For some time, those who support progressive policies have been on defense, attempting to hold onto the gains of the past. Major campaigns have recently consisted of preventing budget cuts to important social programs, including substance abuse treatment, energy assistance, meals on wheels, etc. These cuts may have gone through because of public indifference, the perception that the recipients were undeserving, and right wing propaganda that accentuates these beliefs. We have all heard the stories of “welfare mothers” driving Cadillacs. It would be naïve to think there is not also an element of racism in these stories –news coverage frequently focuses on racial minorities when covering these issues.
The recent efforts in Vermont that resulted in the passage of universal healthcare through a single-payer system demonstrate that there is no reason to believe that progressives must remain on the defensive . Following classic community organizing efforts laid out by Saul Alinsky and others, Vermont activists pushed through this legislation by building a coalition, one person at-a-time among, all the diverse groups present. Attempts to divide the effort by appeal to racial and cultural differences failed, due to the excellent groundwork of the organizers.
The belief that minorities “take advantage” of social programs at higher rates than others represents the classic effort to divide those who have much more in common than separates them by race, religion or ethnicity. This is a great example of how working class people are kept divided, making them easier to conquer. The truth is that the underprivileged of all races need a social safety net.
A current effort by progressives to go on the offensive nationally can be seen in the teaming up of “Moveon.org” with Van Jones’ organization “Rebuild the Dream” (http://www.rebuildthedream.com/), along with other cooperating organizations (350.org, AFSCME, SEIU, Daily Kos, etc.). The recent national organizing meeting far surpassed the initial Tea Party efforts by a margin of 2 to 1. Moveon.org has stated that they seek to utilize some of the tactics of the Tea Party, while maintaining goals of improving America’s ability to care for its citizens, hold the wealthy to the same standard of accountability as the poor and work towards improving the economy through efforts at creating jobs rather than relying on “trickle down” theories long ago proven ineffective.
Goals for the new alliance were set by taking thousands of suggestions submitted over the internet, and then narrowing down which suggestions to pursue by polling participants. This bottom up method stands in sharp contrast to other efforts, which have focused on causes selected before any actual grassroots involvement had even taken place. The Tea Party had many of its causes chosen by the wealthy supporters who created the group out of previous efforts. The initial organizing meeting and selection of priorities was followed a few days later by action meant to motivate members and exercise some influence on the nations’ path.
The formation of groups to address the issues affecting our Nation is necessary and inevitable. The important factor now is to insure there are groups that represent the needs of the disadvantaged, the elderly, the young and others lacking the wherewithal to pay for lobbyists by the truckload. As people become more disenchanted with the path we are taking as a society, they may otherwise decide that groups like the Tea Party are the only game in town and join them out of a sense of frustration.
Full Disclosure: Mike Davis is an organizer working with the current effort by Moveon.org and Rebuild The Dream.
[Image credit: Royalbroil via Wikimedia Commons]