It’s Time To Build a Party of the 99%!
This Tuesday, May 16th, registered Democratic voters will decide the next District Attorney (DA) of Philadelphia amid a national progressive media spotlight. The former DA Seth Williams resigned in March after federal indictments revealed a frenzy of insider pay-to-play schemes leaving an open field. The seven way race now involves over $1.45 million from the coffers of billionaire George Soros and almost $250,000 from local Building Trade unions.
The November election is usually a simple coronation for the primary winner. A symptom of our one-party politics in Philly where low-turnout elections mean political machines make decisions on winners long before votes are cast. But this primary election is different. It is taking place as millions of working people across the US continue to search for ways to resist the Trump administrations racist right wing agenda and the normally routine DA’s race has been transformed by the campaign of local civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner who has built a national reputation with his spirited defense of protesters from the 2000 Republican National Convention through Occupy Philly, Black Lives Matter, and the recent anti-corporate DNC demonstrations last summer.
Krasner’s platform calling for an end to mass incarceration, the death penalty, defense of civil liberties, and resistance to Trump’s right populism echoes the bold progressive messaging of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run. He has linked his campaign to ongoing struggles in Philadelphia around education funding, stop and frisk, and the school to prison pipeline. His campaign has inspired Philly’s progressive community, caught the imagination of thousands of new activists, and re-ignited hopes of transforming the Democratic Party from within and building a new progressive majority in city hall.
But we know the machinery of mass incarceration cannot be dismantled from within the DA’s office so what kind of movements will it take to end mass incarceration? The reforms won by the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s through the 1970’s resulted from mass mobilizations of working class people seeking radical change. From the lunch counter sit-ins across North Carolina to the March on Selma, to the mass demonstrations and strikes against the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands wrested basic civil rights from a racist system through determined fighting tactics. We need to base ourselves on that fighting history. We need sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, and strike action to build a broad movement that both stands against Trump’s right wing policies, and fights for positive change for working people and all those under attack.
But we also need to do more than protest. We need to do the hard work of building independent political power, and link ‘movement building’ to electoral politics to win real reforms to improve the quality of life for working people. Like Bernie Sanders, the energy around Krasner’s campaign shows what we could do if we had our own political party. A party that takes no corporate money and whose candidates pledge to take only an average working class wage.
Many people fighting to transform the Democratic Party into a real progressive force agree with this, but think that it makes more sense to take over the Democratic machine. We understand that this seems easier than building a new party. The Democrats have structure, power and money. But history has shown us that time and time again as local movements try to change the Democrats they come into conflict with the local and national corporate leadership of the party that has no intention of letting progressive movements find their full expression, or they are simply bought off and co-opted, and drowned in the the sea of corporate dollars. Historically, the Democratic Party has proven a graveyard of the mass movements needed to carry through bold progressive demands of working class people. The $1.45 million in super pac money that was dumped into the race to support Krasner is a warning to the movement of the resources that can be brought to bear against progressive politics if we do not build an independent base of support in our communities.
Philadelphia has proud progressive traditions, and it has been the birthplace of many social movements that have transformed US politics. Socialist Alternative argues that now is the time to start building a new independent party of the 99% free from the corporate ties strangling progressive reforms. Philadelphia’s progressive left, unions, and community organizations can come together to strategically run independent candidates for local and state offices that would unapologetically fight for the working people of this city. This is not an abstract problem, and we understand that there are serious procedural barriers for independent candidates in Pennsylvania. But with serious preparation and strategy, by combining the strength of progressive forces in this city, and mobilizing the active logistical and financial support of working people around a united program that addresses our needs, these barriers can be overcome without relying on George Soros’ Super PAC for financial support.
Socialist Alternative wholeheartedly supports the demands for ending mass incarceration and defending the civil liberties of all people. While we cannot ‘endorse’ his campaign, we wish Larry Krasner luck, and we will be fighting alongside him and all those working in his campaign to win the reforms he is fighting for. Win or lose we should maintain the local structures and activist networks built during the campaign to continue to broadly mobilize around the demands and to be a part of building a new independent party.