Who is the Best Candidate in '08 for Direct/Participatory Democracy?

The two chief editors of the Democracy by the People blog have been debating over the past several months about which candidate is the best choice for end goal of participatory democracy. After 'EDITOR A' sent an email to her friends and family expressing her excitement that Nader was considering candidacy, 'EDITOR B' responded by advocating for Obama. We encourage readers of this debate to contribute their own points of view, especially if they differ from those expressed here. To add your thoughts on this debate, email them to us and we will post them on this page. Email: democracybythepeople@gmail.com


EDITOR B: I had to vote for Obama today because I do not want Hillary to get the democratic nomination. If she wins it may be the death rattle for the USA as much as it would be if Romney or McCain wins. Plus, she is ahead in NY, the state where I vote.

Also I think that Obama for all the 'change' hoopla does have the power to motivate young people and is getting them involved in politics and giving them hope once more. Have you watched any of his rallies? Something ever so slightly revolutionary is happening and he is at the center of it, by chance or calculation I don't know. Whether he will be able to deliver the change he is promising is another matter, but I am willing to give him a shot.

I understand your frustration though, and I think the democratic party itself is a corrupt fiasco. Why I would support Obama is not because of the party, but because of what we have already seen a little of: the increased political activism and participation by the people that he could bring about if he wins. People are yearning to fix this country before it's too late and if Obama by the simple act of winning sets the gears in motion and the people begin to rise up it might be hard for the powers that be to stop that momentum.

Ralph Nader might be able to do the same thing that Obama has the potential to do if he could win, but of course he can't win. We don't have a viable third party in this country, plain and simple. It is a small select group of people who would unite behind Nader. It's a hard pill to swallow, but what everyone says is undeniably true - every vote for Nader would be one less vote for Obama (if he's the democratic nominee.) It's true what Nader says, obviously we need more parties in this country if we are going to move forward... but we have to move forward step by step because there is no chance otherwise.

Let me try to explain where I am coming from on this because I know it's a contentious issue and a hard one to decide on. Normally I would be one of those for Nader, but I believe that only a mass popular movement is capable of bringing about revolution in this country and reversing the damage that has been done. I think that it is going to require a diverse coalition of people far broader than just those that would support Nader and that it needs someone who can actually win office under the current conditions. The next president should be a leader who opens the door just wide enough within a locked system to allow people power to take over, just as Chavez did in VZLA. The revolution has to come from within the system to break the chains, and then a transformation toward a new system can begin. Once that new system is in place, there will be space within it for a green party to grow and prosper.

All that said, if Obama wins the nomination and is ahead by miles in NY over the republican candidate, I may vote for Nader as a symbolic gesture. I may do the same if Hillary wins the nomination, but out of disgust. If Hillary wins, or god forbid Romney or Mc Cain you can forget about change and say hello to cynicism and apathy again pretty quick.

EDITOR A: I appreciate your thoughts, especially what you said about Obama opening up channels for participation. Almost everyone I’ve been debating with in my vote zone (with the exception of the socialists) is going for Obama because of his great rhetoric and charismatic character. I have my own thoughts on this issue. Instead of voting for the "lesser of two evils" as many liberals argue to be the best option in our current two-party system, I will vote for the underdog who will never win, because he more accurately represents my views. While I would prefer to represent my own views in a participatory democracy, I acknowledge that now I am pressured to vote for someone who is backed by corporate donors, Wall Street, and other powers that will continue to manipulate candidates upon arrival at the White House.

From what I have gathered, no candidate in the Democratic Party is actually going to make more than a symbolic change in this country. It is true that the US needs representation of African American and Female perspectives; however I don't think that the current candidates even manage to accurately represent politically the demographics they exemplify physically. Hillary is anti-feminist because she will adhere to the patriarchal system created and perpetuated by our nation’s presidential predecessors. Obama, despite being endorsed by some of my favorite people and organizations, is much more charisma and eloquence than he is real policy change.

I appreciate your views on him and applaud those who are getting involved in politics for the first time by supporting his campaign. I also understand the need to appeal to certain corporate backing in order to stand a chance in the campaign process. However, this very acquiescence to the corrupt system shows that Obama does not have the effort nor the grassroots backing (e.g. green parties, socialists, anti-war activists) to actually defeat the worthless system already in place. Achieving real change, in the sense of demonstrating the freedom to vote for the candidate who more accurately represents my views will come when we have more than two options. There is no reason for me to vote for a candidate that I don't believe in, and I won't. In order to personally promote a multi-party system which I believe is more advantageous to representing diversity in this country I will organize and vote for a third party candidate.

EDITOR B: I see your side totally. I know it's a choice between voting for the candidate that most closely matches your beliefs, or voting strategically for someone who might not necessarily espouse everything that you're for yourself, but might unwittingly be the only chance of unleashing enough people power on the scale necessary to radically alter this locked system in the time we have left before it is too late to stop this runaway capitalist imperialist train. It's a strategic choice, and there's no easy answer.

If I vote for Obama, I am not voting for "him" or all of his policies per se, but because of the catalyst he could provide to wake up this sleeping nation and get people politically active. I can't see any other option to do that on a big enough scale fast enough. It is sad to say it, but a Nader campaign just won't make a dent. Activists like you and me are not going to make a dent. We are always going to be out there on the streets, no matter who is in the White House, but we alone are not going to bring down this Goliath; we need allies on a large scale. Obama has the potential to make a big enough mass of the population believe again that they really can make a difference if they stand up and do something. I am seeing more value in that than in a symbolic vote for Nader at this point in time. A symbolic vote for Nader or some equivalent can wait four more years. This country cannot wait four more years for a political awakening. This country may not survive four more years of another sound byte president that will put this country back to sleep just when it is finally getting "fired up". Hillary or McCain may well be the death knell for us, and bring us past the point of no return.

