The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Electing Obama

The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Electing Obama

by Sunsara Taylor

Millions believe Barack Obama is the anti-war/anti-Bush candidate. In reality, Obama is proving to be the candidate most effective at getting all-too-many “leaders” of the anti-war movement to shut up and even urge others to go along with wars for empire.

In the name of getting Obama elected, the anti-war movement is being demobilized, and firm opposition to the so-called “war on terror” is being silenced.

In May, Chicago anti-war activists brought Scott Ritter, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Kinzer, and Doug Cassel to speak at a town hall style City Council meeting and everyone expected the City Council to pass a resolution against an attack on Iran the next day. But before this could happen, Mayor Daley objected, saying, “Passing a resolution like that puts a lot of burden upon [Obama’s] candidacy and injects something that should not be injected” into the presidential campaign. Since then, the resolution has been sidelined by City Council aldermen and some of the activists who claim to personally support the bill but have accepted Daley’s logic.

And now, as the Democratic National Convention approaches at the end of August in Denver, people like Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice are working to pour cold water on attempts to bring forward meaningful political protest. Recently she suggested that the anti-war movement just “drop the idea of a big march on Sunday, August 24th” and has insisted that “while there is plenty to be critical about in terms of the Democratic Party leadership we would NOT want [people] to see this as an anti-Democratic Party protest.”

But is it true that toning down anti-war criticism and protest in order to elect Democrats can lead to good results?
How the Logic Plays Out: 2006

It is worth it to recall how a similar logic played out in 2006.

In October of 2006, just weeks before the mid-term election, the Democrats joined Republicans in Congress to pass Bush’s Military Commissions Act. Even though this bill shredded habeas corpus and legalized torture, many “progressives” excused the Democrats, arguing they had to go along in order not to appear “weak on terror” and thereby lose the elections. At the same time, there was a growing movement for impeachment based on iron-clad evidence of the Bush regime’s illegal wire-tapping and the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Iraq. Still, when Nancy Pelosi—and not long after, John Conyers—insisted that impeachment was “off the table” many anti-war leaders curbed their criticisms. Again, the argument was made that such “compromises” were necessary in order to get the Democrats elected.

Remember how jubilant people across the country felt when the Democrats did win? Then, remember how, once they had more “reasonable” people in Congress these “anti-war leaders” pulled out all the stops—calling nation-wide walk-outs, street protests, and major town hall meetings—to apply their much-touted “pressure”? And how after that, how the Democrats immediately cut the funding for the occupation of Iraq and started shipping the troops home, while at the same time they opened investigations and tried for war crimes the high-ranking officials who had LIED to launch that war?

Oh wait. That’s not how it went down. As soon as the election results were in, Nancy Pelosi began reinterpreting what people had voted for. Over and over she repeated the lie that, “The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington D.C.”

And then the new Democratically-controlled Congress, including Obama, approved every single Iraq war spending bill. This “more willing to listen” Democratically-controlled Congress, including Obama, legalized Bush’s warrantless wire-tapping. This Democratically-controlled Congress secretly granted Bush approval to conduct Special Operations—including the use of deadly force—within Iran’s sovereign borders.

All along the way, these “anti-war leaders” weren’t calling people into the streets to apply their oh-so-promised “pressure.” Instead, they’ve been busy doing their part to keep people’s energies focused on the longest-ever presidential race. Outrage after outrage, they push building real opposition into the never-never future, rendering people passive and accepting as torture and war crimes are furthered.

Instead of “moving the Democrats to the left” this strategy resulted in moving the anti-war movement to increasingly accept the monstrous “politics of the possible” and—despite a growing anti-war sentiment in the country—become less and less visible and less and less effective. You couldn’t get a more vivid demonstration of what Bob Avakian was cautioning against when he wrote, “If you fall into the orientation of trying to make the Democrats be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up becoming more like what the Democrats actually are.”
Why The Democrats
Act the Way They Do

Why is this so? Most fundamentally it is because the essence of this country is not democracy, but capitalist dictatorship. Political power is monopolized by a ruling class of capitalists that sits at the top of a whole global network of exploitation and plunder. It is this class that controls the armies and sends them to carry out wars for resources and geo-strategic advantage against rivals. It is this class that controls the elections and it is this class that the major political parties—both the Democrats and the Republicans—are representatives of. When those parties differ, sometimes quite sharply, it is over how to pursue the interests of their system in a high stakes and increasingly volatile world.

