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The Democratic Party Can Never Be Vehicle For Administering Change

The face-off between the Sanders and Clinton coalitions has inadvertently worked to undermine the most cherished liberal strategy of using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for administering change.

Movements that have found themselves allied with the Sanders campaign—if they so choose to remain confined to the Democratic Party—will continue to face damaging results.

This week the Democrats have decided to respond to the violent attack in Orlando by holding the House floor in favor of expanding the powers of this secretive government watchlist.

The Terrorist Screening Database, or terror watch list, as it is most commonly known, will not stop any future attacks, and this entire charade of holding the House floor is completely performative—it is meant to show that something is being done. Reality is, the expanding of the terror watchlist will greatly impact marginalized communities, especially Muslims, who will continue to face a broadening surveillance state which is being pushed further behind the curtain.

According to a report by Gizmodo, published in 2014, the database is thoroughly unreliable, and at least half of the names of the list have no terrorism connections. There are now over 1 million names listed in the database, with little to no oversight, and absolutely no due process available to those wishing to contest being placed on this elusive list.

We also see Democrats on the Democratic National Convention Committee voting against a ban on fracking, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, single-payer healthcare, a $15 federal minimum wage,  and in favor of war in Syria and the occupation of Palestine.

The abandonment of the Democratic Party by those wanting to organize and create a new, independent movement for authentic change is necessary. It must be done. There is nothing redeemable about this party, and no amount of flowery rhetoric, no amount of empty sloganeering, will change this.

One of the most damning examples of the Democratic Party’s contributions to “reform” is The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, written by then-Senator Joe Biden, which signaled the rise of mass incarceration and privatization of prisons.

In 1994, Hillary Clinton became a leading advocate for provisions in the crime bill that would fuel the disproportionate imprisonment of drug offenders, and impose mandatory minimums that would introduce an entire generation to a more well-oiled prison industry.

“We will be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders—three strikes and you’re out. We are tired of putting you back in through the revolving door,” Clinton would say.

Even now, Bill Clinton defends these effects as unintended consequences—as a simple case of bumbling legislation—instead of a purposeful undertaking that shattered the lives of millions and turned prison beds into coffers for capitalism.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was brought to life with Bill Clinton’s earlier campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it”, and its devastating ripples haven’t yet ebbed.

In early 2001, The National Campaign For Jobs and Income Support (NCIJS) reported that those in need of long-term welfare assistance were being denied, and that between 1997 and 2001 at least 150,000 families had been “cut off or had their benefits reduced”.

The engagement in supplantation, or what NCIJS defines as being the diversion of welfare funds “to pay for tax cuts or other programs not targeted to low-income families”, has allowed for states to reduce spending on programs aimed at providing for the poor.

In The Poor Get Prison, a report published by The Institute of Policy Studies in 2015, growing trends in the criminalization of poverty are shown to have “given rise to prejudices against [welfare] beneficiaries and to systemic efforts to obstruct access to the assistance.”

The welfare reform agenda heralded by the Democrats led to further demonization of poor women of color, specifically Black women. It also doubled extreme poverty, and imposed time limits on benefits, thereby directly impacting the quality of life of children and families.

Just two years ago, Barack Obama signed what’s colloquially referred to as the Farm Bill, also known as the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act. The omnibus bill included $8.7 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or “food stamps”, which will mean 850,000 households would lose an average of $90 per month over the next ten years.

Obama would never mentioned the cuts, and he’d later praise the Farm Bill, claiming that it would “give more Americans a shot at opportunity.”

Immigration rights activists and organizers have seen a wave of deportations, thanks to the Obama administration, as well as an increase in the number of raids targeting women and children. Hillary Clinton has been an advocate of this inhumane deportation policy, stating during one Town Hall event, as she campaigned for the presidency, that Central American children should be ‘sent back’.

While they mock Trump’s fantastical wall plan, it’s the Democrats that have routinely voted in favor of further militarizing the border wall, Hillary Clinton included. A movement that attempts work from within this party is doomed to struggle against it, and it will be forced to make countless concessions for the sake of so-called pragmatism.

If there is going to be a way out of this crisis, one which has been manufactured in part with the direct aid of the Democrats, it won’t come through the Democratic Party. It’s time to build something different.

Clinton and DNC appointees vote against a ban on fracking (Screen shot from Democratic National Convention live stream.)
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Representative Elijah Cummings speaking during a meeting of the Democratic Party Platform Committee.
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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.