You are browsing the archive for progressives.

A Letter I Wish Progressive Groups Would Send to Their Members

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Dear Progressives,

With President Obama’s second term underway and huge decisions looming on Capitol Hill, consider this statement from Howard Zinn: “When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”

With so much at stake, we can’t afford to forget our role. For starters, it must include public clarity.

Let’s face it: despite often nice-sounding rhetoric from the president, this administration has continued with a wide range of policies antithetical to progressive values.

Corporate power, climate change and perpetual war are running amok while civil liberties and economic fairness take a beating. President Obama has even put Social Security and Medicare on the table for cuts.

Last fall, the vast majority of progressives voted for Obama to prevent the presidency from going to a Republican Party replete with racism, misogyny, anti-gay bigotry and xenophobia. Defeating the right wing was cause for celebration. And now is the time to fight for genuine progressive policies.

But let’s be real about our current situation. Obama has led the Democratic Party — including, at the end of the legislative day, almost every Democrat on Capitol Hill — deeper into an abyss of corporate-driven austerity, huge military outlays, normalization of civil-liberties abuses and absence of significant action on climate change. Leverage from the Oval Office is acting as a brake on many — in Congress and in progressive constituency groups — who would prefer to be moving legislation in a progressive direction.

Hopefully we’ve learned by now that progressive oratory is no substitute for progressive policies. The soaring rhetoric in Obama’s inaugural address this week offered inspiring words about a compassionate society where everyone is respected and we look out for each other. Unfortunately and routinely, the president’s lofty words have allowed him to slide by many progressives despite policies that often amount to a modern version of “social liberalism, fiscal conservatism.”

The New York Times headline over its front-page coverage, “Obama Offers a Liberal Vision in Inaugural Address,” served up the current presidential recipe: a spoonful of rhetorical sugar to help the worsening austerity go down. But no amount of verbal sweetness can make up for assorted policies aligned with Wall Street and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

“At their inaugurals,” independent journalist I.F. Stone noted long ago, our presidents “make us the dupes of our hopes.”

Unlike four years ago, Obama has a presidential record — and its contrasts with Monday’s oratorical performance are stark. A president seeking minimally fair economic policies, for instance, would not compound the disaster of four years of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury by replacing him with Jack Lew — arguably even more of a corporate flack.

On foreign policy, it was notably disingenuous for Obama to proclaim in his second inaugural speech that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war” — minutes after completing a first term when his administration launched more than 20,000 air strikes, sharply escalated the use of weaponized drones and did so much else to make war perpetual.

Meanwhile, the media hype on the inaugural speech’s passage about climate change has lacked any indication that the White House is ready to push for steps commensurate with the magnitude of the real climate crisis.

The founder of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, Daphne Wysham, points out that the inaugural words “will be meaningless unless a) the Obama administration rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; b) Obama selects a new EPA administrator who is willing to take action under the Clean Air Act to rein in CO2 emissions from all sources; c) he stops pushing for dangerous energy development deep offshore in the Gulf, in the Arctic and via continued fracking for oil and gas; d) he pursues a renewable energy standard for the entire country; and e) he directs our publicly financed development banks and export credit agencies to get out of fossil fuels entirely.”

The leadership we need is certainly not coming from the White House or Congress. “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus,” Martin Luther King Jr. observed. The leadership we need has to come, first and foremost, from us.

Some members of Congress — maybe dozens — have shown commitment to a progressive agenda, and a larger number claim a progressive mantle. In any event, their role is not our role. They adhere to dotted lines that we should cross. They engage in Hill-speak euphemisms that we should bypass. Routinely, they decline to directly confront wrong-headed Obama administration policies. And we must confront those policies.

If certain members of Congress resent being pushed by progressives to challenge the White House, they lack an appreciation for the crucial potential of grassroots social movements. On the other hand, those in Congress who “get” progressive social change will appreciate our efforts to push them and their colleagues to stand progressive ground.

When we’re mere supplicants to members of Congress, the doors that open on Capitol Hill won’t lead very much of anywhere. Superficial “access” has scant impact. The kind of empowered access we need will come from mobilizing grassroots power.

We need to show that we’ll back up members of Congress who are intrepid for our values — and we can defeat others, including self-described “progressives,” who aren’t. Building electoral muscle should be part of building a progressive movement.

We’re in this for the long haul, but we’re not willing to mimic the verbiage or echo the silences from members of Congress who fail to challenge egregious realities of this administration’s policies. As Howard Zinn said, our role is to challenge, not fall in line.

