The candidacy of David Green presents Illinois’s 13th district with a refreshing choice come March 18: We can a) elect a conservative Democrat to face Republican incumbent Rodney Davis in the fall, or b) elect a real alternative to the status quo, a candidate whose professional experience as a policy analyst is matched by his commitment to a pragmatic, unapologetic politics of social justice and human rights. Of the three candidates – Green, Ann Callis, and George Gollin – Green is the most progressive on every issue that matters to you.
Here’s where Green and his opponents stand on just a few of the political priorities I know local readers of this blog will share:
One issue that resonates strongly in our district is mass incarceration and the so-called War on Drugs. It’s long been obvious that the “drug war” is a farce: Behind that facade of concern for health and public safety, the US elite have built up the world’s largest, most racist police state, which imprisons as many people of color as the entire prison population of China, a country of almost 1.4 billion people.
On their campaign websites, neither Callis nor Gollin make any mention of the law enforcement and criminal justice policies responsible for the creation of what some scholars recognize as a new form of apartheid. Green writes,
I support movements toward decarceration and de-criminalization, especially in relation to non-violent behaviors. I support seriously addressing poverty at a social level and addiction at an individual level as means of moving beyond the racially-biased War on Drugs, and towards prevention, treatment, and restorative justice when appropriate.
So Green opposes the current policies of locking up millions of mostly poor, mostly black and brown people for non-violent offenses, and supports treating drug addiction as a health issue, not an issue for the courts. One can only assume that Callis and Gollin either support those policies and don’t want to admit it, or else they think Democratic voters just don’t care about the “New Jim Crow”.
Gollin and Callis are as silent on white supremacy abroad as they are on white supremacy at home. They don’t waste a single word on such trivial issues as permanent global war, the ongoing carnage that is the US legacy in Iraq, US government support for repressive client states, or the Obama administration’s continued use of torture. But as Green writes in an op-ed for Champaign-Urbana’s News-Gazette,
Since 9/11/ 2001, I have publicly and actively opposed the war-making policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in the larger Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. I have opposed the expansion and privatization of the military-industrial complex, drone warfare, our empire of military bases, and military funding for Israel, Egypt and Colombia, based on the those countries’ violations of international law and human rights.
I know this to be true: David Green has been a courageous, often lonely voice of reason throughout my time as an anti-war activist in C-U. His vocal support for Palestinians’ human rights and his sober, unflinching criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians have earned him the ire of many in our community who call themselves liberals. More importantly, they’ve earned him the deep respect of me and others who refuse to place a lower value on the suffering of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than we place on the suffering of people in our own community.
Green’s approach flies in the face of the usual Democratic extortion tactics that tell us Democrats need to support right-wing foreign policies in order to achieve a more progressive domestic agenda. Aside from its thinly-veiled racism and totally naked chauvinism, this line is also, for the most part, not supported by reality. Democrats and Republicans are thought to have meaningful differences when it comes to economics, but the fact is that Democrats have been so deeply invested in neoliberal economic policies that Republicans can only outflank them by demanding more and more cuts in taxes and spending.
Whatever promises the eloquent orator in the White House may have made, his administration’s record shows that the rich have paid less in taxes and reaped a much, much higher percentage of income gains than they did under Bush. Everyone but the most craven reactionaries claim to be concerned about widening wealth/income inequality, yet when called upon to articulate an actual solution, all party-line Democrats have to offer is the familiar medley of tax cuts, “innovation”, and investment in education and infrastructure.
Gollin’s website reads, “We must direct our economic policies toward investment in education and research, innovation as a primary driver of job growth and infrastructure repair and improvements.” On the question of job creation, it says,
We must expand credit to help small businesses start and grow, and provide tax incentives and credits to those businesses which really are “job creators.” We must prioritize policies which encourage manufacturing, construction, and production of American goods by American workers in the United States.
So Callis: “[W]e need to do more to support our colleges and universities that can be job incubators and link labor with local business leaders to identify critical skill-set [sic] needed to help re-train workers for the local jobs of the future.” She promises to
work with the district’s numerous manufacturers to see how tax credits and other incentives can help keep this critical part of our state’s economy growing. Rebuilding our local infrastructure and re-training those who are actively looking for work are vital steps toward keeping the middle class secure.
