Election Notes

We’ve asked Dissent contributors for their takes on the 2012 U.S. elections and beyond. You can read their responses by clicking on the author names below. More to come soon.


11/13 update – Benjamin Ross:

Among the many ways the mass media devalue democratic politics is their habit of talking about a “ground game.”

11/12 update II – Gary Gerstle:

The war for the future of the Republican Party has begun, and will bear close watching. The left has its work cut out in the meantime.

11/12 update – Kevin Mattson:

I had not expected is to see government regulation, industrial policy, and downright “planning” garnering applause and support. But that’s what happened in Ohio.

Tim Barker and Sarah Leonard:

The real crime of all this election night hoopla is that its melodrama and “one night only democracy special!” attitude implies that this is where politics happens, and if you care about hope, change, or fiscal responsibility, you will throw yourself into the electoral cycle.

David Bromwich:

The largest hope of 2012 surely rests not with the president, but with those senators of political skill and passion who have been elected or reelected: Sherrod Brown, Sheldon Whitehouse, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy, and others. They may give the party a backbone it has missed in recent years. Gifted Democrats ought to recognize from the start how much of the burden of Obama’s second term they will have to bear.

Mark Engler:

On Election Day, opting for the lesser evil was the right call. The rest of our days, we have common cause with those who refuse to settle for evil.

Max Fraser:

The union movement’s ability to mobilize its members to provide grassroots support in the closest races, labor’s vaunted “ground game,” remains the most effective voter turnout mechanism in politics. In the six states where the AFL-CIO targeted the lion’s share of its organizing resources in the home stretch of the campaigns—Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—it seems to have been victorious in all of them.

Ryan Rafaty:

The current governing elite is far more fearful of the financial orthodoxy and fossil fuel monopolists than the latent militancy of the general population and future generations. If serious climate policies stand any chance, this power dynamic must change, preferably sooner rather than later.

Rafia Zakaria:

The question posed to the two candidates in the last presidential debate—“Is it time for us to divorce Pakistan?”—had stunned most Pakistanis, who had not thought themselves wed to the superpower they love to hate. The candidates’ responses provided little solace; neither responded by denying a marital relationship.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.