Activism

Naomi Klein: Youth-Led Grassroots Progressive Insurgencies Have Pushed Leaders Like Corbyn and Sanders into National Politics

The best-selling author speaks on the future of grassroots progressive politics.

Naomi Klein on Democracy Now.
Photo Credit: Screen Capture

Over the weekend, more than 4,000 people gathered for the People’s Summit in Chicago. Among those who spoke was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who called the Democratic Party’s strategy an absolute failure and blamed the party for the election of President Trump. This comes after the Labour Party in Britain won a shocking number of new seats in the British election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now poised to possibly become the next British prime minister. For more on these insurgent progressive politicians, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, whose new book is "No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, 4,000 people packed the McCormick Place convention center for a People’s Summit. Independent senator, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders delivered the keynote speech. During his speech, he repeatedly criticized the Democratic Party, calling it an "absolute failure" and blaming it for the election of President Trump.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I’m often asked by the media and others: How did it come about that Donald Trump, the most unpopular presidential candidate in the modern history of our country, won the election? And my answer is—and my answer is that Trump didn’t win the election; the Democratic Party lost the election. Let us—let us be very, very clear: The current model—the current model and the current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure. This is not—this is not my opinion. This is the facts. You know, we focus a lot on the presidential election, but we also have to understand that Democrats have lost the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate. Republicans now control almost two-thirds of the governors’ chairs throughout the country. And over the last nine years, Democrats have lost almost 1,000 legislative seats in states all across this country. Today—today, in almost half of the states in America, Democratic Party has almost no political presence at all. Now, if that’s not a failure, if that’s not a failed model, I don’t know what a failed model is.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bernie Sanders speaking on Saturday night at the People’s Summit in Chicago at the McCormick Place convention center. It was an event that was organized by many different groups, primarily the Nurses United, nurses around the country. About a thousand nurses were there. Naomi, we were both there. Can you talk about the significance of what Bernie Sanders said? Now, remember, he is in the Democratic leadership—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —right now of the Senate. He is supposedly like the outreach person. He was brought into it. But he’s got a fierce critique of the Democratic Party.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. And I think he’s been biting his tongue a little bit. I might speculate that he was inspired by what just happened in the U.K. with Jeremy Corbyn—we know he just came back from a trip to the U.K.—because there is an interesting parallel, in the sense that Jeremy Corbyn was elected by a grassroots, insurgent, youth-led movement. He was elected as leader originally—a youth-led movement called Momentum in the U.K., many, many young people who joined the Labour Party in order to support Jeremy Corbyn. And there was this—they were treated as, you know, invade—like, instead of being excited about this wave of interest in the political party, the Labour Party establishment, the so-called New Labour party establishment, because Labour was rebranded by Tony Blair in the late 1990s to be the New Labour party, which is kind of like a labor-scented party as opposed to a party of actually working people, really using the tools of marketing as opposed to having a party that knows what it stands for and who it stands for.

And so, Jeremy Corbyn was elected, and there was just this campaign of sabotage. It was just the end of the world. He’s unelectable. He was smeared. Then there was a coup to try to unseat him. He was sabotaged relentlessly by his MPs, while he was leader, who were constantly leaking damning information, trying to make him look bad in the press, sabotaging him at every front, right? But the insurgency was ultimately successful, in that this campaign was a tremendous upset. It was an—sorry, this election was a tremendous upset in the U.K. [Theresa] May did not need to call the election. She said she wouldn’t call the election. The only reason she called the election, because she was so convinced that she was going to get an overwhelming majority, which was supposed to give her this mandate to get the best deal possible under Brexit as they negotiated with the EU. And there’s this huge upset, and, in fact, she loses all these seats, she loses her majority. Jeremy Corbyn wins about 30 seats.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Jeremy Corbyn—

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in his own words.

JEREMY CORBYN: What’s happened is people have said they’ve had quite enough of austerity politics, they’ve had quite enough of cuts in public expenditure, underfunding our health service, underfunding our schools and our education service and not giving our young people the chance they deserve in our society.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Jeremy Corbyn speaking. I wanted to ask you—in No Is Not Enough, you also raise some criticisms of why Bernie Sanders was not more successful during the primary campaign. And you raise the issue that some people claim that Hillary Clinton rode identity politics, as well as the machinations of the Democratic Party, to be able to persevere against him, in that was an issue of identity politics versus class politics. But you raise some criticism on that. I’m wondering if you could expand on that.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, I mean, and I endorsed Bernie and support him. I think he’s a tremendously important voice, and I’m so grateful to him. But I don’t think we, you know, do ourselves a service on the progressive side of the political spectrum—you know, those of us who do believe it is a moment for deep change as opposed to these little sort of tinkering changes—to not engage in self-criticism in this moment. I mean, I am sort of disheartened by the extent to which some of this debate is still frozen as if we are still in the primary, and you still have people in their hard, you know, "Bernie would have won" camps, and you still have Hillary supporters refighting and blaming Bernie supporters for Hillary’s defeat. And it’s just like we have to get out of that debate.

