Finally, while being broad in scope, within the framework of jobs and economic security, the platform should include provisions that are of crucial importance to key constituencies within the progressive coalition: There is no more important equalizer in our society than organized labor. Study after study has shown (as well as comparative data from other western industrialized nations) that as labor goes so goes the quality of life for workers, the middle class and the poor. With labor under ferocious attack by conservative forces, educating the electorate on and mobilizing support for the Employee Free Choice Act is absolutely essential. The depression levels of unemployment and economic deterioration in urban-inner city Black communities should be viewed as a State of Emergency. But, the conservative assault on “race-based remedies” has been so effective that politicians lack the courage to consciously and directly address this horrific problem. The liberal/progressive platform should heed the urgent appeal of African American leaders and advocate for targeted jobs and economic initiatives to end the decades of neglect that has produced marginalized neighborhoods in a nation of plenty.
Liberals/progressives must also address the vital issue of immigration policy reform as a matter of economic security. While this is largely seen as a Hispanic issue, we must advance a formulation which provides an equitable opportunity for millions of undocumented workers of all races and ethnicities to come out of the shadows and secure their place as citizens in this country. With a jobs/economic security theme and platform broad enough to appeal to all sectors of the American electorate, and specific enough to motivate crucial constituencies, progressives will be well positioned to build an irresistible force for change!
At the PNC plans should be outlined for mass-based activities to carry the theme/platform/ message to the electorate as part of the counter-offensive to repulse the conservative tide which, if allowed to go unchecked, will sweep Republicans into the White House and control of both houses of Congress. For all their shortcomings, Obama and the Democrats are a far better choice than conservatives/reactionaries who are hell bent on decimating the culture of rights for the majority and placing the reins of power firmly in the hands of the elites on Wall Street. Though the vision and values of the America we seek to build will be beyond the defensive, incremental agenda offered by Obama and the Democrats, tactically we must mobilize to support the Democrats even as we commit to a more transformative politics for the future.
To succeed in this tactical objective, liberals/progressives must not equivocate or waste time recounting what could have been or should have been. We must pursue the task of repulsing the conservative tide with conviction, passion and determination. Accordingly, as I suggested in an article last year, consideration might be given to launching a Rainbow Express, a caravan of high profile liberal/progressive leaders that would crisscross the nation following a designated route of targeted districts. Such a caravan would maintain the momentum generated by PNC and continue to attract local and national media as a means of getting the message to the people. In addition, what if liberal/progressive luminaries, media personalities, organizations, constituencies and activists could forge a united front to mobilize a million people to rally in Washington on the eve of the election to demand jobs for the unemployed and economic security for workers, the middle class, people of color minorities and the poor?
These demonstrations of strength are possible if we connect new and old school organizing strategies. Personally, I believe there is no substitute for door to door, person to person, face to face organizing to touch people and convince them of the righteousness of a cause. Now more than ever, when so many people seem dispirited, disillusioned and disinclined to become engaged, we must utilize social media to recruit an army of volunteers willing to pound the pavement to touch, motivate and mobilize/organize the unorganized to fill the streets and march on ballot boxes for what might be one of the most pivotal elections in the history of this nation. Irrespective of whether the ideas I have suggested are adopted, the key point is there should be a coordinated campaign that carries the message and mobilizes voters right up to Election Day.
Having achieved the intended outcome from the 2012 election, it would be unfortunate if liberals/progressives did not create an independent mechanism to be a force to be reckoned with on the left. This is the role the National Rainbow Coalition could have played had it not been demobilized. What is required is not new. Based on the notion of an inside/outside strategy, liberals/progressives need a mechanism on the left that will consistently advance and educate the American electorate about progressive policy proposals for shaping a better future; mobilize mass actions and advocacy campaigns to press for the adoption of policy proposals at the local, state and national level; and, support liberal/progressive candidates where circumstances dictate a probability of success.
The bottom line is that liberals/progressives must move beyond an almost infantile posture of merely criticizing the flaws and failings of the Democrats to creating a mechanism and force that can positively impact the national discourse and influence the outcome of elections. What the Tea Party Patriot Movement has illustrated is that effective messaging and organizing trumps critiques that are devoid of consequences. For example, it is ridiculous to rail against the “Blue Dog” Democrats for their conservative stance on some issues if liberals/progressives do not have the capacity to unseat them. Until such capacity is developed and demonstrated, frankly I would rather have a Blue Dog Democrat who is on my side some of the time than a Republican-conservative who is never on my side. The Tea Party has emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the right. What the liberal/progressive movement needs is a force to be reckoned with on the left. It remains to be seen whether liberals/progressives can rise above political tribalism and Balkanization to realize this crucial objective.
In this series of essays, I have attempted to present a strategy for forging a progressive force for change independent of Obama and the Democrats which includes support for the President’s re-election in 2012. As a practical matter, the current political terrain dictates that such an independent force should have solid working relations with liberal/progressive Democrats. An independent mechanism continually articulating its vision to the American electorate and employing an inside/outside strategy in its relationship with the Democratic Party can be effective in moving the political discourse and content of public policy decisions to the left. To break out of the current defensive and defeatist malaise, however, the liberal/progressive forces need a bold, game changing strategy and event. I contend that a Progressive National Convention can be the linchpin for a much needed progressive counter-offensive to blunt the conservative tide and build a new majority for a progressive agenda for change.
In 1972 when Black America was at a critical political cross-road, a cadre of African American political leaders came together to call for the convening of a National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. In less than six months the organizers mobilized one of the most significant gatherings of African Americans in the 20th century. Some 10,000 delegates and alternates converged on Gary in March of 1972 to adopt a National Black Political Agenda and create the National Black Political Assembly as the official continuations mechanism. The consensus among political observers is that the Gary Black Political Convention was a watershed event for Black politics, a game changer that inspired thousands of Black people to run for political office at all levels. As a result, by the end of the decade the number of Black elected officials had increased from hundreds to thousands across the nation.
Nearly forty years later, America and the liberal-progressive movement are at a critical crossroad. A National Progressive Convention could well have the effect of the Gary National Black Political Convention; it could be an extraordinary event, a historical happening that galvanizes liberal/progressive forces to check and defeat conservative extremism and advances a vision and program for progressive change beyond the 2012 election. Liberals/progressives have complained about conservative donors funding the Tea Party Patriot Movement and other rightwing initiatives. Now the question is whether labor unions and liberal/progressive donors will have the audacity to step forward to fund a counter-offensive to create a formidable force on the left, including a Progressive National Convention, a mass-based progressive voter education and mobilization campaign after the Convention and an independent political organization post-election. The moment of decision for all concerned is at hand. The fate of the liberal/progressive quest to build a “more perfection union” may hang in the balance!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and 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.