It is instructive to think about a few key differences between where the country and the progressive movement are at right now, several weeks after the 2006 mid-term Congressional elections, and where we were at the same time after such elections in 2002.
Four years ago, the Bushites were getting their ducks in a row moving towards the invasion of Iraq. The mass media were overwhelmingly complicit in allowing that invasion to happen by their parroting of the government’s positions about “weapons of mass destruction” and other lies and half-truths. Congress had voted in October to give Bush the political cover he needed for his pre-emptive war, although close to 30% of Senators and Congresspeople had voted “no,” a larger number than political pundits had expected.
On the Left, debate had begun to open up about what should be done to get the Bushites out of office. Some of those who had supported Ralph Nader and the Green Party in 2000 were beginning to publicly urge Nader/the Greens to forego a Presidential campaign so that we could all unite to get Bush out of office behind whomever the Democrats chose and to try to influence that choice.
Today, four years later, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are seriously weakened. Their anticipated quick and easy war has now gone longer than U.S. involvement in World War II, and the U.S. is losing. Rumsfeld is gone, Bush is at 31% in the polls, Cheney is in the low 20’s, the Republicans are seriously divided and Congress is in the hands of the Democrats.
As far as Presidential politics, the big thing of the moment is Barack Obama, preaching the need to overcome the “red/blue” division, reach across political differences and find the ways to “move forward together as Americans.” At the same time, non-progressive voices like Thomas Friedman and Lou Dobbs have been writing and speaking, from different standpoints, about the need for a Reform Party-type, “middle-class” alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. And recent articles have reported that there is a noticeable increase in the number of people who are registering as independents.
Within the progressive movement, there’s been almost no debate so far that I’ve seen over the question of what should be done or who might be progressive Presidential standard bearers to get behind, whether as Greens/third party or within the Democratic Party.
It seems to me that this combination of political realities-a very weakened Bush/Cheney administration, broad discontent at the grassroots with both corporate-dominated parties and less vitriol among progressives over the third party question-provides some very real openings over the next two years, and beyond. We can take some big steps forward as far as the cohering and strengthening of a consciously progressive, grassroots based, independent political force.
One very concrete manifestation of these improving possibilities is the development of the U.S. Social Forum movement, building towards a gathering of an expected 20,000 or more people in Atlanta, Ga. in late June, 2007 (www.ussocialforum.org). And its significance is not just in the large numbers being projected. The U.S. Social Forum is of note because much of the leadership for this effort is being provided by grassroots organizations rooted in low-income communities and communities of color, those most affected by the ravages of global corporate policies. Two well-attended regional social forums have already been held, in the Southeast and the Southwest (not New York and California), indicating in a very real way that this is something new and important emerging on the U.S. progressive scene.
Strategizing is part of what will go on at the U.S. Social Forum. The third party question and what to do in 2008 will certainly be part of the discussion. But this is, ultimately, only one of a number of possible tactics in our arsenal. It seems to me that there is a need to look for other kinds of campaigns, approaches to building a massive issue-based movement that can unite people who may have differences on the strategy and/or tactics of Presidential politics but who are in agreement on issues and who agree that we should aim to have a political impact in 2008, present a common front to the country.
Over a year ago I was in discussions with some people about the idea of an organized campaign of town meetings convened for the purpose of discussing and developing an up-from-the-grassroots people’s agenda on issues. I continue to think that this is a good idea. What if, leading up to and emerging out of the Atlanta Social Forum, a broad cross-section of groups agreed to work together on such an effort, raising the funds, recruiting well-known speakers and musicians willing to travel, organizing a network of local grassroots-based groups and coalitions, putting together a skeletal initial draft of some possible planks in a people’s agenda to help focus local town meetings? Then, as the Presidential primary debates begin in the fall of 2007, we can be out there with our effort, building up steam and engaging more and more people, with the ideas emerging out of our campaign washing over, potentially, into both the Democratic (and even Republican) primary debates as well as the Green Party’s process of moving toward its decision.
And, just as importantly, we will be about the process of continuing to bring together the potentially powerful, organized national political force that rejects corporate politics-as-usual as it puts forward its emerging vision of an alternative.
It is true that another world is possible; indeed, another world is emerging out of the misery and oppression of the present. Let’s step up our efforts here in the belly of the beast to advance as quickly as possible toward that new world!