To protect the planet and people, political action must be taken outside the Democratic Party.
by Duney Roberts
NEWTON—In his most prominent work, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn explained the crucial role of “the middlemen in the American system—the teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrators, engineers, technicians, politicians.” These are the people “who would be paid to keep the system going, to be loyal buffers against trouble” (Zinn 1980).
The national Democratic Party, the Massachusetts Democratic Party (MassDems), and the Newton Democratic City Committee (NDCC) are the “loyal buffers,” whether or not they realize. By extension, they have made voters their enablers by severely limiting acceptable debate and by hamstringing the possibilities for political transformation.
Newton’s population, its executive, and its legislature are dominated by members of Democratic Party or those who vote for the party’s candidates. Yet, from the view of a relatively average citizen like myself, the city government has occupied itself with issues far outside those most pressing and consequential. While a city government, unlike a national government, is limited by certain structural obstacles (direct taxation, sovereign currency), it still has the power to persuade. A mayor’s microphone has no limits on its use.
The Newton city government and its operatives have a responsibility to appeal to the needs of the population, in particular its poorest members. For example, it is impossible to overstate the threat of human-induced climate change, which undoubtedly endangers the lives of poor most severely and most immediately. There is also the skyrocketing costs of for-profit health insurance and healthcare, ballooning personal debt (credit card and student loan), stagnated wages, endless and aggressive war and militarism, shameful homelessness, contaminated air and water, consolidation of media and communications, mass incarceration, unconstitutional mass surveillance, and on and on. Rather than pandering to jingoism, reporters might press politicians to explain why they have not aggressively and publicly pursued the issues people care about, and then demand to know what will be done to address them in the immediate future, as circumstances so clearly requires. None of these issues were on the 2018 city ballot nor the state ballot, and none are to be addressed to the extent they deserve in pending legislation.
What did appear on the city ballot, though, were two questions related to recreational cannabis: one to limit availability and another to ban it altogether. While both questions deservedly failed, voters in Newton could be forgiven for believing the issue was already settled by ballot questions from years prior, where residents overwhelming approved legalizing recreational use of the drug. City Council president Marc Laredo only added to the confusion, further exposing the city’s leadership as visionless. A more beneficial and socially just ballot question might have (even symbolically) addressed amnesty and compensation (reparations) for those incarcerated on charges related to cannabis possession and even sales.
Democrats in the Newton City Council and in the Massachusetts General Court hold veto-proof supermajorities. The unrealized “Blue Wave” could never have an effect on politics in Massachusetts, which has been drowning in Democratic incumbents for decades. The term is merely a rhetorical device that entrenches the narrative that electing Democrats is the solution to the many crises voters face. A responsible journalist must ask why each jurisdiction has refused to push legislation with solutions proportionate to the magnitude of the issues mentioned above, and why they have yet to turn the issues into the moral emergencies they are. Elected officials have done nothing to educate and fire up their base nor make clear who is obstructing progress (because they are the obstruction).
To be explicit, this article targets those with the greatest influence on city, state, and national politics: political executives (like mayor Ruthanne Fuller), legislators (like the members Newton City Council, party officials (like NDCC chair Shawn Fitzgibbons), higher income earners (like the majority of Newton households, particularly south of the Massachusetts Turnpike), and property owners (a powerful coalition, no matter how loosely organized). These groups dominate the political arena and media in this limited democracy.
The top management of the Party (national, state, and city) “is drawn from the ranks of wealthy professionals who tend naturally to share the perceptions of the privileged and powerful, and who have achieved their position, and maintain it, by having demonstrated their efficiency in the task of serving the needs of dominant elites” (Chomsky 1987). More importantly, promotion in the American political system requires appealing to and meeting the needs of those who fund campaigns and informally vet candidates, regardless of class or origin. Few exceptions exist.
Chomsky continues, “the educated classes [who dominate electoral politics], are the most indoctrinated, most ignorant, most stupid part of the population, and there are very good reasons for that. Basically two reasons. First of all…they are subjected to the mass of propaganda. There is a second, more important and more subtle reason. Namely, they are the ideological managers. Therefore, they must internalize the propaganda and believe it. And part of the propaganda they have developed is that they are the natural leaders of the masses” (Chomsky 1987).
The Democratic Party is a prison for progressive policies and is a haven for faux progressivism and meek leadership (leadership that is carefully vetted by corporate interests and thoroughly controlled by corporate ideology). History shows this assessment to be inarguable. The guards of this prison are Mayor Ruthanne Fuller, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, Representative Joseph Kennedy, and every other elected official who is a member of the Democratic Party, and they serve the wardens of the prison: the donor class. Yet, voters are continually shamed and/or tricked into voting for the Party’s candidates under the guise of (relative) progressivism and “diversity,” while conditions deteriorate further with no change in sight.
Voting for the Democratic Party is a slow but sure march to the Right. Citizens should do everything they can to take their political action outside the arena of electoral politics, especially by disrupting business as usual. As Gabriel Thompson reminds us, “changes that we seek will not come about in the form of gifts from above.” We must fight power with power, realizing that “only […] when the fight is won, do the powerful emerge as ‘allies’ who do their best to position themselves as having been working for the same goals all along” (Thompson 2007).