For this episode, we try something many of you have done yourselves: talk democratic socialism with our parents. We tune into to Bernie's big speech on democratic socialism from last week. And Briahna talks with Howard University's Dr. Greg Carr about the ways that democratic socialism and African American history are deeply intertwined.
Bianca Marquez: Hello father.
Jaime Marquez: Hello daughter.
Bianca Marquez: Okay, so what do you think about the term socialism?
Briahna Joy Gray: Last week I indulged in a little experiment. I asked staff members to cold call their parents and ask them for their thoughts about socialism.
Jaime Marquez: If you say I want, I think democratic socialism to me means that everybody should have a right to a clean environment or a right to an education or a right to health insurance. I don’t have a problem with thinking in terms of those rights, but that I’m afraid is just one side of the economic problem. The other part of the economic problem is who’s going to provide that?
Briahna Joy Gray: That was Jaime Marquez, father of Bianca Marquez, state email manager for the campaign. Now Mr. Marquez and Bianca have had this conversation before and apparently, it’s gotten animated.
Jaime Marquez: You know that we fight?
Briahna Joy Gray: Yes, I’ve heard.
Jaime Marquez: At home?
Briahna Joy Gray: I’ve heard, and you should feel free to go ahead and do that here as well. Think of this as your living room.
Jaime Marquez: I don’t think (crosstalk) .
Bianca Marquez: Not that freely, maybe not that, maybe the dining room would be better, not the living room.
Briahna Joy Gray: Well, we decided to turn our podcast studio into a living room and dive right into this conversation. You see, Mr. Marquez was born in Venezuela, a country that has become a real focal point for critics of democratic socialism.
Speaker: Let’s start with Venezuela. A country where socialism has played out in an ugly way.
Speaker: The country has collapsed because of its socialist policies.
Donald Trump: Years of socialist rule have brought this once thriving nation to the brink of ruin.
Briahna Joy Gray: If we were able to reach some simpatico with Mr. Marquez, it seemed to me that we could count that as real progress, and if I may say so, I think progress was made.
This is Hear the Bern, a podcast about the people, ideas and politics that are driving the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign, and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray, coming to you from campaign headquarters in Washington DC.
Just last week, Bernie Sanders gave an historic address about what democratic socialism means to him, and why he’s unique among all the presidential candidates in offering a vision of the future that takes on oppressive and exploitive systems and establishes certain fundamental rights for all Americans, not just some.
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free, if you are unable to go to a doctor when you’re sick or face financial bankruptcy when you leave the hospital? Are you truly free if you cannot afford the prescription drugs you need in order to stay alive? Are you truly free when you spend half of your limited income on housing and are forced to borrow money from a payday lender at 200% interest rates?
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free if you are 70 years old and forced to work because you lack a pension or enough money to retire?
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free if you are unable to go to a college or a trade school because your family lacks the income?
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free if you are forced to work 60 or 80 hours a week because you cannot find a job that pays you a living wage?
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free if you are a mother with a newborn baby, but you are forced to go back to work immediately after the birth of that child because you lack paid family leave?
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free if you are a small business owner or a family farmer, who was driven out of business by the monopolistic practices of big business?
Bernie Sanders: Are you truly free if you are a veteran who has put his or her life on the line to defend this country, and tonight will be sleeping out on the streets?
Bernie Sanders: To me, the answer to those questions in the wealthiest nation on earth is no. Under those conditions, you are not truly free.
Briahna Joy Gray: Bernie Sanders drew really compelling parallels between the political agenda of Democratic Party icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his own.
Bernie Sanders: Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create a government that made transformative progress in protecting the needs of working families. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion.
Bernie Sanders: As FDR stated in his 1944 State of the Union address, and I quote, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” End quote. Today our Bill of Rights guarantees the American people a number of important constitutionally protected political rights. But now we must take the next step forward and guarantee every man, woman, and child in our country basic economic rights, the right to quality healthcare.