This is the case with Obama’s criticisms of the Iraq war, of the Bush presidency, and of his opponent, John McCain. From his very first “anti-war” speech until today, Obama has made clear that his objections to the Iraq war flow from his belief that it has weakened the military, economic, and political strength of the U.S. And he wants to withdraw some troops from Iraq in order to escalate the war on Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he promises his willingness to act forcefully—including potentially using nuclear weapons—against Iran and that he is willing to launch military operations inside Pakistan. None of these positions are crafted in order to reflect the interests of the majority. They are part of his attempt to convince the ruling class that he would be the bestcommander-in-chief for American imperialist interests.

The ruling class uses elections not as a means through which basic decisions are made, but primarily for the purpose of legitimizing their system and their politics and their decisions. Then, the elections allow whoever wins to claim a “popular mandate.” But remember 2006, and note this lesson well: they will tell you what your vote, and their supposed mandate, means. And just as we saw in ’06, and as we are seeing repeated now with Obama, elections are a way this system and its representatives channel and confine the political activity of the people into a meaningless dead-end.

To bring about the kind of change humanity needs, people have to step outside of—and in opposition to—the whole framework of official politics in this country. Most fundamentally this means making revolution—getting beyond a system that is rooted in the most brutal and degrading forms of oppression, reactionary violence, and exploitation here and all over the world and throughout its history, and completely breaking free of the terms and elections that this system uses as part of how it governs.

Movement “leaders” not only fall into this election trap—cycle after cycle—they lead others into it, and they try to silence those who do try to mount actual protest. Whatever they may personally believe or understand, these forces portray the Bush crimes as a betrayal of American ideals rather than an extension—albeit an extreme, and in many ways unprecedented, extension—of what this country has always been about, founded as it was in slavery and genocide, and soaked in the blood of people from Latin America to South Africa butchered by repressive regimes backed by the U.S. Flowing from their desire to “perfect”—not overthrow or even disrupt—the system of American democracy, they repeatedly act to cool out anything that would step outside official channels.
Realism…and Revolution

But there are also others—who do see something rotten at the core of the United States system, and yet still insist that even revolutionaries must support Obama. In a recent email exchange one such friend of mine insisted that he “agreed [that] Obama is part of the system. And, I agree, we need revolution. But unless that is around the corner—we have to be realistic and support Obama.”

This is also wrong.

No one can promise that a revolutionary situation is around the corner. But what can be said with certainty is that very often in history revolutionary openings have emerged all of sudden and seemingly out of nowhere. Such openings mainly come about owing fundamentally to the nature and working of the system itself—to the ways in which the underlying social and political “faultlines” can suddenly split open. But what revolutionaries do in the whole period leading up to that has a lot to do how the situation does present itself. And if revolutionaries are not working every day towards—and measuring everything they do up against—hastening the emergence of a revolutionary situation and bringing about a revolutionary people . . . if they are not “preparing minds and organizing forces” for just such a rare opening. . . then they won’t even be able to recognize, let alone seize on, a revolutionary situation when it does arise.

Revolution is not just an idea to “believe in” in the abstract and then put aside as we putter around in the world as it is. It must be actively striven for through a whole ensemble of revolutionary activity—fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution. A key aspect of this is confronting—and telling others the truth about, not covering over—the true nature of bourgeois elections as a vehicle for exercising and obscuring bourgeois dictatorship and that what humanity really needs is communist revolution and a whole different system. And this also means building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system gets focused up in policies and actions of the ruling class and its agencies. Right now this includes coming out at the Democratic National Convention and demonstrating against the wars, the repression, and the other key elements of the agenda that need to be opposed, and defeated.

You see, it is NOT the case that short of revolution—or that for those who don’t agree with the need for or desirability of revolution—there is nothing we can do but accept the “lesser of two evils.” The choice we face is not really between Obama and McCain. Our choice is between accepting the ruling class spectrum of Obama to McCain as the limits of what is possible—or—rejecting this whole framework and instead waging meaningful mass political resistance to the whole fascist direction they are dragging things in.

When people did break loose in massive political protest in 2002 and 2003 in the run up to the Iraq war, it mattered. It gave the whole world hope in the knowledge that the people of this country opposed what their government was doing and were acting to stop it. These protests, which were then joined by millions of people across the globe, stripped Bush of legitimacy as he launched that war anyway. Then, as the war began to go badly, the challenge that had been put before people by those protests continued to influence the thinking of people broadly as more and more turned against the war and the President.

