The power of the 99% in 2012

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This report was presented to the CPUSA National Committee meeting, Nov. 12-13, 2011.

Part one: Strategy and tactics in this moment

The resounding vote that affirmed collective bargaining rights for public workers in Ohio sets the tone and contains many lessons for the 2012 elections, just one year out from now.  Congratulations Ohio!

The impact of years of corporate profit gouging is giving way to a new level of fight back and activism in our country and internationally as well. The 99% are saying, "Enough is enough!"

Since the 2010 election in which Tea Party Republican candidates won contests for Governors and for Congress, the class war has become more vicious against working people while, at the same time, at the grassroots class consciousness has been raised and the fight back to tax the rich and protect worker's rights has strengthened.  

From the moment Barack Obama was elected President by a broad alliance and cross section of the electorate, the corporate driven and lavishly funded extreme right-wing went on a rampage, blocking basic legislation that can bring the country out of economic crisis, and attempting to take back every progressive gain from the New Deal to the Civil Rights movement.

Therefore, the struggle in which we are engaged is a struggle to protect and expand basic democratic rights. To win this sharp battle will take unbreakable unity by all democratic minded people, and especially from the labor movement, racially oppressed, women and youth - the core forces for social change.

The extreme wealth gap and resulting unemployment, homelessness and lack of educational opportunity has also brought a growing number of people to search for new avenues of independent political expression, and for some, to question the capitalist system.

We are in a unique position to engage in this discussion because of our vision for fundamental change and our historical experience, which teaches us that the grave dangers posed by the extreme right wing can become reality unless there is full unity to defeat them.

Our approach to the 2012 elections is a big responsibility. A key aspect must be to sound the alarm and expose the objectives of the Republicans, which are dominated by Tea Party politics. Whatever populist rhetoric is used, these are the policies of the strongest sectors of the ruling class including finance, the military industrial complex and energy.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL CIO, expressed the outrage felt by millions this week when Republicans called for a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the super rich.

"Yesterday Republicans on the so-called "Super Committee" proposed lowering tax rates for the richest Americans while cutting hundreds of billions of dollars in Social Security and Medicare benefits that middle class Americans depend on. This is Robin Hood in reverse: class warfare against the American middle class on behalf of the top 1 percent," he said.

Every Republican presidential candidate supports cuts of Social Security and Medicare as well as ending all regulations on business. The Republican candidates were quick to oppose the decision of the President to bring the troops home from Iraq.

As Sam said in his report, to get an idea what would be in store with a Tea Party friendly president and Congress we need only look at the actions of the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin.

Ohio and Wisconsin also provide the example of the kind of unity needed to turn back this danger, raise the level of class consciousness, and lay the foundations for moving onto the offensive.

Growing unity and class consciousness

"We Are One" was the slogan and idea that took Wisconsin and the country by storm at the beginning of this year, coming out of the difficult 2010 elections. We Are One. A powerful, fighting idea born out of the vicious all-out attack by a new Tea Party Governor against public workers and their communities.

 "We Are One" brought together in the hundreds of thousands teachers with farmers, firefighters with machinists, students with laborers saying, "We will no longer be divided against one another." This message reverberated from union to union and statehouse to statehouse resisting attacks on workers rights swept across the nation. Two Republican allies of the Governor in the State Senate were defeated in an unprecedented recall election. The campaign to recall Gov. Walker has already begun.

 "We Are Ohio" carried Ohio, a tough swing state, though an unprecedented upsurge led by the labor movement which succeeded in soundly rejecting the even more vicious union-busting SB 5, mobilizing thousands of union members and other volunteers over many months standing up for their rights and their future, and becoming a national example for voter education and mobilization in 2012. The Koch brothers' FreedomWorks and the Alliance for America's Future poured in $30 million. But direct visits and voter contact by labor and allies won out. This experience, including the outstanding role of our Party, deserves careful study so that all the lessons can be drawn and made widely known.

