Polls indicate that a vast majority of Americans are now in favor of an end to the war on Iraq, and that a majority of people think the government needs to increase spending on social services and public works projects to create jobs—not more bailouts for Wall Street. As socialists, we see these two interconnected demands as central to the election.
Despite the deaths of over a million Iraqis, the displacement of over 4 million more, and despite the fact that a majority of U.S. troops polled wanted to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2006, neither presidential candidate is talking about a complete or immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. Certainly McCain is committed to continuing the war, but even Obama's position for withdrawal is tenuous, would take many years, and would leave behind tens of thousands of troops and countless private mercenaries such as those from Blackwater. Both candidates are united on escalating the Afghanistan war, and we've already seen a rise in U.S. bombings and Afghan civilian deaths, alongside a monthly casualty toll for American soldiers now surpassing that of Iraq.
This week, the Wall Street Journal declared that the economy is at the brink of the worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and things will only get worse. Unfortunately, as the economy deteriorates, working-class people are expected to pay for this disaster, something we see already with higher prices for commodities like food, education, and housing. Despite bailing out corporate America with billions of our tax dollars, the federal government claims that it cannot afford to help homeowners with their debt, provide free health care for children, or restore cuts to public school funding. The excuses are plenty, but the evidence to justify each is meager, especially as all of this past week's disgraced CEOs are getting exorbitant departure packages.
The most important issues for the election year are not what is discussed during the campaigning period, but what happens before and after a new president takes office. As history has shown, the U.S. government does little for working-class people without pressure from below. In light of the billions spent this past month to rescue for-profit financial institutions, it is essential and absolutely justified for working-class people, including immigrants, to protest the priorities of this government and to pressure them by demanding forgiveness of mortgages, affordable housing, universal health care, and an increase in financial aid for education. An end to the failing wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, which would free up $340 million a week, is central to these demands. While we follow the elections attentively, we feel that it is ultimately through grassroots, independent, and mass organizing that we can begin to see real change.
Akua Gyamerah is a graduate student in the Mailman School of Public Health and Matt Swagler is a graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences studying African history. They are both members of the Columbia chapter of the International Socialist Organization.