Peta Lindsay: ‘If I were president…’

Along the campaign trail, many people have asked me what I would do if we were to win the presidency.

Of course, even if the Party for Socialism and Liberation were elected to the highest political office, society would still be dominated by capitalist interests, and we would need a revolution to have a real change in who holds power. It is certainly true that the president does not have unlimited power, and all the problems of society cannot be resolved by who sits in the White House. But we’ll get to that later—it’s worth considering first what the president could do in the here and now.

An anti-imperialist chief executive

On the first day, we would begin by declaring an end to the illegal war against the people of Afghanistan, as well as the drone attacks on Pakistan and other countries. We would recall all military contractors from Iraq. We’d lift the sanctions on Syria and Iran. All the military aid being sent around the world to prop up puppet governments and fueling civil wars would be cut. All U.S. military bases around the world would be shut down. Guantanamo would be returned to Cuba.

All U.S. law enforcement agencies would be immediately pulled out of the country’s colonies—Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Mariana Islands—and declare their independence. We would honor the treaties with Native nations and reopen discussion for the restitution of land and resources.

The hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops stationed overseas in the role of invaders and occupiers would immediately be recalled to return to the sides of their families and provided civilian jobs.

We would call for all the exploitative U.S. corporations sucking the wealth out of other countries to be expropriated and that wealth turned over to democratically elected representatives of the oppressed countries. Reparations would be calculated and paid to countries that have been robbed by centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism. This would create a basis for peoples of the world to live on equal terms and resolve the large gaps in living conditions, opportunities and salaries.

Declaring national emergencies

We would declare national emergencies on many pressing issues including: housing, poverty, unemployment, the environment, police brutality and mass incarceration.

The billions of dollars spent on maintaining the imperial army would be reinvested in a massive jobs program. Tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed people would be put to work. We would call for people’s assemblies to discuss needed constitutional amendments, so that a job, housing and health care could become constitutional rights.

With the same speed that hundreds of billions of dollars were turned over to Wall Street in the 2008 bailouts, we would aim to do the opposite: seize the banks! The legal argument could easily be made that their wealth was stolen, not earned and that they have committed great crimes against the population, therefore it is in the public interest that they be converted to public utilities.

By creating a national People’s Bank with open books and under the democratic control and administration of the 99%—including representatives from local community and neighborhood organizations; working families, students and youth; locally elected officials; unions; small business people; grassroots environmental organizations, and others—we can begin the process of reorganizing the economy to meet human need. By expropriating the wealth of the tiny class of billionaires that has a stranglehold over the arteries of our economy, there is nothing we could not do.

We would declare a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions nationwide. Homeless families would immediately be allowed to find a home among the more than 17.5 million empty housing units that exist in this country.

President Obama’s executive order on student loans issued or backed by the government will only marginally reduce payments and make students wait 20 years for potential debt forgiveness. We would sign an executive order to cancel all these debts immediately as part of a larger effort to guarantee educational access to everyone.

We would appoint workers’ leaders to the National Labor Relations Board, push for card-check legislation, and champion a new living minimum wage of $20 per hour. Companies with a known record of violating workers’ rights would be prosecuted, seized and turned over for workers’ control. Every closed factory will be reopened and turned over to workers and community organizations.

Fighting for real equality

We would sign an executive order ending deportations and draft legislation to give legal and equal status to all immigrants.

Going far beyond the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which only extends the time period for women workers to sue their discriminatory employers, we would fight for a true Equal Pay law that would require corporations to open their books.

We would fight for Roe v. Wade to be enshrined in federal law, guaranteeing access to abortion on demand.

We would issue an order for all federal agencies to recognize the equality of same-sex marriage, and draft a federal law to recognize same-sex marriage that would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

Taking on state repression

We would declare an end to the “War on Drugs” and order the release of non-violent drug offenders from federal prisons, who would be afforded a dignified job and comprehensive drug rehabilitation. Ex-prisoners with convictions of this type would have their records expunged. Political prisoners from the Black liberation, Puerto Rican independence, and other people’s movements would be released, as well as the Cuban Five.

The death penalty would be immediately abolished, halting capitalism’s execution the thousands of innocent people currently on death row.

The country’s top cops and military brass would be fired. We would call for community assemblies across the country to identify abusive and racist cops and police commissioners for federal prosecution. Rank-and-file soldiers, granted the right to organize themselves, would be encouraged to do the same against abusive officers.

The new Attorney General would be ordered to open up investigations of every major private bank and corporation on Wall Street. Before long, the Wall St. bankers, corporate CEOs, and insurance executives—those responsible for the economic crisis and who who have made their living off of others’ misery—would be behind bars alongside the police chiefs and military brass.

We would immediately halt the war on civil liberties that is taking place under the false name of the “war on terror,” demanding the repeal of the Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act.

What we could not do as president—why a revolution is necessary

The above demonstrates what a president could do in the interests of poor and working people in the United States and the world over. Of course, there would be tremendous obstacles from the powers that be to block these changes.

The existing constitutional system was designed not to “protect liberty” but to protect the wealthy and powerful (including slaveholders) from significant reform on the part of the people. From the “separation of powers” to the considerable provision of “state’s rights” and the winner-take-all electoral setup, the system is designed precisely to block the sort of radical program that we advocate.

There would still be all the same judges and many of the same laws, biased against poor and working people and oppressed nationalities, would still be on the books.

In the economic realm, there would still be a huge gap between rich and poor, even if a socialist were elected president.

We can expect the banks to do everything in their power to prevent the seizure of the wealth they hoard in their vaults. The corporations will fight tooth and nail to defend their “property right” to make economic decisions based on their bottom line.

The Pentagon generals, prison wardens and police commissioners would use their networks and connections to resist being held accountable.

The privately-owned media would do everything in their power to smear us and confuse people, while still promoting their typical bigotry.

So how could we get to a truly new system, with a new power, backed up by a new constitution? How could we enforce such radical measures in the face of resistance from the existing powers? This is why we say we need a revolution.

Revolutions come about rarely, but they do come. No one saw the American Revolution coming five years before it happened. The same is true of the Civil War, a revolution that abolished slavery, and the Civil Rights movement, in which the people held at the bottom of society—Black domestic workers, sharecroppers, and students—revolutionized Southern and national politics. As they said in the fight against South African apartheid: “All revolutions are impossible until they happen; then they become inevitable.”

A revolution would make the great mass of poor and working people the rulers of society for the first time and remove the .01% from power altogether. A revolution would mean that the wealth and means of production would be publicly owned (in common), creating a planned economy that could truly be geared to meet human needs and guarantee environmentally sustainable development.

We would take advantage of the immense expanse of this country and work with families and communities to take advantage of the abundant nature, resources and space that exists so that no child would have to grow up without fresh air and a backyard. A country stratified between suburbs and ghettos could finally cease to exist as we know it.

A revolution would transform the media and the school curricula, which in turn would transform how our children are taught to see themselves and society. Racism, sexism and anti-LGBT bigotry could be combated through all of society’s institutions and become ideologies of the past.

Don’t just dream with us—struggle alongside us. Like Che Guevara said, “Be realistic, demand the impossible.” Only a unified and politically conscious movement of workers, veterans, students, immigrants, women, and LGBT people can make this type of society a reality. But it is only by organizing the overthrow of the present day power structure that we can begin to chart this path. Join us in the fight to realize this vision of socialism.

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