Nearly a million New Zealanders did not vote for the Did Not Vote Party in 2014. The Did Not Vote Party has now triumphed in the American midterm elections, where nearly two thirds of eligible voters did not vote. But the face of a new American progressive politics could be people like Socialist Alternative's Jess Spear.
AFTER ITS TRUIMPH at the 2014 New Zealand general election, when approximately a million voters did not vote for it, the Did Not Vote Party easily scored big in last week's United States midterm senate elections.
Only 37 percent of eligible voters decided to vote. And only 13 percent of voters were under the age of thirty. Only 12 percent of Latino and 8 percent of African American voters decided to vote.
Despite over $4 billion thrown at the various campaigns, the majority of American voters stayed away from the polling booths.
Left-leaning independent senator Bernie Sanders has described the turnout as an 'international embarrassment' and he wants the day of the election to become a national holiday, in the hope of encouraging more people to vote.
“We should not be satisfied with a ‘democracy’ in which more than 60 percent of our people don’t vote and some 80 percent of young people and low-income Americans fail to vote,” he told the media.
But giving people the day off from work will not increase voter participation because Americans, like a million New Zealanders, are turned off by politics as usual. Just as many New Zealanders see little or no difference between National and Labour, the majority of Americans see little difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. Representative democracy is profoundly unrepresentative. Proposals such as national holidays, internet voting and compulsory 'civic education' classes for schoolchildren are little more than a clumsy attempt to prop up a failed system.
The presidency of Barack Obama has only intensified the disgust most Americans feel for their 'representatives'. After promising change that would benefit ordinary Americans Obama has proved to be yet another representative of capital.
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Obama bailed out the rich and the banks while allowing ordinary Americans to go to the wall.
Despite all his rhetoric about addressing the urgent issue of climate change, Obama has approved the massive expansion of oil and natural gas production in the U.S.
He has also given the green light to the mass state surveillance of American society and has enmeshed the United States in unending and unwinnable conflicts in the Middle East.
At the state level Democrats, while professing to be on the side of the American working class, have implemented austerity measures which has seen big funding cuts to such areas as health, education and welfare.
It should not be forgotten that between 2008 and 2010, the Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. They could have passed any progressive reforms that they wanted. But Obama and the Democrats passed not one single reform.
Although there were only a handful of left wing and socialist candidates the fact such candidates are attracting support suggests that the future does not have to be dominated by the two political wings of American capitalism.
Socialist Alternative candidate and climate scientist Jess Spear received 17% of the vote in the Washington state against Frank Chopp, one of the state’s most powerful corporate politicians.
Spear ran on a clear and unambiguous progressive election platform. This revolved about making the city of Seattle affordable for ordinary people by ending corporate bailouts, taxing the rich, and introducing rent control measures to bring a halt to escalating rents.
Jess Spear's campaign highlighted the real progress that Socialist Alternative has made in Seattle, where city council member Kshama Sawant won a city wide race a year ago against the entrenched Democratic incumbent. She then led the first successful fight for $15 minimum age in a major American city.
Spear told the Seattle Times: "As soon as Frank Chopp found out we were running, he scrambled. We should be proud that we gave a voice to this anger working class people have at the status quo—that we offered an alternative.”
In New York State, Howie Hawkins, a postal worker standing for the Green Party (which unlike our Green Party, is a left wing party)) received 175,000 votes, or 5% of the total. This is the highest vote for a genuine left wing candidate in New York since 1920. While many people voted for Hawkins because they liked the Green Party's policies the vote also reflected the anger and disillusionment with Democratic Party governor Andrew Cuomo who has largely served the interests of big business.
Eugene Puryear is a socialist who stood as a Green Party candidate for the Washington City Council attracting over 10,000 votes. He thinks that socialism is now back on the American political agenda.
"For almost a century, there was a de facto ban on socialism in American political life. These campaigns are a sign that in the minds of millions the black mark has been at least partially removed from the image of socialism. It is a sign that many people are willing to push the boundaries of what is deemed “practical” by conventional wisdom to try and solve the problems facing them."
There is lesson here for the New Zealand left. Despite all its huffin' and puffin', it meekly falls in behind the right wing Labour Party in every election year. Simply insisting that Labour is somehow better than National convinces very few. If the only strategy is to berate the Key government while offering little in the way of a real and coherent progressive political and economic alternative then the success of the Did Vote Party in 2017 is assured.