By Karyn Pomerantz, Nov. 2, 2020
By the time you read this, voting will be winding down, and people will be anxiously waiting for the results. The election has revealed the paucity of choices workers, students, and soldiers have to improve our lives. There is widespread (justified) terror of another 4 years of Trump propelling liberals to support the Biden/Harris ticket. Groups around the US are preparing to defend a Biden victory in light of Trump’s promise to challenge any loss.
In “Biden: Lesser Evil or Just Plain Evil” and “Deadly Democrats” published recently on this blog, we argue that the Democrats presently and in earlier administrations represent imperialism (Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam) and racism (Clinton crime bill, destruction of welfare). While it is true that Democratic Party rule has a softer rhetoric, it also has the backing of major oil companies like Exxon who want to control the oil fields and distribution to other countries. Republican Party leaders are more focused on domestic oil production and have no reluctance to destroy indigenous and protected lands to do so.
So there are differences in the ways the parties implement capitalism – not to mention how they wrestle with the Covid19 pandemic and immigration. Biden’s promises include respect for science and evidence-based prevention and treatment while Trump continues to minimize its existence and harms. The question is if there is any health care and public health system left to intervene. Will any administration spend the billions needed that they could use to protect and expand its empire, meaning war? As widely noted, Obama/Biden deported more immigrant people than even Bush and Trump but got away with it due to Obama’s representation as an antiracist and social justice warrior.
We can go on, but let’s consider how public health organizations and leaders respond to this critical time.
Public Health Leaders Encourage Voting
We must protect democracy and vote for Biden is a common belief. (Some are non-partisan so they can only say vote, but it’s no secret what party they support). This statement assumes that we have democracy threatened by Trump. While it is true that Trump has increased voter suppression, banned antiracist trainings, and packed the Supreme Court with extremist conservative judges, workers never get a chance to determine better living conditions unless we strike or rebel. Voting never ends the constant exploitation of workers in the US and globally. We don’t vote on trade deals or wars. We don’t vote to produce useful services or goods like childcare or healthy foods. Everything is geared to profit, not usefulness. When the economy tanks, the bosses lay us off by the millions and withdraw any assistance for housing and food, no matter which party is in power. And of course, racism exacerbates all these “normal” functions of capitalism as seen in disproportionate Covid death rates, evictions, and police murders.
Preserving democracy as a reason to vote is a lie.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) urges voting as a public health intervention. Its recent annual meeting sponsored many sessions whose speakers pushed this position. The meeting was notable for its inclusion of more antiracist content and presenters than in years past. Before the murder of George Floyd, the Association resisted the passage of a resolution condemning state violence as a public health concern. It finally passed in 2018 after 3 years of organizing (see it at http://endpoliceviolence).
This October 2020, the End Police Violence authors presented a resolution calling for de-carceration and prison abolition due to health conditions and the racist inequities of imprisonment. At its initial submission, the policy oversight committee rejected it for having a glut of references (!), but the authors and supporters pushed back and it came for a vote before the governing body. It passed with a 92% approval vote to the delight and astonishment of its backers. Many issues remain for discussion, including whether abolition is possible under capitalism and whether particular people (police who murder, capitalists who violently oppose social justice) should be offered restorative justice. (It will return for a vote next year to become permanent policy, but we can use it now. It is also on the End Police Violence website).
While implementation will determine its utility, its passage represents a significant change in APHA policy. With a membership of 50,000, this is an important association to join.
Public Health Awakened (PHA) run by Human Impact Partners works to “wake up” and activate public health workers. It has created several local chapters, resource guides, and forums for discussion among its members (mostly public health practitioners and students). The field of public health has become more technical and sleepy rather than awake and activist as it had been. While health systems exist to maintain a workforce healthy enough to reproduce and work, its workers commit themselves to reduce suffering and promote healthy conditions. They have expanded their purview to include the capitalist determinants of health as well, including deficits in housing, incarceration, and transportation.
PHA has also called for protecting voting as a critical intervention. As a funded NGO, it cannot overtly challenge capitalism but vigorously supports abolition politics. (Several staff members as individuals, not as employees, wrote the APHA resolutions).
The Spirit of 1848 is an active social justice organization that hosts programs at APHA meetings. It runs an extremely thoughtful and active listserv that hosts many debates and publications on public health issues, written mostly for an intellectual crowd. Privately, many of its leaders and participants identify as left wing activists. Therefore their posting of an article published in The Lancet by key antiracist scholars is especially disappointing and misleading (In the 2020 US election, we can choose a just future by Rhea W Boyd, NancyKrieger, Camara Phyllis Jones at https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32140-1. Volume 396, Issue 10260, 31 October–6 November 2020, Pages 1377-1380).
They argue that voting will usher in justice:
“On the other hand, (voting for Biden, ed.) is a rebuke of racist, autocratic politics, and the mandate to create a more equal, just, healthy, and habitable nation and world. The choice is stark and the stakes are high.”
“US citizens who can vote must affirm these self-evident truths: white nationalism and authoritarianism imperil democracy; democracy and equality are co-constitutive; equality is essential to health; the social, economic, and political conditions necessary to advance equality safeguard the planet; and thriving societies require sustainable environments and equitable economies. All these issues are on the 2020 ballot. We hope US voters choose a just future.”
These are compelling arguments. People would vote for inanimate objects to replace Trump, but there is little understanding that the Democratic Party cannot institute equality and racial justice under a system based on exploitation of workers and the accumulation of wealth and resources. Capitalism and racism, as well as the oppression of women, are utterly intertwined. We can’t dismantle them without overthrowing capitalism. Voting does not produce this outcome. It seriously diverts us from discussions on how to revolt successfully. It cloaks political ideas with the illusion that we have power by voting.
The endorsement of voting as social change, while understandable when faced with Trump and the constant deaths from global disease, racist killings, and impoverishment, will accelerate the push to war and fascism. Voting out fascism has never worked. The Red Army and resistance partisans in WWII, and the ANC and Communist Party in South Africa successfully overturned genocide and apartheid, respectively. Antiracist fighters beat back Klan and Nazi demonstrators in the 1980s; the Klan Grand Wizard admitted that these actions reduced their membership. Only massive disruptions and movements have somewhat reformed capitalism (1930s New Deal, WWII) or overthrown it for a time (the Paris Commune, USSR, China).
Liberal politicians lull us into thinking there will be peace, economic prosperity, and racial equity. They subdue our will to change the system and fight against bipartisan assaults like deportations and bombing Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Millions of liberals have opposed systemic changes and militant anti-racist actions over the decades, leaving us without any mass organizations to truly dismantle capitalism. Some are totally clueless, some are anti-communist, some are overly optimistic about reforms, but they all could build a revolutionary movement.
We all need to study and organize a multiracial, international movement for revolution to utterly replace this system with one run by workers in our interests. To do otherwise is a betrayal, especially among those who know better. If we don’t speak out and act on these demands, this planet will be over.
So while you vote, keep organizing and join the demonstrations for equity and multiracial/ethnic/global solidarity!