Politics Minus Zero/No limit: Electoral strategy when it doesn’t matter.

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By Ben Stockwell and Mark Grauhuis with help from Kyle Galindez and Mark Lause.

Democratic candidate For Ohio Governor Ed Fitzgerald trails incumbent Republican John Kasich by some 20% in the latest poll. This gap has widened over the course of the last year and shows no signs of reversing, especially not in the month before election day. Kasich is going to win this year.

Building a strong, radical movement from below is the only way to force the system to meet the needs and desires of the people. More and more, it’s becoming clear that this system may not even be able to meet our basic demands at all.

This is an appeal to Democratic voters to vote for the Green party candidate, Anita Rios, instead of Fitzgerald.

In 2012, a UC professor hosted a dinner party with members of Occupy Cincinnati and others in the professor’s union. Every half hour or so, the guests would converge in the same room to talk about what Occupy meant and how it might be active in the future. In one session the debate took a turn toward the coming presidential election. While admitting the limitations of, and even their utter disappointment with, the Democratic party, people in the room made it clear that a Republican presidency would be much worse. “This year,” one professor insisted, “it is a zero sum game.”

This is the refrain every year. The Biden thesis – “we’re not as totally bad as the alternative” – is admittedly seductive in the face of the waking nightmare of what’s to come (Hillary, Portman, Kasich, Ron Paul, etc.). Democrats in Ohio are consequently positioning this year’s election as a referendum on Kasich and other Republican policies like SB5, but Fitzgerald’s electability has been reduced to near-zero by a number of scandals involving himself and his running mates. Still, the meme “remember in November” is circulated ad nauseum among Ohio liberals: remember all the terrible things Kasich has done or tried to do when you enter the voting booth.” This is passive, cynical, negative politics at it worse, which begs the question “When do we get to vote for what we want?” — This year, certainly.

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This year, Fitzgerald is the throw away vote.

Sure, we can remember what Kasich did and does, but voting for the Fitzgerald is not the proper response to that memory. We must keep in mind not only what Kasich did, but the realities of what voting for Fitzgerald will do or not do. Putting aside whether or not Fitzgerald offers an actual alternative to Kasich or could support resistance to a system bent on austerity (i.e. making us pay for a system in crisis), if the question is simply about expressing dissatisfaction, there is a non-Republican vote that is much more effective in the long term.

For those interested in ending the war, in tackling poverty, in environmentalism, in reproductive justice, in rights for women and minorities, there is only one choice: Anita Rios. Though we are not active in the Green Party, we do believe the party occupies a potentially positive place in the electoral sphere and can act as great complement, more than either of the mainstream parties, to day to day struggles. The creation of lasting movements should be our goal and we should be motivated by examples that are actually grassroots – rather than ‘astroturf’ or ‘greenwashed’. Indeed, it is, in may of our cities, Green party members who are the first to volunteer their time to organizing, and expect no paycheck and have no careerist aspirations while doing it. Building a such an alternative is a prerequisite that is posed by those who advocate the necessity of a Democratic vote: “I agree with you,” they may say, “but we need to have a viable third party before that’s an option.” A vote for a third party, in a year when it doesn’t matter in terms of the immediate outcome of that particular election, when the lesser evil doesn’t stand a chance, can be a stepping stone to helping create those conditions.

There are two recent examples of complementary electoral and (truly) grassroots activism that suggest a way forward. First is Socialist Kshama Sawant’s successful socialist campaign last year in Seattle for city council. Sawant was competing as the sole opponent of a Democrat, and her victory and what follows illustrates the kind of politics we need if we are to have a system that works for the majority. She campaigned on a platform promoting a series of very ambitious reforms prompted by communities themselves (who then became her base and campaign leaders), with a $15 minimum wage most prominent and sparking similar demands across the country. She continued working at a grassroots level, engaging one-on-one and even donating a large portion of her salary to the fight. A $15 minimum wage was won, demonstrating that it takes someone outside of the Democratic party to create the movement that scares the ruling class–Democrats and progressive in left wing Seattle–to go along with plans and policies that provide immediate relief to working families. It forced a response on a national level as well, with the Democratic party (including President Obama in his State of the Union this year) taking up the paltry demand of $10.10, thereby disappointing thousands of courageous low-wage workers nationwide, the majority of whom are women and people of color, active in 15Now and similar movements that fight for workers’ rights, but also emboldening them to keep building the pressure for more.

