Yes, I’m at it again. I feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness, urging the liberal-left-progressive forces to gather our disparate “patches and pieces,” as Rev. Jesse Jackson used to say, to mount an offensive to counter the Tea Party/conservative/Republican’s misinformation and machinations, and build momentum for this year’s mid-term elections. Those who regularly read Vantage Point are aware that I have been totally frustrated by the paucity of the response to the conservatives who have been dominating the political scene for months. It is as if the left is stunned, dispirited, disoriented and incapable of gathering itself to fight-back. Over the past few weeks this was evident again as the Tea Party Movement captured headlines with their “Tea Party Express” which featured events in select cities in several states, culminating with a Tax Day Rally in Washington, D.C. The front page of April 15th edition of the New York Times featured a huge story with polling data on the composition and attitudes of the Tea Party Movement. Once they announced their Tax Day Initiative it became a major story for the news media. Fortunately, I attended/participated in Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) Convention which at least received coverage on some media outlets as Black leaders and organizers gathered from around the country to discuss a Twelve Month Action Plan.
But, the NAN Convention, Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Convention in June and similar meetings that will be convened by various organizations are hardly enough to effectively counter and overcome the conservative onslaught. What the left needs is an umbrella initiative that pulls together a broad array of organizations, constituencies and leaders to dramatically challenge the misconceptions, falsehoods and reactionary vision of the conservatives -- and yes, articulate a vision and program that pressures and creates space for the Obama administration to embrace more progressive policy positions.
I am aware that there are many on the left who are deeply disappointed that President Obama has not produced “change we can believe in,” but it would be a grave mistake not to herald the incremental changes that have occurred under this administration that simply would not have been possible under Bush-Cheney. This includes passage of “health insurance reform legislation,” which is hardly what the progressive movement envisioned. That notwithstanding, President Obama has achieved what eluded President after President for decades: an incremental piece of legislation that means that 32 million more Americans will eventually have access to health care. The approach may be incremental in terms of the vision of a Single Payer System, but it is not inconsequential to the millions of people who previously had no access to health care at all. Michael Moore adopted what I consider to be an appropriate posture given the political constraints confronting Obama; he recognized that the legislation was/is flawed but realized that the failure to pass it would have been a major set- back for the progressive cause. Because we are dissatisfied that the Obama administration is not what we had hoped for so far, we must not abandon the field to the Tea Party/conservative/Republicans, the Grand Obstructionist Party (GOP). To do so is to invite the reactionaries to retake Congress this year and capture the White House in 2012. While others may disagree, I prefer to see the Obama presidency and the Democratic Congress as a net plus we must preserve, consolidate and build on as the base for more far ranging change in the future. We cannot allow the forces of reaction to render 2010 a “Waterloo” moment for the liberal-left-progressive cause.
In a recent article, I issued a call for “Rainbow Warriors” to rally to create a progressive third force in American politics. While the concept of a third force remains an important objective, I believe averting catastrophe in the mid-term elections dictates that the left adopt a bold interim strategy immediately. The liberal-left-progressive forces should launch a “Rainbow Express” as a vehicle to counter the conservatives/obstructionists and mobilize/galvanize constituencies to protect and expand the net gains of the Obama presidency. Thematically the Rainbow Express should be organized around a few basic principles which would shape the core message as it moves through various locales around the country -- Corporate Responsibility and Accountability, Compassionate Government and Inclusive Democracy come to mind as possible themes.
No matter what transpires with the current legislation under consideration in Congress, it is imperative that progressives relentlessly hammer Wall Street and expose the reckless behavior of the financial institutions that caused the melt down of the American economy. It is critical to continually remind the public of the dangers of unregulated corporations. The anger that is being misdirected toward “big government” must be refocused, rechanneled, targeted on the giant financial and corporate interests that are the real source of the pain that has been inflicted on workers, the middle class and the poor. Under the theme of Compassionate Government, progressives should focus on social and economic issues of concern to vast numbers of Americans, e.g., jobs/income, housings, health care, reproductive rights, labor rights, student rights, lesbian and gay rights and immigration policy reform – issues around which a broad coalition can be forged to mobilize support for the Rainbow Express. Finally, the theme of Inclusive Democracy should extol the vision and value of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural society with social and economic equity/parity for all – a stark contrast to the vision and face of the Tea Party/GOP.
