Counter Point to Starting Line

by Jason Frerichs

Iowa Starting Line recently published an article that attempted to argue that people are calling for an abandonment of identity politics.  The main point was that a large faction of Democrats would like to abandon the fight for social justice to instead appeal to working class white people who voted for Donald Trump.  It’s an argument that isn’t based in reality.  There might be the occasional outlier who thinks that’s a good idea but to claim that there are large numbers of Democrats pushing for that is absurd.  The mischaracterization of Bernie Sanders left many shaking their heads. What he actually said was, “I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country and is going to take on big money interests.  It is not good enough for somebody to say, I’m a woman, vote for me. No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.  In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics,” he continued. “I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African-American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what, if that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country, and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot whether he’s black or white or Latino.”

“It’s the economy stupid.”  Our more centrist friends don’t seem to grasp that.  People are struggling and are fearful for their economic future.  The middle class is disappearing and 30 years of Third Way policies have paved the way.  The corporate wing of the Democratic Party uses social issues to hide the fact that they helped pass trade deals that screwed over both working class Mexicans and Americans.  That they have abandoned the working class in favor of sucking up to the very people who destroyed the safety net.  They are the people playing identity politics.  They ARE the 1% and they are waging war against us, the 99%. The 1% use race, religion, ethnicity, gender and other so-called “identity” differences to divide us, distract us into a host of lesser, even false battlegrounds, often against each other, when the real battleground is between them and the rest of us, the 99%.   Dr. Martin Luther King Jr had a few words to say about the topic.  “One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality,” King said. “That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture, and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. . . . But as we assemble here tonight, I’m sure that each of us is painfully aware of the fact that there is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”  He went on to say, “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

Starting Line also took issue with the existence of the constituency caucuses within the IDP. These caucuses exist for a very important reason.  Many of these groups feel marginalized by the Democratic Party.  These groups give people a home and a voice within the party.  These caucus groups are open to any registered Democrat.  One can be a member of all of them if they have the time.  I am the chair of one and a member of several others.  All the groups want the same thing.  They want the party to go back to the basics and truly stands up for the working class.  Working class doesn’t have a color, a gender identity, or a sexual orientation.  The critics that Starting Line refers to, are asking for a party that reaches out to everyone and makes economic justice a cornerstone.  It is about more than just a message.  An empty message without any action behind it will lose every time.  The working class doesn’t believe our message because there isn’t any action behind it.  We’ve sold them out with bad trade deals. We’ve sold out their trade unions.  It’s true that Republicans own the lion’s share of the blame but bad Democratic Party leaders watched it happen and in some cases even helped it happen.  There have been Democrats who have been willing to make cuts to social security.  Democrats have helped sell fracking to the world.  To quote my colleague Brian MacLaine, “Messaging is good and all, but nothing without substantial action to back it up. Without that, all the party is doing is trying to craft pick-up lines effective enough to get rural and working class America into bed without any intention of calling them ever again.”

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