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Tonight's panel with Senator Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Activist/Journalist Shaun King on Justice Reform offers an activist convergence of previously mainly divergent constituencies toward a potentially diverse and vibrant coalition, uniting a broad section of disaffected groups into an electorate force with direct action muscle or it could reduce to a mutually self-serving promotional engagement. We are hopeful for the former but must be clear that some respective corrections are requisite to the fullest unity of these groupings.

Bernie Justice LA

Bernie Sanders came up measurably short within the African American stronghold of the Democratic Party and needs to account for this shortcoming. While the Clinton Arkansas machine had organizational reach in the Black Belt South, DNC royalty put the kibosh on Sanders’ insurgency. Although Sanders was dwarfed in recognition by Clinton’s Camelot legacy, the platform Sanders raised, the issues and movement he called forth under the auspices of “Political Revolution” and “Democratic Socialism,” should have been able to cut deeper into the corporate Democratic Party’s headlock on non-white voters.

Sanders actually won all youth under 30, including Black youth, but these were a minuscule percentage of the Democratic Party electorate. Bernie needed to be more Brooklyn, less Vermont.

Sanders actually won all youth under 30, including Black youth, but these were a minuscule percentage of the Democratic Party electorate. Bernie needed to be more Brooklyn, less Vermont.

Bernie's prior endorsements of Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr.’s presidential campaigns, his marching with Dr. King, his arrests for civil rights protest, and his support from Dr. Cornel West, Nina Turner, and Killer Mike are important, but they paled against Sanders’ absurd rejection and characterization of Black reparations as “divisive” and failure to incorporate a clear demand for community control over the police.

In a campaign appearance in East Los Angeles ahead of the California primary, I raised with Sanders' staff the opportunity to meet with Ezell Ford’s family. But rather than come to their home in South Central, where LAPD murdered Ezell, they only agreed if Ezell’s mother would drive to the East L.A. rally.

Other signals like his imperialist slander of Hugo Chavez as a “dead, communist dictator” dulled enthusiasm from national liberation fighters who may have embraced a primary fight against Clinton. There can be no “Political Revolution” exclusive of national liberation, no “Democratic Socialism” without a multinational united front led by the working class.

Justice Reform event

Black Lives Matter

#BLM’s involvement in the presidential election is a farce consistent with the aimless U.S. “progressive left” that can’t get out of its own way. #BLM’s profile gave national focus to police brutality, connected actions with activists and elbowed its way into the presidential election conversation creating an opportunity to, in some measure, impact the outcome of the election.

During the Democratic primary #BLM and affiliates pressed Sanders and Clinton in various ways but declined to announce a preference or make an endorsement. Why?

Political strategy is a dismal weakness across the U.S. “left”. This failing is certainly not exclusive to #BLM but there can be no mistaking that

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  • Sanders’ platform was vastly superior to Clinton’s platform,
  • Sanders consistently polled much better head to head against Trump than did Clinton, and
  • There were no other viable candidates in the election.

Election campaigns and endorsements are not statements of absolute allegiance to a candidate or a party or an entire platform. They are contests for power. The first question of revolution is to seize power in order prevent its primary enemy from gaining power in a given time/place/condition.

Developing a Peoples' Democracy

It is critical we build a Workers’ Party on the basis of Peoples’ Democracy (not paper democracy) and run Democratic Peoples’ Campaigns against the Democratic Party in local elections first where we presently have the organizational capacity to defeat them heads up.

But in elections in where we lack the organizational capacity to defeat the Democratic Party heads up, we must be clear enough to isolate and defeat the primary enemy.

In the 2016 Democratic Party primary, the primary enemy was Clinton and the job was to nominate Sanders. Then in the 2016 general election, the primary enemy was Trump and the job was to elect Clinton, in order to defeat Trump. Anything else is objectively working to assist and enable the primary enemy to gain power. As Amiri Baraka once said, “if you don’t vote, you’re a fool, and if you’re not registered to vote, you’re worse than a fool.”

I asked #BLM co-founder Alicia Garza in January, 2016, why was BLM not supporting Sanders to defeat Clinton for the nomination to run against Trump. I told her that by not working to defeat Clinton #BLM was objectively supporting Clinton’s nomination and Trump’s chances to win the general election.

Garza refused to address this point, preferring to instead character assassinate me as “ultra left” but then followed that by tagging Sanders as “Zionist” (apparently in attempt to expose me as actually “not left”). The question becomes, if #BLM views Sanders as Zionist, and he is definitely shaky on Palestinian national liberation, is Clinton less Zionist? Or is Trump for that matter? Are the Palestinians better off for the outcome of the U.S. election? Is #BLM better off? Are any of us?

Elections are not exercises in ideological fealty. They are fights for governmental positions with actual powers and resources that affect the political landscape in which the people must struggle and in which activists must organize and maneuver.

Bernie Sanders is not a Socialist leading the working class to overthrow monopoly capitalism and imperialism. He has many inconsistencies even by his own standards of “Democratic Socialism.” He is not the savior of the 99%. But he was the best viable candidate in the 2016 primary election and that was the reason to have endorsed him.

The refusal to work to defeat Clinton objectively helped her. And then in the general election, it is unforgivable not to have firmly endorsed Clinton to defeat Trump. Again #BLM begged out, like much of the US “left”, objectively assisting Trump’s victory. This must be understood, recognized and answered for. The United States is being propelled toward fascism and these lessons of strategy need to be learned. Like Mao said “talking bad about the enemy is not the same as fighting him.” We hope that Saturday’s panel will address these questions headfirst.

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Cliff Smith

Cliff Smith is the business manager of the Roofers & Waterproofers Union, Local 36. He served two elected terms as board member on the South Central Neighborhood Council. A long-time activist, Cliff is the founder of the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police. For 10 years, he was the editor of Amiri Baraka's newspaper "Unity & Struggle."