Recorded 11.03.2016 — Chicago DSA’s Aaron Armitage interviews Cecily McMillan on her memoir. McMillan is a DSA activist who had been involved in the Wisconsin protests against Governor Scott Walker and in Occupy Wall Street. In an almost accidental connection with Occupy, she was arrested under dubious circumstances for assaulting a police officer, convicted, and sentenced to Rikers Island.
This interview explores the intersection of the personal and the political. In particular, McMillan describes growing up in an isolated rural Texas town, her dawning awareness of a larger world that leads to a continuing reassessment of her sense of identity. McMillan and Armitage discuss the Walker protests and Occupy Wall Street: It’s good, bad, and inadequate aspects.
In the end, many of the problems facing the poor and marginalized end up being regarded as personal problems. But, as McMillan notes at the end, “if it becomes personal, there is no language to deal with it.”
To listen to this episode, use the audio player below
On Sunday, November 6, McMillan did a book talk at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. The talk was hosted by Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief at Truthout. The book talk was co-sponsored by the Chicago City Branch of CDSA, with partial financing from the Local.
Chicago DSA printed post cards urging our elected federal representatives to vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We asked folk to sign them on the spot so that we could hold them for a later delivery to these representatives. There were cases where the signer was from out of state. Those we just stamped and mailed.
Over the summer, we gathered these signatures at various farmers’ markets and events like The People’s Summit at McCormick Place. A vast majority of the cards were signed by folk from the Chicago area. As the gathering process tapered off, several comrades made appointments to drop the cards at the various legislative offices in the area. With each delivery of cards, we included a sheet of quotes stating opposition to the TPP from groups as varied as the CATO Institute and Physicians Without Borders. I’d like to thank those who agreed to deliver the cards:
• Peg Strobel and Bill Barclay delivered cards to the office of Senator Richard J. Durbin, where they were accepted without comment.
• Hilda Schlatter and Paul Sakol delivered the cards to the office of Senator Mark Kirk, where they were accepted with scant response.
• Jacqueline P. Kirley and Charles Nissim-Sabat agreed to deliver the cards to the office of Rep. Bobby Rush (1st CD), where they were accepted, again without comment.
• I was unable to find any DSA member in Rep. Robin Kelly’s district (2nd CD) to make the delivery, so we bundled them together with the list of oppositional quotes and mailed them to her office.
• Cards for Rep. William Lipinski (3rd CD) were mailed to his office as well. Rep. Lipinski is a leader in the fight against the TPP.
• Sheilah Garland and Alec Hudson agreed to deliver cards to the office of Rep. Luis Gutierrez (4th CD). This office also refused to have a conversation, saying they don’t meet with constituents on issues like the TPP.
• Lisa Wallis and Bill Bianchi agreed to deliver the cards to the office of Rep. Mike Quigley (5th CD). Rep. Quigley is the only Democrat from Illinois in the U.S. House who has consistently stated support for the TPP. Upon receipt of the cards, Mary Ann Levar stated that the Congressman was “listening carefully to what his constituents were saying on this issue.”
• Gary Harper and Alex Franklin met with a staff member of Rep. Peter Roskam (6th CD) at his office. The cards and oppositional quote sheet were accepted without comment.
• I met with Ira Cohen from Rep. Danny K. Davis’ (7th CD) office. Cohen said the Congressman always appreciates it when constituents do the kind of community outreach that our post card project entailed. He said that Rep. Davis is under pressure to vote in favor of the TPP, but Cohen had no indication that he was going to succumb.
• The post cards for Rep. Tammy Duckworth (8th CD) were mailed to her office along with the oppositional quote sheet.
• Susan E. Hirsch and Ian Hartman met with an aide to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (9th CD), who is another leader from Illinois in the fight against the TPP. The aide was pleased to hear that our post card effort was city-wide and affirmed Rep. Schakowsky’s commitment to vote against the TPP.
• The post cards for Rep. Bob Dold (10th CD) were mailed to his office along with the oppositional quote sheet.
• Nancy Tuggle, Roger McReynolds and Patricia McReynolds delivered the material to the office of Rep. Bill Foster (11th CD). They were told that the cards would be forwarded to the DC office.
• Vince Hardt along with Alison Squires and Lyndon Squires met with an aide to Rep. Randy Hultgren (14th CD). The aide stated that Rep. Hultgren has indicated his opposition to the TPP in various public appearances. In an article in the Northwest Herald, Rep. Hultgren is quoted saying “he doesn’t foresee the issue being addressed or voted on, or being passed, during the lame duck session.” I believe this makes Rep. Hultgren the second Illinois Republican in Congress to oppose the TPP. He joins Rep. Mike Bost (12th CD)
• Post cards for Rep. Adam Kinzinger (16th CD) were mailed to his office, with the oppositional quote sheet.
