Movement-Building and the 2012 Presidential Campaign

Future Hope column, April 3, 2011

By Ted Glick

All of a sudden the news media is full of stories about President Obama about to officially announce his 2012 reelection campaign, with headlines that he may end up raising a billion dollars in the process.

The question for independent progressives, those of us who fully understand that the Obama administration and the national Democratic Party are in no way consistently progressive and cannot be counted upon to stand up and fight for a progressive agenda, is what do we say and do about this.

One independent progressive national leader, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, two weeks ago endorsed the idea of a progressive challenge to Obama within the Democratic primaries. In an interview on radio station WNYC in New York City, he said: “If a progressive Democrat wants to run, I think it would enliven the debate, raise some issues and people have a right to do that. I’ve been asked whether I am going to do that. I’m not. I don’t know who is, but in a democracy, it’s not a bad idea to have different voices out there.” Huffington Post

Whatever happens as far as a progressive challenge to Obama within the Democratic primaries, there will be “different voices out there” in 2012, and at least one, the Green Party’s nominee, whomever it may be, will be progressive. The problem, of course, is that we live under a farce of a democracy where big money dominates the political process, including the mass media. We have winner-take-all, not proportional representation. Alternative party candidates are almost always excluded from the televised debates, unless you’re a billionaire like Ross Perot. As a result it is extremely difficult for alternative candidacies, especially at the Presidential level, to have much impact, much less seriously contend to win.

This is, at best, a very flawed democracy, a 19th century political system in the 21st century. Even Iraq under U.S. occupation has proportional representation. Talk about a contradiction!

So until popular pressure from below forces change in our undemocratic electoral system, we on the Left have to do the best with what we’ve got.

My view as far as 2012 is that it would be a good thing to have a solid progressive challenger to Obama both in the Democratic Party primaries and in the general election via a Green Party candidacy. Even better, as far as a Green Party candidacy, would be an “alliance” candidacy in which the Green Party was one of several main components. Kind of like the 1980’s Rainbow Coalition but independent.

Such a “1-2” progressive effort will not lead to a progressive in the White House come 2013, but it will do several very important things:

It will let Obama and all the other centrist Democrats know that they cannot take the Left for granted when it comes to major policy issues.

It will probably lead to Obama saying better things on the issues as he campaigns. Though we know from what happened after Obama won in 2008 that this doesn’t mean he’s going to do what he says, it will make it harder for him to completely backtrack, give issue-oriented movements leverage in their efforts to get him to do the right thing during a second term.

It will help progressives in our on-going efforts during 2011 and 2012 to defend against the continuing efforts of the ultra-rightist Republicans to break unions, shred the safety net, take away EPA’s power to enforce environmental laws, undercut Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, and everything else.

And potentially, if the Left can show maturity, determination and flexibility, it can help the process of a coming together of issue-oriented progressive Democrats, third party activists and labor, issue-based and community organizers.

These “1-2” electoral tactics can be a concrete way to build the “third force” which is strategically key to turning around the disastrous direction of U.S. politics and policies, nationally and internationally.

Ted Glick has been a progressive activist since 1968 and a climate activist since 2004. Past Future Hope columns and other information can be found at