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 V.21 No.42 | October 18 - 24, 2012 

Election 2012

Socialism’s Front Woman

Young candidate for president calls for people to get organized

Peta Lindsay, by most calculations, is the figurehead of a lost cause. The 28-year-old is campaigning for president even though she’s not legally old enough to hold the office. She was able to get her name on the ballot in only 13 states (New Mexico isn’t one of them). She’s running on the ticket of a party she helped found, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, at a time when the word “socialism” is still used effectively as a political smear.

But in contrast to her competitors, Lindsay’s campaign is not about a short-term electoral victory. It’s about building a movement, she says, and setting an example for young people who feel alienated by the political scene.

Lindsay stopped in Albuquerque, home of one of her party’s branch offices, late last month during her nationwide tour to build awareness about her platform. After breakfasting at Lindy’s Diner one morning, she dropped by the Alibi offices for an interview—which was propelled at a fast clip by her detailed responses to questions. Her speech is crammed with statistics and citations of studies and articles, and she talks a mile a minute. Lindsay is also prone to loud, boisterous laughter.

There seems to be little trace of the self-described “angry kid” who first got politically active in Philadelphia at age 12. That’s when Lindsay joined a student movement agitating to get more money for the urban public school system.

After staging a 2,000-student walkout and petitioning at the municipal level, she and other student activists traveled to the state capitol of Harrisburg to lobby legislators there. Just as they arrived, a lawmaker offered his personal greeting to the group of mostly African-American kids.

“He told us to our faces that the reason that they didn't have money for our schools was because our parents didn't pay property taxes that were as high as the parents in the surrounding districts,” says Lindsay. “I remember thinking, OK, so he just told me that because my parents can't afford a bigger house, and because my parents make less money, we deserve less of a quality education.”

“... We want jobs, we want education and health care. And if you want those things too, you might be a Socialist.”

Peta Lindsay

The encounter had a profound effect on her worldview. The problem is not just that the system only serves the rich, Lindsay declares. It’s that politicians elected to represent us actively embrace this system of inequality.

Lindsay is betting that the majority of people in the U.S. agree with her. Connecting to that majority is what her run for president is really about.

“Part of the reason we're doing this campaign is to say that we want housing, we want jobs, we want education and health care,” says Lindsay. “And if you want those things too, you might be a Socialist.”

She’s Not Alone

Socialism may still be a dirty word in Washington, D.C., but the ranks of capitalism’s discontents are not limited to gray-bearded hippies or young occupiers just discovering the ideas of Karl Marx.

A 73-year-old hedge fund manager named Jeremy Grantham who made $100 billion accurately forecasting the ups and downs of Wall Street wrote this in his February quarterly letter to investors: “Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence.”

The leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation seems to agree.

“Part of the reason that capitalism has been able to gain and hold traction is because of general prosperity,” Lindsay says. “People could always say, ‘My life is hard, but my child's life is going to be better.’ That's going away right now.”

She points to record-setting levels of youth unemployment, and $1 trillion in combined student loan debt shared among Americans who’d hoped more education would improve their lot in life. “People through their own experiences are starting to figure out that capitalism isn't working.”

And Lindsay is a compelling spokesperson for an alternative system—one that she says would serve the interests of the vast majority of citizens. It would also look drastically different from what we have now. Lindsay’s party would end all wars and close overseas bases in order to reinvest that money into things people need here in the U.S.—she mentions schools and health care as chief concerns. The climate crisis would be meaningfully addressed through a restructuring of society “so that the top priority was taking care of human needs—which are environmental needs,” she says. Anti-discrimination policies would be the norm, and people would have a democratic say in the operations of their workplaces. There would be an immediate moratorium on home foreclosures and evictions due to what Lindsay refers to as “fraudulent, usurious, insane” mortgage payments.

Radical Reform

Which brings us to one of several drastic measures her party proposes: the seizure of corporate banks. The government bank bailout that presidents George W. Bush and Obama oversaw was, says Lindsay, “the largest transfer in history of public money into private hands. … We're saying, Let's take it back. Let's not let them sit on it. We need this money now to provide jobs, to provide housing and education.”

Lindsay says that while the reforms she’s proposing are radical, they won’t require a violent overthrow of today’s system.

“One of the problems with the way that democracy is taught and understood in the U.S. is that it's in terms of ‘Roosevelt gave us the right to unionize,’ or this politician gave us this, and another gave us that,” she says. “The truth is that politicians never gave us anything.”

Her party knows better, she says.

“People need to understand that we think this is how change has always happened, and we believe this is how change will happen in the future. It's going to be about mass organizing—people getting organized and making these demands.”

What isn’t clear is whether other very American demands like free speech are accommodated in her party’s worldview. Among one of her more disturbing statements: “You do have to keep aspects of society tight.” She artfully redirects questions about the jailing of dissenters and other anti-democratic practices in socialist countries throughout history.

“There's a huge amount of propaganda against those regimes coming from the United States,” says Lindsay. “The one thing the U.S. hates is anyone throwing off the shackles of imperialism.”

Socialism here would look different from other models throughout history, she insists.

“We would have way more abundance, way more to distribute, and we wouldn't have that military power breathing down our necks,” she says.

And with the pressures of capitalism’s shortfalls bearing down hard on the U.S. masses, with the majority of citizens opting out of any of the choices offered by our electoral system, it’s not only Socialists preparing for a paradigm shift.

Billionaire Grantham emphasized in his treatise to other bet-hedgers that he believes capitalism is better than other economic systems, that it has only a few shortcomings.

“Unfortunately for us all,” he added, “even a single one of these failings may bring capitalism down and us with it.”

 
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