Appropriate or not, I will talk about my weekend. There are lessons to be learned from it.
Over the past week, the United States of America got even more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, raining death and destruction on yet another Middle Eastern nation and creeping closer to direct confrontation with Russia. It's what we do. It's kind of become our specialty.
So, on Saturday afternoon, rather than go Downtown to see Houston's 31st annual Art Car Parade, as I had planned, I yielded to my peacenik reflexes and joined in a small protest rally Uptown. Downtown I likely could have added dozens of signatures to the Green Party's ballot access petition while other Greens were tied up with their state convention; Uptown I managed to get ten. Brian Harrison and several others from the most recent Socialist Alternative meeting were present, and all of them had signed the petition that evening.
It was in fact Friday night that a generalized anxiety overtook me. We had tickets to the Houston Ballet's production of Don Quixote. But the stress of getting to the Hobby Center and finding something to eat, a whole 'nother story I'd rather not delve into, compounded an already-mounting existential dread. All through the ballet, which was stunningly gorgeous, two thoughts kept haunting me:
- We're at war. Again. Well, OK, still, but now even more so. Dammit.
- I hadn't found anyone (well, hadn't really even sought anyone) to help with petitioning, and found myself lacking the will to face the Art Car crowd on my own.
I would have happily taken Metro to get Uptown Saturday afternoon, but Kayleen volunteered to drive me. That way she could hang out inside the Starbucks taking care of some business, and we could run other errands afterward. By sheer serendipity, we ran into a co-worker of hers, to the delight of all three of us—especially since the co-worker signed the petition.
Considering the deep antipathy toward war and militarism that the attendees all shared, it was a typically laid-back Houston demonstration. We weren't there to break windows or set things on fire. We just wanted people to know that, when it comes to Syria, we aren't buying whatever the politicians and the media are selling. We all knew how much it would affect policy and public opinion: approximately zero. These rallies change nothing, but they do let people know that they are not alone.
Holding a rally in front of the Starbucks caddy-corner from the Galleria seems like an odd choice of venue. There isn't much room to move on that stretch of sidewalk. True, the intersection of Westheimer Road and Post Oak Boulevard gets more auto traffic than any other in the city, especially on Saturdays. So a lot of people saw our signs, and a lot of drivers honked their approval. This was not an anti-Starbucks demo, or even an anti–Big Retail demo.
But there were also at least 100,000 people Downtown for the big parade. We could have brought the urgent message of peace to them. Raining on a parade cannot be compared to raining death and destruction.
War Still Sucks, Whoever Is President
Labor activist and Socialist shaker-upper Dave Smith organized the rally. As usual, Dave brought the bullhorns and the chants. Some of those chants, with minor variations have been the soundtrack to the peace movement for literally decades. They never go out of style, because our nation keeps getting into armed conflicts; more's the pity, because I'm bloody tired of every last gol-durn one of them.
Some of the chants directed our ire toward the current occupant of the White House—e.g.:
Trump's war has got to go!
It's ridiculously simplistic to pin this all on #45. It reminds me of how the Declaration of Independence blamed the colonies' woes on King George III, when the real villains were Parliament and the British East India Company. But it is also convenient: Whatever our respective political affiliations, whatever our positions on whether President Hillary Clinton would also have ordered airstrikes on Syria, everyone present at the rally could at least agree that they loathe Donald J. Trump—who, lest we forget, positioned himself in 2016 as the candidate who opposed a deeper commitment in Syria.
The bigger question is whether anybody on the so-called left would have bothered to come out to an anti-war rally if a Democratic president were lobbing missiles at Douma. Several leaders of the local peace movement who were active during the Dubya Bush administration disappeared as Barack Obama expanded drone warfare into seven countries, turned Libya into a Mad Max movie, and helped the Saudis inflict a holocaust on their neighbors in Yemen. Y'know, WIOIADDI: War Is Okay If A Democrat Does It.
A surprising number of rally attendees whom I approached for signatures told me that they had voted in a primary election this year. I didn't ask them which primary, but several indicated that they had participated in the Democratic primary. It's surprising to me, anyway: The Democratic Party has turned into the Party of Resisting Trump Unless It Blowing Shit Up. While some Democrats in Congress are vociferously pro-peace, they are a minority within their own caucus.
Dangers of #DemEnter
In Texas, which does not register voters by party affiliation, voting in a Democratic primary makes you officially a member of the Democratic Party for the rest of the year. As we have discussed here, it also means that you cannot actively affiliate with any other party, so your signature on another party's petition or presence at another party's conventions is not valid.
Because of the Open Primary system here, the vote you cast in a party's primary does not mean that you truly support the party. You could be voting for an insurgent candidate like Sema Hernandez, one who wants to reform the party and make it more responsive to its progressive base. It might mean that you identify with a different party but are voting defensively, to help prevent certain candidates from being nominated.
But when the Democratic establishment actively works to thwart progressive insurgencies like Sema's or Laura Moser's, it's time for Progressives to make that quantum jump and withdraw all support from the party and its candidates. The Democratic Party has demonstrated that it is more afraid of losing its millionaire donors than losing voters or legislative seats. Its leadership has developed that habit of wooing moderate voters while ignoring the massive pool of non-voters who have given up on electoral politics because they see no benefit from participating.
As long as Progressives keep knee-jerking their way to the primaries every other year, the to parties of war and Wall Street will continue to dominate our political landscape. Political movements like the Greens will continue to languish in obscurity. The Republicans will continue to move rightward, and the Democrats will keep pace with them. Whether or not we agree with the Democratic establishment and its aims, votes in the Democratic primary—even for outsiders and reformers—serve to strengthen it.
Like Trump, the corporate duopoly is merely a symptom of a much bigger disease. The nation's true malady is the unelected capitalist elite that buys legislation and legislators, funds think tanks, and puts neo-conservative sociopaths like John Bolton at the levers of foreign policy. As long as the Democratic Party remains in bed with that elite, as long as economics drives politics, as long as Democrats in Congress keep voting to bomb children, the symptoms will continue to worsen.
If you truly want peace, if you want to stop the US war machine, if you want human civilization to survive the 21st century, make a clean break from the corporate parties. Invest your hopes and dollars in the Greens, the Libertarians, Socialist Alternative, or any other political organization pushing for a peaceable foreign policy. War is immensely profitable for the 1%, but it is not sustainable for the rest of us.