A further development of the new level of unity came with the slogan and idea, "Rebuild the American Dream." drawing upon the historic civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King's contributions emphasizing racial and economic equality and social justice.

This movement emerges out of an intensive summer of organizing for "jobs not cuts," including the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus jobs hearings and listening tours, and the roll out of the ten point Contract for the American Dream including proposals for large scale job creation to put people to work and meet community needs, funded by taxing the rich, ending the wars - ideas now supported by the majority of people in the country.

The American Dream Movement projects one million leadership volunteers and 2,012 candidates for the 2012 elections made possible by labor and core forces organizations with millions of members recognizing their common interests.

This organizing led up to President Obama's Labor Day address on jobs and the American Jobs Act, which began shifting the national discussion from deficits to jobs.

Against this backdrop, on September 17, Occupy Wall St. burst onto the political stage and proclaimed, "We are the 99%" Occupy Wall St. transformed the debate, pointing the finger at the obscenely richest 1%, and capturing the sentiments of the majority in the country who support taxing the rich and holding the financial corporations accountable.

Large cities and small towns responded, "We are the 99%," a unifying cry that forced its way into the media and forcing discussion away from deficits to "tax the rich" and demanding that youth no longer be locked out of the American Dream. It was a shout heard around the world.

The young people at the center of Occupy and all generations involved are searching for a more fair, just and sustainable society where they can thrive.

The message of "We are the 99%" is that we are all in this together. It therefore challenges the extreme right-wing attempts to "shrink government so small it can go down the bathtub drain," and reaffirms the idea of government's responsibility for the common good.

"We are the 99%" objectively exposes the hypocrisy of the corporate right-wing in blocking any taxes on the super rich at the expense of jobs and human needs while complaining about the deficit. Tea Party calls for no tax increases are a protection for the 1%, just as the shell game the Republicans are playing on the Super Committee is all about yet another extension for the $4 trillion tax cuts to the super rich..

These slogans and contents reflect a growing class consciousness - We Are One, We are the 99%, They are the 1%, identifying Wall St. as the main enemy. Objectively they reflect an awareness of class struggle and willingness to fight back - not as individuals but as a class.

Political independence in 2012

Objectively, the 2012 election is critical to achieve any and all of the goals of Occupy. If the Tea Party ends up in power, it will be like putting the wolves in charge of the hen house. So sitting out the election is not an option.

The mass street action of the movement is interconnected with the elections. Each needs the other to meet the goals of standing up for the 99% against the economic divide and record inequality.

The 2012 elections are a pivotal moment for the direction of our country. If we veer backward it will be a giant setback for the newly emerging social movements and developing class consciousness in our country.  It will make the crisis of every day living even worse, and foreign policy even more aggressive.

On the other hand, if the most heartless, inhumane sections of monopoly capital are delivered a blow, the conditions will be improved to raise the level of political independence and organization

In this way, the 2012 election is the immediate struggle that can move the process forward for fundamental change, for bill of rights socialism. As one of our state committee members in Connecticut likes to say: "The revolution isn't somewhere down the road. The revolution is now and here in what we are doing."

Upon re-examination, our strategy - adopted in 1981 when the corporate ultra-right gained control of the Republican Party - our strategy of building the broad alliance against the extreme right-wing and focusing our attention on building up the role and strength of labor and all the core forces within that and the Communist Party and YCL in particular does fit the challenges of the present moment, and should be applied.

For example, who in your local area can be encouraged to become one of the 2,012 American Dream candidates for public office? How can our clubs and members be in the number of the million volunteers? How can we help build up the political action structures that each union is establishing?

The form that political independence takes at a given moment cannot be separated from the overall challenges of the moment.

Richard Trumka earlier this year announced a new and controversial approach by the AFL-CIO to cut back on funding for campaigns, and invest in developing union structures to educate, mobilize and get out the vote for candidates who support labor's values, and for union members to run for local office. In Ohio and Wisconsin, the strength of labor's leadership pulling out hundreds of volunteers and speaking to many thousands of workers and their families, is a clear signal of the power being harnessed to defeat the extreme right wing.