So Gollin and Callis agree that the proper role of government in “job creation” involves tax cuts that incentivize businesses to hire new workers and remolding education to fit the needs of employers. This may sound nice when you’re arguing with Republicans, but it’s not a prescription for what ails the US economy. It’s a prescription for more of the same. As Green points out,
Tax incentives for small businesses are ineffectual if not counter-productive in stimulating the number of jobs and the level of growth that is needed at this time. There is no particular magic about small businesses, and providing tax incentives to them is an ineffective way of creating jobs. Small businesses create more jobs, but also lose more jobs, and the average length of employment in small business is half that of larger businesses.
Green supports a living wage, a higher minimum wage, and the right of every worker to unionize. He’ll push for full employment as a federal government policy, which would entail living wage ($15-20/hour) jobs for every unemployed worker, and cash transfers to redistribute wealth to the bottom. This would be funded, he proposes, by a new regime of progressive taxation (including cracking down on offshore tax havens and eliminating the payroll tax).
Basically, he’s calling for an end to neoliberal deference to the private sector and a return to the sort of social-democratic policies that vastly improved the lot of the poor and working class in the industrialized capitalist economies. If the private sector won’t hire, then the government will step in to make sure that everyone who needs a stable job can find one; that everyone who is sick can get health care without falling prey to our predatory private monopoly; that millions of US children who go to bed hungry can grow up to live healthy lives doing safe, dignified work.
This line of thinking has limitations, as any Marxist worth her salt will tell you. But as Venezuela and Latin America’s “Pink Tide” have shown, in the age of global capitalism’s “race to the bottom”, it’s not only possible but necessary to find creative ways of refocusing politics on far-reaching, progressive reforms.
Gollin and Callis direct all of their appeals towards the shrinking “middle class”, without once acknowledging why it’s such a problem that the middle class is shrinking: Because poverty is built into the system of capitalism, and in capitalism, it really, really sucks to be poor.
Green’s campaign has made it clear that he isn’t afraid of the word “poverty”. While poverty is endemic to capitalism, Green believes – as we all must – that we aren’t powerless to mitigate the system’s most destructive tendencies.
Gollin talks about supporting “policies which encourage manufacturing, construction, and production of American goods by American workers in the United States”, but only Green makes the connection between “offshoring” and neoliberal “free trade” policies that allow corporations to relocate overseas in order to escape from countries where modest welfare state protections are still in place.
These agreements – the most sweeping of which is being hammered out in secret by the Obama administration and 600 corporate lobbyists – force countries to compete to offer multinational corporations the lowest wages, the flimsiest safety regulations, and so on.
Green promises to continue to oppose neoliberal policies (deregulation, austerity, privatization), not just in East Central Illinois, but in Indonesia and Bangladesh as well. Why? Because he recognizes, unlike his opponents, that in today’s global capitalism, the struggle of workers anywhere is inextricably tied to the struggle of workers everywhere.
In the early years of the Obama administration, I thought that no leftist or progressive should ever vote for a Democrat again – the injunction to vote for the “lesser evil” only to emboldens the party to serve empire and the capitalist class all the more slavishly. This remains true today.
At the time, I concluded that any vote for anyone running as a Democrat had legitimized the party and the system, and that this symbolic defeat outweighed whatever might be gained in practical terms. This is no longer my view. Progressives and the left are, today, laying the groundwork for a mass movement, and one of the ways we organize and mobilize the enormous left-wing consciousness in this country is to present concrete, practical alternatives to neoliberalism at all levels of government.
In doing so, we move this country’s political discourse to the left – and we create opportunities for working-class people to engage with and help shape a program of genuinely revolutionary reform. This will necessarily include third parties, but it also means we have to be ready to launch progressive primary challenges in places where only Democrats’ voices are heard. On the issues I’ve touched on and many, many more, David Green presents just such a challenge.
Supporters of Gollin will charge that those who vote for Green only benefit the allegedly more conservative Callis; supporters of Callis will charge that those who vote for Green only benefit the Republican incumbent.
The truth is that those of us who participate in the struggle for justice win no hearts and minds by abandoning our convictions, and Representative David Green is only as unlikely as we make it.
What is possible? A lot of things that, today, are not yet actual. The current wave of mass demonstrations, uprisings, and revolutions; the Occupy Wall Street protests; the recent electoral success of socialists running at the local level; the polls that show young Americans on average favor “socialism” over “capitalism” – these are fragments from our future, glimmers of the impossible that lies just ahead.