The right to as much education as one needs to succeed in our society. The right to a good job that pays a living wage. The right to affordable housing, the right to a secure retirement, and the right to live in a clean environment.
Bernie Sanders: We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights.
Bernie Sanders: That is what I mean by democratic socialism.
Briahna Joy Gray: He also connected the political objectives of democratic socialists like Martin Luther King to his own agenda.
Bernie Sanders: As one of the great leaders in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said, and I quote, “Call it the democracy or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country, for all of God’s children.” End quote.
Briahna Joy Gray: On this episode, in addition to having real-life conversations about democratic socialism with our loved ones, I spoke to two-time HBCU faculty winner of the year, Dr. Greg Carr from Howard University. To dig deeper into the history of how democratic socialists like Martin Luther King Junior, A. Philip Randolph, and Ella Baker saw democratic socialism as a system better suited to achieve a humane and more equal community.
Socialism, has any other word caused more consternation in recent years?
Donald Trump: America will never be a socialist country.
Speaker: I am indeed the grim reaper when it comes to the socialist agenda that they’ve been ginning up over in the House.
Speaker: We begin tonight with an important Hannity Watch on the radical Far-left Democratic Party and the dangers of socialism.
Briahna Joy Gray: But as much as we hear about socialism, there’s a great deal of variation when it comes to folks defining what it means. After all, Republicans have been calling Democrats socialists since before most of us were even born. As a result, confusion abounds as to what Bernie really means when he calls himself a democratic socialist. Which in turn means that Bernie supporters spend a lot of time explaining it to their friends, co-workers, and yes, our parents.
Bianca Marquez: The way that I think about it is a system in which everybody has what they need to get by, and what that includes is the opportunity to have an education. The opportunity to go to the doctor when they’re sick. The opportunity to live in a clean environment.
With democratic socialism, everybody will have the opportunity to thrive. Not just a couple of people who happen to be millionaires and billionaires.
Briahna Joy Gray: And our parents though they love us, don’t always agree.
Jaime Marquez: It is one thing to enumerate a right, and then it’s another thing to provide, to meet that right.
Briahna Joy Gray: What I really loved about the conversation with Mr. Marquez, and why I think it’s important, is that we were able to pretty quickly drill down to the core of what concerns reasonable people about the label democratic socialist.
Jaime Marquez: The issue is in my mind, not whether the government will have a legitimate incentive to do it, the question is whether the government is the best tool for the provision of those services. Why do we think that government workers will somehow be better at providing education than the private sector? Where do you draw the line into what the government should and should not provide?
Briahna Joy Gray: Mr. Marquez mostly agreed with his daughter’s values and with Bernie’s broader policy goals to a heartening extent.
Bianca Marquez: What Bernie is suggesting is an expansion of the current systems that we have to a wider range of people. Expanding public universities so that if you’re talented and driven, you can go to a college, a public university without having to go into major debt. One of the most persuasive techniques that I’ve used to convince my father about democratic socialism is about Jonas Salk. For the people who don’t know who Joan Salk is, he is the individual who invented the cure and the vaccine for polio.
If Jonas Salk had charged one penny per vaccination, he could have been a billionaire, but instead he said, “I’m not going to charge anything for this vaccine, this is a human right and everybody should have access to this vaccine.” What was the quote that he used?
Jaime Marquez: That he was not going to patent the sun.
I just wanted to say that I find the situation with the insurance to be borderline nightmarish. I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t to deal with that nightmare, but Bianca has not been lucky enough, and her dealings with the insurance company about what’s covered, what’s not covered is … and she is among the lucky ones in the sense that she has insurance. But dealing with insurance is just tricky, complicated, time consuming, and I wonder the extent to which alternatives may not facilitate this process.
Bianca Marquez: The alternative, which is what Bernie Sanders is proposing, which is a democratic socialist approach. In which a child would be able to go to the sink, take a drink of water and do that in a safe way. While also still having a market economy and a market system in which the private sector can still exist, the private sector can still thrive, just not at the cost that we’re paying right now.
