This July, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will convene in Philadelphia. The primary goal of this convention is to formally announce candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency as well as to adopt a comprehensive party platform.
We, the Philadelphia South Asian Collective (PSAC), denounce the DNC and stand in solidarity with other communities of color, environmental organizations, labor groups, and anti-war coalitions in condemning the Democratic Party for the grave injustices it perpetuates among the most vulnerable populations domestically and around the world.
The two-party political system in the U.S. presents itself as proof that American voters have “choice” and are free to participate in a democratic and open electoral process. In this system, the Democratic Party positions itself as the party of anti-racism, immigrant and women’s rights, and poverty reduction. However, a closer look at the party’s platform and history reveals that it hardly upholds these values. In fact, offering the Democratic Party as a progressive alternative serves as a handy veneer for some of its most treacherous political practices, highlighted below.
One of the grave social ills in the US is the sprawling prison-industrial complex. This refers to the huge private and public sector that profits off of the incarceration of huge swaths of Americans, primarily people of color, poor, and those with mental health issues. The US is the world’s largest imprisoner: we have less than 5% of the world’s population, yet a quarter of the world’s total prison population. As immoral and unethical is the system of making profit off of incarceration, both political parties have allowed this practice to flourish. The Democratic Party and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have largely been in support of mass incarceration. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supported the 1994 Crime Bill signed by then-President Bill Clinton. Indeed, Democratic support for “tough-on-crime” measures largely criminalized people of color while maintaining the facade that Democrats are the party of civil rights reform. This bill led to the construction of countless prisons and a boom in the prison population. At the time, Hillary Clinton used racist language, calling those incarcerated “super-predators” with whom we should not feel sympathy. (More recently, Bill Clinton has defended the “super-predator” remarks, suggesting that this was not a one-off comment or misspeak.) More recently, Hillary Clinton defended her stance on the death penalty, in spite of its deeply racist and classist applications historically and the fact that it constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment. We further know that “progressive” Democratic candidates (i.e. Bill DeBlasio in New York City and Jim Kenney in Philadelphia) often further perpetuate racist “tough on crime” measures, as evidenced by DeBlasio’s support of the NYC police commissioner and Jim Kenney’s continuation of stop & frisk policies.
Mass incarceration includes the use of imprisonment as a terrorism-prevention tool, and as such it has increasingly targeted Muslims on and off US soil. This is evidenced by the existence of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, which has incarcerated countless Muslim men even well after they had been cleared for release. Neither political party nor the Democratic Party candidates have taken a strong stand against the use of incarceration as a terrorism-prevention tool, and as such, swaths of Muslims stand to be detained or deported without cause, without trial, and without due process.
By intensifying the role of the “carceral state” (i.e. the use of policing and incarceration to solve America’s economic and racial problems), the Democrats use valuable resources that could be used to eliminate poverty and inequality on a system of criminalization and incarceration.
The PATRIOT Act, signed into law by George W. Bush, received enthusiastic support from Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama’s Democratic presidency only saw the renewal and extension of this act, which has paved the way for mass surveillance of Americans, especially Muslims, and institutionalized erosion of civil liberties. Most recently, Hillary Clinton called for increased surveillance, greater police presence, and interception of personal communication in the wake of the attacks in Brussels. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton agree that Edward Snowden should face punishment for revealing the extent of the surveillance state.
On matters of foreign policy, the Democratic Party is often as committed to a violent agenda of US global domination as is the Republican Party. For instance, Hillary Clinton was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War, she has applauded the gruesome overthrow of Libyan dictator Gaddafi, and remains a close ally to Israel’s right-wing pro-apartheid leadership. Even the less-hawkish Bernie Sanders supported the sanctions against Iraq, which crippled an entire nation through poverty and malnutrition. He also signed on to a document authored by Rumsfeld that compelled the US to act toward regime change in Iraq. Such imperialist involvement in regime change destabilizes regions and often fuels the rise of destructive warfare and factionalism, rather than providing diplomatic and rebuilding solutions to entrenched political problems.
In spite of its abhorrent human rights record, the Democratic Party remains committed to an alliance with the Saudi Arabian regime, evidenced (in part) by a 2011 arms deal in which the US provided $30 billion worth of fighter jets to Saudi Arabia. Clinton’s push for regime change in Libya and her enthusiastic support for escalating military presence in Afghanistan have also had disastrous effects for the region. She continues to call for escalated air strikes and more forces in Iraq and Syria.
