SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 112 - October 2007

Anti-war activist to run for Congress

IN JULY the US anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan announced that she would challenge the Democratic Party House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her California congressional seat in the 2008 elections. Explaining her reasons for running, Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, said: "Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership. We hired them to bring an end to the war".

Declaring she was running as an independent in opposition to the "corporately-controlled two-party system", Sheehan said: "An electorate disgusted with the policies of the Bush regime put the Democrats in the majority in Congress in November 2006. We voted for change. However Congress, under the speakership of Ms Pelosi, has done nothing but protect the status quo of the corporate elite. In fact, since she has been the Speaker the situation in the Middle East has grown far worse, with Congress’ help, and recently more of our essential freedoms were given to Bush and co by Congress. That is not what we elected them to do!"

"With over 45 million Americans uninsured, we need universal healthcare… The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is rapidly disappearing along with the ‘American dream’ of home ownership".

Sheehan’s break from the Democratic Party and her decision to run for Congress is symptomatic of a growing frustration with the Democrats among wide sections of the anti-war movement and among workers and youth. Anger is piling up by the day as the Democrats show their true ruling-class colours by loyally continuing the slaughter in Iraq and failing to deliver any real improvements in the lives of working people.

Yet despite this, all the key Democratic presidential candidates are actively soliciting the anti-war movement for undeserved support, while simultaneously pledging to their corporate backers that US troops would have to remain in Iraq for years to come. Until Sheehan declared her candidacy, no major challenger had stepped forward to expose the Democrats’ pro-war hypocrisy.

However, some on the ‘left’ have criticised Sheehan’s campaign. In particular, The Nation, in an article entitled Dear Cindy: Please Don’t Run, argued that she should not challenge Pelosi, claiming that "Sheehan’s run is futile" and that she should not be supported because she stands no chance of winning.

It is ironic that The Nation should put forward this ‘lesser evil’ argument in this situation. The Republicans stand no chance of winning Pelosi’s seat. Her district in San Francisco is one of the most progressive in the country. In 2003, Matt Gonzalez ran an independent, anti-corporate campaign on the Green Party ticket for San Francisco mayor against the Democrats, narrowly losing the race with 47% of the vote.

Of course, The Nation’s attacks are nothing new. The Nation and other left-liberal publications, along with many leaders of the labour, anti-war, civil rights, and women’s movements, viciously attacked Ralph Nader for having the audacity to run for president on an anti-war, anti-corporate basis against the Democrats in 2004 and 2000.

The Nation is essentially covering up for Pelosi and the Democrats’ pro-war, corporate-friendly politics. While the Democrats regularly line up with Bush and the Republicans to support the war or carry out attacks on working people, The Nation argues that in the end they are the best we’ve got and that there is no possibility of building an alternative to them.

However, if the leaders of the anti-war, labour, and women’s movements - along with progressive publications like The Nation - threw their support and influence behind independent, anti-war, anti-corporate challengers, a powerful alternative to both parties of big business could be built.

Bush, largely as a result of the continually unravelling situation in Iraq, is making a serious bid to leave office as the most unpopular president in modern history. A Washington Post-ABC News survey from 25 July found that 65% disapprove of Bush. Only Harry Truman (66%) and Richard Nixon (scoring 67% four days before resigning) have beaten that. However, Bush still has 16 more months to go.

The Democrat-led Congress, however, not to be shoved out of the spotlight by Bush, is making serious progress themselves in the unpopularity contest. A Quinnipiac University poll in June found that Congress had an approval rating of just 23%.

Remarking on this, one pollster concluded, "People voted for change. But they don’t think they got it". Another commentator accurately added, "People have problems in their lives and they don’t see the White House or Congress dealing with it".

The incessantly worsening situation in Iraq, the pouring of more oil on the fire by Bush and Congress, and the worsening economic and social conditions for workers and young people is causing many to look for a political alternative. A USA Today/Gallup poll from 20 July showed that 58% think that a third party is needed and that both the Democrats and the Republicans do an inadequate job.

Activists need to build on this hunger for an alternative to corporate America’s two parties. Running a strong challenge in the 2008 elections can help prepare the ground for a new broad-based anti-war, anti-corporate, working-class political party.

Such a party would only be able to succeed if it was fundamentally different from the existing status-quo parties. It would need to refuse money from big business, consistently fight for the interests of workers and the oppressed, and base itself on the active democratic participation of its members.

Sheehan’s bold electoral challenge points the way forward, towards what is needed to effectively build the anti-war movement and utilise the groundswell of opposition toward the war among the majority of the country.

Her initiative to run a left-wing challenge against corporate America’s two parties needs to be taken up and spread across the country for the 2008 elections and beyond. All the issues Sheehan is raising pose the need for building an anti-war, pro-worker political alternative, not just in one congressional district but across the country in the upcoming local, congressional, and presidential elections.
With the early start of the 2008 presidential primaries, there is now a pressing need for such an initiative to counter the Democrats’ campaigns within the anti-war and labour movement and among workers and youth in general.

Anti-war activists, fighting trade unions, immigrant rights activists, the Green Party, socialists and others should unite to build the strongest possible left-wing presidential challenge. Such a campaign could reach tens of millions of workers and youth, explaining the big-business character of the Democrats and Republicans and the need to build our own political party. With a clear lead and strong campaigns, millions of workers and youth would be prepared to support an anti-war, anti-corporate alternative to the rotten right-wing consensus in Washington, DC.

Such a challenge, even if it gained only 5-10% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, would shake the US political establishment. It would do far more to further the fight for a single-payer national healthcare system or an end to the Iraq war than the hapless lobbying efforts that currently occupy the leadership of the anti-war and labour movements. Fearing the further development of a political opposition movement, big business and its governing representatives in both parties would be under far more pressure to grant reforms.

Greg Beiter

Socialist Alternative (CWI USA)

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