Creating Real Change
[Aside: as some of you know, I’ve been associated with the Commonweal Institute since earlier this year.]
Earlier this summer, the Commonweal Institute welcomed on board a new executive director, Barry Kendall. He’s been a great resource for our organization as he brings new energy, new connections and new ideas on how we can promote the progressive cause. Many at YearlyKos had a chance to meet Barry and hear why he's so passionate about his new job. And not a minute too soon.
Recently, many of us have been truly distressed by the actions of our representatives in Congress and the Senate and their inability to make a difference in Washington. Even worse, at least 22 Democratic Senators and almost 2/3's of the Congressional Democrats found it expedient to censure Moveon.org while letting those that supported Bush’s abuse of the men and women who serve in our military off scot-free. After all, the Democratic leadership didn’t even make the Republicans explain publicly why they thought it was necessary to oppose Jim Webb’s bill which truly would support the troops in every real way it matters.
Yes, we are disappointed in how little things have changed in Washington despite the quite phenomenal watershed election where Democrats were elected to stop Bush. The real problem we have is that our elected representatives are more afraid of losing their big donors, of opposing the right and the media that parrots the messages of the right than they are of angering their base. They seem to be convinced that their weak hand is because their base is too extreme and they must accommodate and placate the right or they will lose the moderates. And they live in Washington where Democrats are seen as weak and powerless even when they have the majority in Congress. (As Glenn Greenwald says, they are doing a bang-up job convincing the public that they are toothless by being so scared of being seen as anti-troop that they are willing to stab their allies in the back in order to go along with the status quo.)
So why is it so hard to make the power of the majority real? Barry’s analysis is that what we lack is a real progressive movement that can pressure Washington to address the problems we face. (emphasis mine)
And yet, we face such problems. An occupation in Iraq with no end in sight. Millions suffering without basic healthcare. Evaporating freedoms. Government-sanctioned torture. Oh, and lest we forget, the world is melting! Our conservative government failed to solve these problems, so we joined together and gave of ourselves to candidates and parties, only to find now that the current Congress is struggling to make progress happen too. President Bush refuses to solve these problems and continues to claim unprecedented powers for the Executive Branch, so in 2006 Americans from across the political spectrum worked harder than ever to check him, but now we see that those victories have not yet resulted in a new direction for our government or for the country. Frankly, this has a lot of committed, progressive people looking around in despair and asking themselves, what’s the point?
The point is that it takes a movement, not just a party, to make social change happen. The job of a political party is to get its candidates elected, and keep them in office – and that’s an important job. But the job of a social movement, like conservatism or like the new progressive movement that is emerging today, our job is to advocate for a vision for society, a philosophy of governance, and the public policy solutions to get us there. As an organized movement, we have to exert our social will in order to make political change happen. We have to gather supporters and adherents, unite our voices and speak up for the things we care about. That’s what creates the political will that enables our elected officials to act. That’s the problem with how Congress has responded to the Iraq war—we the people have failed to create sufficient social will to force the politicians to do our political will. That’s why what MoveOn.org is doing—thank you to our advisor, Joan Blades—is so important, bringing all the anti-war groups together and leading a strategic grassroots publicity campaign to bring mounting political pressure to bear on Congress and the President to end this occupation. MoveOn is a model of what can be achieved when progressives cooperate with each other. Now, I may be naïve to say this, but I do believe that someday the occupation of Iraq will end. But the need for a progressive movement will never end.
The election that put the Congress and the Senate into Democratic hands is not enough when they do not have their constituents pressuring them more steadily and more effectively than the keepers of the status quo in Washington and the rabid right. And we cannot forget that it is up to us foul-mouthed lefty bloggers to make it easy for the politicians to do the right thing by working for and promoting a progressive future and the kind of world we want to see for our kids and the rest of the world.
Moveon.org continues to lead despite the betrayal by the Senate and the Congress. You can help build that progressive movement by clicking on their ad on the left and adding your voice and your dollars to make a point that we progressives are true Americans that care about our country and we have a right to work for a government and a future that reflects our values. And do support organizations like Commonweal Institute as we work to shape public opinion so that a broad segment of the public are a ready to demand progressive solutions like universal healthcare and an end to George Bush's wars.
BTW: We at the Commonweal Institute were pleased to see the interview (pdf) with Barry in The Chronicles of Philanthropy where he talks about what he knows we can accomplish if we work together to create that progressive movement.