Who would even know, to the extent that people do, about the war crimes and torture carried out in this war, if it weren’t for acts of courage and defiance of the people? It was not the Democrats, but the anti-war soldiers and veterans who stepped forward to expose the war crimes in Iraq. It was not the elected officials making compromises in order to get elected, but the officials who answered their consciences and forfeited careers who blew the whistle on torture. It was not by campaigning, but by sitting down and refusing to be moved, that the parents who lost children in this illegal war captured the hearts of and moved millions.

Since the time of those world record size protests, the outrage and disgust at the Bush program and its wars has only grown deeper and more widespread. But now, what will become of this outrage? Allowing it, or helping it, to be channeled into supporting Obama when he is busy telling you he wants to better prosecute America’s wars is the most unrealistic idea there is!

Yes, millions will vote for Obama believing, or at least telling themselves, that he will bring the change they want to see. But as the policies of a murderous empire advance, in one form or another under the next administration (assuming the Bush cabal allows the elections to go forward), will these people be demoralized and demobilized, or will they become radicalized and energized?

The answer to that question has a LOT to do with what the anti-war movement does now. Whether we tone the message down so, as Leslie Cagan put it, it’s not seen “as an anti-Democratic Party protest,” and we don’t offend the delegates—or plant a pole of real opposition right up against the misplaced hopes that will be projected onto the Democratic National Convention?

At a time when the tens of millions of people who have the potential strength to stop this war are being pacified and corralled into a dead-end, what meaning does it have to call oneself “anti-war” if you are not protesting outside the convention? Anyone serious about stopping this whole direction of unjust war, torture and fascist repression should be in the streets.

So true

I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for posting it.

Who's Really Into 'Blocking'? --Carl Davidson

First of all, Sunsara , no one is 'Blocking' anything in Denver--save for the police, and a few militants who, by their own assertions, say they want to 'Block' the Conventions, or at least the delegates trying to attend them.

Just because a protest is planned and people don't like it, but are perfectly open to a demonstration of a different sort, even though other more 'militant' folks aren't, doesn't make them 'blockers.' They're simply voting with their feet against plans that they decided weren't interested in uniting all who might be united to oppose the Iraq war in Denver. They have other, better things to do in Denver against the war and a variety of other things, and are proceeding to do so.

If also quite unfair of you, to put it mildly, to pin this on Leslie Cagan and UFPJ, when you know as well as anyone that these differences developed locally in Denver, long before UFPJ had anything to to with it. They later simply worked with their local affiliates, rather than their local opponents, which is to be expected.

You're more than welcome to organize your revolutionary alternative to the whole framework of elections. Denounce the whole thing as a sham if you like, and lecture all those engaged as deluded as well. But there' no reason for you to believe that those very much engaged in this election, from a variety of perspectives, are going to set aside all their concerns as a result to salute the Red Flags you want to wave and rally folks around.

Keep On Keepin' On!
Stop McCain, Stop the War, Vote Obama 2008!

Carl Davidson


All these comments and UFPJ's position seem to stem from a misunderstanding. The huge anti-war march that every group aside from UFPJ has decided to attend is not militant nor is it a bunch of people blocking access to the convention, as UFPJ is making it out to be. If you look at the call to action from Unconventional Denver, it says:
"-10:30am, Civic Center Park: Massive march against militarization and occupations called for by Recreate 68. This will be a family-friendly, low-risk event.
-Midday: Funk the War! Following the march, a large, low-risk street party called for by the Alliance for Real Democracy will fill downtown with music and festivities against the war"

Which doesn't sound to me at all like what you're describing.

Whatever happened to Carl Davidson

When did he become just another party hack? Really, the only difference between Carl Davidson and David Horowitz is which party they're hacking for. Both are good little "private contractors" for USACorp Global Hegemony Enterprises.

Time to Grow Up

Well, 'Anon,' we can see that you know how to make assertions, which most people learn by the time they reach kindergarten. But if you want to play with the big kids, not to mention the grownups, you have to learn to make arguments.

Carl Davidson


Hey Carl,
In your comment you said:

"If also quite unfair of you, to put it mildly, to pin this on Leslie Cagan and UFPJ, when you know as well as anyone that these differences developed locally in Denver, long before UFPJ had anything to to with it. They later simply worked with their local affiliates, rather than their local opponents, which is to be expected."

