I have before written on the emotionally masochistic relationship progressive Democrats have with their party -- what I've described as a kind of Stockholm syndrome they have with their captors. In the past year Rahm Emanuel has told them to "fuck off," Vice President Biden has told them to "stop whining," and most recently, gay progressive Democrats (GPDs) got kicked in the groin by the Obama administration when it decided it would appeal Judge Virginia Phillips's injunction to halt all "don't ask, don't tell" dismissals after an earlier declaration that the infamous law is unconstitutional. Here in New York, when marriage equality came to a vote in the Democratic-controlled state senate, the body failed to pass the bill by 14 votes.
Now that the midterm election is upon us, the Democratic establishment has employed the fear tactic to get its progressives in line by saying, "If you don't vote us back in, think of what the alternative will be." And much like progressive Dems in general, GPDs -- most notably the Human Rights Campaign -- have resorted to shameless (or is it shameful?) apologies for the party and administration's shortcomings by asking for more patience because "change takes time" and habitually failing to call out the administration and congressional Democrats' poor progress on LGBT issues, or they have gotten vocally angry, but with no intention to not vote Democratic.
And why is that? Just when the Obama administration could have shown some chutzpah and let Judge Phillips's injunction stand, it decided to play more legislative hot potato to what, get a bill passed in a Senate that has already stopped a DADT repeal with a filibuster? And as President Obama talks from both sides of his face, promising DADT will end "on his watch" while his administration pursues its continued enforcement, somehow the charade gives the Democrats' gay progressive members just enough rhetorical carrot to keep them from losing hope that they'll at least win the right to marry and the right to serve openly in the military.
But can GPDs expect more than what the Democratic Party says it stands for? According to its platform, it is committed to:
Repealing "don't ask, don't tell" in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security
Ensuring civil unions and equal federal rights for LGBT couples as well as fully repealing the Defense of Marriage Act
That's it. Nowhere does it connect LGBT concerns with immigration reform
or health care. As a party, Democrats are not "committed" to marriage
equality outside of guaranteeing equal federal rights to LGBT couples.
As a party, its collective understanding of "gay civil equality" is only
a matter of civil unions and military, and yet GPDs' faith in their
captors remain in part because they believe there is no alternative.
And that's simply not true.
How do you like the following?
1. The Green Party affirms the rights of all individuals to freely choose intimate partners, regardless of their sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
2. The Green Party recognizes the equal rights of persons who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, transsexual, queer, or transgender to housing, jobs, civil marriage, medical benefits, child custody, and in all areas of life including equal tax treatment.
3. The Green Party will be inclusive of language in local, state, and federal antidiscrimination law that ensures the rights of intersex individuals and prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, characteristics, and expression as well as on sex, gender, or sexual orientation. We are opposed to intersex genital mutilation.
4. The Green Party affirms the right of all persons to self-determination with regard to gender identity and sex. We therefore support the right of intersex and transgender individuals to be free from coercion and involuntary assignment of gender or sex. We affirm the right of access to medical and surgical treatment for assignment or reassignment of gender or sex, based on informed consent.
5. We will pursue legislation against all forms of hate crimes, including those directed against people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and intersex. Offenders must pay compensation to the LGBTIQ people who have suffered violence and injustice.
6. The Green Party will end all federal military and civilian aid to national governments whose laws result in the imprisonment or otherwise bring harm to citizens and residents based on sexual orientation or gender identity, characteristics, and expression.
7. The Green Party will enact a policy that the U.S. government recognize all international marriages and legal equivalents, such as civil unions, in processing visitor and immigration visas.
8. The Green Party would repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and bolish security clearances denied on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and supports the rights of defense personnel and volunteers to serve their country openly without penalty irrespective of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
9. The Green Party would end security surveillance and covert infiltration of organizations that promote equal rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The above text is word for word from the platform of the Green Party of the United States. It is language that articulates the Greens' position on LGBTIQ equality as a party -- not just its progressive members. In reading it, it's hard not to be drinking the Green Kool-Aid, no?In practice though, GPDs and progressives in general cannot seem to divorce themselves from Democrats mostly because of this notion of "viability." We forget that "viable candidates" are not born as such, nor do the magically appear, but rather they are created by the support of constituents who believe in a candidate's message and positions. There is nothing essential about a viable candidate like some immutable personality trait: Al Gore, who many thought was uncharismatic and personality-less, was still a viable candidate. Viable, or "electable," is ultimately a matter of numbers: how many are willing to put themselves on the line to support a specific candidate. And in the case of minor political parties that just might very well be more in line with one's political convictions, it is qualitatively and quantitatively how many have the courage to vote for them.
I voted for Obama in 2008 thinking that I voted for change from the status quo. But early on from the formation of his cabinet and choice of advisers to how health care reform played out, the status quo of the Beltway never seemed threatened. A politic of hope has turned into a politic of fear for the midterm election. And not all change takes laborious time. A practical end to DADT could have been allowed, but no. President Obama's Department of Justice could actually and quite easily abide by rule of law (that is, it could stop breaking the law) by allowing Gitmo and other detainees due process, but no. These are just examples of change that doesn't get halted by GOP obstructionism and takes affect upon presidential orders.
It surprises me to a degree that in getting fed up, GPDs haven't more radically rethought their relationship with the Democrats, though some have cut off contributions and others are angrily calling upon them to step up to the plate without much of a political threat to leave them and empower non-Democrat progressives to enact a liberal agenda. And this is where progressive voters fail when the status quo of politics gives the illusion of no options, or rather, the default "necessity" to choose the "lesser of two evils." If true empowerment is not about just accepting given choices, but about creating choices, then by acknowledging and being willing to vote outside the binary world of red and blue parties, (gay) progressive Democrats could find themselves getting politicians who actually actively seek to promote a progressive agenda and do not just take them for granted.
For GPDs disgusted and disheartened, I am empathetic. The vile theater of health care reform caused me to look for a political party that is fundamentally dedicated to the same things I am politically committed to, and thus I became a Green. Though my views on same-sex marriage and "don't ask, don't tell" are, shall we say, more nuanced, as a queer man, it's much easier to get on board with the Greens' positions on LGBTIQ issues than the Democrats' visionless statements. Moreover, I do not wish to wait for the Democratic Party to catch up with my concerns. I'd rather go the more difficult route and work to empower Greens to represent my liberal politics in local, state, and federal governments.
Indeed, voting on principles is terribly difficult when our country's electoral culture is a kind of consumerism: where most want to know what we "get" in exchange for our vote and (financial) support. Lobbyists and voters too are guilty of such a cynical practice of electoral politics. It also allows activists to get myopic in voting (i.e. "If this candidate supports marriage equality, then I'll be willing to overlook how s/he intends to screw the poor") -- discarding a broader progressive vision for self-interests. When voters behave like corporations in the singular pursuit of "what benefits me," then we are not progressives; we are not agents of change; we are cowards.
So let us reevaluate what it means to "make my vote count." Let's reconsider the compromises. In doing so, will you be empowered and have the audacity to vote for another color of the rainbow?