"Our Dreams Don't Fit on Your Ballots": Naomi Klein on Next Steps for Pro-Bernie Sanders Movement

June 20, 2016


Naomi Klein

author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

At The People’s Summit in Chicago, Naomi Klein praises Bernie Sanders for reshaping the debate over neoliberalism and so-called free trade agreements. Klein is author of "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate."


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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like Naomi to start off, especially talking about the conversation has been won among the public against neoliberalism, but neoliberalism proceeds ahead anyway. And what—what do you see is the vision for where this movement should go?

NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you. Thank you, Juan, and thank you for sharing that hard-won wisdom. ...

We come here energized by all that we have accomplished, all the ways in which we’ve surprised ourselves, gone further than we imagined, the really tangible victories of our movements in recent months and years. But let’s not be afraid to admit that we also come here wounded and that we also come here in pain and that for a lot of us—and I don’t think I’m just projecting—that pain feels very close to the surface. We are grieving political losses, dreams tantalizingly tasted but ultimately unrealized. And we are also grieving the real loss of lives, grieving the extinguishment of those 49 bright, beautiful lights in Orlando less than a week ago, grieving the loss just yesterday of a young British politician named Jo Cox, a defender of Syrian refugees, of women’s rights, an anti-poverty crusader, gunned down and stabbed in her constituency office in an act of hate. And I could go on and on listing these attacks. Thank goodness for nurses, who have created for us a space in which we can begin to heal, from which we will emerge stronger and ready for battle once again. ...

You know, I don’t think that this is by happenstance that we are brought together by caregivers, because I think at the very heart of this revolution that we’re talking about is a revolution in shifting our economy, our political and economic system, away from one based on endless taking, endless extraction from the Earth, as if there are no limits, as if we can take and take and take without consequence, that endless taking from workers’ bodies, from our communities, as if there is no breaking point and no consequence, to a society that is grounded in that first principle of caretaking, of caring for the Earth and for one another. That is where we start. And of cherishing. This shift is a fundamental rejection of the sacrifice zone mentality, the sacrificing of particular places to oil drilling and fracking, and the sacrificing of bodies that are supposedly worth less because they are black and brown. This is a fundamental shift in values that we are talking about here, and it is revolutionary, but it grows from the heart. So, thank you, RoseAnn, and thank you, Nurses United, for bringing us here.

So neoliberalism lost the argument. They lost the argument, to the extent that not only was Bernie out there calling himself a socialist, not apologizing for it, making these arguments that, you know, we—not reductions in tuition, but free college, you know, just pushing the envelope, 100 percent renewables, just going all the way, and people were cheering. And he forced Hillary Clinton to move to the left. And we also saw that even Donald Trump had to throw out the rule—the neoliberal rule book, trashed free trade agreements, promised to defend the social safety net, in order to build his base. It wasn’t just racism that got him where he is, although that’s been a big part of it. So, you know, this ideology that has imprisoned our imagination for so long, that told us we could never get to this place, that our ideas had to be smuggled in under pseudonyms and, you know, under cover of night—right?—that all of that is not true, these ideas are deeply popular.

But that doesn’t mean that neoliberalism is dead, because neoliberalism was never first and foremost an ideology. The ideology was always the cover for the greed, right? And so now we still see these brutal neoliberal policies being pushed, not with any semblance of "this is going to be good, this helps," but under cover of crisis. Right? I mean, we see it in Puerto Rico. We are seeing it in Brazil in the aftermath of a coup—and I think it should be called a coup. We see it—we see it in Chicago. We see it in the Chicago school system. So the war against neoliberalism is not—is not over, and this is what we need to strategize about. But I don’t think we win this war defensively just by saying no. I think we have to say no, but we also have to articulate this incredibly inspiring, intersectional, holistic yes that we agree on, a new story, a new narrative.

And just one last thing, just about what you said about '68. I had the great privilege of living in Argentina for a couple of years making a film called The Take, La Toma, about workers who unfired themselves. Their factories were being closed down in the midst of economic crisis, and they occupied their factories—something that workers here in Chicago know a little something about at the Chicago [Republic] Windows and Doors—and they fired the boss. They said, "You know what? You might not want to keep this factory running, but we're going to turn it into a democratic worker cooperative. So we were there during an election campaign, and the slogan of the social movements was "Our dreams don’t fit on your ballots." And, you know, I think that—and that didn’t mean don’t vote. It meant some people voted, and some people didn’t vote. But no one was under any illusion that what that was being written on that ballot represented the world that they wanted. That was work that we were doing elsewhere. And that’s the work we’re doing here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John, how does a—how does a movement, especially now at this critical time of a presidential race, and in the aftermath of a presidential race, how does a movement like this consolidate, learn the lessons necessary and go to another stage? Because movements rise, and movements fall. And unless you are able to consolidate the key lessons at each period, and as capitalism has been so resilient at shape shifting, how does the movement adapt to the new conditions?

JOHN NICHOLS: I’ve got good news for you: This movement is going to rise. ... Juan asked about struggle and moments and how we pull together. We already pulled together. We did a terrific job of pulling together. And we did it before a presidential race. If we had a media in this country that actually covered politics, we would know that since the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, when Americans saw exactly what the priorities of our economic and political elites were, and began to form movements against austerity, against economic injustice, against the racial divisions that extend from that injustice, in favor of immigrant rights—you know, we have had these movements. Climate change has been in the streets. The fact of the matter is these movements existed before this presidential campaign, and they were on the rise. And one of the biggest mistakes we make is to let a presidential campaign tell us we are not rising.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols of The Nation magazine speaking at The People’s Summit in Chicago; before that, Naomi Klein and Juan González, who we will both hear from again when we come back, along with actor Rosario Dawson. Stay with us.

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