Mainstream-media coverage of midterm Democratic primaries has settled into a routine. The press notes the continuing success of women and Democratic base’s energy. They tally the record of candidates endorsed by Sanders or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez versus those promoted by the Democratic establishment.
After last week’s races in Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Connecticut, the usual conclusions were trotted out: “Democrats go for diversity; Republicans pick pro-Trump candidates,” Salon reported. Midwest Democrats’ answer to Trump, Politico declared, is “white, conventional and boring,” focusing on the gubernatorial nominees. Democrats have abandoned efforts to have a unified agenda, The New York Times reports, allowing candidates to define themselves. Basic trends remain the same: Democratic turnout is up; Trump is remaking the Republican Party; and control of the House is still in play.
But the media are missing a critical story of these primaries: Progressive populists are beginning to build for real power, starting from the ground up. One needs only to look to Wisconsin to realize the remarkable change that’s happening inside the Democratic Party.
Under Scott Walker, a corruption of democracy has reached new extremes in the state. Deregulation of campaign finance has allowed deep pockets and corporations to dominate funding. Independent expenditure groups can work directly with campaigns. The Koch network made Walker and Wisconsin the test case of its big-money right-wing clout. Worse, after the recall election against Walker failed, less outside money came in on the liberal side.
Wisconsin Citizen Action is challenging this distortion of democracy. It supports organizers to create membership organizations—“co-ops”—particularly in targeted rural and small-city areas outside of deep-blue Madison. The co-ops sustain permanent organizers on the ground, while building a cadre of volunteers.
The permanent presence makes it easier to identify and recruit true progressive champions, often from their own membership. The co-op then helps run true grassroots campaigns. Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin (an affiliate of the national People’s Action) said that canvassing is entirely different when it is done by local volunteers rather than by paid outside canvassers hastily assembled for an election. The relationships formed in the election help build the co-op that stays in place not only to build greater power but also to keep the officials they help to elect accountable.