New Era for Progressives and Obama

11:01 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

As 2013 gets underway, progressives need to be here now. We’re in a new era of national politics—with different circumstances that call for a major shift in approach.

Last year, the vast majority of progressives supported the Obama campaign to keep a Republican out of the White House. We helped deliver that vital blow to right-wing forces.

But now, President Obama is no longer the alternative to prevent a GOP takeover of the presidency. He goes into his last term as the leader exerting immense leverage that continues to move the Democratic Party—and the frame of political debate—in a rightward and corporate direction.

That’s a predictable result when Democratic leadership makes cutting Social Security doable, puts a bull’s-eye on Medicare, protects the military from major cuts, takes a dive on climate change, reinforces perpetual war in sync with “kill lists” for routine drone attacks across continents, throws habeas corpus and other civil liberties under the bus and promotes far-reaching austerity measures.

With the threat of a President Romney gone and the continuing scarcity of a progressive moral core in the Oval Office, millions of progressives who understood the tactical wisdom of supporting Obama’s re-election should now recognize that the time has come to renounce his leadership.

That leadership has become so corrosive that the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, last month declared a cut in Social Security’s cost-of-living allowance would “strengthen” Social Security. This is typical of the doublespeak that continues to accompany a downward spiral—underscoring the great need for progressive insurgencies against what the Obama administration has become.

To build progressive strength, as a practical matter, sooner is much better than later. With the president in his final term, why wait years to challenge the rightward momentum coming from the top of the Democratic Party? There is no better time to proceed with that challenge than right now.

We need to politicize our opposition… based on a moral view of what politics should be and what so many administration policies are not. We’re fighting to overcome an entire corporatist system.

As part of the process, we’ll need to build genuine progressive leadership from the grassroots. An astute motto notes: when the people lead, the leaders will follow.

For those who contend that grassroots action cannot dramatically shift the national discourse, one word of refutation should suffice: Occupy. Such insurgencies are possible—and can scale up with remarkable rapidity, as the Occupy movement showed in late 2011.

But denunciations and protests, while vital, are insufficient. We need stronger progressive institutions imbued with clarity and greater capacity to organize from the base to make the most of this new era—without illusions or counterproductive fixations on Obama as an individual.

Vilifying or lionizing Obama often personalizes politics as “pro” or “anti” Obama. But the useful point is not to personalize our opposition —quite the opposite. We need to politicize it, clearly based on a moral view of what politics should be and what so many administration policies are not. We’re fighting to overcome an entire corporatist system.

Ironically, on the left, Obama’s demonizers and apologists often fall into opposing sides of the same trap: fixating on Obama the person instead of concentrating on a sober political assessment of his presidential actions and inaction.

That governance is not compatible with a progressive agenda. Obama’s political dance steps with Republicans continue to move the country’s frame-of-reference further rightward. As the New York Times reports, the tax deal that President Obama pushed through Congress on Tuesday “would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy” just a few years ago—“a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president’s credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed equally and gently.”

Obama has his hands firmly on the levers of national party power. That’s why so few Democrats—just three in the Senate and 16 in the House—dared to vote against the fiscal deal on New Year’s Day. But now there are real opportunities for insurgencies and challenges from the party base as well as other progressive constituencies, inside and outside the electoral arena.

Will we grasp those opportunities? If the answer is yes, it won’t come from the top echelons of the largest unions, environmental groups or liberal PACs. Whatever their virtues, such organizations have become too enmeshed as enablers of the Obama White House to contemplate helping to launch from-the-base challenges to the administration.

With the danger of a Republican replacing Obama in the White House now behind us, progressives must proceed to systematically confront the administration in the process of reframing the national discourse on economic fairness, Wall Street, civil liberties, war and climate change. The next generations are depending on us.

No, Higher Consciousness Won’t Save Us

9:31 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Autumn 2010 is a time of disillusionment for many who deplore the USA’s current political trajectory. Some who’ve been active for progressive causes are now gravitating toward hope that individual actions — in tandem with higher consciousness, more down-to-earth lifestyles and healthy cultural alternatives — can succeed where social activism has failed. It’s an old story that is also new.

From economic inequities to global warming to war, the nation’s power centers have repulsed those who recognize the urgency of confronting such crises head-on. High unemployment has become the new normal. Top officials in Washington have taken a dive on climate change. The warfare state is going great guns.

When social movements seem to be no match for a destructive status quo, people are apt to look around for alternative strategies. One of the big ones involves pursuing individual transformations as keys to social change. Forty years ago, such an approach became all the rage — boosted by a long essay that made a huge splash in The New Yorker magazine just before a longer version became a smash bestseller.