Because the cost that we’re paying right now is incredibly high. I think that part of what’s happening is that because we are all paying a cost, people from all over the country in every different zip code are paying a different cost. People are now making decisions based on scarcity and based on a lack of resources, and based on tradeoffs, and based on this or that.
That’s for me, what’s so appealing about Bernie is that he’s saying that, first of all, we don’t need to choose between this or that, we just don’t. We can alter our system so that we can have children who are safe and we can still have a market economy that is successful, and that allows the United States to be the country that it is. The approach that Bernie is offering allows more people to be safe, more people to be protected, more people to have the ability to thrive where they’re born, regardless of their zip code. That’s, I think the essence of what he’s suggesting.
Jaime Marquez: There are people that disagree with this?
Briahna Joy Gray: (crosstalk) yes, there’s a …
Jaime Marquez: Essentially what you’re describing is Sanders offering something akin to that we can do better or that things can be better. That we don’t have to have a pessimistic outlook on life. That’s more or less … and so, and I agree with that. To me the issue is not the objectives, to me the issue is how do we make sure that in the provision or in meeting those objectives, we don’t wind up having the government being involved in providing each and every one of them?
Bianca Marquez: I agree-
Jaime Marquez: That’s my …
Bianca Marquez: I agree, I completely understand and agree with that, and I can empathize with that concern, especially given the path that we’ve been down. I can understand and empathize with your concerns based off of the environment that you grew up in Venezuela, and seeing what happens when a country goes to a far extreme. How people can be left behind essentially for the pursuit of a socialist or whatever, a socialist authoritarian agenda.
I can see exactly what you’re saying, and I also think that we actually are so much more empowered when we do allow the government to provide these services. Because we as voters have the ability to determine who our government is made up of. Whereas when we allow private health insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies to make decisions about what access we have to what types of medications, we have no leverage in those situations. If we look at this electoral system as kind of leverage and.
Briahna Joy Gray: Accountability.
Bianca Marquez: Accountability, then we have a lot more leverage and we will be able to have a lot more out of … I think that we’ll be able to at expect more accountability out of our government than we would out of …
Briahna Joy Gray: Pfizer.
Bianca Marquez: Pfizer, right or Eli Lily.
Briahna Joy Gray: But he raised two key concerns that I think are really worth addressing. His first concern was that the government would come to control various aspects of society ranging from school curricula to auto plants, and that the state would use it to control, to advance an agenda that was contrary to the will of the people. His second concern was that we might have trouble establishing what constitutes a right.
What I’m hearing actually is I think that there’s a lot of agreement about substantively what we’d like the world to look like. In an ideal world, we’d all like for every young person to be able to go to college, to be able to get healthcare, et cetera.
Jaime Marquez: Yes.
Briahna Joy Gray: When you have concerns about where to draw the line, I’m … and tell me if I’m wrong, I’m actually hearing that as, we need to be able to draw a line. Because ultimately there are limited resources and we won’t be able to pay for everything that we want, even if we all agree that we want those things.
Jaime Marquez: I could have not said that better.
Briahna Joy Gray: Great, so then I guess the fundamental question then is the, how do we pay for it question. Because if we can resolve the, how do we pay for it question, then all of the concerns about line drawing kind of go out the window?
Jaime Marquez: No, it’s not so much the paying, it’s the provision itself.
Briahna Joy Gray: Bianca adeptly clarified that the goal here is not for the government to control various aspects of the private sphere, but to fund certain arenas like healthcare and education, so that everyone can benefit. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put it beautifully earlier this year.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: It’s not about government takeover, it’s about how much do workers have a say in your business? Do you have workers on the board? Do workers enjoy a decent amount of the wealth that they are creating? Or is the majority of these profits going to shareholders while you’re paying a worker $15 an hour to live in a New York City apartment? That to me is the difference.
It’s not that the public sector is democratically socialist and the private sector is not, it’s really about a more nuanced understanding of how our economy should work.
