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Millions of Americans are eager, even desperate, for a political motion that truly challenges the energy of Wall Street and the Pentagon. But accommodation has been habit-forming for several left-leaning organizations, which are increasingly taking their cues from the party establishment: deferring to top Democrats in Washington, staying away from robust progressive populism, and creating excuses for the Democratic embrace of corporate power and perpetual war.
It really is true that a lot of left-of-center groups are becoming a lot more sophisticated in their use of digital platforms for messaging, fundraising and other work. But it is also correct that President Obama’s transactional method has had demoralizing effects on his base. Even the finest sources-mobilized by unions, environmental groups, feminist organizations and the like-can do only so a lot when numerous voters and former volunteers are inclined to stay house. A month before the 2010 election, Obama strategist David Axelrod noted that “nearly the entire Republican margin is based on the enthusiasm gap.” A related gap created retaking the Residence a long shot this year.
For individuals fed up with bait-and-switch pitches from Democrats who speak progressive to get elected but then govern otherwise, the Occupy motion has been a compelling and energizing counterforce. Its often-implicit message: protesting is hip and astute, while electioneering is uncool and clueless. But protesters’ demands, routinely focused on government action and inaction, underscore how considerably state power actually matters.
To escape this self-defeating trap, progressives must develop a grassroots power base that can do much more than illuminate the nonstop horror shows of the status quo. To posit a decision in between establishing powerful social movements and powerful electoral capacity is akin to picking amongst arms and legs. If we want to move the nation in a progressive direction, the politics of denunciation should work in sync with the politics of organizing-which should contain solid electoral work.
Movements that take to the streets can proceed in creative tension with election campaigns, every single a single augmenting the other. But even if protests flourish, progressive groups expand and left media outlets thrive, the energy to impose government accountability is apt to stay elusive. That power is contingent on organizing, reaching the public and creating muscle to exercise leverage more than what government officials do-and who they are. Even electing better candidates will not accomplish much unless the base is organized and functional sufficient to maintain them accountable.
Politicians like to envision social movements as tributaries flowing into their election campaigns. But a healthy ecology of progressive politics would mean the flow goes mainly in the other path. Election campaigns should be subsets of social movements, not the other way around. Vital initiatives to break the cycles of capitulation and lack of accountability will come from the grassroots.