Prominent left veterans say vote Biden-Harris, then keep organizing
Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Cornell West, and Frances Fox Piven are among many prominent left-wing voices who are encouraging a vote for the Biden-Harris ticket, despite the shortcomings of the candidates, in order to block the greater danger posed by Trump's continued occupancy of the White House.

Alarm over the prospect of a second Trump presidency and desire for substantial change is preparing the ground for an unprecedented voter turnout in November. The virtual Democratic National Convention showcased the vast array of support coalescing around former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. That support ranges from former Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich to socialists Sen. Bernie Sanders, a spectrum so broad it makes that required turnout a real possibility.

Among the political left, broadly speaking, the Biden-Harris ticket has wide support, even though many prefer the candidates went even further in a progressive direction on the issues. For example, virtually all of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, D-Mass., and most of Sanders’s supporters are solidly backing Biden. These forces understand the need for broad alliances, including with the political center. They see how it and Biden have responded positively to the mass democratic upsurge, which has shifted the country’s politics.

“November is about stopping fascism in the U.S. and that is what Donald Trump represents,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in a recent Instagram post. She has made the point that if Biden is elected, the fight will still carry on for universal health care, living wages, free college tuition, and justice for immigrants.

“We will always, always have our differences,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “This is not a left or right thing, it’s a human existence thing. We have to fight for all these things and hold our disagreements and still move the ball forward. That’s why they call it the struggle.”

One challenge for left leaders like Warren, Sanders, and Ocasio-Cortez is convincing more of those participating in the democratic uprising that their vote makes a difference and that protesting connects with voting. Luckily, it appears many have already been making that realization, as the latest numbers show that voter registration surged during the recent protests against systemic racism and police violence. Still, many remain cynical of electoral politics and the Democratic Party, in particular, and there are others who sat out the 2016 elections and might do so again.

A slight majority of those voting for Biden say their primary reason for doing so is hatred of Trump. As the convention speeches and platform (the most progressive of a major party), become more widely seen and read, more people on the left are starting to envision the potential of a Biden-Harris administration.

Making history by nominating the first woman of color as vice president has already generated excitement. A recent survey of young African-American voters indicated their support for Biden jumped from 47% to 73% with Harris’s addition to the ticket.

The Working Families Party and the Center for Popular Democracy have jointly pledged to mobilize the vote for Biden-Harris. Both groups have a base of progressive activists and backed Sanders in the primary (WFP initially backed Warren before shifting to Sanders). Both groups vow to keep fighting for a progressive agenda if Biden is elected.

CPD director Jennifer Epps-Addison hopes to convince those active in the streets that the next step to take is voting. For her, the choice was simple. “What is going to put us in the best position to really transform the fundamental structures of this country towards freedom?” she asked. “Is it continuing to battle for our lives with Donald Trump, as he amasses more and more authoritarian power? Or is it negotiating and pushing and organizing under a Biden administration?”

Additionally, other influential left figures are urging a vote for Biden and Harris. As you would expect, many are critical of both, but they see the apparent differences between Biden and Trump and grasp the enormous stakes in the election outcome.

“I’m excited,” said Angela Davis of Biden’s historic pick of Harris for vice president. “Now this isn’t to say Kamala Harris doesn’t have problematic areas of her record. But I think it’s a feminist approach to be able to work with those contradictions, to be able to dwell there. So, in that context I can say I’m very excited.”

Davis was a political prisoner for her work in the fight for Black Liberation in the early 1970s and was the vice-presidential candidate of the Communist Party USA in 1980 and 1984.

While critical of Biden’s shortcoming on several issues, Davis added, “We have to get rid of the person who’s in office at the moment, whose name I will not pronounce. And it’s really a question of who we will be able to pressure.”

Roots Action, a group headed by Norman Solomon, was critical of Biden during the primaries but now supports the former vice president. “Donald Trump is waging a war on truth, on decency, on our planet, and on working people,” their website says. “For the sake of everything we care about, we have to get him out of the White House in 2020.”

In its #VoteTrumpOut campaign targeting swing states, Roots Action features an ad with Noam Chomsky, famed linguist and libertarian-socialist.

“Another four years of Trump may literally lead us to the stage where the survival of organized human society is deeply imperiled,” Chomsky warns. “The most important issue that humans have faced in their history is the impending catastrophic climate disaster. Trump is the worst person in the world on this issue.”

“We have to get rid of Trump, keep pressure on Biden, just as Sanders and associates have been doing,” says Chomsky. “And the crucial part of this decision is to get RID of the major barrier to survival which happens to be in the White House.”

Organizing Upgrade editor Max Elbaum has argued against the strategy of electoral abstention or third-party voting. “The central polarization in the country today is between a Trumpist bloc driving toward authoritarian rule vs. a majority opposition that, for all the vacillations and differences within it, is defending the democratic space that movements for justice, peace, and radical change require to advance,” wrote Elbaum.

“Our goal should be turning out the largest possible working class and people of color vote for Biden with the message that removing white nationalism from political power is an indispensable step in the long- term battle for transformative change,” he wrote.

Over 40 democratic socialists signed a letter in The Nation calling for Trump’s defeat. The signers say the “priority for the left in 2020 should be the electoral defeat of Donald Trump and the Trumpist Republican Party in November. At present, the only way to accomplish that will be to vote for his Democratic opponent.”

“Trump’s commitment to the destruction of basic democratic institutions—the right to vote, an independent judiciary, a free press, Congress as a co-equal branch of government, the sovereign character of state governments—would make further pursuit of a progressive agenda impossible,” the letter concludes.

The appeal was initiated by the North Star Caucus for Socialism and Democracy in DSA after the 2019 Convention voted only to endorse and work for Bernie Sanders in 2020. Signers include Cornell West, Frances Fox Piven, Gus Newport, Katha Pollit, Carl Davidson, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Bill Fletcher, and a list that has grown to over 200 people.

As Trump continues to assault democracy, plots to steal the election, and polarize the nation with bigotry and hate, the urgency grows for his defeat. But also increasing is the determination by everyday people, including on the left, to join and mobilize a historic vote to defeat the menace and chart a new course for the country.


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.