No matter who wins…protest the inauguration!

“This contest is rigged!” a dog with a Donald Trump ’do barked at the Washington Square dog run’s Halloween costume competition over the weekend. Photo by Tequila Minsky
“This contest is rigged!” a dog with a Donald Trump ’do barked at the Washington Square dog run’s Halloween costume competition over the weekend. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY BILL WEINBERG | It is starting to feel like a lonely position, but I continue to cling to the apparently heretical doctrine that it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. It is possible to cast a tactical vote for Hillary Clinton — as the only means to assure the defeat of Führer Pendejo — and still be prepared to cut her zero slack, and protest her policies if she gains the White House.

Through cynicism or genuine confusion, Hillary-bashers have been baiting me as a naive liberal since I stated my position of tactical support for her in the voting booth, given the emergency of an actually fascistic G.O.P. candidate. So I need to make clear: I remain intransigent in my opposition to the Democratic Party.

If we can ever rebuild a serious left in this country, it is imperative that it be rigorously independent of all political parties — and adversarial toward whoever is in power. The fears of being co-opted by the Democratic Party are legitimate. Note the decision of the Black Lives Matter movement to endorse no candidates — but to carry on their protests no matter who wins. I assume that many (or at least some) BLM activists will, like myself, be casting a necessary, odious vote for Hillary — even as they maintain this principled position.

So I was heartened to catch up on Facebook with a member of the Lower East Side anarchist diaspora — John Penley, veteran photojournalist and neighborhood troublemaker, now ensconced in his hometown of Asheville, N.C. Penley and I met way back in the early ’80s, when we were young activists in the Yippies, the remnant counterculture group that continued to protest at the political conventions of both parties every four years — and at the inauguration, regardless of the victor. From his Blue Ridge Mountains perch, Penley is keeping this tradition alive.

After protesting both the Republicans in Cleveland and the Democrats in Philadelphia, he has now put out a call for inauguration protests in January —again, regardless of the victor.

Says the Facebook page for the event: “Non-Violent Protest on Inauguration Day Washington, D.C. No matter who is elected President we should be in D.C. in the streets.”

Penley’s first convention protest was when the Democrats met in New York in 1980.

“And I’ve done several since then,” he said proudly. “That’s the Yippie tradition. In 1968, the protest at the Democratic Convention in Chicago changed the world, or at least American politics. Today more and more people understand that both parties are controlled by Wall Street and big money and the 1 percent.”

At this moment, Penley is especially concerned with the “threat of nuclear war with Russia.”

“As a longtime antiwar activist who did a year in federal prison for protesting at the nuclear weapons plant in South Carolina, I feel we have to get the message out about the breakdown overnight of these nuclear weapons treaties that took years to put together,” he said.

He’s referring to the Savannah River site, which was producing weapons-grade plutonium when Penley was busted for protesting there in 1982. It was more recently serving as a reprocessing site for plutonium removed from decommissioned warheads under a 2000 U.S.-Russian deal — until the deal broke down just weeks ago in the renewed superpower tensions.

“This is a very critical time,” Penley emphasized to me by phone from Asheville. “I hope people will address this at the inauguration.”

And who is John going to vote for?

“I cannot force myself to vote for Clinton or Trump, forget it,” he responded. “Jill Stein is not on the ballot in North Carolina, or I would vote for her. I am gonna vote in the streets of D.C. on inauguration day.”

I have to disagree with Penley about Stein. I find the Green Party candidate no less odious than Hillary Clinton. Having never been anywhere near power, she doesn’t actually have blood on her hands. But her deeply confused politics are evident in her virtual endorsement of the Pendejo as less dangerous than Hillary. On Oct. 14, she tweeted: “Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy is much scarier than Donald Trump’s, who does not want to go to war with Russia. #PeaceOffensive”

This is utterly deluded. Pendejo boasts that his prescription for dealing with ISIS is to “bomb the s— out of ’em.” Rather than going to war with Russia, he would join with Russia in the ongoing destruction of Syria. This is no “peace offensive,” but acquiescence in war crimes.

This flirtation with right-wing “isolationism” is one of the obstacles to rebuilding a serious left in the U.S. Burned by the Bush-era misadventures of the “neoconservatives,” with their dreams of “regime change” across the Middle East, many supposed leftists are now making common cause with the “paleocons” — those conservatives, like El Pendejo, who seek “stability” under dictatorships. They have even come to confuse Washington “regime change” conspiracies with authentic revolutions, like that in Syria.

This is one of many questions we have to work out. I’d like to see an unflinchingly oppositional left emerge, that seeks solidarity with the secular pro-democratic civil resistance in Syria, and with antiwar activists (however marginal) in Russia who oppose Putin’s bombardment of Syria, and expansionism in Ukraine.

But the place to start is stealing back the populist fire from the ascendant ultra-right. Pendejo links his rejection of free trade agreements to hateful xenophobia. We must link ours to a spirit of solidarity, building alliances with workers, peasants and farmers in Latin America and elsewhere against our common enemies in the corporate elite.

At the moment, Hillary is tilting in a populist direction — taking a stand against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for instance. There is every reason to expect her to flip once in office — just as Obama opposed the Colombia F.T.A. on the campaign trail in 2008, then signed it once he was in the White House.

Hillary’s pseudo-populism is unlikely to fool anyone for long. Ultimately, a radical populism rooted in human solidarity is the only antidote to the negative populism of xenophobia and scapegoating.

So I understand that I’ll be voting for an enemy when I vote for Hillary — to keep a greater enemy at bay. I’m just voting — with a sense of stark realism. I’m not selling my soul.

Barring a snowstorm, Penley and his band of hearty souls hope to camp out in Washington’s McPherson Square — the same spot that hosted the city’s Occupy Wall Street camp in 2011 — the night of the inauguration, Jan. 19. I don’t know if I’ll have the fortitude to be there physically. But I will definitely be there in spirit.