Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Political Outsiders Part II: Progressive Democrats

I recommend reading a couple of books and a blog post to get a good background on the insurgency within the Democratic Party by Progressive grassroots activists.

- Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics

- Taking On the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era

- MRZine: Guide to Democratic Party and the Democrats

Both books make the point that Internet and advances in social media technology have the capacity to empower ordinary people who have felt powerless and shut out of the political process to effective political participation. More than that, they have a potential to and in many cases, have had real impact in challenging and toppling entrenched interests in the Democratic Party and in traditional two-party politics. The blog post provides context on where this Progressive insurgency fits within the various groupings of the Democratic Party.

Just who are these Progressive insurgents? These are regular readers and contributors to blogs such as Open Left, Daily Kos, MyDD and Firedoglake. They attend conferences such as the Netroots Nation and America’s Future Now (formerly Take Back America). They are members of political organizations such as Progressive Majority, MoveOn and Democracy for America. They have trained or taken part in seminars offered by the New Organizing Institute (NOI) in Washington, DC or Wellstone Action in Minnesota. For political jobs they peruse listings and professional development opportunities for activists and organizers in the NOI and Democratic GAIN job boards. While not an exhaustive list the examples I cited give a scope of participation by grassroots Progressives in various capacities.

I find myself extremely impressed by the breadth of activities and membership associations that I described above. They seem to suggest—dare I say it?—an actual, attempt to form a bona fide political opposition movement to challenge not only the influence of the powerful right wing but the right wing from within the Democratic Party as well. In lurking at Progressive blogs and mingling with people from within this movement in person in Washington, DC, the phrase “movement-building” is a phrase that I have overheard being used. More than just cocktail party chatter, the breadth of existing organizations and activists suggest people are actually doing it and taking organizing seriously.

Are there critical things to say about this movement? My review of the book Taking on the System sums up what I have to say that is critical:
My questions for Zuniga — and I am still speaking as a Progressive here — what if I am not a Democrat and don’t want to be one? Nothing against Democrats but what if I disagree with the strategy of electing Democrats into office as the primary way to define victory in the fight for Progressive politics? What if I adhere to beliefs and political positions that just don’t jibe with mainstream Democratic policies? Is there room for someone like me to make an impact in small “d” democracy in America or should I just resign myself to being in the fringes, marginal and irrelevant?

After all, being a Progressive within the Democratic Party seems to be no great shakes either. We’ve all seen how politicians like Dennis Kucinich and Progressive perspectives on foreign policy, trade, domestic policy, healthcare, etc. pretty much are marginalized in the Democratic Party. Even in newly-elected President’s Barack Obama’s administration, Progressives are outnumbered and outgunned in his cabinet appointments which are populated primarily by the DLC, corporate-friendly Democrats.


From the perspective of this Progressive Independent, there is a lot of positive to say about this Progressive insurgency. Not only do they represent a revitalized Progressive movement, they also represent the first, wide-ranging organizing effort among Progressives to actually organize ordinary folks into becoming effective activists and participants in small “d” democracy. I’m a believer in grassroots, populist, power to the people, up from the bottom philosophies. The Progressive insurgency within the Democratic Party is an example of such a movement. Hence, these grassroots activists deserve kudos and respect in my book.

If there are critical things to say in my perspective, it would have to be the movement’s narrow focus on the Democratic Party and electoral politics as the primary strategy to realize Progressive goals. I am a believer of what political scientist Adolph Reed has to say regarding Progressives hitching their hopes solely on the Democratic Party. I also believe that a Progressive political movement has to be larger than any political party and would have to be inclusive of people who are outside of the two major parties—independents, third and minor parties, the Left, etc.

But this Democratic Party insurgency is a great start and I can’t wait to see how American politics will be re-shaped in the future as a direct result of their efforts.

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