Victory in 2004--and Beyond
4. Progressives Building
Even as progressive activists were rousing Democratic Party leaders from their torpor, they were building an infrastructure independent of party institutions that, if sustained at scale, can provide the motor for political movement, like the infrastructure the right built in the 1970s and '80s. As Howard Dean pledged at the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference in June, "We're not only going to take back the White House and elect Democrats to office, we're going to create an independent movement to hold them accountable and keep them honest."
The ground war this fall will be waged by independent organizations--called 527s for the tax-code provision they operate under--formed by progressive activists from labor, America Coming Together, Voices for Working Families and others. Perhaps the most important initiative was formed with little press notice by the AFL-CIO. Working America offered employees in working-class neighborhoods associate membership in the federation, enabling the association to provide them with its full political education and voter mobilization program. Citizen organizations like ACORN and USAction dramatically expanded voter registration and Get Out the Vote activities and sophistication. Progressives also augmented the think tanks and research institutions vital for challenging the policies of the right. The well-funded Center for American Progress provided aggressive daily challenges to the Bush debacles. The Institute for America's Future launched initiatives on jobs, energy independence, education and kitchen-table issues that helped frame the alternative agenda. The Economic Policy Institute operated with new sophistication in challenging the Bush record on jobs and wages. MoveOn, True Majority and Working Assets are pioneering new forms of web-based activism, showing the ability to mobilize their members into action via the web and on the ground. MoveOn, ACORN, the National Education Association and the Campaign for America's Future are organizing the largest mobilization on public education ever this fall.
MoveOn led the air war against Bush, with independent ad campaigns in selected states. When Bush spent $31 million in April seeking to bury Kerry before he got a chance to introduce himself to most Americans, MoveOn and the Media Fund jumped in to counter the Bush pre-emptive thrust. In the political culture wars, progressives are soaring; anti-Bush assaults topped the bestseller lists. The Nation is now the highest-circulation political weekly in the country. Web-based portals like TomPaine.com, AlterNet, Common Dreams and BuzzFlash gained ever greater readership and vitality. And of course, Michael Moore's award-winning Fahrenheit 9/11 shattered all box-office earnings records for documentaries and galvanized audiences nationwide with its searing indictment of Bush and the debacle in Iraq.
At the state and local levels, a new grouping of the Center for Policy Alternatives, Demos and the Center on Wisconsin Strategies provided a growing challenge to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing policy shop. In electoral politics, Wellstone Action and Democrats 2000 provide increased capacity to train campaign activists, as Progressive Majority builds a new generation of progressive leaders from the bottom up.