The book was “The Greening of America,” by a Yale University Law School teacher named Charles Reich. In the early fall of 1970, it created a sensation. Today, let’s consider it as a distant mirror that reflects some similar present-day illusions. . . .

Read the rest of this entry →

Whaling, Drilling and Evading

11:35 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Last night I got home from speaking at a rally just north of the Golden Gate Bridge — like many others along the California coast on Sunday, protesting the Obama administration’s backroom global deal that now threatens to legitimize commercial whaling.

This is 2010, there’s a Democrat in the White House, and we’re back to the necessity of building a “Save the Whales” movement! Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported this morning, the federal government is still granting permits for new offshore oil wells.

Killing whales and drilling for oil in the ocean weighed grimly on our minds as we rallied along the sparkling wind-swept shore yesterday. I told people that such policies are unacceptable. The fact that I’m a Democrat, and for that matter was elected as an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention from this North Bay congressional district two years ago, in no way makes me inclined to pipe down.

The next speaker after me was a Democratic member of the state legislature (Jared Huffman) who represents Marin County in the California assembly. He went out of his way to say that he wouldn’t “attack” President Obama. “I won’t go there,” he added.

Of course, what’s desperately needed is not a matter of “attacking” Obama. It’s a matter of speaking up and working for basic progressive principles.

I went home, pondering our current situation, and began to write. Here’s my article:

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Many are familiar with the adage, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” But what happens when people enable leaders to follow the dictates of the powerful?

These days, the answers are arriving in the form of a news drumbeat that’s apt to seem like a dirge.

From Afghanistan to Wall Street to the Gulf of Mexico, policies of military action and regulatory inaction are exacting terrible costs: in human life, economic resources and irreplaceable nature. Silence and inaction enable the destructive policies to continue.

We’re living in an era of crises so dire and unrelenting that many souls must struggle not to shatter. At the same time, the election cycle keeps turning.

Millions of us have received countless emails this spring urging defeat of two corporate centrists now in the Senate. Those messages contributed to positive results in Democratic primaries last week: After giving mediocrity a bad name for decades, Arlen Specter finally lost in Pennsylvania. And corporate shill Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff election in Arkansas.

Now, overdue national attention should turn to the imminent possibility of defeating a powerful Blue Dog in California’s June 8 primary — a war enthusiast, civil-liberties nemesis and Wall Street collaborator — Congresswoman Jane Harman.

While Harman may rank even worse than Specter or Lincoln on scales of odiousness, Harman’s challenger Marcy Winograd is far more progressive than Joe Sestak (who beat Specter) and Bill Halter (Lincoln’s surging foe). Defeating Harman would be a huge victory to show that progressives can send Blue Dogs packing.

Big money and longtime incumbency bring plenty of advantages. But for a determined grassroots campaign, a sustained volunteer effort can pull off an upset. That’s the prize where tireless Winograd volunteers have kept their eyes.

Not long ago, the conventional political wisdom pegged Sestak and Halter as longshots. If progressive groups and individuals had deferred to that “wisdom,” Specter and Lincoln would have celebrated victories last week.

Despite the weight of the Democratic Party establishment thrown against Winograd, recent polling indicates that her energetic campaign is within striking distance of a vulnerable Harman.

Such situations are unpredictable. A strong surge of support for Winograd from progressives around the country in the days ahead could undermine Harman’s efforts to circle the wagons in her Los Angeles area district.

The national press does plenty of “horseracing” coverage that speculates on how many Democrats will win congressional seats in November. But an unaddressed question is: What kind of Democrats?

Revitalizing the Progressive Caucus in the House will require some new members — not only to join the caucus but also to help it cohere into a purposeful entity. Right now, when the chips are down, many caucus members seem to be PINOs — progressive in name only.

Back in the home district, Jane Harman is now desperately straining to present herself as a “progressive” member of the House. But she is a longtime member of the center-right Blue Dog Coalition and has never joined the Progressive Caucus.

In sharp contrast, Marcy Winograd would not just instantly join the Progressive Caucus — she would immediately be one of its most intrepid and resilient members. Anyone who has ever worked with Marcy is sure that her progressive commitments are unshakeable. That’s why Democratic Party power brokers are doing all they can to defeat her.

Washington’s policies are taking their toll from Afghanistan to Main Street to the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why so many people are more determined than ever to lead from the grassroots by sending genuine progressives to Congress.