I see Obama as the only candidate we are left with who could possibly initiate the rapid and drastic movement necessary to pull us out of this nosedive. By getting him into office and by getting the everyday American fired up enough in the process that they will actually unite and mobilize enough to hold him to his promise of change, the people will be the agents of change, not Obama himself. He is just opening the door a crack like Chavez did.

It's a long shot but it is the only one we seem to have in these desperate and urgent times. Besides, can't you just wait four years to campaign for Nader and give this Obama thing a shot? ... baby steps... baby steps...

EDITOR A: I see your point, that we should support a candidate that has a chance at winning and may provide us with the opportunity to participate more in the government. It is hard for me because I want to see drastic change in the way our government functions, but I also am faced with the fact that the majority of progressives are much more focused on reform. It was funny when you said "baby steps" because I see a need for revolution which entails drastic and immediate change. Maybe we need the baby steps to raise awareness and get people motivated to make changes before we can unite to carry them through. I recognize the importance of having a political leader who can transform the government, but the main problem is giving a voice to the politically and economically oppressed. Who can represent the hidden (I mean swept under the rug by mainstream media) social movements that push for major changes in the tax system, foreign policy (anti-war) and health care when the democratic party grabs their broom every time one surfaces.

Thinking that the democrats will enact systemic change is like thinking that the World Bank can instill participatory democracy in the "developing world". Just as the party is run by corporate backing with its own profit-driven interests, the World Bank seeks higher profits by reducing corruption, which is why they have recently pushed for "participatory budgeting" of certain funds. When it is in their best interests, anyone can say that they are welcoming more voices into their campaign or the development program. However, this is often symbolic and capital has taken the place of people power. The people should be allowed to decide what issues inspire them to participate and then start acting. Politicians controlled by corporate funding don’t allow civil society the voice it deserves on issues it cares about. The opening of the door will happen when another party is allowed to participate in national decision-making.

Did you know that in Canada the threat of a successful third party actually created the universal healthcare system that they now have? I think that Nader could have a similar effect on the upcoming elections. In order to win the vote of the more politically active and progressive people of this nation who would vote for Nader, Obama will have to advocate systemic change that will allow citizens more opportunities to participate. My fear is that people’s fervor building up to this election will just quiet down as soon as Obama settles into office because their worries that anyone else could win will be quelled. I am afraid people will sit back and watch Obama do whatever his corporate sponsors ask of him because he will be able to tell them reassuringly that he is doing so much better than Bush.

To address another point you made, Obama is nothing like Chavez. Chavez arose out of a power vacuum which had revealed that the two dominating parties were hopelessly corrupt and he created his own party to fill this void and give the oppressed people a voice. If anything Nader is like Chavez. When Chavez first attempted a coup in ’92 people thought he was bonkers for defying the norms of democracy, just like people label Nader as a saboteur in the 2004 elections. Nader is not conforming to the norms of the two party system; both his policy stance and his party affiliation demonstrate this clearly. If we really want change, we will need someone to break all boundaries to participation and who will give a voice to the politically and economically oppressed and discouraged. Nader strives, similarly to Chavez, to reveal the voices of the poor and the immigrant population that struggle to be heard in a system that manipulates them from above through unjust laws. If we are going to use the system in place to make changes, the first step is to get someone in office who is not controlled by long-established bourgeois party line. Instead the realities of the rest of the nation need to be expressed in the political arena.

We as activists and advocates for participatory democracy need to keep the people rallied and not let them quiet down after the election, regardless of the outcome.

EDITOR B: Well, actually I didn't say that Obama was 'like' Chavez. What I did say was that he may possibly open the door enough in this closed system for people power to come to bear, like Chavez did against 'punto fijismo' in Venezuela. Let's face it, neither Obama nor Nader can realistically be compared to Chavez, but more importantly, the U.S.A. is not Venezuela or Latin America. We no longer have in this country the ability to call up large popular movements like Latin American leaders such as Chavez are able to do down there where it is part of the mindset of the people. People in this country have become in general too complacent to rise up as the Venezuelans did in the Caracazo, or even as people did in this country during the civil rights movement or against the war in Vietnam. Americans have been systematically numbed down to the point that it will take a slow reversal of that process to bring them back. Obama to me represents the only real chance for starting that process immediately.

Aside from that, if one actually reads Obama's platform on his website, under the ethics subheading it does in fact include specific and somewhat bold initiatives in participatory democracy that are geared towards increased citizen participation in government, and more transparency in the existing system. Many of these proposals use the internet and e-Democracy to allow citizen participation. Though these proposals are not the complete and radical change we are looking for, given our current situation they, along with the way that Obama is engaging huge new sectors of the population in politics again, represent to me the only real opportunity we have to advance towards our ultimate goal, given that Nader does not have means nor the support to get into office.

I do think that it is important for Nader to be in the race and press the other candidates on important issues, including Obama of course. I would prefer that he step out though towards the end of the election if Obama wins the nomination and it looks like a close race.

All that said, I agree with you that nothing will be achieved if people do not continue to be motivated to participate after the election, no matter who wins. Sadly though, if Obama does not win I fear we will surely lose all of the newly politically active allies we have gained from his campaign from sectors that we could not count on before, and that is something we can ill afford if we want to see real change.

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