Briahna Joy Gray: Bianca’s dad he was supportive of increasing worker control of corporations by including workers on corporate boards. He also agreed that the so-called invisible hands of the market, didn’t always satisfy the needs of our communities
Jaime Marquez: In Germany, the workers … let me call it in the plant, are part of the decision process and are part of the remuneration process. They have a stake in the outcome. I personally think that that’s an excellent idea.
Briahna Joy Gray: Well, Bernie Sanders has a plan for it, right? It’s increasingly being brought up by politicians as an option for us here. But and up until this point it was relatively rare. We have things, The Green Bay Packers, is a publicly owned football team. Bernie Sanders tells a story about how in Burlington, Vermont, when he was mayor, they couldn’t get a grocery store to come. It wasn’t profitable enough for a grocery store to come and they had a food desert.
They started a cooperative grocery store, and it ended up being very profitable. But that’s a good example of how sometimes it’s not profitable, but people need it. It’s useful, it works, just the profit margins aren’t big enough to incentivize a company, a corporation to come in and do it.
Jaime Marquez: I agree with that.
Briahna Joy Gray: But despite our broad agreement there, Mr. Marquez, who is an insightful man, concerned with details and unimpressed by what he called soundbite or bumper sticker approach to politics, was stuck on a point that I think preoccupies a lot of reasonable folks hesitant about expanding the government’s role on public life.
Jaime Marquez: I want to put a contrarian note to that view of the world.
Bianca Marquez: Well, you wouldn’t be you if you didn’t do that, so I’m glad that you are.
Jaime Marquez: Congress is rated as, of all the branches of the government as the one with the lowest satisfaction. It has been getting the lowest rating for years now, many, many years. If we were so dissatisfied with Congress, then we have chances of … as we just did, chances of changing the makeup of Congress persons in the United States.
If we have that ability and the Congress still gets that low rating, then one of two things are happening. One, the mechanism that we’re using to rate a particular branch of government is just not that good, because we still get the same Congress. Or two, somehow, the belief that through voting, we’re going to change the government that we have is misplaced.
Bianca Marquez: I-
Jaime Marquez: The faith that we have in that belief.
Bianca Marquez: I think that I’m going to propose two different lenses to look at this through. Lens one, our democratic process is being undermined by the massive amounts of money that are being poured into elections. Number two, the widespread voter suppression that’s happening everywhere in this country. While I agree with your remark about the low satisfaction of Congress, I think that the root causes are actually the systemic issues, which is that number one, people are able to buy elections and spend millions of dollars on TV ads, spreading whatever message they choose. Secondarily, the voter suppressions that we saw for instance in Georgia and in Florida in the 2018 midterm elections. Where thousands of people were turned away because their name didn’t match what was on their driver’s license, because there was some sort of accent mark or there was a misspelling or so on and so forth.
All right, Briahna, I’m tagging you in, go for it.
Briahna Joy Gray: Okay, I think this is a really important point, because at the end of the day these conversations often come down to who do we trust more, private industry or the public sector? But most often it’s not characterized like that, it’s characterized as a critique of the vulnerabilities of the public sector, some of which are true. Your concerns are valid.
Every system is vulnerable and we have to make sure that we implement protections around our democracy to make it as invulnerable as possible. But the question is rarely asked, how much worse is the private sector? I have a really hard time, even with all the corruption that exists in the public sector, at the end of the day, there is some constitutionally enshrined mechanism for accountability.
They can redistrict, they can gerrymander, they can create these poll taxes and try to keep people from the ballot. But at the end of the day, there’s still much more democracy there than there is with a bunch of shareholders on a board led by a bunch of corporate CEOs. If the ultimately the only two options that we have are public sector and private sector, it’s not that I disagree that there are limitations to the public sector. But I am very confident that I’d much rather throw my lot in with an elected group of individuals who are least influenced and on some level, at the end of the day, they have to get some number of human beings to come into a polling place and cast a ballot for them. I choose that over the veiled secrets of corporate boards any day.
