As COVID-19 continues to rage unchallenged across the country, rural areas are some of the becoming some of the hardest hit by the virus. Not only do residents of these areas have underfunded infrastructure and hospitals, but many are still forced to go out and work at jobs where the risk of COVID is increasing daily and the pay does not reflect the hazardous conditions. And while there are those in danger due to employment, the amount of unemployed Americans since the beginning of the pandemic has continued to increase along with unemployment filings. As of 4 days ago, over 700,000 Americans were unemployed, and the country has only been offered one $1,200 stimulus check as compensation since the beginning of the pandemic.
All of this is occurring in the aftermath of the presidential election, and the liberal outlook is much more positive than it has been in the last four years. The streets of D.C. and other cities were flooded with celebrators, rejoicing in a perceived return to normalcy. What does this normalcy mean exactly? It still means a presidential administration totally adherent to the principles of neoliberal capitalism both domestically and globally, but now with a ‘nicer’ face. Any hope of ‘pushing Biden left’ is no longer a feasible defense of his election and he has made it quite clear that he does not subscribe to even the mildest progressive policies like the Green New Deal and M4A. Even the environmental reformist argument doesn’t hold up as a justificatory mechanism or beacon of hope for anyone who calls themself a progressive. During the debates, Biden could not emphasize enough just how much he was going to keep fracking and was insulted at the idea he would ban it!
For those residents in the ‘flyover’ states as they’re called, who oftentime feel the most left out of the democratic process, there is no reason to celebrate like their liberal urban counterparts. They’ve slowly watched their communities be economically devastated and their wages are stagnant while the cost of living is on the rise, all this compounded with the devastating impact of COVID. Material economic conditions will likely not improve for these workers under a Biden administration; labor will continue to be gutted with legislation like Prop 22 in California and workers will continue to lose any semblance of autonomy to these parasitic transnational corporations. So long as over half of the states in the country are ‘right to work’ states, and there is no cohesive national labor movement that can actively work against the capital investment of these companies, laws like Prop 22 will become the national norm.
None of this is to say it’s hopeless. These last 8 months have been incredibly dark and tumultuous, but there have been moments of solidarity that have been encouraging. Mutual aid has sharply increased as a result of unemployment-caused food insecurity and there has been success in organizing against evictions and police brutality across the country. The significance of all of this, though, is that it originates at the localized level. As leftists, engaging with electoralism becomes demoralizing and all the time and energy put into it rarely yields the desired results aside from incrementalist reforms.
The Democratic Party has made it abundantly clear that they will not concede on even the mildest social democratic policies and will go out of their way to destroy the momentum of any influential left populist politicians like Bernie Sanders. It becomes an imperative then to direct energy and attention into attempting to build localized solidarity through mutual aid projects that directly address material hardships. Right now, that includes building food distribution networks for your respective regions, supporting tenants against predatory landlords when possible, and more largely working towards a cohesive mass organization of workers in our communities.
I’m sure I’m not alone in the lack of positivity I felt about Biden’s victory, if anything it only made me dread the coming four years. Under a Biden administration, far right populist sentiments will continue to grow so long as no meaningful alternatives are presented to certain populations of workers, and what comes after behind could perhaps be far worse than the Trump administration. What this means for leftists is that now is a significant inflection point in the outlook on organizing; now is the time to emphasize localized solidarity and community engagement.
The government has failed many communities this year and these communities need to be shown that there is an alternative to their subjugation to capital, and that alternative can be accomplished through organization and political education in their own communities. This mobilization will require an instillment of class consciousness in those we organize, we must work to strengthen the underlying knowledge that most workers have of the illogical nature of the wage labor system. This does not just extend to the workplace, but to those workers who are subject to exploitation from a landlord as well. These are certainly not easy tasks, but are things that must be worked toward if there is to be a semblance of a mass movement of workers in the country.
Larger national organizations like the DSA have also made it clear that working within the electoral system will not be enough either. These last four years should have been the time when larger organizations should have used their resources and large mobilization capacities to organize their own communities, but instead we’ve been left with another fruitless electoral campaign that was totally subsumed by the Democratic Party’s media apparatus and deep, deep ties to the ruling class. It should be emphasized that politicians will not deliver liberation for the working class in the current ‘democratic’ system.
The news networks are already talking about what a historic turnout this was for a presidential election with around 66% of eligible voters coming out to cast their vote. However, this only translates to about 160 million Americans out of a total population of 350 million. This is what passes for a democracy? This number does not include those who have been totally barred from the democratic process due to felony conviction or confinement in a prison, or any of the other myriad of state-sanctioned voter suppression mechanisms, so to call this a historically democratic election is laughable.
It seems blatantly obvious then that we cannot hope to ever work within the system or most national ‘leftist’ organizations for that matter when organizations like the DSA cannot provide a concrete definition of what a meaningful socialist praxis even entails. While initiatives like Medicare for All are things every person who calls themself a leftist should support, these legislative initiatives are not going to be something that can rally the working class. Their immediate material needs must be addressed first; this includes pandemic-induced food insecurity, housing instability, or any of the other issues the capitalist system of this country subjugates them to. Only by starting at these issues can we hope to build a larger movement predicated on class consciousness and objective and definable socialist, anti-capitalist principles that challenges the dictates of the capitalist class in this country.