On Wednesday, October 28, the University of Colorado – Boulder hosted the third Republican Party presidential debate.
The eyes of the world were on this small city in the American Midwest where Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, and seven other GOP candidates faced off in the run up to the 2016 presidential election.
Away from the media circus that gathered around Coors Events Center, a small march made its way from Boulder’s Central Park to the CU campus. Many of the participants represented the American left wing, which appears more culturally leftist and less political than their European counterparts.
European left wingers would be able to discern many differences in the type of rallies held by Americans. First of all, the numbers. A left wing march in Europe can see thousands of participants. Students don’t go to school and people don’t go to work, just to take part in the event. Here in Boulder, a little more than a hundred or so showed up to protest against the conservative politics of the Republican Party.
Many European states have powerful communist parties that are involved in marches and rallies throughout the year. However, Under the Flatirons was unable to find a single American participant who identified as a communist. Communism has been taboo in the United States since the Cold War, and the “Red Scare” goes even farther back to the Soviet Revolution of 1917. While some American leftists even sport Che Guevara’s likeness as a symbol of revolution, there is still a feeling of a stigma surrounding communist politics and ideals.
Nevertheless, protesters sung international chants during the march. The most famous one is “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido [the people united will never be defeated]” which was written for former Chilean President Salvador Allende and his campaign in 1970. Allende was a democratically elected Marxist president who governed Chile until a coup d’état in 1973, and it is interesting to hear this song ringing with an American accent in 2015. A group of protesters went so far to sing an English version of “Bella Ciao,” an Italian communist song which originated during World War II. The song, with a Soviet sounding theme, was used primarily by members of the Italian resistance to fascism – the so-called partigiani.
The left wing in America is seeing a moment of resurgence with Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate who considers himself a ‘democratic socialist.’ However, by European standards, the Democratic Party can’t be considered a left wing party. In fact, many prominent Democrats lean right on several issues, and overall it would be more considerate to define them as part of a centrist, rather than leftist, movement.
David Bernknopf has been a political analyst and news producer for the CNN for over 30 years, since 1984 when George W. Bush was nominated as the Republican candidate for President.
“Bernie Sanders had to make a choice”, Bernknopf says, “he was always an independent, there was always an ‘I’ after his name when you would see him on TV. In order to run for the Democratic primaries, he had to register as a Democrat. His message has not changed very much, but to succeed now he has to look at the percentage in the Democratic Party who agree with him. It could be the start of a third party, but in the United States that is very difficult.”
The American left wing doesn’t have the numbers or the organization of its European colleagues. Many Americans associate leftist ideals with unpatriotic behavior.
Steven Giustino took part in October 28 march dressed as a Supreme Court judge.
“I absolutely consider myself part of the American left wing,” Giustino says. “I am a proud, strong, progressive individual. The left is definitely not as well organized as the right is, but I do think that we are the majority of America. The problem is that we are not organized and we can’t bring out the numbers that the conservatives have.”
The relatively low numbers at the rallies on Wednesday might contradict the notion that the left constitute the majority in America. The domination of politics by only two parties – the conservative Republican Party and the relatively centrist Democrats – would also appear to be a contradiction to Giustino’s sentiment.
As expected, young people make up the backbone of the small American left. James Lar, a young Boulderite, took part in the event with a homemade drum kit as he chanted slogans throughout the day.
“I am here to say what is not being said during the debate, address what is not being addressed,” Lar says. “I guess I do consider myself part of the left wing.”
The American left does not appear to truly have a party it identifies itself with, which may prove the lack of organization among its ranks. The political impact of its members seems almost insignificant against the numbers of the Democratic and Republican parties. Bernknopf agrees:
“There is no organized political left wing in the United States. The Occupy Wall Street movement did generate a lot of protests in the streets, outside of the Democratic Party, but it didn’t really turn into much. It faded away and it did not turn into any active political action. On whether American leftists could ever be as powerful as their European counterparts, he says “it would take a long time for a leftist party to build the kind of credibility that leftist parties have built in Europe. But, maybe, people are so angry at the political system that they are ready to go on a different direction. It might be we are at that point in history where this is going to happen.”