Jaime Marquez: So do I.
Briahna Joy Gray: Ultimately, we found we shared more in common than we had differences.
Jaime Marquez: I think the questions that are being raised not only in this conversation but day to day affairs from your organization, I think are really important. I do not have the answers to those questions, I doubt that there are many people that will. My sense that it ultimately, this is not … it’s just a sense all right, and feel free to disagree with me. I don’t think this is a government job. There is a book and, brought in here, that I think it made, that I find very influential. The author is Samuel Bowles and the book is called The Moral Economy. The idea here is that so long as we as society are against each other, so long as we are functioning our focus on our own private interest, there is no government that is going to solve that problem.
The idea is that we have to individually become much more sensitive to ethical concerns, to the wellbeing of others. That’s part of what drives me, that this is, the government is not going to make us like each other, the government is not going to make us help each other, I don’t see how. We have to come I think to the realization that as frankly noted, “Either we hang together or we’re going to hang separately.”
If it is, if we’re not going to be able to do it ourselves, on our own, not government, on our own. To help each other, to recognize that, “Somebody else needs my help and I don’t need to go and get it a tax-deductible form to assist that individual.” Unless we do that ourselves.
Briahna Joy Gray: You know what, I think that part of why I like Bernie Sanders is because when he says-
Jaime Marquez: Who doesn’t?
Briahna Joy Gray: Are you saying that you’re a Bernie fan despite these feelings?
Jaime Marquez: No, no, it’s because I have these feelings.
Briahna Joy Gray: I think that’s consistent, because what I was going to say is that when he says, “Not me, us,” and when he says, “This is going to take a movement and that my election alone isn’t going to do it.” Then when organizations like Brand New Congress say, “We’ve got to get a brand-new Congress, we have to get people who aren’t so disliked by the people. Who actually are legislating in a way that is supportive of what the people vote for and what their priorities are.” What he’s saying is kind of what you’re saying, which is that we need as all to come to an agreement about what kind of society we want to live in.
When I hear democratic socialism, what that really just signals for me is, I want to be part of a movement where we’re going to put society first as opposed to capital, as opposed to the interest of capital and money. I think of it as right there in the name. It’s less about, I have my own personal thoughts and feelings about owning the means of production and all that kind of stuff.
Jaime Marquez: I know, it’s a good thing you didn’t bring that up.
Briahna Joy Gray: But, at the end of the day, what Bernie Sanders means, and I think what is so inspiring to so many people, is that it does feel like someone, a movement leader, like a Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi who were saying, “We are all in this together, and how do we strategize, how do we run our government so that we’re all trying to be as happy as possible, and take care of each other?”
Jaime Marquez: I could not agree more with you. There’s, just going to put a semicolon there, namely, the government is not going to do this for us, okay? The government will not.
Briahna Joy Gray: Now, I respectfully depart somewhat from Mr. Marquez here. It’s not that I think that the government can just, quote, “Do this for us.” I don’t think the government can wave a wand and force us all to feel brotherly or sisterly love about each other. But I do think that the government is an expression of our values, and to the extent that American values, at least according to polls, are to take care of each other. That everyone should have healthcare, a good education, a dignified standard of living, extending into old age, et cetera. Then I simply believe that government policies should reflect those values.
Bernie Sanders: We must not view America only as a population of disconnected individuals. We must also view ourselves as part of, and I quote, “An inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny,” end quote, as Dr. King put it. In other words, we are in this together. We must see ourselves as part of one nation, one community and one society, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or country of origin.
This quintessentially American idea is literally emblazoned on our coins, e pluribus unum, “From the many, one.” I should tell you, it is enshrined in the motto of our campaign for the presidency, “Not me. Us”
Briahna Joy Gray: Now, it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask my co-workers to ring up their parents and have hard conversations, if I weren’t willing to do the same. So, I called up my mom for a chat about democratic socialism. Now, just as I was interested in Mr. Marquez’s perspective as a Latino who was born in Venezuela, I was also interested in my mom’s perspective as a black American. I noticed that with all the talk about how democratic socialism is going to fly with the Democratic base, very little attention has been paid to black Americans and what we think.
