U.S. Elections and Racism, Sexism, and Classism

(Written during the U.S. presidential primary election)

The political system in the United States has been massively corrupted. It is very difficult for candidates representing real human interests to get any support in it. This leads many activists to stay away from elections. However, it’s in elections, and especially presidential ones, that the largest number of U.S. people engage politically.

Social movements are the source of real change, but elections influence how many people think about our society and what needs changing. They are one tool that social movements can use to educate people and raise issues. If we stay away from elections, we miss an opportunity to educate and engage with lots of people.

Elections also help us think about how to build the power we would need to actually run the society—something we will need to do if we want to replace this oppressive society with something more human. If we want to not only protest but also to actually take power, we will need to engage with and change our corrupt political system.

I think it’s great for us as RCers to think and discharge about using elections as a tool for change.


The current U.S. presidential election has raised a lot of questions about how racism, classism, sexism, and other oppressions are used to support the oppressive society. In my view these oppressions were created and have been maintained in large part to justify economic exploitation. The class system could not function without them. This is not to say that we only need to pay attention to class, but rather that if we really want to end these oppressions, we need to understand how they are connected to the economic system.

A form of politics is emerging in which politicians appeal to ending individual oppressions, like racism and sexism, while completely disconnecting them from the class system. I think this kind of politics is dangerous, because it seems to be standing against oppression when its actual aim is to defend and reinforce the oppressive society.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is using this form of politics (though she is far from alone in it). At a recent rally she got big cheers from the crowd by arguing that her opponent’s plan to break up big banks would not end racism and sexism. She even said that his plan to make public universities free was racist, because it did not include private historically Black colleges. Clinton talks about addressing racism and sexism, which is appealing to many voters, but at the same time she defends big corporations and their ability to exploit people.

Ending racism and sexism is critical, and it will not happen by only paying attention to class. However, it also will not happen by completely disconnecting racism and sexism from the economic system. This kind of disconnection is a major strategy of the owning class in this historical moment, and I think it is important to stand against.


I agree that electing a woman president would be a meaningful blow to sexism and that many of the attacks on Clinton are based in sexism. That said, I think her support for big corporations, trade deals that hurt working people, and U.S. imperialist wars is really dangerous.

Bernie Sanders is far from perfect. His stance on militarism could be much better. And while he talks powerfully about class oppression, he does not have a deep analysis of other oppressions. Perfect candidates, however, are not an option until we make some major changes in our political system.

For several reasons, I think that a Sanders win in the primary could be very significant:

  • His standing up for working people and against corporations would be a massive shift away from the policies of any previous U.S. president. It could go a long way toward changing our politics and building a movement to end classism. A Sanders victory would open up the possibility of openly socialist politics in the United States. He would use the general election and the presidency to educate people about class oppression.
  • His stance on climate change is far better than that of any of the other candidates.
  • While he could do more to oppose militarism, he does oppose most U.S. interventions in other countries and understands the terrible role the United States has played in overthrowing other countries’ leaders.
  • Though he could be better on sexism and racism, I think he is better than many people give him credit for. While Clinton lectured Black Lives Matter activists, Sanders gave them the stage, listened to them, and seems to be learning from them. He is now talking much more about ending institutional racism. That he was moved by activists is a good thing. We want a president who can be moved by activists.
  • In many ways, Sanders’ candidacy was made possible by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which brought attention to the huge income inequality in this country. We need candidates connected to movements.

Electing Clinton would be meaningful in the battle against sexism, but I think this is outweighed by the opportunity to elect a candidate who is more fundamentally challenging the foundations of our oppressive society. Too often sexism takes a back seat to other oppressions. I don’t think sexism is less important than classism, but I do think that a version of feminism so disconnected from the economic basis of oppression has limited value. The opportunity to elect a candidate who is openly challenging capitalism is not one I want to miss.

I also think that those of us who support Sanders must make sure he develops a better understanding of sexism, racism, and other oppressions and thinks about what else we can do to stand against them. And if Clinton wins the primary, I look forward to supporting her, as the Republican candidate represents a truly dangerous threat.


As RCers we are committed to creating a world without oppression. Our specific focus is healing the damage done to people as individuals. We have also learned a lot about the effects on people of different oppressions. All this is valuable and is often missing in activist circles. At the same time, it is important for us to understand the overall economic and social structures that create most of these hurts and oppressions and to think about how to change them.

As mentioned earlier, parts of the owning class, and the politicians who serve them, are adopting the language of ending individual oppressions while they continue to keep the economic structure in place. This is something we should stand against. And at the same time, we need to ensure that efforts to change the economic system include an understanding of the unique roles of racism, sexism, and other oppressions.

Eric Braxton

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00