In the wake of the midterm elections, with conservatives and the Tea Party wielding new power in Washington, we have entered a tough period in our politics. But history helps us understand that dark periods come and go, and they can be overcome if—and it’s the critical if—we all do our part.
The late, great Studs Terkel, a true friend of The Nation, believed that hope was rooted in the conviction that there is always good worth working for. Action engenders hope, Studs told us.
Looking forward to 2011, there are many ideas, organizing efforts and causes worth fighting for—many which should engender hope as we work together to make this a more just and decent nation.
Below are five that I believe are valuable in these times.
1) CIW Takes on the Supermarkets
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) enjoyed a remarkable 2010, successfully obtaining penny per pound pay raises and code of conduct agreements for farmworkers from the three largest food service companies and the growers who had blocked checks buyers cut directly to the workers so that millions of dollars languished in escrow. These agreements stand to increase workers’ annual earnings from about $10,000 to as much as $17,000. The State Department also recognized Laura Germino, CIW’s antislavery campaign coordinator, as an “anti-Trafficking Hero” for her work helping the US Department of Justice prosecute seven slavery operations in Florida over the last fifteen years, resulting in the liberation of over 1,000 farmworkers.
Now, the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food—think human rights in the food industry—takes on the $550 billion supermarket industry and this kind of backward thinking: “We don’t have any plans to sit down with the CIW,” said Publix Media and Community Relations Manager Dwaine Stevens. “If there are some atrocities going on, it’s not our business.”
Actually, the supply chains used by corporations to turn a profit—and how workers who give us the food we eat are treated—are absolutely the business of corporations and consumers. Publix, Ahold (parent company of Giant and Stop & Shop), Kroger, Trader Joe’s—all would be wise to either get on board or brace themselves. You can begin to educate yourself and get involved here. This is a fight we all need to be a part of in 2011.
2) Democracy Reform
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which opened the floodgates for corporate money in the 2010 midterms, people understand in their gut that our electoral system is in trouble and desperately needs reform. Even with a Republican-controlled House, it’s going to be important to continue two vital efforts to get money out of politics and restore power to the hands of the people—a public campaign financing system and a constitutional amendment granting Congress the authority to regulate corporate campaign expenditures.
We also need to reform our voting system to encourage full participation and end winner-take-all/lesser-of-two-evils elections. There was significant progress with instant runoff voting (IRV) in 2010—most notably in Oakland where a progressive city councilwoman scored a stunning upset in the mayoral contest. IRV allows citizens to rank the candidates on the ballot so they don’t fear “spoiler votes,” and it ensures that the winner is supported by a majority rather than a plurality.
Other key reforms to fight for in 2011 and beyond include ending abuse of the filibuster in the Senate, a National Popular Vote for President, DC Voting Rights, felon re-enfranchisement and universal voter registration. There is no shortage of excellent groups working on these issues—FairVote is one of the best and most under-appreciated. Common Cause, the Brennan Center, Demos and DC Vote also do excellent work. FreeSpeechForPeople.org and Move to Amend are focused on the constitutional amendment allowing Congress to regulate corporate campaign expenditures. These are some great places to start getting involved.
3) Afghanistan Exit Strategy
The War in Afghanistan is the longest in US history at 110 months, and the most expensive at $1 million per soldier and over $100 billion annually. There have been over 2,200 US and coalition casualties, and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths. Additionally, nearly 600 US troops are wounded every month.
In 2011, that majority which has turned against the war will have to show Congress that the American people care about the lives and treasure being wasted in this war. Inside the beltway, the Afghanistan Study Group led by former Marine Matthew Hoh has offered an alternative path to get out of Afghanistan. Outside the beltway, peace groups like Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, Win Without War, Peace Action and Codepink are helping to make sure that the voices are heard of the 60 percent of Americans who believe this war isn’t worth fighting.
Do your part to ensure that July 2011 begins a real withdrawal. End this war.
4) Taking on Poverty
The recent US Census revealed that forty-four million Americans—one in seven citizens—are now living below the poverty line, more than at any time since the Census Bureau began tracking poverty 51 years ago. Shamefully, that figure includes one in five children, more than one in four African Americans or Latinos and over 51 percent of female-headed families with children under 6.
You can begin to turn the tide on poverty by educating yourself on the issue. In 2011, in the face of an unsympathetic Republican House and deficit hawks who would force us to choose between food stamps and teachers, or would cut Social Security—one of the most effective anti-poverty programs around—all of us will need to fight to bring media and political attention to those who are living on the brink. Half In Ten is a great place to start. A project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Coalition on Human Needs, it advocates for strong policies benefiting low- to moderate-income families, pursuing a national goal of cutting poverty in half in ten years.
5) Building a Progressive Infrastructure
Whatever your issue—war, poverty, financial reform, clean energy, global warming—the prospects for change will be brighter if you also work to rebuild and strengthen the progressive movement in 2011.
In some ways, this work will necessarily be defensive—it will involve protecting Social Security, Medicare and other vital programs from being slashed at the national level. But these same fights will also offer opportunities to lay down markers for the future of our economy and politics, and to galvanize progressive support. We saw Senator Bernie Sanders do this in a powerful way with the fight over the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. We will need to make it tough for Democrats and the President to accept compromises that diminish working and middle class security.
In 2011, it’s going to be key to continue organizing locally from the bottom-up, while also working with our allies inside the House and Senate—especially the Congressional Progressive Caucus led by co-chair Congressmen Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison.
While opportunities for progress will be limited at the federal level, at the state and local levels prospects may be brighter, and success will depend in part on building coalitions around issues like drug reform, living wage campaigns and environmental sustainability. This is a year when we may also need to try more creative strategies, including nonviolent sit-ins and protests—around the climate crisis, joblessness, foreclosures and the war, to name just a few issues.
On the ideas front, we’ll need to draw sharp lines of distinction between our ideas and those of a status quo that isn’t working. One group that is doing this vital work is the New Economy Working Group, offering grounded yet bold alternatives to make our economy more just, sustainable, equitable.
In 2011, as progressives try to strike a balance between needed short-term actions and long-term strategic thinking, here are some other groups—in addition to those you might already be involved with—that I believe are worth working with: Progressive Congress, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Campaign for America’s Future, Progressive States Network, Working Families Party and the Center for Community Change.
Rest up, get healthy and strong—and be ready for some action that engenders hope come January 2.