Chicago DSA was a member of a coalition of groups that organized Chicago demonstrations as part of the National Day of Action Against the TPP. This was aimed specifically at Rep. Quigley, and with the election of The Donald, modified to encourage the growth of a spine.
It appears that our work, along with the work of many others and the election of The Donald, has killed the passing of the TPP during the lame duck session. This according to folk connected to the White House, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Majority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. However, the TPP is not finished. We need to keep our focus on this undemocratic deal and the others that are in the works and stop them cold: democratic trade deals, not secret trade deals.
The winner of the 2016 presidential election is going home; the loser is going to the White House. Yes, that’s right: Clinton received more votes than Trump. We have to insist on this reality.
We have to insist on this reality, not because we do or don’t like Clinton, but because we need to start – now – on making Trump an illegitimate president: so he serves only one term. We have to insist on this reality because D.C. insiders such as Paul Ryan are already speaking of a “mandate.” Yet Trump will be only the 4th president elected with fewer votes than his opponent. We have to insist on this reality because, while a president was elected with a minority of the vote only twice between 1850 – 2000, it has now happened twice in the last 5 presidential elections.
The 2016 Voting Demographics
So, what were the parameters of vote distribution that determined the Electoral College outcome in Trump’s favor? First, there was the largest gender gap since exit polls began: 24 points. Clinton won women by 12 points and lost men by the same margin. But the gender gap is not what many understand it to be: Clinton lost white women by 10 points, doing a little bit better than Obama’s 14 point loss in 2012. She did, however, win white women with a college degree, probably the first time for a Democratic presidential candidate since Johnson in 1964 (Johnson was also the last Democratic presidential candidate to win the majority of white women voters). Clinton actually improved over Obama in states such as California and Massachusetts
The difference for Clinton was also not really a composition of the turnout problem. Whites were actually a slightly lower share of the electorate in 2016 than 2012, African-Americans were also slightly smaller while Latinos were up slightly. It was a slightly poorer performance across a range of voting groups that cost her an Electoral College victory. She won unmarried women and men (barely in the last case) and even married women. She won African-Americans and Latinos, voters under 45, and voters from households with incomes below $50,000. It was not the poor who turned on Clinton; it was the Trump voters with incomes higher than average (and higher than Clinton voters) who worried that the “American Dream is no longer reserved for whites.” But, in each case she did just enough worse than Obama in 2008 and 2012 to lose crucial swing states.
But what else can we learn from the 2016 election basics? I think there are two important realities that we need to understand. First is what Elizabeth Drew labeled “the [troubling] ignorance of the electorate.” When only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of government that is cause for concern. But when in a 2010 survey, less than 40% could correctly identify the party in control of Congress, that is alarming. Second, sexism is alive and well among a large portion of the electorate. This is implied when looking at the gender gap in greater depth: It is essentially a white voter gender gap. The gender gap widened, but not because Clinton significantly increased the share of white female voters supporting a Democratic presidential candidate. Instead, the share of white male voters supporting her declined sharply from Obama’s 2012 performance. And many voters believed accusations against Clinton, absent any empirical basis while at the same time giving Trump a pass on much more serious – and well documented – flaws (as I write Trump is scheduled to testify in one of the many fraud suits against his various ventures). Third, this also means that identity politics is also alive and well. Whites vs non-whites, women vs men, youth vs old. And finally, the fickle 5% are always a problem in country so closely divided. Trump carried – and carried heavily – the significant share of voters who were unable to make up their minds until the last 8 weeks of the campaign.
The Antinomies of Liberalization
Everything I’ve written to date is easily found by rummaging through the web. But now, let me speculate a bit about the larger picture. How do we understand the 2016 election?
There are (at least) two striking features of this election: the amazing success of an obscure senator from Vermont and the election of a “Republican” who ditched many of the cherished conservative shibboleths, such as free trade and balanced budgets.
Then former came close to getting the Democratic nomination while the latter became the GOP nominee and president. Both were “outsiders” in the parlance of our rulers. So, why did they both do well?
Rather than a critique of neoliberalism, Trump’s politics are a combination of economic nationalism with social conservatism. In this political combination he differs from Thatcher, Blair, and Cameron as well as both (Bill) Clinton and Obama. Thatcher, often seen as the leading figure in the emergence of neoliberal world view, combined economic liberalism (in the 19th century sense of the word) with social conservatism. Blair, Cameron and Clinton added social liberalism to economic liberalism.
The parts of the neoliberal policy framework that Trump rejects are free mobility of labor across borders – his anti-immigrant politics and perhaps (in a largely fact-free campaign Trump’s positions are not always clear) free international movement of goods and services – his attack on the TPP, China, etc.
Trump’s election, or even if he failed to win, his strong support when coupled with the Brexit vote, may indicate that we are at or near the end of the most recent era of globalization. Just as World War I and Great Depression ended the globalization of the 1870s – 1920s, the financial panic of 2008 and the Great Recession may signal the ending of this era. If I am right, politics will become more challenging but also offer new possibilities.