No one of us can speak for an entire community of course, but I was certainly interested in seeing what my mom had to say.
Briahna Joy Gray: Would you describe yourself or have you thought about whether you would describe yourself as a democratic socialist if asked?
Leslie Fair: Well, yeah. Based on the definition that I’ve learned, what it means, perhaps based on my increased knowledge, absolutely without hesitation, with pride. Yes, is the short answer, absolutely.
Briahna Joy Gray: I didn’t realize that mom.
Leslie Fair: I never thought that I would, I just was more happy with the American language of being a progressive.
Briahna Joy Gray: Because you-
Leslie Fair: A liberal.
Briahna Joy Gray: You also are someone who … you put me on to Bernie Sanders back in 2015. You said that you followed his career for a while and your own politics have been kind of to the left of the mainstream Democratic Party, your whole life. Right?
Leslie Fair: Well, I’ve never, Barack Obama was the first Democrat that I voted for. Because of, in my lifetime the Democratic platform had lost that progressive platform that it became known for in the ’60s and ’70s. Basically, look, I’m a former UN, I’m a retired UN staff member, and what I see as social democracy, I really don’t care what you call it, it’s about humanitarian principles as far as I can see.
I’m really happy with reclaiming the word socialism or using whatever moniker is necessary to encompass the basic human rights that people should have. Healthcare, education, food security. All of those ideals, principles, human rights that people should be accorded are what to me are more important. There are a lot of different labels, let’s just be honest. Sometime in the future that might be another way to describe those ideals, but whatever they are, I’m very comfortable with them. I don’t want the language to interfere with the message, although I’m also quite comfortable with the language as well.
Briahna Joy Gray: If you think about your family, your mom, your sister, kind of older members of our family. Do you have any thoughts and feelings about how the term democratic socialism might resonate with them or older members of the black community?
Leslie Fair: Our community … I’m sitting now with my mom, our community hasn’t been afraid of labels obviously, we’ve been labeled so often. So much of what’s been kind of a core aspects of our community has been maligned, because we weren’t conforming. Or we didn’t, we weren’t, our values and our ideals and our behavior wasn’t seen as in line with norms, that we’re very comfortable with being on that side, I think. I don’t think that we are as averse to labels, or a label that might be considered negative by some. I don’t think that our community generally is as responsive to those concerns.
Although I do acknowledge that perhaps the more affluent, the more resource aspects of our community might be, but I don’t fall in that category. So, for me and the people whom I know, no, we have no problem with the use of the term democratic socialism and embrace it. Because what it means is that, it’s talking about human rights, civil rights, the right to exist in peace and to have food and shelter, and an opportunity to earn a livable wage and healthcare. Who could protest or who could disagree with those?
Listen, I grew up in Ohio, I felt … in a predominantly black neighborhood, I should add that because that’s really important. But definitely growing up feeling as if it was such a struggle just to obtain an education that would allow me to transition into college. But I was very much influenced and encouraged by my father because he talked to me about my heritage. I learned a lot about Pan Africanism as a child, I learned about (inaudible) Kwame Nkrumah, and Patrice Lumumba, and it was, I was reading about all this wonderful independence building that was happening in Africa and it made me very excited. When I went to Howard, I went there having read, I had already read Claude Brown and Malcolm X’s biographies, and I knew a lot about Marcus Garvey and (inaudible).
Briahna Joy Gray: My mom opined that democratic socialism might have come somewhat easier to her because the roots of democratic socialism are entangled with the roots of the civil rights tradition. I spoke to Dr. Greg Carr, an immensely compelling professor of Africana Studies at Howard University, and chair of the Department of Afro-American studies, to unpack some of those roots. As Doctor Carr explained, a collectivist tradition has been part of the African American experience from the very beginning.
