Socialist feminist presidential campaign: Bringing race and gender issues to the fore

The May Day 2012 march for immigrant and workers’ rights in Los Angeles. Photo credit: FS Presidential Campaign

Let’s consider. The forest of laws keeping minor parties off U.S. ballots just keeps thickening; all the major media act like alternative candidates don’t exist; and the price tag for being seen as any kind of “serious” contender just keeps going up. All in all, the Democratic and Republican two-party lock on the U.S. ballot box just keeps tightening.

And yet the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) decided 2012 was the right time to run its first presidential campaign! What were we thinking?

We were thinking about the urgency of posing an alternative in these ugly times. About the need to encourage people to say a loud no to unemployment, war, and disappearing social services and civil liberties. And a loud yes to dumping capitalism and using this country’s tremendous wealth to stop the suffering of the people who create that wealth.

The unconventional approach. Because the odds are so stacked against minor-party candidates, they’re often accused of tilting at windmills. But the FSP write-in campaign, although wholehearted, wasn’t about winning. It was about pushing the issues of the most oppressed center stage and about building movements.

Presidential candidate Stephen Durham, vice-presidential partner Christina López, and their supporters picketed with Chicago teachers, rallied against police abuse, marched against NATO, participated in Tucson’s Freedom Summer for ethnic studies, and delivered aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

They talked to farm workers not allowed to vote, and with students not old enough to. They went to big-box stores and knocked on doors in all sorts of neighborhoods. They intervened at union conventions where officials aggressively pushed Barack Obama, but rank-and-filers showed interest in the FSP’s “un-millionaire campaign.” They made a splash in California as contenders for the nomination of the Peace and Freedom Party electoral coalition (which ultimately gave the nod to Roseanne Barr — click here to read more about that story).

And, with help from new friends all over the country, the Durham-López ticket acquired write-in status in 25 states.

New Yorker Durham and Seattleite López are both grass-roots organizers with long records of fighting for justice in many arenas. Durham stood out as an openly gay presidential candidate, López as a Chicana dedicated to the fight for immigrant rights.

They boldly raised socialism as the only sane way to reorganize society, and feminism as the only way to mobilize more than half the human race in this urgent task. They focused on communities of color, not as a demographic to be cynically wooed, but as crucial movers of social change.

The power of program. FSP’s platform — one that leaves no one out — gave the campaign its vitality and significance. López and Durham raised demands that make the major parties shudder: free, expanded mass transit to deal with climate change; a giant program of public jobs to address unemployment; taxing big business and the rich to pay for all this; shutting down the prison-industrial complex; and total reproductive rights, including free abortion on demand. The platform also took stands avoided by liberal third parties, like opening the borders and dismantling the Pentagon.

Durham and López also spread the idea that today’s close-knit world requires international solidarity among workers, including intensified opposition at home to the U.S. empire’s wars and crimes abroad. The campaign got publicity in Brazil, Argentina, and Australia and won endorsements from socialist groups in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Support also came from South Africa, Turkey, and Italy.

U.S. endorsements came from movement leaders like former Black Panther Richard Brown, writer-activists like Suzanne Brooks, rank-and-file unionists, community activists, and musicians including Laura Love and David Rovics.

How did we do? Due to the disdain the system has for David-versus-Goliath efforts like the FSP campaign, results for write-in votes won’t be known until mid-December, if at all. As FSP gets it, information will go up on this Web site.

But some things we know.

At the Seattle election night party, Campaign Manager Doug Barnes thanked the many enthusiastic volunteers and generous working-class contributors, who together raised $37,500. Because of this support, Barnes said, “We were able, with modest resources, to cause a scene, to poke holes in the two-party stranglehold, and find like-minded folks everywhere we turned.”

Durham-López campaigners found a remarkably high level of anti-capitalist sentiment among battered and beleaguered poor and working people, and opened eyes about what socialism is and why it’s feasible. They also found a serious will to organize after the billionaires’ election and made new connections for that effort.

Mission accomplished!

By Megan Cornish
Freedom Socialist, December 2012-January 2013, Volume 33, No. 6