Jobs, Justice and the Planet

During Obama’s second term, the Left cannot passively await changes from the Democratic Party.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Progressive change will come from political organization producing candidates whose politics resemble those of individuals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders. (America's Power / Flickr / Creative Commons)

In 2008, lib­er­als, pro­gres­sives and many left­ists made a strate­gic mis­take. With the elec­tion of Barack Oba­ma, we assumed that we could pas­sive­ly await change. We should have known bet­ter, giv­en the expe­ri­ence of eight years of the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion. Rather than mov­ing quick­ly to push the new Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion in a pro­gres­sive direc­tion, by the spring of 2009, the Left had ced­ed ini­tia­tive on both domes­tic and for­eign pol­i­cy to the Right. With the 2012 elec­tion behind us, pro­gres­sive forces should act quick­ly so as not to repeat our cost­ly mis­take of the first term. We must:

The Democratic Party is incapable of leading the movement for social change, but it can respond to pressure from below.
  • Pre­pare to take mass action as we head toward the so-called fis­cal cliff. Forces with­in orga­nized labor, among oth­ers, are already prepar­ing to pres­sure Con­gress and the White House to reject reac­tionary cuts. What I am sug­gest­ing goes fur­ther. We need to begin orga­niz­ing march­es for jobs and hous­ing in ear­ly 2013 in every state cap­i­tal. These demon­stra­tions must demand that peo­ple be put to work and that hous­ing be made avail­able for those who need it.
  • Demand eco­nom­ic and social jus­tice. Though Oba­ma cam­paigned in 2008 on behalf of work­ers, once in office he became far too cau­tious in speak­ing out for full eco­nom­ic jus­tice, retreat­ing into the realm of the cor­po­rate lib­er­al. Too often, labor unions and oth­ers let him off the hook. We must make the expan­sion of work­ers’ right to orga­nize part of the nation­al debate. And we must build a state by state move­ment to imple­ment con­sti­tu­tion­al changes that expand work­ers’ rights.
  • Insist that the admin­is­tra­tion take con­crete steps to address sys­temic racism and sex­ism, much of which was evinced dur­ing the cam­paign by what was not said (e.g., a dis­cus­sion of the state of Black Amer­i­ca), as well as what was said (e.g., the misog­y­ny com­ing from the Right).
  • Defend our plan­et. Hur­ri­cane Sandy has awak­ened many peo­ple to the increas­ing dan­gers of cli­mate change. Though glob­al warm­ing was not dis­cussed dur­ing the cam­paign, pro­gres­sives must make this an imme­di­ate issue, start­ing with a broad-based edu­ca­tion effort that links defense of the envi­ron­ment with the need to change this tox­ic eco­nom­ic system.

So, how do we do this? It is impos­si­ble to avoid the ques­tion of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is inca­pable of lead­ing the move­ment for these changes, but it can respond to pres­sure from below. That sort of pres­sure will not, in the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, come from third par­ty can­di­dates, but it will come from the devel­op­ment of orga­ni­za­tions that can field can­di­dates whose pol­i­tics are akin to those of indi­vid­u­als such as Rep. Bar­bara Lee (D‑Calif.) or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.). This means a long-term strat­e­gy that does not bet our future on the abil­i­ty of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to change, but sees the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty as a field of strug­gle as we build the elec­toral wing of a larg­er pro­gres­sive movement.

Bill Fletch­er, Jr. is a talk show host, writer, activist, and trade union­ist. He is the exec­u­tive edi­tor of The Glob­al African Work­er, a co-author (with Fer­nan­do Gapasin) of Soli­tary Divid­ed, and the author of They’re Bank­rupt­ing Us” – Twen­ty Oth­er Myths about Unions. You can fol­low him on Twit­ter, Face­book and at www​.bill​fletcher​jr​.com.
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