It is now four months since the Bush/Cheney administration took office. Any illusions that the coup-like way Bush/Cheney came to power, or the 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate, would lead to a more centrist regime have been dispelled. The Republicans are pushing a regressive agenda as hard as they can, and on most issues, the Democrats just don’t have the collective will to use their political or filibuster power to significantly alter that agenda.
It’s up to us, the grassroots, the independents, the Greens, labor, the third partyites, progressive Democrats, the radicals and revolutionaries, to defend our and our peoples’ rights. Besides the obvious, “don’t mourn, organize,” the question is, how? How can we get ourselves organized to build the most effective political opposition?
The answer is relatively easy. We need Rainbow II, a 21st Century Rainbow Movement, a coalition of all the disenfranchised, excluded and oppressed, with people of color playing a major leadership role. The answer to the follow-up questions, “How do we get to this needed political instrument?,” “What would it look like?,” “What would it do?,”
are not as easy, but those are the questions we all need to begin talking about and finding answers to. Here’s my thinking:
Getting There: There are several ways, and it may be that we need all of them. One would be for a nationally-prominent individual to do what Jesse Jackson did in 1983-1984 that led to the founding of the Rainbow
Coalition: put him- or herself out there, travel the county, pull folks together. This would not have to be done around the perspective of a Presidential candidacy. It could be done around the perspective of the need for Rainbow II, combined with immediate support of important local and national campaigns around critical issues.
Another way would be to build upon work that is already taking place linking a number of the key progressive political forces. One prominent example is the pro-democracy, electoral reform, justice in voting movement. The upcoming Pro-Democracy Convention in Philadelphia June 29th-July 1st, if successful, can be a stimulus not just to that essential movement but for this broader approach.
Locally, organizers can begin to pull together representatives of the “popular bloc,” as labor activist Bill Fletcher has described it, for discussions about what such a formation might look like and do in their area.
Complexion: Building upon one of the ’80s Rainbow’s key strengths, these efforts must BEGIN with significant involvement and leadership from people of color with bases in communities and unions, while involving a broad range of activists from other areas of struggle. We need a new progressive movement that works on all of the various forms of oppression people are subjected to-class oppression, sexism, homophobia, ageism, others-while understanding that the racial divide, white supremacy, has historically been the rock upon which the ship of justice in this country has always foundered. The fact that a national conference on racism and white supremacy within the progressive movement is beginning to be organized for later this year can play an important role in keeping this perspective central.
Rainbow II must be democratic. To be effective it must be, as was the ’80s Rainbow movement, a coalition between progressive Democrats and independents, but it cannot be dominated by either. It cannot, absolutely cannot, be built around one charismatic, energetic, visionary leader with inordinate power. We need leaders with charisma, energy and vision, among other things, but we need a COLLECTIVE AND ACCOUNTABLE leadership.
Activity: The essence of this needed formation’s work must be opposition to Bush/Cheney/Republican (and some Democratic) policies through building broad-based support for a popular, progressive agenda around a whole series of issues: energy policy, weapons in space, police violence and the prison-industrial complex, justice in voting, reproductive rights for women, a living wage, defense of unions, opposition to global warming, for fair trade and against the FTAA, cutting the military budget, etc. There is no problem coming up with issues to work on. What Rainbow II can do is link them in the way Jesse Jackson did in his 1984 and 1988 Presidential campaigns, the way Ralph Nader did in 2000. But it wouldn’t do so just through this one tactic. It would figure out ways to do so year-round.
It will have to address the difficult issue of how to support candidates. If it is to have the breadth needed, it will involve people who are running as Democrats and people who are running as greens, progressives, socialists or some other form of independent. Indeed, one of the functions it can play is to minimize, if not eliminate, the problem of progressive candidates who support Rainbow II’s program running against each other in the same electoral district. Until we get instant runoff voting-an essential electoral reform that will benefit us all-we will have this problem, and this tension.
There is urgency to this question. What stands in the way?
The largest obstacle is the fact that, with the exception of the period of the mid-80s, there is little history of such political formations, on a mass scale, being successful. But there are linkages that exist right now among virtually all of the key political forces that must come together if Rainbow II is to happen. Aren’t the urgent realities facing us enough to get us over that hurdle? Have we matured, or not?
The smaller obstacle is the residue of the Nader/LaDuke campaign. Some progressive Democrats, although a declining number, continue to act as if Ralph Nader should be forever shunned, banned from their circles, banished to the political wilderness. Get over it! Let’s learn to combine the short-term needs of our peoples, our threatened eco-system and heavens, through the election of, yes, mainly Democrats who will fight against Bush/Cheney, with the long-term need of a fundamentally transformed electoral system that will give us real democracy, genuine alternatives, new voices, and increased participation from the majority that doesn’t vote at all right now. Let’s get on with it!