This week, The Nation publishes a manifesto we received from an occasional contributor. Our hope is to stir discussion of one of the most important political issues of our time: how to transform what the author, who uses a pseudonym to avoid personalizing that issue, calls the “bipartisan” Democratic Party into an organization capable of bringing about desperately needed progressive change in America. You can read that essay here, and the replies below.
The results of Election 2012 show the power of grassroots organizing and the potential of permanently setting America on a progressive path. This last electoral round revealed support for marriage equality and rejection of the “war on drugs” and voter suppression—not to mention a total dismissal of Mitt Romney’s brand of corporatism. And for all the progressive complaints about Democrats, these results undeniably came through the Democratic Party apparatus and its highly motivated grassroots base.
The Democratic Party can still be the change agent for our ideals, as it has been since the New Deal and the Great Society. However, since the 1990s our party has suffered from years of neglecting its progressive infrastructure. Note that while many progressives have tossed around the idea of splitting with the Democrats, the Tea Party didn’t leave the Republican Party; it transformed it from within.
Democrats need a strong progressive wing that consistently shapes its platform, offers up progressive candidates, embraces the party’s accomplishments, and encourages necessary changes. We need to organize in a whole new way, but we don’t need to divide ourselves and we certainly don’t need to start from scratch. This is why approximately 300 people met in Charlotte during this year’s convention to identify loyal Democrats who can organize as progressives. Attendees discussed building progressive caucuses in every Democratic organization nationwide, following the example of the New York City Council’s progressive caucus.
But the crucial need is for progressives to revive grassroots organizing expertise. The greatest changes in the United States began from the ground up: abolitionism, women’s suffrage, progressivism and the civil rights movement are the biggest examples. These movements didn’t just replenish a party; they actually forced legislation that changed the fabric of our nation. If we’re going to build on our recent success in this post–Citizens United world, we will have to campaign differently by using new and improved grassroots engagement. This will include more field organizing, less reliance on TV advertisements and more individual relationship building.
The claim that Democrats did nothing to combat the recent economic collapse ignores unprecedented Republican obstructionism. Senator Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP’s goal was to make Barack Obama a “one-term president.” Republicans pursued that goal even when it meant causing a bond rating downgrade; engaging in bigotry and hostility against Muslims, gays, union members and immigrants; and launching a war against women. Yet we have a list of progressive accomplishments: the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights.