Wednesday, March 12, 2014

THE CHANGING POLITICAL ECONOMY IN THE UNITED STATES AND FLORIDA: Part II



Harry Targ

Florida Politics Today

Florida politics is complicated. Emigres from the North and diverse populations make the Southeastern part of the state and urban pockets such as in Tampa and Orlando a base for the Democratic Party and sometimes liberal politics. Rural areas, particularly the northern Florida panhandle are more conservative. Pundits suggest in reference to Florida: “If you want to go South go North and if you want to go North go South.” While registered voters by a small margin identify as Democrats (40 to 35 percent with 25 percent as other), 60 percent of the state legislature is Republican and the Governor, Rick Scott, is one of the Tea Party favorites. 

For outsiders Florida is famous for stealing the 2000 election for George Bush, “stand your ground legislation,” and the targeting of young African American men for assassination. However, outsiders also are familiar with Democratic Party spokesperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and more significantly progressive Congressman Alan Grayson. Looking to the future one progressive website indicated that “the state’s demographics are swinging to a more progressive future. Minority populations are growing, and more young people are choosing to stay and raise their families in Florida.”

The website “Irregular States” lists some 20 progressive groups around the state engaged in campaigns about peace and justice, the environment, government accountability, transportation, abolition of the death penalty and civil liberties. Over the last two years mass Occupy mobilizations have occurred in various cities and some still survive. In addition outraged Floridians, particularly the young activists, the Dream Defenders, have protested the so-called Stand Your Ground legislation and the killings of young Black men such as Trayvon Martin. In Southern Florida today there are small but active political organizations concentrating on peace and justice issues, homelessness, the prison-industrial complex, and improving wages and working conditions. As in most states there does not exist a sizeable, well-funded “Left” to challenge reactionary forces in the electoral arena and/or in the streets.

However, the most exciting social movement development over the last two years, called Moral Mondays, is occurring in the South. In North Carolina the determined, passionate, and constant protest against a reactionary ALEC legislative agenda, starting with laws restricting voting rights, has brought thousands of activists to the state capital in Raleigh for almost a year. Throughout the spring legislative session activists engaged in civil disobedience, leading by last June to over 1,000 arrests. 

The leadership of Moral Mondays includes Rev. William Barber who has argued that we are in the midst of the “third reconstruction.” The first reconstruction, after the Civil War consisted of Black and white workers who struggled to create a democratic South (which would have impacted on the North as well). It was crushed by white racism and the establishment of Jim Crow segregation.

The second reconstruction occurred between Brown vs. Board of Education and candidate Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” During this period segregation was overturned, Medicare and Medicaid were established, and Social Security was expanded. Blacks and whites benefited. 
Now we are in the midst of a third reconstruction. Twenty-first century struggles are based on “fusion” politics; that is bringing Black, Brown, white, gay/straight, environmentalist, immigration activists, and workers together. Fusion politics assumes that only a mass movement built on everyone’s issues can challenge the top one percent who fund ALEC. Also, each issue is interconnected causally with every other issue.

Moral Mondays has been gaining more and more visibility; from North Carolina to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, soon Arizona, and up to the Midwest. The movement is based on organizational pragmatism and leadership, a multi-dimensional fight-back strategy, and fusion of class, race, and gender.   

Building a Better Political Future: Fight-backs, Fusion Politics, Intersectionality, and Moving Beyond  Finance Capitalism
 
The growing economic devastation and political marginalization of the working class broadly defined is the centerpiece of the crisis of our age. The profit system, competition and capital accumulation, the appropriation of the value of all goods and services by corporations and banks, political systems that inevitably reflect the needs and interests of the economically powerful, dramatically constrict the capacity to create a humane society, one where the maximization of human possibility is achieved. The analyses of the U.S. economy and polity and the particular case of Florida raise fundamental questions about how to resist, fight-back, and create the possibility of a better world?

Of course, there are no simple roadmaps. Transformation from the grim realities of today to a more desired future cannot occur over night. And tentative answers to the fundamental question of how to achieve significant social change requires a sober assessment of each local and regional constellation of political strengths and weaknesses. What are the basic parameters of economic life in the nation and the community? Who governs our political institutions? What are the realistic forces of resistance? What are the relative merits--given power, skill, numbers of people, levels of organization and traditional values--of electoral work, mass mobilizations, and constructing alternative institutions in the intersections of existing society.

That said, six general points can be raised now:

First, given the varied attacks, as articulated by Robert Reich, on wages and income, on jobs, on healthcare, on education, on transportation, reproductive rights, and basic environmental survivability, fight-back movements are justified on all fronts. The assault on the vast majority of humankind occurs in multiple areas, in multiple ways, and across policy areas.

Second, as opposed to the capacity to mobilize masses of people around single issues, such as the right to form unions, anti-racism, peace in the twentieth century, twenty-first century movements require what Reverend William Barber calls “fusion” politics. Grassroots and national campaigns around single issues need to be cognizant of and connect with the multiplicity of issues that shape contemporary human concern. Dr. King engendered enormous criticism when he connected the struggles for civil rights with the efforts to abolish poverty and end war. Twenty-first century movements should be built on the proposition that these struggles are inextricably connected.

Third, it has become clear today that what the great progressive movements of the past knew intuitively but not always theoretically is that the intersection of class, race, gender, and environmental consciousness constructs our problems and how we are going to resolve them. Workers, people of color, and women, with different gender preferences and concerns about the physical survival of the planet are all in the same fight and must recognize it.

Fourth, in countries that have long traditions and institutions that regularize political competition, particularly elections, it is necessary to recognize that for most people those institutions matter. In the United States when people talk about “politics” they are talking about elections. And as we see in critical moments in our history, elections matter. But, at the same time, the electoral arena is very much affected by unconventional politics: mass mobilizations, protest rallies, civil disobedience, shop floor and beer hall conversations. The history of social change in America confirms that these kinds of politics matter and matter profoundly. 

These assumptions lead to the proposition that the politics of reform and revolution require “inside” and “outside” strategies, often at the same time. And recent history suggests that the power of money which increasingly has shaped inside strategy usually can only be challenged by the mobilization of people, the outside strategy.

Fifth, while social movements have always been international, given twenty-first century technology they are increasingly so. Paul Robeson, W. E. B. Dubois, and George Padmore informed worldwide audiences about the great movements to destroy the colonial systems in Africa and Asia. These struggles also informed and inspired struggles for liberation in the United States as well. In our own day, Arab Spring, mobilizations of workers in the Heartland of the United States, Occupy Movements, student protests in Quebec and Santiago, and open rebellion in Greece and Spain were increasingly seen as part of the same struggle for human liberation. Now, a modest protest in one geographic space somewhere in the world becomes a global event within a matter of hours. And the concerns are often the same even if the historical contexts vary. The old IWW adage, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” for reasons of the new technology has been transformed from a slogan to a reality.

Finally, often what animates a movement is the embrace of an issue: access to healthcare, raising the minimum wage, ending fracking, eliminating racist laws. And, as we think about our own communities, we see that what gets people motivated to act is often that single issue that most immediately affects them. From there, the job of progressives is to promote fusion politics; highlight its relevance to class, race, and gender; develop inside/outside strategies to fight back; and to connect grassroots struggles to national and international struggles.

The specifics of this are terribly difficult but the basic outlines are clear.