Expanding the Broad Alliance

An even larger and stronger alliance than that which elected Obama in 2008 will be needed in 2012. The lessons of these three years underscore the essential role of street heat by labor and people's organizations to protect past gains and push a progressive agenda forward.

Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus made a ringing appeal to the American Dream conference about how to change the political climate. He said instead of griping, bring the message and organize in every town and community across this country

This week's election victories in Ohio and across the country show the correctness of that approach.

Right-wing attacks were defeated from Mississippi (the "personhood" amendment that would have given fertilized eggs the rights of human beings lost 58% to 42%. ) to Maine (voted to preserve same-day voter registration after the right-wing legislature passed a law to repeal it.)

In Kentucky, which McCain carried in 2008, incumbent Democratic governor Steve Beshear won easily over his Republican challenger, along with four out of five statewide races. In New Jersey, Democrats retained control of the legislature, representing a defeat for Gov. Chris Christie, and elected 34 new union members to public office. In Arizona, voters recalled Republican State Senator Russell Pearce, who was the architect of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant ID bill. And in Connecticut, the Working Families Party gained a third seat on Hartford City Council, and labor-backed candidates, mostly union members, swept the New Haven Board of Aldermen.

Voters in red states made choices that are opposite to the Republican presidential candidates' positions, showing the possibilities to shift in a progressive direction. A strategy is needed to reach out in a new way to win over people to a tax the rich message and erode the base of the Republican right wing and tea baggers. In the eye of the storm in Ohio and Wisconsin, those firefighters, police and teachers who are Republicans are getting a different view and could change their vote in the 2012 presidential elections.

The fight for jobs

The Republican leadership in Congress came out and said their main goal was to defeat Obama. They have blockaded every piece of legislation that would bring relief to the unemployed, to cities and towns, to youth and retirees. Hypocritically, they then blame Obama for rising poverty and unemployment.

A Washington Post - ABC News poll released this week shows the impact of the economic crisis with two-thirds doubting they can maintain their standard of living, and half worried they will retire without enough assets to last their lifetime. This has created a volatile political climate.

The dramatic figures that came out this week showing that in the midst of the economic crisis the 1% has amassed even more wealth as everyone else sinks further and poverty deepens is an expose of the bankruptcy of the Republican agenda.

For the 25 million unemployed or underemployed, the crisis is deepening. A quarter of all youth, and nearly half of all African American and Latino youth are locked out of the job market. Many youth can't afford college and college graduates are hard pressed to find work.

But the massive public works jobs programs that are necessary for relief and to put the economy on a better footing are being held hostage to a political agenda that says "you're on your own."

On October 11, 100% of Senate Republicans voted against bringing the American Jobs Act to the floor, sacrificing millions of jobs to protect the very wealthiest Americans - the top 0.5 percent - from having to pay their fair share. On October 20, 100% of Senate Republicans voted against nearly 400,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters and cops. On November 3, 100 % of Senate Republicans voted against 450,000 jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, airports and other critical infrastructure. In each case one or two Democrats shamefully joined in and voted no.

Obama's American Jobs Act HR 12 has 98 co-sponsors in the House. In addition are a host of more far reaching job creation bills including the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act HR 2914 introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky with 48 co-sponsors which would immediately create six public works jobs programs.

Petitions, city council resolutions, marches and rallies are all in the mix in the fight to create good jobs.

On November 17, Rebuild the Dream, the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Occupy Wall St. and others are calling for "We are the 99%" actions for jobs across the country at bridges or anywhere in the community that infrastructure needs repair. The message will go out to the Super Committee to raise new revenue by taxing the very rich and create jobs, not make cuts into Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid that are the lifelines for millions of retirees and disabled.

These kinds of street actions have new momentum with the Occupy movement. They need to become a constant fixture in the political calendar in a way that amplifies the voice and leadership of the unemployed.

On the immediate agenda is the cry to extend unemployment compensation to those who are running out. If Congress doesn't act, five million people will be cut off from any income as of December 31.