Greg Carr: Coming out of Africa with its very much varied ways of knowing and different cultures. One of the seeming common denominators was this sense of what we might call democratic practice in the village form of government. Then there were other places where it wasn’t the case. But when you put different people from different places on boats and send them into hell, one of the things that they find that they share is not only, “I need to get out of this mess,” but, “I have to suppress whatever differences I have with you, in order to get out of this mess.”
I’m drawing on principles that I brought with me, everybody talks, everybody dances, everybody discusses. Now we got to figure out how to work that into getting out of this. Then when you get out of your physical oppression, how do we ensure, not only that it never happens again, but these people who don’t look like us, can be recruited into this sensibility?
There’s a cultural thrust, it’s improvisational, it’s democratic, fundamentally, culturally. There’s that thing, we often gloss it as black, but then that puts a social label on what is really a cultural set of practices. They had to find the lowest common denominator, and it’s almost inherently democratic.
Martin King, Ella Baker, A. Phillip Randolph, you name them, understood the lived experiences of African people … in this settler state, are unique, and they can never be displaced when you’re trying to invite us into a coalition. We cannot submerge that, because if you do, you’ve not only submerged those issues, you’ve submerged the people who identify with those issues. That’s typically not the upper class, the kind of petty bourgeoisie. We can kind of talk to professors and to politicians, but working-class Negroes, they’re out.
We don’t want to hear it no more, because clearly you don’t understand. I got stopped by the police, not because I was poor, but because I was black, and since you don’t understand that, good luck with that voting stuff. That’s another reason they said we have to embrace this. This is tactical.
Briahna Joy Gray: Today, it seems like there, a lot of the scholarship and the writing that has to do with race, doesn’t always intersectionally include class. As much as people say intersectionality, there is an extent to which it seems persistently that classes excluded from the narrative. There is this … let’s call it like a red washing if you will, of black history that says, progressivism, leftism, whatever you want to call it, democratic socialism is this white thing. What would you say to people of color who didn’t feel like that tradition was accessible to them?
Greg Carr: Maybe get off of all the social media and actually go do some studying, and look at the roots of this conversation. Some of the social media’s good, like what we’re doing, right? Pay attention to the things you should pay attention to, right?
Briahna Joy Gray: Pay attention.
Greg Carr: Look, it’s very simple, because those roots go all the way back to those conflicts. When you see Eslanda Goode Robeson and Paul Robeson in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, in this segregationist deep struggle, Louise Thompson Patterson, William Patterson in the straight Communist Party. These conflicts, Richard Wright trying to write his way out of it for that matter, James Baldwin coming in later saying, “No, this critique,” and being very critical of the Left.
You also see black working-class people, Harry Haywood, you see people engaged in blackness as a form of class struggle. The champion of this … and I don’t think he’s ever been displaced in this of course, is W.E.B. Du Bois. When you read Black Reconstruction in America, Du Bois is reading this class struggle in America and this crisis in world capitalism as a racialized practice here in America. I think right now, today, somebody like Gerald Horne understands that you can’t separate those things.
When people are saying, “The Left is white, and I’m not down with that.” What they’re basically saying is, “I haven’t studied the long arc of this tension but off this solidarity.” They might say, “Well what about Lucy Parsons or George Washington Woodbey who ran for president, vice president back in the 19th century, they were black. Do you know?” “No, I never heard of them.” “Okay, so why you keep saying that this thing is white? What you should say is, what I’ve been introduced to leads me to believe that this is white.”
The only other thing I would say at this moment, because I know we’re kind of brief in this conversation is, a lot of this turn is really in the wake of the 1950s and ’60s, this Red Scare business. If you don’t trust the government, then why would you trust this rhetoric? Because this rhetoric did not come from inside the Left, even though there are plenty of battles, Leninist stuff, people say Paul Robeson was naive. No, the government, go back and look at the House Un-American Activities Committee, go back. Look at this deliberate attempt to demonize anything that would deprive power, the power elite of their control.
