I have been thinking long and hard about the state of the Progressive movement and our role in this coming election. What are we to do when over 30 House Democrats and several Senate Democrats say they actually want to extend the tax cuts for the rich? When you consider some of these same people were against the stimulus, you have to recognize that some of them just are not on our side. Social and economic justice do not seem to be issues these people are willing to fight for.
So the question remains what are we to do? I think we need to look at this as a long term battle rather than the current skirmish.
In short, I think what we must do is earn some respect.
Respect for the Progressive movement has been lacking recently both inside and outside the Democratic Party. I don't think I need to recap the recent statements by people high up in the current administration. What some of their statements show, more than anything else, is that they do not respect us. We can blame them for that without thinking or we can ask ourselves if we have earned that respect. Well, have we earned their respect? You don't earn respect simply by demanding it, you must earn it through your actions as well.
The Progressive movement has made great strides since Bush was "elected" the first time. We have become sophisticated enough to smell out astroturfing almost immediately and have developed the ability to counter the spin from ultra-conservative sources like Fox News. We have created a community which comes together to discuss important policy points and brings them to the forefront of national dialog. We can take a single issue or event and with some concentrated effort, turn it into a news story that the national media (except Fox News) cannot ignore.
One of the most significant accomplishments of the Progressive movement is the ability to quickly raise funds from thousands of small dollar donors in little time. Barack Obama's funding during his Presidential run is a good example of that. We also were able to raise millions of dollars in little time for Bill Halter during the primary in Arkansas against Blanche Lincoln. But it wasn't enough in the latter case, to my great disappointment. There are many other accomplishments, but I won't go into this in great detail.
Instead, we must talk about our deficiencies. What are we doing or not doing to earn spite from within the Democratic Party, besides the fact that we support certain policies?
There are things we have done that give people reason to spite us. Now, that doesn't mean we weren't justified in doing them. We know we made an enemy of Joe Lieberman. His defeat in the primary was a great victory for us, but we weren't able to finish the job, allowing him to thwart a public option and a medicare-buy-in. He pretty much admitted that he opposed them just to piss us off.
We also tend to be a rather fickle voting block. The strongly Democratic Progressives will vote in November. I have no doubt. However, what is constantly ignored is that the Progressive movement has many more groups within it. We have Green Progressives, they very well might vote for a third party candidate instead if our candidates are bad or we don't inspire them. We have some rather non-political groups who may not vote if we don't excite them. For example, the independents so dearly love people who have strong viewpoints and convictions. That is the group we are most likely to lose in this election. The young first time voters who, without Barack Obama, would have been rather apolitical otherwise. This is really the problem with all the compromises.
The much bigger question is, what are we not doing to earn respect? I think Obama, whom I have been pretty critical of from policy and tactics standpoints, highlighted some of this in his deliberate comments to Rolling Stone.
It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election...
Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues...
We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.
If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.
In other words, if the Progressive movement wants to be taken seriously (be respected) you need to back up your words with actions...get some Democrats elected.
While we talk a big game, we often fail to back up what we say. That is how you lose respect. The key is to not be too emotional or reactionary. Something I think most of us will agree we do too often.
However, the most important thing Progressives need to do is get to work on the ground in their local and state races. That is the biggest failure of our movement so far. Let me use one example of which I have first hand knowledge.
A group of Arkansans and Progressives across the country were able to galvanize enough people to urge Bill Halter to get into a primary against Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. This was a major success. The leaders of the Netroots from DailyKos to Accountability Now and unions really stepped up and gave their support early. I was on the ground in Arkansas and tried to galvanize support for Halter online. We were successful enough to get him into the race by gathering nearly 1000 "Draft Bill Halter" facebook fans and having them call into his office to urge him to run. While we made a valiant effort, we came up short. As someone who was on the ground, I can tell you we did come up short.
While progressives were supportive with their donations nationally, getting progressives on the ground mobilized was like pulling teeth. A small group of college students were able to galvanize some support for a short while, but it ultimately fell apart when the school year ended. The local campaign office in Fayetteville was too often completely empty besides the campaign employees. This despite them calling and emailing people to come down to help out...the same people who promised their support earlier. We ended up losing Washington County, despite it being a liberal bastion. However, there were other reasons besides lack of volunteers.
People would show up for the rallies, hundreds of people, but when it came to sign up a time to do some work people either didn't sign up or they signed up and just didn't show up...repeatedly. We would literally have a rally with 100 people and the next day, struggle to get anyone to actually show up to volunteer.
This was my effort in translating the online Progressive movement to on the ground support in an election. It may not have been the best state to try it in, but even in areas where it should have been easy, it was not. Part of the reason appeared to be that there were many liberals who were totally disconnected from the progressive movement. Not necessarily by choice, but simply because they are not active online or in national politics. We need to find a way to get these local and state liberal groups engaged. We need to interface with our local green groups and other local Democratic Party organizations. We need to get them on the Progressive team. Otherwise, the most active and respected members in our local areas will not be on our side. We need those people to make sure that our campaigns can get the on the ground support we need to win.
That is not an easy proposition. It will take some work. The good news is that we have the chance to do that right now. We can take it upon ourselves to get to work in local and state races all across the country. We can earn ourselves respect...from local, state, and national Democrats. So please, get to work and elect some Democrats.