Part two: Core forces in 2012

Labor, racially oppressed, women and youth voters play a special part as the most deeply affected by the economic crisis and, as a result, the most class conscious. These core forces, along with activists in the environmental and peace movements, senior and LGBT movements, are in position to give grounding and stability to the Occupy movement as it unfolds and provide the foundation to move in a progressive direction in this election.

There are many trends including a softening of support for President Obama because of policies that run in a counter direction, including the rise in deportation of immigrants, the passage of new trade deals, environmental issues and overall foreign policy direction.  However, the quest to end the relentless class war, racist divisions and drive to destroy unions that the Republicans embody, and to end the ability of the Tea Party to hold Congress and the country hostage, provides a unity of purpose to re-elect the president and gain majority control of both houses of Congress.

In fact, the record of the last three years includes important victories within a difficult political climate. These include the Lilly Ledbetter Act for workplace rights for women, de-privatization of student loans, the stimulus which created or prevented loss of two to four million jobs and extended unemployment insurance for millions of unemployed workers, the health care bill which despite weaknesses will extend coverage to tens of millions of Americans including youth, repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and establishing the Consumer Finance Protection Board. Many of President Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the U.S. Supreme Court, and to federal agencies covering health and safety, food and drug, have begun to re-orient these agencies toward their original overall purpose of protecting people rather than corporate interests.

The 30,000 people who protested the Keystone Pipeline at the White House and won a postponement of action by President Obama on tar stands oil, give a powerful example of how street heat can influence policy.

The core forces for social change on a mass level have to see themselves as an organized and disciplined force that is not only blocking the extreme right-wing by voting for Obama, but is positioning itself to fight for the progressive programs the country needs.

As Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, said upon endorsing Obama for re-election, "We will fight shoulder to shoulder alongside working families across this nation. We will show the one percent that they aren't the only ones willing to fight for America's future."

The 2012 election is shaping up to be an epic battle in a debate about what kind of country do we want to be. As shown by the campaign in Ohio, the labor movement is gearing up for its biggest mobilization ever.

President Obama has launched a special outreach to communities of color, women and youth. He has convened several conferences with African American, Hispanic and Native American community leaders and policy makers from across the country to discuss his agenda in relation to those concerns. In addition, Operation Vote is outreaching to Jewish and LGBT communities. .

A New York Times / CBS News survey last month shows that African American voters are favorable to President Obama by over 90%, and a Pew Research Center poll showed Black voters preferred Obama over Romney by 95 to 3.

The number of Latino voters has grown significantly, from 17.3 million in 2006 to 21.3 million last year, according to the Pew Center. Latinos now have the highest rate of poverty among every racial and ethnic group in the country. Reflecting disappointment at the lack of comprehensive immigration reform and increasing deportations, support for Obama has fallen as much as 25% according to the Pew Center, an issue which cannot wait to be addressed.

Support for Obama among women voters was evenly divided in the 2010 midterm elections compared to a 56% vote in 2008. The Republican website dares to blame Obama for the fact that "over 1.1 million women have lost their jobs as the unemployment rate among women has risen from 6.9% to 8.5%," when it is Republican blockage of remedies that is to blame. Emily's List and Planned Parenthood and others are gearing up to take on the frontal attack on women's rights the extreme right wing has been pursuing.

Among youth the Pew survey found wide support for the president, but also found that the share of young voters who identify themselves as either solidly Democratic or leaning Democratic has fallen to 50% now from 58% in 2008. Obama won the 18-to-29 voters by a 66% to 32% margin, which was the largest margin by any presidential candidate among any age group in any election since 1972.

Moreover, those younger voters made up an unusually large 18% of the electorate. In the 2010 midterm elections, younger voters fell to 11% of the electorate, and their support for Democrats dropped to 57%. The challenge is to galvanize the youth vote and overcome the new laws in many states that place barriers in the way of the right to vote.

Republicans and right-wing political action committees continue to target the core forces to create confusion and disunity and to suppress the vote. Every lie, deceit and dirty trick can be expected and must be prepared for.