The other example is the current Green party candidacy of Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones for the governorship of New York. New Yorkers face much the same conditions in their governor’s race as Ohioans except that it’s a Democrat, rather than a Republican, who has safely secured the election. Still, Hawkins and Jones provide a vital and viable alternative to the 1%-backed Democrat and political prince Andrew Cuomo. Jones, an African-American school teacher, is a living, breathing rebuttal to the bipartisan drive school privatization. Hawkins and Jones are polling at an admirable 9%, despite lacking the donated millions poured into the Two-Party system following the passage of Citizens United.

The most important lesson from both of these cases is the need for those seriously interested in change to base electoral campaigns in movements that reflect popular opinion rather than among lobbyists seeking to shape it. As this piece is prepared, students are occupying the sheriff’s department in Beavercreek Ohio, where John Crawford, a young Black man, was wrongfully slain by a police officer in a Walmart store. The upper echelon of the Ohio Democratic Party barely even acknowledges that there was a shooting. Rather than engaging with the most pressing problems our communities face, the candidates of the Democratic Party have kept their heads as low as those of the Republican. This lack of any kind of tangible difference, in matters of clear cut justice, indicate that we can no longer rely on the Democratic party.

In the US we have seen rising inequality in both wealth and income for 40 years, yet the same basic economic system remains in power. People are not stupid; they understand and wish to address inequality and poverty. Poll after poll has shown an interest in socialism, especially among the youth and non-white populations, they have shown a desire for a legitimate third party alternative, they have expressed their outrage at bankers and executives who go unpunished for destroying the economy and the environment, for putting people out of their homes and threatening our shared future. The alternative must be alternative. Building a strong, radical movement from below is the only way to force the system to meet the needs and desires of the people. More and more, it’s becoming clear that this system may not even be able to meet our basic demands at all.

In the realm of third parties, there is an Ohio precedent for a real alternative, one that focused on the building of a grassroots movement and helped galvanize a forward-looking Heartland youth prior to 2011, the year of SB5 and Occupy – Dan La Botz’s campaign for US Senate in 2010. Though finishing with around 25,000 votes (not bad, considering he was deliberately shut out of any major public debates and operated on a budget supplied by mostly working- and middle-class supporters), La Botz, who had the great virtue of being a schoolteacher, active union member and scholar rather than a professional politico or bureaucratic wonk, was able to create a diverse network of activists who still communicate regularly and are intensely involved in local politics today. The Cincinnati group that formed around the campaign went on to be the largest part of the first major organized protest against ALEC–the Koch brothers-sponsored right-wing lobbyists that was cofounded by Kasich and today serve as a great boogeyman for liberal alliances, for better or worse. The protest directly led to the leaking of model legislation and the withdrawal of many of their corporate sponsors.

La Botz rightly expressed the need for an organized party of struggle against those who brought this crisis upon us, and inspired many to create a movement to serve as that alternative. A vote for the Green Party this year goes beyond that – it acts as a sounding alarm of the dissatisfaction and the cynicism that has pervaded Democratic ranks for years, as the party’s agenda has become so openly pro-war, anti-civil liberties and pro-Wall Street that most voters express difficulty telling the difference between them and the Republicans. And we have to do better as activists, connecting struggle around housing, wages, black survival, women’s liberation, class oppression, reproductive justice and environmentalism to build a strong multifaceted movement outside of the mainstream and strategically engage with electoral politics.

In a plutocracy, elections are used to determine which combination of corporations are going to be in control. It might be GE, Apple, or Disney this time, but working people are no better off in any case. The point is not to put all of our faith in candidates, because their candidacy should never be regarded as a sole means to an end. At the very least it is the recognition of a desire for a well organized path out of the conditions that oppress us. In any country where the electoral field is open you cannot simply vacate it. You may do many other things, but you must engage with it. This may not mean voting (one of the authors of this piece is unable to vote and we systematically deny that right to many in our country), but it means at least recognizing it is there and is part of our political life. So, to borrow the language of lesser evilism, don’t waste your votes: make the Lilliputian gesture of pulling together your share to bring the Giant down, if only to expose the Giant AS a monstrous obstruction. And work outside of the voting booth to build the means to really bring the Giant down. The best alternative for us in Ohio is represented by Anita Rios and Bob Fitrakis (Rios’s running-mate and a Columbus activist and lawyer with a long history of defending low-income workers) who presently support you and who don’t have millions to waste on ‘winning’ your vote. This year, it’s not simply that a voter is free to vote for whomever they what, it’s also safe to do so. So do it.