When Trump was finally defeated in the 2020 election, millions of young and working class people in the US breathed a sigh of relief. Many believed as Biden and the Democrats promised, that the nightmare of bigotry, warmongering, and billionaire cronyism we endured during Trump’s administration would finally be rectified. Yet the past two and a half years of Biden’s presidency have been a demoralizing trainwreck of broken promises and inaction in relation to the worsening cost of living crisis, attacks on bodily autonomy for women and trans people, climate-related natural disasters, and an increasingly deadly and expensive inter-imperialist conflict playing out via the war in Ukraine.
We need systemic change, and Cornel West’s campaign offers us an opportunity to fight back.
Young People Abandoned by Biden
For young people, Biden’s administration has been a particularly bitter lesson about the inability of the Democratic Party to provide any kind of future beyond the crises of today. After making canceling student debt a central demand of his campaign, what Biden actually did was plan to forgive remaining debt for certain low-income borrowers only after they qualify by making consistent payments for 20-25 years! For current students or recent graduates unable to afford loan payments in the context of crippling rent and gas prices, inflation, and low wages, this is all a giant slap in the face.
And it’s not like Biden or even supposedly “progressive” Democrats like AOC are going to help workers fight for higher wages to keep up with these out-of-control costs – they have fully abandoned their promise of even a $15 minimum wage and are actively trying to undermine workers who are getting organized to fight for stronger contracts. They made this crystal clear when they voted to break the railroad workers strike in late 2022, an eerie foreshadowing of the derailment disaster in East Palestine just months later. In August of this year, Biden apparently worked closely with Teamsters president Sean O’Brien to avoid a strike that could have won higher wages and safer working conditions for 350,000 UPS workers and could have been a historic turning point for the workers movement as a whole.
The tidal wave of attacks on abortion rights and gender-affirming care that have passed at the state level under Biden’s watch also disproportionately impact young people, who are more likely to need abortions or to identify as trans or nonbinary. Not having access to these essential forms of healthcare can have life-altering consequences, and even the threat that such care might be unavailable negatively impacts young peoples’ mental health and overall sense of wellbeing. While this right-wing assault has mainly been carried out by Republicans, Biden opened the door for schools to ban trans athletes from participating in teams matching their gender identity earlier this year with the White House Title IX guidelines. The Democrats as a whole have refused to use the power of the presidency, their majority in Congress, or public opposition to organize any kind of effective resistance to transphobic and sexist attacks.
Make no mistake: Trump is a right-wing disaster who must be stopped. But Biden and the Democrats have proven that voting for them to defend against the right wing is a failed strategy.
Workers and young people can’t afford to go down this road of false hopes again in attempting to reform the Democratic Party. Bernie Sanders’ campaigns and the capitulation of popular figures like AOC have shown this to be a total dead end. Instead, we need to build movements that fight for the things that we need like Medicare for All, living wages, and canceling all student debt. To win, we need to organize an independent political force that actually fights for our interests.
Cornel West’s Independent Campaign for President
Luckily, Cornel West is running as an independent left candidate in the 2024 elections, fighting for the needs of working class and oppressed people. West is a longtime progressive activist and scholar who has been an outspoken critic of US imperialism. West was calling to end racist policing and mass incarceration long before Black Lives Matter became a household phrase. A self-described “democratic socialist” like Bernie Sanders, West calls for Medicare for All, free college and canceling all student debt, quality affordable housing and living-wage jobs for all, and nationalizing the fossil fuel industry for an immediate transition to renewable energy.
Most importantly, West is running independent of the Democratic Party. We saw how Bernie’s attempt to use his campaign to pull the Democratic Party to the left utterly failed and instead dragged the left into line behind the Democratic establishment, facilitating first Trump’s disastrous presidency and then Biden’s. Now, after Democrats betrayals, we are facing the disastrous false options of either Biden or Trump 2.0, neither of which has anything to offer students or workers.
Through West’s campaign, we can build a fighting grassroots movement for young people, workers, and the environment that doesn’t end when election season is over but goes on to fight for a different kind of society. If we had had such a movement in 2016 or 2020, we could have organized millions to defend against the gutting of abortion rights and attacks on trans youth, take action against deportation, and fight for living wages and to tax Wall Street and the super-rich. What position would we be in today if that had happened? It’s impossible to know for sure, but one thing is certain – when we fight, we can win. If we don’t fight, we are sure to lose.
Already, everyone from Bernie Sanders and AOC to the largest union organization in the country, the AFL-CIO, have thrown their weight behind Biden in an attempt to block any left challenge. Arguments that Cornel West will “steal” votes from Biden and cause Trump to get elected are already cropping up all over the place, from corporate media to the left-aligned Jacobin. This idea that we have to support Biden (or any Democrat) as the “lesser-evil” compared to Trump (or any Republican) has been the most effective tool the political establishment has had to prevent independent political organizing by the left for decades. The problem with that theory is that the Democrats don’t actually protect us from Trump or the far right; in fact, their constant betrayals and broken-promises only add fuel to the fire of right-wing anger and derail the attempts of young people and workers to get organized.
In reality, the Democratic Party is the best builder of Trumpism and the right wing because their abandonment of working class people has reinforced Trump’s right-populist message. The only way to stop the growth of right-populism is to show that the left can deliver improvements to the quality of life of working people – higher wages, affordable housing, better healthcare – and the only way to do that is to build an independent, fighting movement that unites all the diverse sections of the working class and can’t be co-opted by any party of big business. The billionaires have two parties; we need one of our own.
While cynics love to claim that socialist politics just aren’t viable given the current political climate in the US, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Kshama Sawant’s four consecutive electoral victories in Seattle as an open, unapologetic socialist proved this, as did her successful campaigns to win the first $15 minimum wage in the country, tax Amazon, make Seattle the first abortion sanctuary city in the nation, and ban discrimination on the basis of caste, all despite the constant opposition of the Democratic Party. What this shows is that we need independent candidates and movements to stand up to lesser-evilism and fight for the things we need.
Students for Cornel West
Young people are uniquely aware that capitalism and its political parties are leading us over the edge of a cliff. As we pass more and more of the “tipping points” towards climate catastrophe, it’s increasingly clear that there is no future for young people on the basis of the current system. We need to seize this opportunity to fight back.
To be effective, we need Cornel West’s campaign to have a mass grassroots character. Young people have a central role to play in building the initial grassroots momentum that can draw in larger and larger layers of people hungry for change. We need tens of thousands of students across the country to get active in Students for Cornel West groups at their colleges and high schools. These groups can organize rallies and debates on campus, organize to help get West on the ballot in every state, publish articles in the school paper and put out social media content explaining why students should support Cornel West as the best way to defend against Trump and the far right.
Many of your peers may not have heard of Cornel West yet but that doesn’t mean they won’t be excited to get involved when they hear what he is campaigning on: affordable housing and Medicare for all, free college and canceling all student debt, ending racist policing and mass incarceration, immediately halting all fossil fuel extraction, and building an ongoing movement to defend against attacks by the far right and billionaire class. Aren’t you?
Get involved – reach out today if you want to organize an event at your school. Don’t let lack of experience stop you, we can help you link up with other students and offer tools and support. History doesn’t offer us an endless number of opportunities – we need to seize this one.