Now that Election 2014 is over and we await whatever happens next in the Democratic camp, progressives need to step up efforts to take their rightful place at the helm of the party.
It is clear that voter disengagement was more a function of the unwillingness to keep voting in the status quo, than it was the abandonment of the Democratic party. It should be taken as a warning to Democrats that the party, as it is now, not only stopped reflecting the popular view, but has also allowed itself to be dragged into the Republicans’ dangerous race politics.
Why is race relevant in a discussion of restoring democracy? As James Baldwin put it:
“If we- and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others- do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
In just four years, our nation went from the illusion of post-racism, to the disillusion of retro-racism on the right. Two years after the horrendous Election 2012 campaigns, we are treated to the sight of so many prominent Democratic candidates scurrying away from even admitting they’d voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 so as not to upset a subset of their potential voters is a campaign strategy that needs to be called out for what it is: retro-racial politics. Racism is a stain on America’s soul and its original sin. We must clean the stain and purify our souls. Only then will we be whole.
Amid some Democrats’ retro-racial campaigns, blacks were still taken for granted and expected to show up at the polls. They didn’t. Neither did other segments of the voting population, and rightly so. These Democrats didn’t deserve to win. Aside from the realignment I called for in my last two posts, here and here, what should be next?
Well, we’ve seen popular movements rise before and most recently, we saw Occupy Wall Street rise and very quickly get suppressed. The movement that currently shows the most promise is Moral Monday, with its cross-cultural and racial appeal and the focus on achieving universal goals. The work of North Carolina NAACP’s Reverend William Barber needs to be replicated in all fifty states and in every county, if real change is going to be effected. The goals of the movement should appeal to working and middle class voters across the board. The all-inclusive nature of the organization is a direct outcome of the Civil Rights movement, and ought to be actively aggressively and urgently promoted by the national NAACP and other civil rights organizations.
Why should the NAACP lead? The answer is simple. There is no other national organization that has the reach or mission of the NAACP. Now, that isn’t to say that the NAACP should do this work alone, or that it is its responsibility. The opposite, in fact, is true. The reality is that there is no organization of white people who want to work toward racial harmony. There should be one.
So, for that reason, the NAACP should lead an effort to coordinate the establishment of state and county chapters of Moral Monday with secular and religious organizations across the spectrum, and demonstrate the kind of leadership tent that the Democratic party is unable, at this juncture, to provide. All of the old partnerships of the Civil Rights era should be revived and strengthened, and new ones forged. Many great grassroots movements have emerged since 2008, and it is high time someone got everyone together and harnessed the power of grassroots activism again. I am thinking about organizations such as People For the American Way (PFAW), Color of Change, Bold Progressives, Van Jones’ Rebuild The Dream, Common Cause, The Christian Left, and many others, in addition to the Episcopal, Baptist, and other churches, Jewish and Muslim clergy organizations and all other religious groups that have traditionally been very active in civil rights organizing.
There isn’t a moment to waste. A new alliance needs to be formed in order to achieve the kinds of goals needed to ensure that Election 2016 candidates offer America a way out of the corruption of Citizens United, McCutcheon v. FEC, and anything else the U.S. Supreme Court may throw our way between now and then. By now, most Americans are aware of the deep rot of corruption our nation is mired in. By now, most of us know how precarious our Democracy is, if it hasn’t already fallen victim to plutocracy. In April of this year, TPM had this write up of a Princeton University study:
Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer An Actual Democracy
Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” they write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”
As one illustration, Gilens and Page compare the political preferences of Americans at the 50th income percentile to preferences of Americans at the 90th percentile as well as major lobbying or business groups. They find that the government—whether Republican or Democratic—more often follows the preferences of the latter group rather than the first. [ … ]
Click here to read the rest of this article on TPM.
As I’ve commented many times over the past year, it will take a very long-term concerted effort to find Lady Democracy and restore her to her former glory. In order to achieve that goal, we will need to find our compassion, collective sense of shame, the commitment to undo the damage by taking legislative steps to restore the Voting Rights Act and improve it in order to prevent another plutocratic takeover. This work alone will most likely need our close attention and devotion over this generation and the next.
America’s dangerous flirtations with disengagement and anti-intellectualism need to come to an end. They are how those who would usurp power were able to take advantage. We all need to pledge to engage in our politics permanently. It’s our civic duty and the highest form of patriotism there is.