In a surreal year that has spiraled from surging hopes for a Bernie Sanders presidency to today’s pandemic-hemmed fear and a tight election between centrist Democrats and fascistic Republicans, now may be just the right time for a new political party.
As voters face a dismal “lesser of two evils” election in which a Biden/Harris ticket represents the only alternative to four more years of Trumpian fascism and racism, the Movement for a People’s Party aims to prevent such dreary and sparse choices in the future.
“We’re going to get that neo-fascist out of the White House, and we’re going to build a People’s Party and get to work,” said former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, chair of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, as she culminated the first-ever online creation of a political party on Sunday, August 30, following five hours of webinar speeches melding outrage and inspiration.
On the heels of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) speakers blasted this “duopoly” for its long bipartisan allegiance to corporate power, oligarchy, and militarism. Speaker after speaker skewered the Democratic Party and its nominee for decades of adherence to corporate and Wall Street interests, military spending increases and war, and its refusal to support Medicare for All, even amid a deadly pandemic.
"Speaker after speaker skewered the Democratic Party and its nominee for decades of adherence to corporate and Wall Street interests, military spending increases and war, and its refusal to support Medicare for All, even amid a deadly pandemic."
By press time today, 7,639 convention participants (among viewers and online listeners, who numbered roughly 95,000 on Periscope) had voted to approve the official creation of the People’s Party. As of now, organizers say, there are three active state chapter Twitter pages—Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—and the MPP’s all-volunteer crew is working on building local chapters in other states. Organizers aim to tap local activists across the country to help launch party chapters as well as state-level hubs and nine regional branches.
The day-long virtual convention—which also featured Dr. Cornel West, Danny Glover, Marianne Williamson, Tim Black, Amaya Wangeshi, and other progressive icons, podcasters, and organizers—builds on more than two years of MPP organizing.
The stakes of the moment are starkly clear: a raging pandemic, soaring unemployment and poverty, and a fascist and racist president versus a Democratic nominee who has stated, “nothing would fundamentally change.” Against this backdrop, speakers warned against both the continuation of Trump and the perils of a Democratic Party that relies on corporate money and stifles fundamental change.
Actor and activist Danny Glover said “in face of growing fascism . . . when peaceful protesters are viciously attacked . . . if we don’t act now, we’ll find ourselves in a darker moment than we can imagine.”
Cornel West, citing the “marvelous militancy” rising in the streets, called for a “prophetic fight-back that is intersectional,” in a multiracial, multigenerational movement to combat “the neofascist in the White House,” and the “milquetoast neoliberals who keep voting for his military budgets,” along with “unbelievably grotesque levels of inequality.”
From the convention’s opening moments, the rage and hope were palpable. Host Nick Brana, MPP’s national director and a veteran of Bernie’s 2016 campaign, provided a stark lay of the land. “The kind of crises we are facing indicates the two parties can’t deliver what we need,” said Brana in his opening remarks. “There’s a word for that—it’s called a failed state.”
A short, well-produced video sketched out today’s crises: three billionaires holding more wealth than the bottom half of society; an eviction crisis threatening to make millions homeless; 140 million Americans poor or low-income—even before the pandemic; rampant flooding, fires, and tornados propelled by climate chaos; and a plague of police racism and violence, giving rise to mass protests for racial justice.
The People’s Party platform offers a familiar progressive palette, having “emerged from Bernie Sanders’s first presidential campaign platform,” according to the MPP. “It was developed, voted on and adopted by our members in March of 2018,” they state. The agenda includes: A “twenty-first century economic bill of rights;” including Wall Street reforms and public banking; a wealth tax; Medicare for All; a Green New Deal; free public college and elimination of student debt; restorative justice and an end to mass incarceration; and expansions of social security and veterans care.
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Democrats’ failure to confront corporate power and interests was a dominant theme throughout the convention.
Cheng-Sim Lim, a Bernie delegate and Healthcare for All organizer in Los Angeles, articulated the urgency of Medicare for All. Lim volunteered for President Obama’s Organizing for America until she found that the promise of a public option was just “bait and switch . . . we were puzzled why Obama wouldn’t fight for the chief plank of his campaign,” she said. In California, Lim noted, Democrats pushed for single-payer until Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it—then resisted single-payer when they held legislative majorities and had Democratic governor Jerry Brown in office.
Omar Fernandez, president of the American Postal Workers Union of Vermont, noted a bipartisan history of neglecting the postal service. In 2006, he said, Congress passed bipartisan legislation—the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act—that has been “concrete around our necks. . . . If it wasn’t for this law, we would have six years of profit now.” Fernandez added, “oligarchs and corporations already have two parties that take care of them. We need a party that takes care of us.”
Chris Smalls, a warehouse worker who was fired by Amazon for his activism and then founded the Congress of Essential Workers, said, “Capitalism doesn’t separate itself from racism.” He said he was “tired of the Democratic Party giving a lot of lip service and not much action.”
Author and journalist Chris Hedges brought his brand of eloquent fire and brimstone: “There’s only one choice in this election: the consolidation of oligarchic power under Donald Trump, or the consolidation of oligarchic power under Joe Biden. . . . Only one thing matters to oligarchs—the primacy of corporate power, which has extinguished our democracy and left most of the poor and working class in misery.”
Hedges also lobbed a blistering critique of Senator Bernie Sanders for enthusiastically supporting the Democratic nominees in 2016 in 2020, instead of backing independent protest movements from the left following his primary losses. “Sanders was a dutiful sheepdog then and is a dutiful sheepdog now.”
(Sanders was notably absent from the MPP launch, but there’s no mistaking the Vermont Senator’s impact, from the platform to the organization’s genesis. The MPP stems from the 2017 Convergence Conference and the Draft Bernie movement. As organizers described via a Twitter direct message, “Bernie declined Draft Bernie’s offer, so after the Convergence, Draft Bernie became [the] Movement for a Peoples Party in late 2017,” founded largely by Bernie 2016 staff, delegates and volunteers.)
Also memorable was a short presentation from Maebe A Girl, the first drag queen to be elected to public office, as a member of the Silverlake Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles. Identifying as “trans-feminine and non-binary,” Maebe said the current two-party system is “only working for big business and the corporate elite. . . . Let this be the last time we invite blue no matter who.”
While domestic policies and movements were the primary focus, there were at least a few nods to cutting runaway military spending and wars.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink and a longtime author and activist, highlighted bipartisan support for wars and militarism, calling the People’s Party “an alternative to the war parties . . . that kill and kill and kill with no remorse.” Earlier this year, Benjamin noted, progressive Democrats could not persuade their party colleagues to support a modest 10 percent proposed cut to the ever-bloated Pentagon. “We need a party that will bury once and for all the Monroe doctrine of regime change,” Benjamin added, a party that “promotes international solidarity.”
In her powerful closing, Turner invoked Langston Hughes’s searing 1938 poem, “Kids Who Die,” with its refrain, “don’t believe in the lies, the bribes, the contentment, and a lousy peace.” When millions of Americans face eviction, many more millions are in poverty, “when children go to bed hungry every night,” and “even in a pandemic we can’t get healthcare for everybody,” said Turner, “we are going to put in the work so we have a whole peace, not a lousy peace.”