The Republican campaign drips with racism, not only in open attempts to defeat the first African American president, but also in the program projected and the crass revival of the racist "welfare queen" rhetoric that was used so effectively in the 1970s and 1980s.

Examples include blaming the financial crisis on giving mortgages to poor people and blaming rising health care costs on those forced to use the emergency room for a doctor. The entire Republican economic and social arguments are based not only on faulty reasoning but on outright lies aimed at splitting the vote. "We are the 99%" lays the basis for shifting the ground to the class essence of the Republican positions.

Women and seniors are also targets. The Granny-gate scandal in Ohio, where a senior activist's video in opposition to SB5 was altered and aired by the Koch brothers portraying her as supporting SB 5 is just a preview of what we can expect this year.

Voter suppression has become a civil rights issue in the 2012 election. A Brennan Center for Justice report, "Voting Law Changes in 2012," examines 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states in 2011, including regulations requiring photo IDs or proof of citizenship to vote, and laws curtailing access to voter registration, early voting, and absentee voting, initiated by ALEC., the American Legislative Exchange Council, founded by the Koch brothers.

The states that made changes to voting laws have 171 electoral votes, 63% of the 270 needed to win the presidency. These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, especially youth, racially oppressed, low income voters and voters with disabilities or past criminal convictions.

Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have new photo ID requirements and several other states have implemented new voting rules that reduce early voting and limit same-day registration.

This attack is being met head on, and could have the effect of swelling voter turnout.  The NAACP, SEIU and 57 organizations have announced a Stand for Freedom march and rally on December 10, Human Rights Day, from the offices of the Koch brothers to the United Nations.

Rock the Vote has launched a special website to mobilize the youth vote. "You are getting screwed!" it says. "There is a war on voting going on and your rights are under attack ... In America, we rock the vote, we don't block the vote."

Political democracy is also threatened by the unlimited anonymous spending allowed for corporations by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. There are a variety of tactics being developed to challenge this ruling. The only answer to the financial onslaught is to fully mobilize our numbers.

The frontal assault on labor, racially oppressed, women, youth and many other sectors of the voting population is being met with a strong fight back, adding to the significance of the 2012 election.

Part three: The political map

A determined, organized and focused voter outpouring can succeed in re-electing President Obama and winning control of the House and the Senate.

The White House

This election is considered the most difficult a President has faced for re-election in two decades. While every state is important to amass the electoral votes needed for election, there are 13 states that are expected to be the most sharply contested.

States Obama carried in 2008 that were carried by the Republicans in 2004: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

States Obama carried in 2008 that were carried by the Democrats in 2004: Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The House

All 435 House seats are up for election.

The current balance is 242 Republicans (55.6 %) to 193 Democrats (44.4 %).

Democrats need to pick up 25 seats to regain majority control, which is considered possible.

The Cook Report rates 32 Republicans "at risk" compared with 24 Democrats "at risk."

Sixty-one Republicans represent Congressional Districts that voted for President Obama in 2008,

The Senate

Thirty-three seats are up for election.

The current balance is 53 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with them to 47 Republicans.

Of the 33 seats up for election, Democrats hold 23, and Republicans hold 10.

Six Democrats or Independents are retiring: Jim Webb of Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingamen of New Mexico, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin.

Two Republican Senators are retiring, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and John Kyl of Arizona.

Dem/Independents seeking reelection are: Vermont's Bernie Sanders, Florida's Bill Nelson, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Missouri's Claire McCaskill, Montana's Jon Tester, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, Delaware's Tom Carper, Maryland's Ben Cardin, Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey's Bob Menendez, New York's Kirsten Gillbrand, Rhode Island's Sheldon Whitehorse, and Washington's Maria Cantwell.

Democratic candidates seeking open seats include: Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii; Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wash., Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

Other noteworthy Senate races already underway include Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., running to unseat Republican Senator Scott Brown, Rep. Shelly Berkeley, D-Nev., running to unseat freshman Republican Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., running to unseat Republican Senator Richard Lugar.