Yeah, well, you might think it unfair, but it's the truth and you should address the point Sunsara is making about the need for this massive march to happen on the 24th. Instead, you defend Leslie's position which is (and I'm quoting from her e-mail to supporters last month): "We don't think it makes sense to plan for a mass march that
might not end up being all that mass!"That's just rank capitulation.

Actually, Leslie and UFPJ had quite a lot to do with this line gaining ground among some activists in Denver. After months of ducking the question of whether UFPJ would join the new coaltion (Alliance for Real Democracy), she set up a meeting with various orgs in Denver a few weeks ago and fought for this line. She then came to the Consulta (we were there), and struggled for people not to march.

Some took it up and are unfortunately marching later that day (they are saying "We're not telling people NOT to march, we're just organizing a DIFFERENT march.") This is unprincipled and let's face it, any way you slice it -the effect is to squelch calling for a massive anti-war presence in Denver.

And you have a point, it's not about Leslie, it's about the POLITICAL LINE -the WRONG political line- she is carrying out. Fortunately, many organizations are not going along with this.

Why don't you address what is at the heart of Sunsara's article:
That there is an urgent need to reject this whole "politics as usual" framework and instead wage meaningful mass political resistance to the whole fascist direction the world is being driven in?

Oh wait, you'd rather pour your hopes into someone who represents the interests of this empire. Good luck with that.

Address the 'line', indeed

I was all for a mass march in Denver vs the war, until a bunch of wackos decided 'Shut Down the DNC' was the line they would try to implement, and make use of this mass action to do it, combined with their 'Custeristic' approach to tactics.

Sunsara refuses to address that line and that problem, which is the source of the division in Denver. She tries to paper it over by attacking the wrong target.

My quarrel is with the Bush administration that's actually running this war, and the 'Blue Dog' Dems who defend it. My quarrel is not with the majority of Dem delegates who oppose the war, and I want nothing to do with those trying to 'shut down' or 'disrupt' their meetings. I'm working with people waging a fight within those meetings for better positions, as well as other actions and gatherings against the war in the streets.

The 'shutdown and disrupt' line is the real source of the problem, the real divisive line, and everybody knows it, even if they're trying to appease it or cover for it.

I'm refusing to be liberal about it, as in 'we have diversity of tactics, and we're not supposed to criticize each other openly.'

Well, I'm for a range of tactics, too, but I also think some tactics and slogans are full of crap, and need to be rejected, and we need to say so.

--Carl Davidson


Well, it looks like Carl's been hopping across the Indymedia network, trying to rebut Taylor's critique of UFPJ's latest triangulation.

Give it up, Carl. Advocating the same old accomodationist politics by dressing it up with a superficial effort at class analysis in this election is pitiful. Of course, there are tactical differences within the ruling class on what tactical direction to take at this specific historical juncture, but it is rapidly being resolved in favor of precisely those sectors of capital now backing Obama. Yet the overall strategic imperialist orientation within the ruling class - particuarly toward the Middle East and Latin America remains unchanged. It's already become Obama's war... a fact ironically illustrated by the Nation's latest petition drive begging the candidate to please keep his campaign promise to end the war or risk defeat.

The real challenge you and Hayden face is how staunch the hemmoraging within Obama's base and among progressives open to electoral work -- since your candidate has no intention of responding to petitions or plank fights at the DNC. P4O, PDA and others have virtually no chance to actually wage, much less win a meaningful floor fight around the war, health care, or other issues during the Democratic Convention since party rules governing the DNC were changed decades back precisely to avoid mutiny within the ranks. Instead they can expect the usual bread and circuses for the faithful, while the rest of us get to confront tear gas, riot batons and tasers. That's what democracy will look like in Denver this month.

Incidentally, Unconventional Denver offered to call off all direct action protests if the convention if the city, federal government and the DNC agree to redirect the current $50 million earmarked for heightened security during the DNC and invest it in Denver communities
( )

So at the risk of sounding rude, you can stick your lament about those nasty anarchists and other direct action advocates ruining Barack's Rocky Mountain high where the sun don't shine.

As for registering voters, a central plank in your strategy. Folks here might take you more seriously if you were actually working to build a genuine independent electoral alternative to both capitalist parties that would also respect a extra-parlimentary direct action and embrace mass mobilization around the issues as well, instead of shilling for the Dems. Whatever their deficiencies, at least the Mckinney and the Greens, Nader and the Peace and Freedom Party, Cindy Sheehan and others are trying to lay the groundwork for future struggle in this arena.

