Viewpoint from a Progressive activist
We may not have much control of the present situation. But we can choose to learn from it.
It is easy to look at Trump voters and say, “These people are just idiots and racists!” But if you read any coverage of the exit polls, you know that it isn’t that simple. I did, because I want to understand their concerns, the reasoning behind their votes. I want to make sure that I hear their voices, so that next time we might appeal to them better. They give myriad legitimate reasons for voting for Trump: The bad economy, the hopeless corruption in DC, the fact that Hillary was seen as an insider. We should study these reasons in detail. We should do so to empower ourselves.
No one has power over Trump voters. No one has power over progressives who spurned Mrs. Clinton. The singular power we have is to learn. Blaming anyone else is fruitless. It simply means that we won’t change anything — we’ll end up doing the same thing again, with the same result.
Progressive votes for Jill Stein cost Hillary Clinton nothing—she would have lost even if she’d gotten every Stein vote. But what did cost the Clinton campaign, dearly, was the absence of progressive activists, those who man the phone banks, walk precincts, and help organize marches and rallies. These activists multiply their votes many times over.
Progressive activists—for whom the value of justice is paramount—tend not to be party operatives. Their loyalties are not conveyed simply because a politician carries a party label. They’ve been burned far too many times for that. And burned doesn’t mean not getting your favorite piece of feel-good legislation; burned means that people died. It means that people were maimed. Families were ripped apart. It means that these activists laid awake at night, driven to despair, to rage. This is why they work to multiply their votes, why they vigorously support candidates who actually reflect their values: Otherwise the injustice will go on forever. They will never sleep.
Party political operatives will say, “Well, Clinton voted for the war in Iraq because, in 2003, the intelligence we had and the geopolitical calculations necessary for the strategic….” And the progressive activist gives not a shit about any of that. The progressive activist sees instead an Iraqi mother cradling her dead child. This activist knew that the war was based on lies at the time, as anyone who was paying attention would have. The reason for the war was unjust, the vote for the war was unjust, the death of the child and the pain of the mother was unjust. And now you ask these activists to campaign for someone who sponsored all of that? Injustice.
Some progressive activists might triangulate, and “vote for the lesser of evils.” But hold your nose and vote is not the same as campaigning. On myriad levels, they saw Bill Clinton’s policies as a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s — because, on myriad levels, they were. If you do not know this, HERE IS YOUR POWER: Question it. Learn about neoconservatism, neoliberalism. Read Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser to witness the dovetailing of the two parties under Bill Clinton; read Fighting Words: How Liberals Created Neoconservatism by Ben Wattenberg. Don’t be afraid. Be curious. Learn.
Progressive activists saw Hillary Clinton’s policies as a continuation of her husband’s policies. And why wouldn’t they? She said that they would be. She touted her eight years in the White House as her guiding experience. Many, having spent decades fighting Clinton’s unjust policies, decided that the Green Party had to be supported, if there were ever to be hope for justice. Stein’s vote tally did nothing to change the outcomes of the election—but Stein’s support did double from the last election. And that was the result of the efforts of those activists.
“Well, why didn’t they do that for Hillary?” you ask. “It would have saved us from Donald Trump!”
Because these activists, who have lain awake nights for years on end, tortured by the thought of the dead and maimed in Iraq, the endless shredding of families torn apart by Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies, by the economic devastation caused by Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street, are not going to help paint a smiley face on any of that. They oppose all of it. They will oppose it to the grave, and into the bowels of Hell, if necessary.
They will not triangulate injustices. They will not trade two lives here for four over there; they will not be told that they should support Clinton because she will only kill thousands while Trump will kill tens of thousands.
They will not support lesser evils. They will not support evil at all.
And if you want to win next time, you will have to reject evil, as well. §
Sean Shealy is an activist and the author of Corruption & Cover-Ups of the Bush White House Unmasked and the novel Killing Limbaugh.