If you are progressive, you are hungry for change. By definition, you are a person who would like to see the American government progress into something different and better than what it is now. This is what unites us.
How we change and what that change looks like is where we start to splinter into many different camps. Here, as part of my series on third-party and independent movements, is an oversimplfied description of the three basic ways this desired change could come about:
1) A Movement Within the Democratic Party
The right-wing takeover of the Republican Party that began with Ronald Reagan is a good model. Methodically and relentlessly, the ultra conservatives plotted out a slow conquest of the GOP that took 20 years to come to fruition in the presidency of George W. Bush.
The genius of this intra-party revolution was the coalescing of religious, economic, and military zealots. Individually, they posed no threat to the moderate wing of the Republican Party. Together, they were able to shift the entire nation several notches to the right.
Some progressives are hoping for this kind of process to happen in the Democratic Party, shifting the nation back to where it was in 1980. There are currently a number of organized effotts to groom progressives for movement into higher offices as Democrats.
I'm personally skeptical of such a movement finding success, as these candidates are often required to sell their progressive souls either to get elected, or to have influence and power once they get into office.
2) A True Third Party Movement
Historical precedents are rare for the building of a new party from scratch, but it has happened, sort of. The Republican Party has a complicated early history that involved several new parties emerging as the Whigs declined and abolition became a primary issue. Nonetheless, that era does prove that the two major parties are not indestructible, and that given the right circumstances, a new party can arise.
What might be impossible, I'm told, is for a third party to arise while the other two remain strong. Invariably, the old party that is closest in ideology to the new one will weaken and die.This is why many Democrats do not want to discuss the possibility of a progressive third party. They fear it will either play spoiler, like Nader in 2000; or will grow strong enough to weaken the Democrats and give power over to the the Republicans.
The true third party method, therefore, is a catch-22 - unless one is so disenchanted with the two-party system that they don't think it matters which of the old parties is in power. In my opinion, we are not yet at that point. The Republican agenda is scary enough that I will not support someone like the Greens yet. (although I will write about the idea!)
3) An Independent Movement That Overlaps With A Major Party
The obvious example here is the Tea Party. Focused sharply on economic issues like the national debt, Congressional spending, and taxation, the Tea Party became enough of a force to spook the Republicans into action. Quickly co-opting the Tea Party message and many of its candidates, the GOP shifted even further to the right as it worked not to see its base fractured.
The Republicans were successful at neutralizing the threat, but the ongoing influence of the Tea Party is indisputable, from the GOP landslide in the 2010 mid-terms to the dramtic shift to the right in Congress' economic agenda.
To me, this seems like the best model for progressives to use to try to steer America back to a sane place in its politics. An independent, grassroots movement that unabashedly promotes progressives values could gain considerable steam if we could find a way to unify. And as a voice that is independent of the official Democratic Party, it would have the freedom and the courage to truly tell it like it is.
The Occupy movement embodies the proper spirit and is a step in the right direction. To be a true political game-changer, however, a progressive movement would have to broaden both its concerns and its constituency. We could trumpet issues such as the living wage and worker justice, fighting climate change, full LGBTQ rights, and true financial reform - just to name a few.
Again, however, my experience makes me doubtful that progresives can find the unity and leadership to launch such a movement. But it is our best hope to do as our name says we do - to help our nation progress into something different and better.