In a 2015 op-ed, Hillary Clinton called her bond with Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “unbreakable,” in spite of the fact that it is a settler state that sanctions institutional apartheid against the Palestinian people. Historically, both Democrat and Republican parties have been staunch allies of the Israeli government, providing diplomatic alliances and military aid in spite of its human rights record. Many in the Democratic Party have even condemned Bernie Sanders’ moderate gestures toward acknowledging the humanity and dignity of the Palestinian people.
Under the Obama administration, a sinister program of using drones (supported by both Clinton and Sanders) and carrying out targeted assassinations has been rolled out in several countries, including Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Indeed, the number of civilians killed by US drones is grossly underestimated, as adult Muslim men and boys as young as 14 years old, are automatically counted as “combatants” under US consideration. It is under a Democratic administration that a sinister program of targeted assassinations (including of US citizens) has been ushered in. Under the guise of terrorism-prevention, such programs are devastating in their impact for the region and, rather than fighting terrorism, lead to a rise in anti-American sentiment globally.
When it comes to economic policy, the Democratic Party is marginally distinct from its Republican counterpart. In the last several decades, an economic policy known as ‘neoliberalism’ has taken a decidedly bipartisan turn. By neoliberalism, we refer to a “free market”-oriented economic philosophy that leads to a devastating gutting of social welfare programs in favor of ‘laissez faire’ economic practices. Neoliberalism has seen economic inequality rise, with increased concentration of wealth. In fact, in the US itself, the top 1% of the population controls some 40% of the wealth.
It was under a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, that welfare was gutted. In 1996, in a (successful) attempt to court the Republican vote, Clinton eliminated AFDC (aka “welfare” as it was known) and pushed working poor Americans to find work in an attempt to eliminate their own poverty. This type of victim-blaming economic policy squarely places the onus for change on poor populations, rather than on the systems that create poverty.
Recently, Hillary Clinton has struggled to defend her close alliances with WalMart, even though the corporation has a terrible record regarding unions and pay. And though Clinton has paid lip service to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, there’s ample evidence that she actually has deep support for it. President Obama has also supported a number of free trade deals with little to no opposition from most Democrats. In the 90s, the Clinton-Gore administration provided ample support for NAFTA, another devastating free trade agreement. Obama also appointed Paul Volcker and Larry Summers, both economists with destructive neoliberal orientations.
Such economic policy is destructive for immigrants, working class folks, and communities of color. It uses the rhetoric of free markets and open borders to push through policy that benefits the corporate elite. As a result, we see a rise in joblessness, increased wealth in fewer hands, and the erosion of daily life for marginalized populations.
The above is hardly a comprehensive list of the ways in which the Democratic Party is not a preferable progressive alternative to the Republican Party. Instead, the two work in close proximity to ensure the perpetuation of a white supremacist militarized capitalist patriarchy. (For instance, we know that Democratic forerunner Hillary Clinton also oversaw the Honduran coup, which put into power a regime that massacred indigenous activists and ousted a democratically-elected leader.) In spite of its gestures toward progressive reform, the Democratic Party remains strongly influenced by lobbyists and corporate executives. The DNC host committee itself is comprised of key lobbyists from the insurance industry, pro-fracking contingents, and Comcast. Such connections reveal deep ties between the Democratic Party and elite shareholders.
While the list above is strongly oriented around the policies and platform of Hillary Clinton, as she is the forerunner for the candidacy, these critiques can be leveled against the Democratic Party establishment at large. For instance, during the troubling post-9/11 moment, Democrats and Republicans were equally willing to erode the civil liberties of Americans – especially Muslim, immigrant, and working class folks who had no connection whatsoever to terror. They were equally ready to go into a devastating war in Iraq on the basis of falsehoods. Both parties have upheld the slashing of social welfare programs and the continuation of the prison-industrial complex. However, the Democratic Party is especially sinister, as it has deliberately courted the votes of Blacks, Muslims, and other racialized immigrants in spite of its overly racist, imperialist, and Islamophobic platform.
The Philadelphia South Asian Collective asserts that people of color ought to be at the forefront of the movement to resist the DNC. As people of color, we stand in solidarity against all forms of racism and imperialism and oppose the DNC’s co-opting of minority voters. We at PSAC know that we cannot vote away our oppression nor can we achieve liberation within this limited spectrum of political possibility, but instead must mobilize mass movements of people who will push for true transformative justice and radical political change.