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A 2014 Midterm Election Post-Mortem: The Democratic Party Will Not Solve Our Problems

The Democratic Party was totally demolished in the midterm election last night. Where I live, in Illinois, a pension fund raider and Job Creator of the 1% named Bruce Rauner defeated Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. But, in the morning, when I woke up I was largely dispassionate about the outcome of the election.

After previous midterm elections, like the one President Barack Obama called a “shellacking” in 2010, I expressed disappointment or how upset I was and explained what I thought needed to be done so the Democrats could defeat the rise of so-called Tea Party politics. Not in this election.

I had no tribal or partisan reaction to the Republican victories. And it was liberating.

It does not mean that I am not concerned with what many would call progressive issues, and it does not mean that I do not want people to come out and vote in support of initiatives that advance a so-called progressive agenda.

Like Jon Walker reported here at FDL, progressive policies did really well last night. Multiple states raised the minimum wage. Marijuana was legalized in DC, Oregon and Alaska. A paid sick leave measure won in Massachusetts. Voters showed they supported a millionaire’s tax to fund education won in Illinois if state lawmakers wanted to adopt such a tax. A sentencing reform measure for drug and petty theft crimes won in California. No fetal personhood legislation to violate a woman’s right to choose won.

State-to-state, the message of voters seemed to be a massive rejection of the political class, as voters see President Obama and elitist Democrats representing it.

Yet, that was not what kept me calm and passive in the face of the political onslaught Democrats suffered. Another reality led me to be clear-headed after all was said and done, and it is a reality that the historian Howard Zinn understood very well.

Electing anyone to any of the three branches of government is not how real change or victories for social justice are accomplished in this country.

“Protest and civil disobedience, that’s the way things are accomplished,” Zinn said in an interview he did for Citizen Radio in December 2009. “They’re not accomplished by going through the regular channels.”

“The so-called channels that they want to steer you into are not really channels. They’re mazes in which you are invited to get lost, you see. You learn in school you go through the channels – the three branches of government, checks and balances, etc. Well, people with grievances have learned a long time ago that those branches of government are not going to help you.”

Zinn’s historical examples included the black people he encountered while he was involved in the civil rights movement.

“Nobody knew better than black people that the apparatus of government was not going to help them. After all, this government for a hundred years did not obey its own Constitution, did not enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments.”

Blacks were subject to segregation or semi-slavery and they chose to violate the unjust laws oppressing them. “They sat in where they were not supposed to sit in. They rode on buses where they were not supposed to ride. They demonstrated where they were not supposed to demonstrate. They committed civil disobedience. ”

Black people violated the Fugitive Slave Act and brought fugitive slaves to freedom. They did not wait for the government to free slaves. This civil disobedience, according to Zinn, became the pressure that forced President Abraham Lincoln and Congress to “bring about the semi-emancipation of slaves.”

Workers went on strike in the United States in the early 1900s when strikes were illegal and won an 8-hour work day. During the war in Vietnam, there were thousands of acts of civil disobedience by draftees and priests and nuns raiding draft boards. There were the activists who raided the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, in 1971 and started the unraveling of COINTELPRO that exposed domestic spying against citizens to unprecedented scrutiny.

“Civil disobedience is absolutely necessary in order to give some semblance of democracy to a country which cannot get democracy through ordinary channels,” Zinn argued.

“The regular branches of government will not solve the fundamental problems that we have. And so civil disobedience is an instrument of democracy. It’s a way of restoring a democracy that has been crippled by a dependence on the traditional branches of government.”

There are two recent examples, which have occurred in this tradition: the people of Ferguson, Missouri, who are not waiting to see if the grand jury process indicts Officer Darren Wilson for killing the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, and National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who turned to journalists when he saw that all three branches were complicit in the expansion of a massive global surveillance apparatus violating the privacy of millions around the world.

If one turns to an issue that the Republicans are likely to move on after their victories, the approval of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, there are groups of activists all along the route of the pipeline who have been fighting construction. The Tar Sands Blockade and other groups have made this an issue in their community because President Obama and Democrats are not willing to oppose it.

It is this kind of action by groups, which is unplanned and not done with the coordination of law enforcement, that creates turmoil and forces the powerful to consider the demands of citizens.

Voting should be a critical part of democracy, however, the current two-party system does not allow the population to express its true intentions for the future of this country. The system props up politicians from the Republican and Democratic parties who are figureheads for an oligarchy becoming ever more entrenched in the global security state industrial-complex, which seeks to maintain American dominance throughout the world.

The true expression of the people comes from those at the grassroots level resisting homeless feeding bans, fighting for a living wage, disrupting war criminals as they speak on stage at community centers for the elite, blocking construction of pipelines that will exponentially increase the disastrous climate change, relentlessly confronting police officers and privileged white Americans for not valuing the lives of black people, and from government officials who risk it all to expose the truth of what their government is doing in our name.

When those people act, I feel something. When the powers that be try to crush them, I feel angry. When the people of this country fail to support them, I feel frustrated.

I feel none of these feelings when the Democratic Party fails miserably. When it fails, these days, I just feel it gets what it deserves. They knew what the Republican Party would do to them and they accepted their fate. But we as a people do not have to be the Democratic Party. We know we are capable of fighting back.

The Democratic Party may invite us into the maze to get lost, but we don’t have to enter. We have the ability to chart a course that is far better.

Creative Commons-Licensed Photo by Troy Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: samdupont / Flickr

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."