Saturday, December 17, 2005

New World Foundation advocates rebuilding a more Democratic Party from the grassroots

AlterNet: The Left's New Majority

This is the America of Latinos, African-Americans, religious progressives, union members, young people, and single women. Combined, these mostly progressive groups of the left constitute an actual and significant national majority. If the Democratic Party taps into this energy, it could help create the next social and political momentum in the United States and even win presidential elections. But typically, Democratic leadership does not work closely with these groups, their natural constituencies. This relationship has yet to become a reality.

Every single American city with a population of over 500,000 voted for John Kerry in 2004. And more than half of all cities with over 50,000 inhabitants did the same. The American public rejected Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998, just as they rejected the vicious manipulation of the Terri Schiavo case in 2005.

.... Another post-2004 election trend has been to say that Democrats need to "frame" their issues better and develop "values", as though moral and social values were something to be learned from the right.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about framing is that progressives, and especially Democrats, have been "framed" by the right as a political fringe without values, driven by self-interest, without regard for ordinary Americans.

The right has successfully taken its own description and projected it upon us. Unless we free ourselves from the frame they have put us in, we are cut off from our own traditions and from the people whose activism continues to drive an agenda based on concern for the democratic distribution of American prosperity.

What self-defeating pandering, when a national figure like Hillary Clinton says we have to "introduce values into the abortion debate." As if the abortion debate was ever anything but a values conflict! To retreat from such an obvious recognition is the expression of a form of defensive paralysis that has plagued Democratic Party leaders for years.

.... In December 2004, I explained on openDemocracy how the Democratic Party is not a party in the traditional sense. It has virtually no local presence or connection to people in most states. During elections, campaign workers are typically flown in and out instead of deploying local activists who can remain engaged from election to election. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, has begun to address this by appointing local party operatives.

What has been achieved by the politically engaged all over the country is very powerful and ought to be compelling to national leaders and funders. A couple of examples will convey a sense of what is described in more detail in "Building the New Majority":

in Florida, on the same day George W Bush was elected, a coalition of small businesses, community organisations, churches and labour unions named Floridians for All, were to thank for the fact that 71 percent of voters came out in favour of raising the minimum wage by $1 to $6.15 (£3.44) per hour.

In Mississippi, a group called Southern Echo has been making its mark over the past thirteen years by organising largely disenfranchised African-Americans in the rural Delta counties. More than twenty of its leaders have been elected as school-board members, county supervisors and mayors. Recently, Southern Echo has overturned a Republican governor's decision to slash the education budget, and even got more funds allocated for crippled public schools.

The Bush administration continues to spend us into the ground with war, homeland insecurity, and callous tax relief for the wealthy. It is eroding America's ability to function democratically and equitably. If conditions don't improve anger will continue to rise.

As Bush's former national-security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, told the New Yorker, the "bad guys" are always the ones who rise to the top of a chaotic society, because they are always better organised. He was talking about the Egyptian elections, but I think the same holds true in America.

There could be a major shift toward progressive thinking in American politics over the next ten years. But it won't happen unless national leadership is either displaced by or starts to connect with the good guys who know how to organize, and are doing so locally as a matter of urgency.

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