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Saving the Democratic Party: The mutuality of reform and change-the-game strategies

Yes, Runner is right on one score: the role of government is essential. And now is a moment when it is urgently needed. That means we must reform the political system, yet once again. Ever since the elections of 1896 the progressive mission has been to be the center of coalitions that reform the quasi-democratic American political system that elitist corporate power put in place in that fateful election. (Hat-tip to Larry Goodwyn.) As such it has been and still is the primary countervailing force to that elitist corporate power.

At the same time, that never has been and never will be enough to establish a fundamentally democratic political economics. That is, we must also focus as intently on a long-term strategy of changing the existing game, rather than narrowly focusing on a progressive strategy, which is, in effect, a Sisyphean project. (See Amy Dean’s response.) We did in the ’30s. Came back in the ’60s to do more. Now have to push the stone up from where it was in the ’20s.

Runner’s progressive agenda is basically solid, and some of the additions suggested are good ones. Several of the commentators on her/his article pointed out that it was strategically weak. I agree. The reform approach needs to be thoroughly grounded in grassroots organizing. (See responses by Ellison, Flacks, Lander and Harris. Also Warren’s.)

Voilà! A more radical change-the-game strategy for deep, long-term change also must be thoroughly bottom-up and deeply into race/ethnicity, class, and gender. (See Dean’s and Fletcher’s responses.) The grassroots can be the space where progressive grassroots groups can work with change-the-game groups such as the Occupy and alternative economic movements. There is so much common cause between the two different but reinforcing strategies. W.E.B Du Bois’s “double consciousness.” (Again, Fletcher’s response.) That is, if both can move beyond the usual territorial rivalries and competition for scarce resources.

Here are eight strategic principles for a change-the-game strategy:

1. Change the game, not simply the rules of the game.

2. Reconnect economics and politics all the up and all the way down.

3. Think “movement” all the time.

4. Build regional webs of alternative economic enterprises into reciprocal chains of production-and-consumption that connect producers to retailers to consumers in ongoing communication.

5. Ground this alternative economy in people’s lives through base-community building and local mediating institutions.

6. Link base-communities, their mediating institutions, and second-tier institutions throughout the region to each other.

7. Think in terms of generations, not years, not even decades.

8. Develop grassroots transformative processes that enable people to empower themselves personally and collectively.

Michael Johnson

Staten Island, NY

Dec 10 2012 - 10:03am