Pictured: PSL presidential candidate Glora La Riva
This election season, the vast majority of voters see only two options—Clinton or Trump. The mainstream media continually bombards us with the latest news about these candidates, but rarely—if ever—talks about alternatives to the Republican and Democratic Parties. Self-identified socialist Bernie Sanders sparked enthusiasm for the elections, only to endorse Wall Street’s pick, Hillary Clinton.
To most Americans, little is known of the individuals campaigning as socialists. These presidential candidates share the belief that socialism is the only viable alternative—the only solution to our social and economic problems. They share a repudiation of a political system run by and for the wealthy, of capitalism in general and ruling-class domination through the Republican and Democratic parties.
Left Voice has sought to amplify the voices of those who reject the lesser evil logic with a series of #NotWithThem photos. People speaking out about why they reject both candidates (see more photos here). Left Voice also seeks to amplify the voices of those who represent different political perspectives, political parties and traditions; those who have undertaken the task of running as socialists.
In the last of our series of interviews, we spoke with Gloria La Riva, presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Peace and Freedom Party, Socialism and Liberation, and the Liberty Union Party. La Riva is based in San Francisco, California. Her national running mate is Eugene Puryear while in California, New Mexico, Iowa and Colorado, her running mate is Dennis Banks.
How did you become a part of the socialist movement?
When I was 23, I organized a union drive with women newspaper workers where I worked. We won the election even though it was a very fierce campaign by the company to bust our union drive. We won the election and [I] got fired the next day, which is how I became a union activist. I got a union card even though I got fired. I‘ve been involved in the union movement as a president and now a vice president.
What would you say is the biggest political difference between your campaign and that of the two mainstream capitalist parties? How does your electoral program and campaign differ from Bernie Sanders who claims to be a socialist?
My campaign and that of our party and the three parties that I represent in the election (the Party of Socialism and Liberation, the Peace and Freedom Party and the Vermont Liberty Union Party) are diametrically opposed to the Democrats and Republicans who are not only capitalists, they are imperialists. They are both two pillars of the political system that has expanded US empire around the world and continues to advocate for more war and sanctions, and more impoverishment of the working class at home.
Our party is socialist, and we believe in the elimination of the profit system in order that all the wealth of society that the workers create is owned in common and shared by all to be able to have a fully sustainable economy, agriculture and society to save the planet. Basically to eliminate the enormous gap between the super rich and the rest of us.
Our campaign program is a basic 10 point program but encompasses many more issues. Ultimately, we believe that socialism is needed in order to accomplish much of what we call for, such as making jobs, housing and healthcare as constitutional rights. You would need a revolutionary struggle to have those in the constitution, a radical changing of society and the system economically, socially and politically. However, there are many things in our program that would be obtainable in a capitalist country, like free healthcare and free education, but it’s extremely unlikely. I think we’ll have socialism before we gain those very urgent rights. Under capitalism in the United States, healthcare, housing, education and the most essential things for human life today have become super-commodities for the capitalists, and they’re not about to let go of those as a main source of their profits.
Therefore, we call for the taking of power from the capitalists because we are the ones that make the wealth. The doctors, the nurses and the medical workers are those who provide the healthcare. The teachers are the ones that provide the education. The construction workers are the ones that create the houses. Although they are the ones that produce the work, as workers they are only able to sell their labor power. Then when there’s an economic downturn they can end homeless, which shows the outrageous nature of the capitalist system.
How does your campaign relate to the working class, the labor movement and social movements? What existing social movements are especially important and of interest to you and your organization?
Even before the election campaign, we had been very involved. For example, our people were very involved in the Occupy movement in the encampments and defending against the police abuse, which I consider to be the opening of the last five years of the resurgence in social movements. We’ve also had members involved with Black Lives Matter and the movement against police brutality from NY to Albuquerque to LA. We have been everywhere either with the marches or organizing the protests. We’re a critical part of that movement. It’s what a socialist party should be doing.
We’re also recognized for being leaders in the antiwar movement against the US occupation and destruction of Iraq. We have been one of the groups that have led the fight against the US campaign to overthrow the Syrian government. We oppose US intervention in Syria. Unfortunately, some groups don’t agree with us on that. We oppose every US military move abroad. We do not think that the US military plays any progressive role. It’s working on behalf of capital and on behalf of imperialism.
We’ve been a part of the struggle of working class peoples and student movements. We were there for all of the years with the LBGTQ struggle for marriage equality. We think the LBGTQ community was the fundamental factor in winning that right for all people. The Supreme Court has had many racist, anti-woman and reactionary decisions, but they were forced to concede because of the determination of people to say the equality of marriage is a civil right. We believe that progress is made when people fight for change. Politicians may ratify and support something from time to time and pass laws or courts may make decisions that benefit people, but it only happens when there’s been a movement.
