Seattle city councilmember Nick Licata asserts a vote for Democratic nominee Barack Obama this November would open the door for fundamental changes in this country, including an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as reforms to public education, worker protection, and environmental policy.
In a UW classroom filled with about 45 people last Wednesday evening, Licata debated Philip Locker, the editor of Justice, the newspaper of the national Socialist Alternative organization, on the merits of voting for Obama versus the four-time independent candidate Ralph Nader. While Licata agreed with his counterpart that Obama's plans for the wars and the Wall Street bailout were not optimal, he says the Democrats are substantially different than the Republican ticket and have worked better with labor movements and supporting public education.
"To make the U.S. a more progressive nation -- how do you get there? It's not a Hail Mary pass," Licata said during his opening statement explaining his support of Obama. "You have to start local and build from there."
Locker, on the other hand, argued a vote for Nader by saying Democrats have historically failed to respond to calls for change from the left -- whether on universal health care, fair rather than free trade, or putting an end to imperialistic wars. Democratic leaders are just as influenced by big business as the Republicans, he says.
"We're not going to deny there's [a] difference between Republicans and Democrats," Locker says. "But the logic of lesser-evilism has destroyed mass movements and we need to build a mass movement, a mass struggle."
While Licata isn't urging voters to support Nader, he encouraged the crowd to take advantage of the opportunities Obama's presidency would bring. Licata says the election is neither the beginning nor the end of change, so it is significant to continue advocacy after Nov. 4.
"The Dems do serve a positive function," the councilmember said. "They stop the worst of the Republican establishment. The Dems will open the door; the question is whether or not leaders will organize after that."
Licata is in his 10th year on the Seattle city council, a former co-director of WashPIRG, the state's branch of an organization founded by Nader, and he was a Washington State Jobs with Justice 2008 honoree. He said he also met Nader during the 2000 campaign and is "a great admirer of his." Licata's proposed Civil Streets Initiative (now dubbed the Safe Streets Initiative), is currently undertaking three pilot projects in the Rainier Beach, Madison-Miller, and Pioneer Square neighborhoods [see page 3] that provide social services to reduce repeat offenders from going back to jail time after time for minor street crimes.
In addition to his work at Justice, Locker has been an organizer of citywide student antiwar walkouts and was a Nader campaign activist the past two presidential elections.
Regarding the antiwar movement, Locker stated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "total failures" and unaffordable. According to the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, taken between Oct. 17 and 19, most of the country agrees with him: 66 percent of the American people oppose the Iraq War. He advocates troop withdrawal before more soldiers and Iraqi citizens die. The U.S. Department of Defense Web site states that there were 4,775 American soldiers killed in both conflicts as of Oct. 4. As a result, Locker associates Obama with other Bush-lite Democratic legislators because the Senator only plans to reduce the troop presence in Iraq while implementing a surge in Afghanistan. Licata agreed there are real problems in Obama's stance on the wars, but he again compared it to the alternative.
"The foreign policy of the United States basically sucks," Licata said. "But we certainly don't want McCain and Palin in charge of the military. If there's no other reason to vote for Obama, then that should do it. There's more hope when compared to McCain-Palin."