But what they are not doing is offering the usual "lesser of two evil" platitudes about defeating the 'main enemy" while urging all of us to line , drink the Kool-Aid once again and vote for a candidate committed to expanding the war in Afghanistan, attacking Iran and Pakistan, dismissing calls for comprehensive single payer healthcare, drilling for offshore oil and generally kowtowing to corporate power.

Thanks for the clarification on the march

Thanks ringokamens for the clarification. That's what I understood as well from both Recreat 68 and Alliance for Democracy sources in Denver.

But then, Carl Davidson has never let mere facts get in the way of a good polemic against those he's deemed as 'ultraleft"..

If you support Obama you are supporting U.S. Wars of Aggression

Why is Carl Davidson lying about the anti-war marches, and conflating the different actions of opponents of the Democratic Party? It's simple: CD is a supporter of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is one party of US imperialism. Therefore logically it follows that Carl Davidson is a supporter of imperialism. He wants to see no opposition to his 'good' imperialist candidate (as compared to McCain, the 'bad' imperialist candidate) so he thinks that by equating the marches with the "scary" anarchists, the marches will be small, and will not call out Barak Obama and his Democratic Party on the wars they promote (yes, that's plural).
The U.S. is fighting 2 wars presently-Iraq and Afghanistan, and planning a third one-Iran. All three of these wars have the support of the Democratic Party leadership including Obama. To put it another way, on Afghanistan and Iran, Obama is a Blue-Dog Democrat, and differs with the Bush Administration only slightly on Iraq. And that's mainly because the U.S. is losing in Iraq.

Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories --Amilcar Cabral

I'm telling no lies about any demonstrations.

I'm supporting the one in Minneapolis at the RNC.

But I'm telling a few truths about what some people in Denver would like to do with the one being planned in this town.

I notice that not one of my critics here bothers even to mention the 'shut down, disrupt' crowd and their line and plans vis-a-vis the police. Nothing but silence.

And if you think I'm falling from the goofy offer of the anarchists to call off their plans for a donation to local causes, well, let's just say I'm not fresh out of the pumpkin patch. Besides, even if some of them made such a deal, others would ignore it. That's the nature of our wackos these days.

I've said from the beginning, whoever wins this election, it will be a representative of US imperialism. But I'm not indifferent to which faction, and neither should any of you be.

All my other points on line and strategy are ignored, I assume because you have no real answers, or don't want to expose your real views.

As for the Dems, I've been working, inside and out, all my life, the supplant them with something better. I never joined them, but started my electoral involvement with the MFDP in Mississippi, the Citizens Party, the New Party, the Green Party (of which I'm still a member) and PDA, and inside/outside group I work with where I live because we have no Greens here. I've picked a few Dems to vote for, mostly local, and never a Clinton.

I'm simply trying to end the damned war but putting a President tin the White House more likely to do it than McCain. Obama wasn't even my first choice--I was for Kucinich then Richardson, till they bit the dust.

But sooner or later, a Dem of GOP president will give the order to pull the troops out, and/or a Dem Congress will cut off the money. They won't be the engine driving it, that's another matter in our hands, but you can bet the house that it will happen, sooner or later. The task of all of us is to figure out how to get from here to there.

If you think you have to get rid of the two party system in order to end this particular war, make your case. I'd love to see it. I've yet to see a good one yet, save for a few pitiful attempts by various factions of the 4th International that are only good for sending off to The Onion for comic relief.

So you can toss around the 'Dem hack' label all you want. I'm got a thick skin, and its a charge that's lighter than a feather. Anyone who knows anything about me, or bothered to read my stuff, knows that it's just a silly excuse for not having any politics of your own to put on the table. It carries about as much weight as little kids sticking out their tongues when they don't get their way.

So I've made some serious points here about the 'shut down and disrupt' politics of some folks in Denver. I'm still waiting for a serious reply or engagement on the matter.

But juvenile nasty name calling and silly assertions may get over in the Kindergarten sandbox, but if you want to play with the big kids, let alone the grownups, you have to learn to engage serious people with serious arguments, over serious assessments, and, yes indeed, matters of 'line' as well.

--Carl Davidson
'Progressives for Obama'