How would you build and encourage unity in action among socialist groups and working class organizations around common demands? What possibility do you see for common electoral activity on the left in the future?
I think the unity comes from action and the willingness of the different organizations, socialist and other progressives, to overlook minor differences and unite against our common enemy and to win people’s rights against capitalism. But that’s not always possible. For example, there are those that would march to support the overthrow the Assad government. So you can unite on certain fundamental things. But I don’t think achieving unity is our biggest problem because I think there’s more unity than not.
I think our biggest problem is that movement is too small. If we all join together, we’re still too small. What is needed is for each organization to struggle even more and reach out to the people. Social media is very important, but there are a lot people that don’t use social media or use social media but who don’t know about the struggle. You have to be out there and initiating action. You have to respond to injustice. I think those groups that are doing that and being very proactive are most able to reach out to people and grow the movement.
Our biggest challenge of the progressive socialist movement is grow the movement, for people to learn about the struggle and to join us. I’m not worried about whether we’re united or not. We have many friends in other parts.
There is a handful of socialists running independently from Republicans and Democrats. How would you convince the readers of Left Voice to vote for you?
I encourage other socialists to vote for us as a support for socialist ideas. I think it’s fine if people vote for the Greens, but we’re running as socialists.
There’s nothing more urgent as the struggle for socialism against the capitalists’ unprecedented degradation of the environment. Scientists are already talking about the critical tipping point on many environmental fronts, and it all relates to capitalist production. That’s why socialism is the only answer to that crisis. Of course we have to fight everyday for the environment.
Essentially fighting for reforms is not nearly enough to save the planet. We’re running at a time when the Bernie Sanders campaign opened up the population’s eyes to the legitimacy of socialism, which is largely why it has been easier to reach out to people. It’s always been easy for me to talk about socialism, but for the acceptance by people to see a social campaign as legitimate has been greatly helped by the Sanders campaign.
Our approach to the Sanders movement was that we would have been in favor of him winning the nomination as a real challenge to the Democrats. But we said if that doesn’t happen, then join our campaign. As far as the socialists and other progressives, I hear very little that voting for a socialist campaign is a wasted vote. It’s astounding how many people are disgusted and say they can’t vote for Trump or Clinton. Our running was a great way of showing that it’s not just the vote, but what you do after the vote. One of them is going to be the president, but I’m not accepting either as something written in stone. We have to continue fighting.
We started in 2004 and we have grown considerably. We always need more membership, but we’re in quite a few cities. We have a lot of offices from New York to Seattle, to LA, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Florida, West Virginia and Albuquerque. The vast majority of our membership is quite young, under 30. Most are under 25. It’s very young and very multinational: Latino, Black, native, white, Asian, Arabic, gay, straight etc. and older people with experience, like myself. I’m very proud of the energy of our members. We’re extremely active. I think we’re the most dynamic of the socialist [groups] in the U.S.
Why is voting for independent socialist candidates important? Should socialists consider supporting the Green Party’s Jill Stein?
It’s helpful to have more than one progressive campaign running. We couldn’t ourselves reach out to as many people with a progressive message against war and for jobs, healthcare, students’ rights, free education. We couldn’t do it ourselves. The Greens have been very helpful component in the movement. Having more than one progressive, including other socialists, is good in the debates because people know that you’re not alone or isolated. We believe that it’s necessary to talk about socialism, and our campaign is also focused on urging people to get involved after the elections.
The Greens are as well, but we’re a membership party not just a registration party. Not that the Greens are entirely, but it’s necessary to have a socialist perspective. It’s also important to have an internationalist view and an anti-imperialist perspective. When the US is targeting other countries, we need to defend the countries.
We believe in a socialist state, for example Cuba. You can’t talk about socialism in abstract terms. You have to talk about what exists and what needs to exist. You need a revolution.
This has been the best opportunity to be a socialist and run for the presidency. When people say, “Why run for president if you can’t win?” that’s absolutely true, but the point is to expose the US elections for what they are. They’re a fraudulent mechanism of control to create the illusion that we have a political democracy, but it’s just the opposite. It’s a democracy for the capitalists. They rule the elections and control every bit of it, whether it’s ballot access, or lack of, the financing, the billion dollars that you need to become president, the denying of voting rights to many people of color and other people. Every part of the elections is a fraud. I think running in it helped to give people an alternative not only to pull the lever or fill in the circle to vote for us, but also to see that it’s the people who make change. I think that our message has gotten out. We’ve fought for every square inch in the news print every second on TV or radio time, but it mostly relied on us going people to people, door to door, street rallies and marches. I think we’ve carried out a great campaign.
We’re ready. With many other groups we’re going to be organizing a counter inaugural protest in Washington DC to let the system know that we’re not accepting the results and we’re not accepting their system. We’re not accepting more war, poverty and racism.