Briahna Joy Gray: Dr. Carr told me that he’s under no illusion that it will be easy to build a multiracial coalition to fight for shared economic interests. But he also doesn’t think that we have any other options. What do you say to people who have a kind of skepticism that that kind of a coalition building is possible today?
Greg Carr: I say that I share it, I say that I’m probably more skeptical than they could ever be. Then I ask them a question, “What’s the alternative?” It’s a very basic question. People are fond of saying that there’s never been an attempt to build a multiracial democracy in world history, so there’s no blueprint. I would kind of caution them because I assume those people realize they haven’t really studied world history. When you look at Timbuktu in its 15th century and 16th century, you do see people from all over the region in the world really studying…
But in turn, I know what they mean, the kind of republic style democracy. No, there isn’t a precedent. Canada kinda pipe in – no, no, not really. This is a settler state, it’s a white settler state, it’s built on dispossession, hyper-capitalism and enslavement. You want to turn that into a multiracial representative democracy that has real people empowering governance? Okay, that’s never happened anywhere, but what’s the alternative?
As the world shrinks, everybody is going to be multi-everything, so if there’s a place to try to work out what some of that looks like, then this is probably going to be it. My answer to that is always with a question, what’s the alternative? Then we look at what is working and what hasn’t worked, and we got to fix what hasn’t and improve on what has.
Briahna Joy Gray: Importantly, at the end of the day, even those we spoke to who didn’t particularly care for the label democratic socialism, said that that label wasn’t an obstacle to voting for Bernie Sanders.
I want to ask you, would you vote for someone who describes themselves as a democratic socialist?
Jaime Marquez: Depends on the alternative.
Briahna Joy Gray: The alternative is someone who describes themselves as Donald Trump.
Jaime Marquez: Then the answer is obvious. If-
Bianca Marquez: The question is, would you not vote for someone because they described themselves as a democratic socialist?
Jaime Marquez: No, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t not vote.
Bianca Marquez: Thank you.
Briahna Joy Gray: This is an important point because the socialist boogeyman the media wrings its hands about isn’t an electability concern if it doesn’t affect voter choice. This is all anecdotal of course, but I suspect that what my mother said about black people, working-class people being less swayed by labels and by substantive policy is true.
Pundits and more moderate politicians who defend the invisible hand of the market appear tone deaf to working people, who know firsthand what it feels like for the invisible hand to be clutching at their throats. Yet, the choice to describe oneself as a democratic socialist is meaningful. Just listen to AOC’s description last year.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: For me, democratic socialism, the value for me is that I believe that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person in America should be too poor to live.
Briahna Joy Gray: The distinction that I see between candidates who embrace the label democratic socialism and those who don’t, are that the former tend to back plans and policies that undoubtedly would help some, even many people. But they don’t take an approach which guarantees that every person can live a life of dignity, that understands that every person deserves to be treated if they’re sick. That a choice that leaves people out in the cold, literally or figuratively, is no choice at all.
I believe that there is a moral imperative to value every life to leave no single person behind. As Bernie Sanders, AOC, Mr. Marquez, and Leslie Fair, my mom all noted, we’ve got to all look out for each other. This is a movement that doesn’t see private charter schools, which help some kids while leaving others behind in a weakened public system, as good enough. That doesn’t think that a healthcare plan that merely provides access is good enough. Solidarity means, we’re all in this together and that’s why we’re going to win.
Bernie Sanders: It is time, and in fact time long overdue for the American people to stand up and fight for their right to freedom, human dignity and security. That is the core of what my politics and what this campaign is all about.
Briahna Joy Gray: That’s it for this week, please, please let us know what you think, at [email protected] or send us a tweet with the #HearTheBern. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to rate, review or like us on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or wherever you’re listening. If you follow me on Twitter, you know how much I love reading your reviews. They’re really helpful and they make us feel like we’re on the right track. Of course, let us know for not. As always, transcripts will be up soon, till next time.
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