And I think on—among the people who did support Bernie, like the many thousands of people who were at the People’s Summit, I think it’s very important to understand why Bernie wasn’t able to go all the way, right? I mean, he got 13 million votes. He took 22 states. He got closer than any candidate who described himself as a democratic socialist, his campaign as a political revolution. I mean, it was incredible. But I don’t think Bernie lost the primary because the Democratic base is too conservative for Bernie. I think he lost the primary because he was not able to connect with, to speak to enough black and Latino voters, who tend to be more progressive than the rest of the Democratic base, and also to older women, who felt that their issues were too much of an add-on or sort of tacked on.

So, you know, I think, frankly, the best quote in my book is from Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, just a wonderful author and theorist and activist. And, you know, she said to me that if the progressives cannot do a better job of connecting with black voters, of understanding the role of race in American history and telling that story differently, she said, "They better get Elon Musk on speed dial, because they’re going to need another planet." And so, I think we—and one of the things that I found really inspiring about the People’s Summit was I think that critique was really embedded in the way the weekend was organized, I mean, beginning with the voices of organizers of color, the Million Hoodies Movement. We heard from the chairs of the Women’s March, including Linda Sarsour, on the opening night, speaking explicitly about the need for a deeply intersectional politic, to use Kimberlé Crenshaw’s very important framing, and saying, "No, this is not—this is not a competition between class and economics and so-called identity politics. It is deeply interconnected, and we can’t understand the story of the United States and what this economy is without understanding how race has been used systematically as a wedge to divide and enforce this brutal economic system."

So I think that critique is making it in there, you know, and I didn’t—don’t make the critique in the book, you know, in the spirit of finger-pointing. But just because what we are seeing with Bernie’s candidacy, with Corbyn’s candidacy, with Mélenchon’s candidacy in France, who came two points shy—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Mélenchon was.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Well, Jean-Luc—

AMY GOODMAN: Not to be confused with the new prime minister.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, right. So, in the recent French elections recently, there was a—there was a surprise, where Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is a very left-wing candidate, significantly to the left of Bernie Sanders—I think he was calling for a rate of a 100 percent taxation for the rich, right?—running on a campaign of really deep redistribution of wealth in order to pay for the social safety net—it was a much less xenophobic message. It was much more friendly to refugees than we’ve been hearing from French politicians, you know, even on the so-called left, an antiwar message, a pro-peace message, making the connections, as Jeremy Corbyn did, between the failed war-on-terror-model foreign interventions and terrorist attacks in France—in Jeremy Corbyn’s case, in the U.K.—really trying to get at these root causes. Jean-Luc Mélenchon picked up, I think, 10 points. I mean, he surged at the end. And he came, at the end of the campaign—and this is on the first ballot, because the way the French elections work is they have multiple candidates on the first ballot, and then they narrow it down to two candidates for the final vote.

AMY GOODMAN: For president.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. And all of a sudden, Mélenchon is getting 70,000 people at rallies, right? I mean, his was the campaign that had the energy. And he came within two points of Marine Le Pen, so he almost made it onto the second ballot, which would have meant that it was a race between a Hillary-like neoliberal figure, which is who Macron is—Macron is a former banker; he imposed economic austerity under the government of François Hollande, despite Hollande having won the election originally promising to resist the imposition of austerity in France—so it would have been him versus Mélenchon, which would have been a very interesting race. As it turned out, it was Marine Le Pen versus Macron. And thankfully, you know, France rejected fascism.

But my concern is that after, you know, four years of the kind of privatizations, deregulation, austerity politics that I think Macron is almost certain to impose on France, I’m worried about that setting the stage for a surge for the Front National, which is—you know, people have made these direct analogies between Trump and Marine Le Pen, and sort of holding up Macron as if, well, this proves that neoliberalism can beat a candidate like Trump. But Marine Le Pen is not Trump. The more accurate equivalent would be David Duke. I mean, this is a party with ties to Nazism historically, you know, that align themselves with the Vichy regime. The fact that they got around 30 percent of the vote in France is absolutely shocking. It’s nothing to feel, you know, complacent about.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion. We’re going to talk about what Trump just recently did, pulling out of the Paris accord, as well as healthcare and where it goes in this country. Naomi Klein is from Canada. We’ll talk about single payer and what are its chances today, as the Senate, supposedly, in private, is crafting a healthcare bill. We’re talking to Naomi Klein. She has a new book out today; it’s called No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Stay with us.

 

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