Part four: Role of CPUSA

As anger at the financial institutions rises, so does interest in the Communist Party, the YCL and socialism.

We are proudly a party of the working class, a party of all those who are locked out of the American Dream. Our program is a clarion call for unity and a call for justice.

As millions of people, especially young, and also older, are questioning and rejecting capitalism for most there is no clear alternative.

We are called upon in this moment to clearly place our vision and how to get there. The National Board has been having several discussions along these lines with some proposals.

Our vision is not separate and apart from the tremendous task before us in 2012. Not only is there no contradiction, the way we work in this election can result in many new multi-racial, working class members in the Party and YCL.

We have had such an experience in New Haven. Following the YCL school in April where new members joined, we all gave our summer to the important election campaign for Board of Aldermen. We went door-to-door, weekly, and sometimes several times a week, the YCL focused in one ward. They were greatly appreciated. The candidate received many compliments for the youth involvement in her campaign. During the campaign more youth joined the YCL when they found out that was who had organized the effort. After the successful campaign, that alderwoman worked with the youth and participated in a big march for youth jobs. Again more youth joined the YCL when they found out that was who had initiated this movement.

I am sure we will hear other examples around the country as well, that show that the strategy and tactics and action of the Communist Party and YCL is what can build our membership numbers and develop new leaders.

The doors are wide open in every community for 2012 with nationally coordinated grass roots work by labor and by the American Dream movement as a whole.

This election will be decided by the number of doors knocked on, the number of conversations held, the number of voters who are inspired to become a part of this movement and make a difference.

Where we have clubs that are focused on a neighborhood, door to door election work is made to order as a way to bring out the vote and build a club base. In the example I mentioned, we coordinated our participation through the labor movement. It all started with door knocking to find out what the concerns of the voters were in that ward, and it went from there. And don't forget to bring voter registration cards along!

If there is a new club, or even if there is just an individual comrade in that area, the excitement of participating with the unions in an election campaign is really great. You are making a stronger labor movement and you are giving voice to the community, and you are helping to win all at the same time.

One of the things that really attracts people to be a part, are the stories and analysis in the People's World / Mundo Popular. Rick Nagin, Juan Lopez and others set a terrific example writing for the paper and widely circulating the articles among labor leaders and activists. We should look at the People's World as a very special asset to building unity and cutting through the lies and confusion that is bound to happen during this election year.

The election is not just a project that ends on November 6. The election is part of the long-term process of bringing new members of the working class, their family and friends and co-workers into action and also into our inspiring movement.

We need a variety of materials to carry with us along the way. The promo card for the People's World is great. So is the "Save Our Nation - Tax the Rich" brochure. Another in the series is on the way focused on jobs. The pamphlet "Feeling Locked Out of the American Dream?" is also great to circulate and discuss. The weekly electronic blast from Scott Marshall, the monthly phone conference discussions all are open to bring people in to see what we're about and take part.

It's easy to get so involved in the day to day that outreach and club building gets lost. That's why it helps a lot to have a local plan mapped out with some modest goals to follow and amend as need be.

This is an amazing time, a time of motion, a time of transition. It is a time with great dangers, but the opportunities are there. This is a moment we cannot miss!

There will surely be attempts to split and divide. But sticking together, youth protesting for their right to a future, joined with the labor movement, civil rights, peace, environment and social justice, can rescue democracy in our country. If we do our part and stay focused, this new social movement growing in the context of the 2012 elections, has the capacity to take us beyond what has been possible and open the door for new dreams toward equality and "people and nature before profits."

Resources

League of Women Voters: state by state voter dates and information

http://www.vote411.org/

Youth Vote: state by state voter registration info

http://www.youthvote.org/

Rock the Vote - Don't Block the Vote

http://www.rockthevote.com/campaigns/suppression/#

NAACP Voter Rights Mobilization and Voter Hotline

http://www.naacp.org/content/main

Photo: (PeoplesWorld.org