Saturday, February 26, 2011


Sometimes the sheer number of important causes in the country and around the world can be truly overwhelming to me. It’s so easy to look around and see problem after problem and feel confused about where to start. How do we decide what’s most important? Most of us don’t have the time to fight on every worthy front, and even if we did we probably wouldn’t be as effective as if we focused on just a few crucial issues. But with so many things going on in the world that make my stomach burn, how am I to prioritize? Any attempt at objective criteria feels doomed after a short while. Every problem has another fundamental one underneath it, and every problem subjectively harms someone more than someone else. If I take on the issue of immigrant rights am I neglecting the fight for campaign finance reform? If I focus on prison issues am I turning away from efforts to stop climate change? There’s no objective solution to this dilemma; you simply have to decide for yourself what’s most important to you, based on your passions, your background, what you value. It’s a personal choice. My pet issue if I have one, is war. That and the fact that the Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same thing with different accents.

About four years ago I started hearing a lot about the Working Families Party of New York. My immediate reaction was that I hated their name. It struck me as cowtowing to the welfare bashers and the way they frame the issues. I’m so tired of this shit. It’s like the mindset is, “the Republicans will say we want to just give handouts to lazy people who won’t work, so we have to emphasize that we are working people!” I hate it. It’s like we all have this permanent burden now to preemptively defend our intentions against the symbol of the lazy welfare mother who’s having another kid to get more food stamps to buy more McDonald’s extra value meals. Spare me. I also hated the “families” part of the name. I mean, I know that Working Individuals wouldn’t have quite rolled, but as a divorcee who never had any interest in having kids I find it hard to identify.

But when my disillusionment and disappointment with the party of my family upbringing reached full saturation I started looking into this Working Families business and saw a lot to like. They are active in the fight against hydro-fracking in New York. They vocally support public campaign finance, which would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction. In fact, I don’t really see much in their platform that really irks me. It’s what’s missing that I have a hard time with, namely any stance at all on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is incomprehensible to me. How the fuck can a group that calls themselves “New York's liveliest and most progressive political party” not take a stand on war! But if you look at their website you won’t find the words Iraq or Afghanistan anywhere. What the hell is going on here?

I did a little poking around elsewhere on the Web, and it turns out that at least back in 2006 WFP was quite vocal in their stance against the war, particularly in Iraq, with a campaign they called “Bring Them Home,” which included a promotional video featuring iconic folksinger Pete Seeger. Seeger also appeared in a companion mailer showing endorsements from Seeger, filmmaker Michael Moore and anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan. Only trouble was, they neglected to mention that at that time Cindy Sheehan was officially endorsing the Green Party at the time and WFP had to do some serious damage control to keep from appearing to have misrepresented Sheehan as being one of their spokespeople. I’m guessing Sheehan was a good deal responsible for the mistake as well. She liked some WFP candidates and had only recently become a public personae. But the people at WFP should have known better. It was a botched job to be sure. But although you can still see the Seeger video on You Tube, the webpage on the WFP site that once carried the “Bring Them Home” message is nowhere to be found. You can dig and dig in the website and you won’t find anything about war. Every day people die in Afghanistan from US military and NATO actions and New York’s “liveliest and most progressive political party” doesn’t feel it’s still worth mentioning now that everyone is too distracted by the economic crunch they’ve basically forgotten there’s a war on. The people in Afghanistan and Pakistan sure remember.

After digging really hard (in vain) to see if the WFP website actually took a position on the wars (it doesn’t), I posted as my Facebook status message: “I’ll get behind the Working Families Party when they get behind ending war.” One response from a very intelligent young friend of mine made a point in response that I’m sure a lot of people buy, namely that since they aren’t really a national party, but mostly a New York-based organization, they don’t really comment that much on big national issues and don’t say much of anything about foreign policy for this reason. Sounds pretty good until you take into account that they endorse, through voting fusion, candidates for the US House and Senate. Plus, soldiers from our state are killing and dying in the wars and that makes it a state issue. Third, they did take a stand on the war when war was a big issue on the minds of voters. In August of 2006, according to CNN, 60% of Americans disapproved of the Iraq war, and most approved a timetable based pullout. To stand for ending the war was to stand with the majority. What about now? Well, the same group, CNN, released a poll on January 3rd which revealed that 63% of Americans currently oppose of the war in Afghanistan. So where are the Working Families? I became curious to see what the other so-called third parties in New York had to say in their websites about the war, so I looked them all up. The results were sad and surprising.

Of the seven parties with ballot access in New York outside the Red and Blue color wheel, most did not mention war at all, finding it more urgent to fill page after page with rhetoric about everything from paid sick days (WFP) to railing about the evils of human cloning (Right To Life Party). Down the line, they are:

Conservative Party - considers winning the "war on terror" a top priority.

Green Party - ending Iraq & Afghanistan wars explicitly listed as part of their platform.

Independence Party - the third largest party lists no position on war.

Liberal Party - almost no reference to the war at all, and what I could find bemoaned only the cost to the economy and the unwinnable nature of it.

Libertarian Party - officially opposes initiation of the use of force by anyone. Also vocally supports abolishing the Selective Service. Their website doesn’t condemn the War on Terror, Iraq War, or the Afghanistan war specifically.

Right to Life Party - no mention of war, or any other political issue not pertaining to abortion, underscoring the hypocrisy of their name and its implied defense of the "right" to life. I guess they mean it’s okay to kill babies and children as long as they’re brown and you do it with bullets and drone strikes rather than with abortions.

Working Families - no mention of war policy on their site; much policy about the fair treatment of veterans and current military personnel though.

I guess if this were a contest I’d have to go Green, but it isn’t. I don’t really see that I need to get behind a party at all. It might be fun for a while to “belong” to something, but it doesn’t really matter that much. I don’t think our real solutions are going to come through voting; I think we are going to have to find more substantive ways to act in opposition. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote, but it’s clearly far from enough.

In July of last year the war in Afghanistan became the longest war in US history, surpassing even the Vietnam War. The promised 16-month exit became transformed into a 16-month reduction. The latest estimates I read from the DoD say they expect armed combat to end in 2014. The plan to close Guantanamo is indefinitely scrapped. Afghanistan will be our permanent punching bag, with Pakistan now getting fully rogered as well. If we are going to dare to call ourselves progressive I think we have to do something about that.


mzza said...

Thanks for this post (sorry I'm so late finding it). continues to mind-numb me that with everything going on with economics and economic disparity in this country the still-growing military budget is never up for discussion.

And not only in the media or area of professional politicians, but also in many sectors who consider themselves 'left' but are afraid of alienating either people or power or both.

Until we can discuss where the money's going, we're only lost in reactionary loops responding to the powers that spend it.

Reuben Radding said...

Thanks for the response. I appreciate having your attention!