one election. We don’t need a savior. We must build an independent political movement that puts people and planet over corporate profits. We’ve got to find, train and elect hundreds of movement candidates and build a new left pole in American politics. Only then can we create an economy where people and planet, not profits, are the bottom line.
This independent movement can’t use the same old strategies. We can no longer afford to sit by as Democrats sell-out our communities. There’s no time to opt for the lesser of two evils. We cannot rest content to reinforce the barricades, we must climb the walls and mount our own attacks. How do we begin? We put corporate-owned Democrats on notice. You can’t serve profits over people and expect to get our vote. We must challenge Wall Street Democrats like the 42 Democrats who voted "Yes" for TPA.
The TPA vote was a bright line in the sand, a chance for Democrats in Congress to declare their allegiance to people and planet or to the 1%. For at least 42 Democrats, their choice—and our choice next election cycle—is clear. If we want different outcomes, we must look to Main Street, not Wall Street. If we want new leaders, we have to look to ourselves.
We need millions of people and thousands of movement candidates working together to build a new left pole in American political life and a new future. And we’ve got to start today.