Minnesota sends to Congress a remarkable member of Congress who has focused on defending the Constitution, speaking truth to power in both parties and practicing a politics of principle rather than petty partisanship. Now, that House member is launching a national campaign on behalf of a new common-sense economic agenda that gets America’s priorities straight, tips the balance from Wall Street to Main Street and puts people back to work.
Needless to say, we are not talking about Michele Bachmann.
Congressman Keith Ellison, the Minneapolis Democrat who now co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (with Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva) does not get the kind of attention that his fellow Minnesotan grabs. When both Bachmann and Ellison spoke in Minneapolis Saturday—to competing conventions of liberal and conservative online activists—Bachmann got the attention of vapid national media that prefer her empty rhetoric and emptier promises to a politics of substance. She used her appearance at the annual RightOnline conference to highlight her vanity candidacy for the Republican nomination for president.
Just blocks away, however, Ellison was providing the substance. Speaking at the Netroots Nation gathering and a host of other events, he was not playing presidential politics. He was doing something far more meaningful. He was launching a movement to change the character—and the direction—of the national debate about the economy that both parties are getting wrong.
Ellison and Grijalva, as co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will be traveling the country this summer, rallying Americans for a “Rebuild the American Dream” agenda that says the first priority of Congress and the White House must be “Good Jobs Now!”
That’s a radical break with the Washington consensus, as represented by Bachmann, the other Republicans who are seeking the presidency, the other Republicans in Congress and too many Demorats who operate under the fantasy that the most pressing issue facing America is deficit reduction.
“At a time when we have 8, 9, 10 percent official unemployment in states across this country, and when the real unemployment rate is so much higher in our cities and rural areas, the economic issue that Americans are talking about is jobs,” says Ellison. “We want to have that conversation in Minneapolis, in Detroit, in Milwaukee, in cities across this country, and we want to take it back to Washington.
In Congress, says Ellison, “We’ve been debating what less we’re gong to for America. We have to start debating what more we’re going to do for America.”
Throughout the summer, Ellison and Grijalva will be hosting mass “Speak Out for Good Jobs Now” listening sessions—along with marches and rallies—in more than a dozen communities.
The speak out began in Minneapolis, the city Ellison has represented since 2007—and which he represented earlier as a state legislator.
Standing with Laborers International union leaders and allies on the Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, Ellison recalled the rush-hour collapse of the nearby I-35 bridge that killed thirteen people, injured 145 others and highlighted that crisis of neglected infrastructure across America.
“We’ve got $3 billion in infrastructure that needs to be built up,” he congressman declared. “So who’s going to do it?”
“We are!” shouted a crowd that was packed with Laborers’ union members and their allies.
Arguing that the United States has not begun to invest sufficiently in job-creating infrastructure repair and renewal projects, Ellison says that a demand must go up from America for that investment.
“We’ve got to create a tidal wave, a tidal wave of energy and support for good jobs,” Ellison told the cheering crowd Friday afternoon. “We’ve got to have a movement and it has to spread across this country.… We’re here on the Stone Arch Bridge today, but this has to be a national movement.”
Michele Bachmann can have her presidential campaign.
Keith Ellison is interested in making something real.
“We’ve got to build a movement from the grassroots, from cities that need jobs, from people who know what we need to do to invest and create those jobs,” says Ellison. “We’ve got to make the connection between what Washington works on and what America says must be done.”