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What the Wisconsin Elections Mean For Us All

The recent electoral events in Wisconsin, in which a recall actually managed to replace a couple of the State House's vicious Republicans with popularly-supported Democrats, should be a source of pride for us all and congratulations to the community and labor organizers who put together those campaigns. They would have swept the recall had it not been for something approaching $30 million spent by Republicans to resist removal.

Still, nobody should be lured into thinking that electoral work is the way to make change in this country. You can change an elected official and even change some policies but you are not going to change society and its fundamental directions.

There's nothing new about this debate. In 1970, When I was at Manhattan College organizing an anti-war demonstration, a remarkable young woman was sitting in the circle of about 40 people discussing how to pull this off. She was remarkable because...well...she was a woman (Manhattan was an all boys school at the time) and she was dressed professionally and nobody else in that meeting was dressed that way.

Anyway, she raised her hand and spoke eloquently about the importance of electing a group of "peace congresspeople" who were running as a kind of informal slate for the House of Representatives and were united basically by their opposition to the war in Vietnam. "Demonstrating is fine because we all have a right to express ourselves," she said pertly, "but at some point, we have to grow up and really work for real change and you do that through elections."

To be understated, I vigorously opposed that logic in response to her and nobody else responded. But after the meeting, she approached me: "I understand your frustration," she said. "But you'll never change anything with demonstrations. History proves that."

Of course, history proves just the opposite and the Vietnam war was ended by action in the street. The Congress that ended the war was essentially the same Congress that began and continued it. Not much change in personnel; basically only changes in perspective and that perspective is driven by what these "leaders" see in the streets. We stopped the war, stopped the spread of war into the rest of Asia and stopped Lyndon Johnson from running for another term and we did all that by organizing and demonstrating.

As it typically does and has throughout this country's history, the Congress tails the American people. We push and hit hard and organize and they eventually have to respond with action.

This is not to belittle this work or its successes in any way. Wisconsin victories might make a difference in stopping a nutcase Governor from destroying countless lives. Mainstream television, which lies about everything some of the time, is spreading the lie about this election: that the Republicans won. If the debt crisis debacle didn't show the combination of insanity and incompetence that is the GOP today, we have this election in which Republicans had to spend $30 million on a handful of races to keep their majority and just managed to maintain a fragile numberical advantage.

But keeping a moron from killing people, as necessary as that might be, isn't changing the fundamentals of a society. These elected people aren't going to do that and that is the challenge we are facing. We live in a society that doesn't produce very much, gives all its money to very rich people, continuously fights war as a way of giving other rich people more money and giving young people something to do so they don't rebel, and is clearly veering toward fascism in its most traditional form. We have a mass media controlled by these rich and powerful forces and racism and sexism haven't been this harsh and destructive for many years.

We can't finesse ourselves out of this mess. We need to change the structure and the thinking behind it. That's called revolution.

That doesn't mean we abandon elections, by the way. In fact, a cornerstone of any truly revolutionary strategy in this country remains a strong, viable, progressive third party. A progressive third party would win elections to the Congress and would make for a viable Presidential candidacy. Most of all, it would raise the issues we need raised and pull this sorry excuse for politics over to the Left so that it would reflect the real political differences in this country.

The problem, as I said in a recent column, is that you can't do this by having a collection of white people make a "call" because nobody who isn't white is going to answer. A recent example is the upcoming Democracy Convention ( Take a look at the list of speakers: there are a few exceptions but most of them are white. And I know most activists of color aren't going there because there are two other major activities happening that very weekend that People of Color leaders are attending.

I am sure most of the people attending those POC events don't know about the Convention and the organizers of this convention, most of whom are white, don't know who the People of Color grass-roots leaders are. There's just no way you can build a Third Party or anything else under those conditions.

I wish it well and am happy it's happening but nothing productive can come of that Convention because it is no longer possible for an exclusionary white movement to generate genuine change...if it ever was.

And so it is with all social movements in this country: they are necessary to make change and they must be integrated to become necessary and integrate the progressive movement, in the end, is probably the most difficult task we have.