Minneapolis: A Microcosm of the 2017 Elections

The 2017 elections give us a picture of the new political climate that has emerged following the 2016 election. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo and an urgency to fight back against the Trump regime and its daily attacks.  The anger in society has led to increased polarization, and people are breaking away from the safe channels of the two major parties.

In Minneapolis, this has meant an erosion of support for the Democratic establishment despite their recent passing of a $15/hr minimum wage ordinance. Meanwhile, unconventional candidates seen as progressives are flooding the ballot and have seen a boost in support. However, most of this energy has gone into yet another doomed effort to reform the Democratic Party. But the real potential for changing society lies in independent working-class politics.

Attempting to reform the Democrats is an old tactic. Four years ago, Democratic Mayor Betsy Hodges ran on a “progressive” platform and, under pressure from labor and activist organizations, vocally supported a “Working Families Agenda” which included a minimum wage increase, fair scheduling laws, and paid sick and safe time.

A couple of years later she was one of the main obstacles to that agenda and had proven herself to be a “responsible” manager of capitalism and a champion of “law and order.” In 2016, she proposed spending over $1 million to fortify the Minneapolis Fourth Precinct building, which had been occupied by Black Lives Matter activists protesting the murder of Jamar Clark by police—activists she also helped to evict, citing concerns about air quality in the neighborhood.

As Nancy Pelosi said about the Democrats, “we’re capitalists, and that’s just the way it is.” Anyone running on or elected on a Democratic ticket takes on that commitment and all the constraints that come with it. Regardless of their personal convictions or intentions, they cannot act against the interests of that system. Naturally, the Democratic Party has lots of ways of disciplining their people.

Ninth Ward City Councillor Alondra Cano is a great example of how the party maneuvers against the so-called progressive wing. Faced in 2013 with socialist Ty Moore, the Democrats cynically ran the progressive Cano to defeat Moore’s independent, left-wing campaign. Cano won the election narrowly. Now, in 2017, without any left-wing threat, the Democrats sought in the primary to replace her with a pro-business, establishment-friendly Democrat.

It is in this context that we have to look at the new wave of progressive, activist candidates seeking the Democratic endorsement. Many have answered Sanders’s call for his supporters to run for office and are likely to have the endorsement of his organization, Our Revolution. Most significant among these is Raymond Dehn’s upstart mayoral campaign, which won the most delegate votes at the inconclusive Democratic convention. Incumbent Betsy Hodges came in third.

Dehn is seen by many as a progressive reformer in the party as against now-exposed Betsy Hodges and business-favorite Jacob Frey. Whereas Hodges and Frey call for increased police presence in downtown Minneapolis, Dehn calls for demilitarizing police. Dehn’s desire to “eliminate disparities entirely” contrasts with Hodges and Frey’s lukewarm talk about “new leadership.”

Nevertheless, we must be absolutely clear that the Democratic Party and the capitalist system it represents are incapable of eliminating disparities or carrying out genuine progressive measures. In practice, progressive leaders will either leave the Democrats or be exposed. The same goes for Gasca and Fletcher, activists with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change respectively, also running in the trap of the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Alternative campaign of former Minnesota 15 Now Executive Director, Ginger Jentzen, for Minneapolis City Council Ward 3 has become a point of reference for the left. Ginger has run an energized campaign capitalizing on the growing desire to challenge the Democrats and entrenched corporate power. We encourage residents of Ward 3 to vote for her and for the break with the Democrats that she represents.

The strength of this campaign is its class independence and the support it has received in the labor movement, as evidenced by endorsements from the Minnesota Nurses Association, the Communication Workers of America Minnesota State Council, and the United Transportation Union Minnesota Legislative Board. Jentzen has also refused corporate money and vows to take only the wage of an average worker in Minneapolis, donating the rest of her salary to building social movements.

However, Ginger recently signed a letter along with Democratic candidates and elected officials, including Ray Dehn, affirming their shared commitment to fighting Trump’s attacks on healthcare. This not only provides left cover for and raises illusions in the Democratic Party—which carries much of the responsibility for these attacks—but also compromises her campaign’s main strength: its independence from the corporate interests represented by the Democrats.

All of these campaigns, and Ginger’s in particular, show the mass dissatisfaction with the existing political outlets and a desire for something new. But truly representing working class interests ultimately requires a mass, class-independent party that will not only put up individual candidates but fight around a unified program for working class political and economic power. Such a party would exist as much in the streets and workplaces as in government and would owe allegiance to none beside the exploited and oppressed of this country.

Contrast this with the Democrats. They have ruled most major cities in the US for a century in what are essentially one-party states. During their tenure, they have broken numerous strikes while attacking education, healthcare, and pensions. Police murders, mass incarceration, gentrification, and many other aspects of systemic racism have run rampant. It is high time their reign comes to an end.

A new working class party may seem distant today, but history shows that currents building up slowly over long periods of time can eventually express themselves quickly. We see these currents growing stronger and stronger today. What is needed is a sustained, systematic campaign within organized labor and social movements for a break with the Democrats and the formation of such a party. Furthermore, only if such a party fights for a revolutionary socialist program can the ills of capitalism be ended.

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