Whatever the themes and principles adopted they must constitute the base for the core message that will be internalized and articulated consistently in order to be an effective tool for mass education. We have to develop a basic message and stay on message. In my view, relentlessly exposing the irresponsible and unaccountable attitude and behavior of the giant financial institutions holds great promise as the prism/window through which to view the corrosive “profit over people, public be damned” mentality of Wall Street and to clearly articulate progressive values on the economy and government. Without question, we must focus on jobs and the economy, but we must do it within the context of condemning the attitude and behavior that ruined the economy, precipitating massive joblessness and causing anguish/pain for millions of Americans. It is in this context that progressives must demand that a compassionate government rein in Wall Street and facilitate the creation of good jobs with good wages.
The Rainbow Express would be comprised of one or more busses and/or recreational vehicles that travel through a carefully selected series of Red, Blue and politically mixed locales around the country, featuring a stellar cast of liberal-left-progressive leaders and prominent artists, entertainers, athletes, cultural icons and media allies. Advance teams would work to mobilize mass rallies where cultural-political entertainment, voter education, policy advocacy, voter registration and mobilization would occur and a popular message conveyed crafted around the basic themes of the Rainbow Express Initiative. Signing up/recruiting participants would be essential to develop a national data base of volunteers who could undertake various activities leading up to the mid-term elections. The Rainbow Express should begin at a locale of historical significance to the struggle to expand democracy and human rights in the U.S. Along the way it would be important to make a few high profile stops in the states/districts of leading Tea Party and obstructionist adherents like Kentucky, the home state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And, if I had my druthers, the Rainbow Express would peak/climax with two major events, mass rallies on Wall Street (the scene of the crime) on August 27th and Washington, D.C. (the source of the solution) August 28th, the 47th Anniversary of the March on Washington!
Inevitably the question arises as to which leader(s) or organization(s) would spearhead-coordinate the Rainbow Express. It might shock some of my friends/associates/allies that I believe there is no better person equipped to call on to play a leading role in this Initiative than Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. Obviously, I am well aware, indeed, I have been part of the chorus of progressive critics who feel Rev. Jackson’s demobilization of the National Rainbow Coalition as a mass based, multi-tactical membership organization and potential third force in American politics was a blunder of historic proportions. Yet when I survey the political scene today, Rev. Jackson has no peer as a civil rights/human rights leader when it comes to grasping and articulating public policy in a manner that can resonate with masses of ordinary people. In a recent conversation, I was utterly amazed as he ranged effortlessly over a series of issues, offering brilliant insights on the contradictions and hypocrisy of the Tea Party crowd, and equally important offering creative policy prescriptions, that as he would say, “make sense.” Moreover, Rev. Jackson is still being called upon to stand with the left out and locked out at rallies and protests across the country and around the world. We simply don’t hear much about his efforts these days because he is not the media favorite of the moment. However, the Rainbow Express would capture the attention of the media and accentuate his strengths as a brilliant strategist and dynamic spokesperson.
So, I am convinced that despite his flaws and past failings, we should call on this gifted leader for one more extraordinary effort. By his own admission, Rev. Jackson is a “tree-shaker not a jelly-maker.” Consequently, we should accept him for what he does best and be clear that if we want something permanent to be forged from the Rainbow Express, a committed circle of advocates and organizers will have to make the jam.
While Rev. Jackson would be a major organizer and spokesperson, I envision an inter-generational Rainbow collective of organizations and leaders being convened to share in the visioning, messaging, planning and coordination of this Initiative. Rev. Al Sharpton (no room for rivalries on this one), Van Jones, Maia Luzo, Bakari Kitwana, Jim Hightower, Kim Gandy, Cornel West, Dolores Huerta, Leslie Cagan, Ted Glick, Marc Lamont Hill, Bill Fletcher, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Maxine Waters, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky (other members of the Progressive Caucus), Richard Trumka, Andy Stern, Gerald McEntee, (no rivalries needed here either), George Friday, Elena Herrada, Bob Borosage, Barbara Ehrenreich, Julianne Malveaux, Sabina Virgo, Oscar Chacón and Ron Walters are among those who should be consulted and engaged to launch the Rainbow Express [this is by no means an exhaustive list].
Last but not least, labor unions and progressive philanthropists must step up to the plate to provide the funding for the Rainbow Express Initiative. For far too long in the current political cycle, the liberal-left-progressive forces have been dormant or outmaneuvered by the reactionaries and obstructionists. And, significant resources will be required to mount a robust response. If we believe we have the best vision, values and policy prescriptions to build a new progressive majority in America, then it is imperative that an all out effort be made to knit/weave our splendid patches and pieces together into the kind of splendid protective quilt Rev. Jesse Jackson used to wax eloquently about – a quilt of corporate responsibility and accountability, compassionate government and an inclusive democracy. Let the Rainbow Express be the umbrella Initiative that launches a progressive offensive to build momentum for the mid-term elections and beyond!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Founder of the Haiti Support Project. He is a Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.