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“Thanks For Asking”: How Do You Make Change Happen? Show Up

In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grassroots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of “victory” and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?

Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something — and every bit helps.

Simply being there matters. While progressives have shown up for elections in winning numbers, our movement then tends to fade politely into the shadows, leaving public officials (even those we put in office) free to ignore us and capitulate to ever-present, ever-insistent corporate interests. No more. Grassroots progressives — as individuals and through our groups — must get in the face of power and stay there.

This doesn’t require a trip to Washington, though it can. It can be done right where you live — in personal meetings, on the phone, via email and letters, through social media (tweet at the twits!), on petitions, and any additional ways of communication that you and other creative people can invent. Hey, we’re citizens, voters, constituents — so we should not hesitate to request in-person appointments to chat with officials back home (these need not be confrontational), attend forums where they’ll be (local hearings, town hall sessions, speeches, meet & greets, parades, ribbon-cuttings, receptions, etc). They generally post their public schedules on their websites. Go to their meetings, ask questions, or at least say hello, introduce yourself, and try to achieve this: MAKE THEM LEARN YOUR NAME.

OK, you’re too busy to show up at all this stuff, but try one, then think of going to one every month or two. And you don’t have to go alone — get a family member, a couple of friends, a few members of the groups you’re in to join you. Make it an excursion, rewarding yourselves with a nice glass of wine or a beer and some laughs afterward.

Then there are times (“in the course of human events,” as Jefferson put it) when citizens have to come together in big numbers to protest, to insist on being heard. Lobbyists are able to meet with officials in quiet rooms, but when we’re shut out, a higher form of patriotism demands that ordinary folks surround a public official’s district office or a high-dollar fundraising event to deliver a noisy message about the people’s needs.

This is especially necessary for officials who get a substantial or even majority vote from progressive constituencies… but still stiff us on such major needs as increasing the minimum wage, overturning Citizens United, endorsing a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculators, and prohibiting the outrage of voter suppression. We have a right to expect them to respect our vote, and stand with us on the big issues. We’ve been too quiet, too indulgent with such office holders, and they won’t change until we start confronting them publicly.

Both in terms of having your own say and in demonstrating the strength of the grassroots numbers behind the policy changes we want, you and I are going to have to get noisier, more demonstrative, more out-front in demanding that elected officials really pay heed to those who elected them. Let’s make 2016 the year of reintroducing ourselves and our expectations to policymakers. At their every turn, we should be there, becoming a personal human presence (even an irritant) they cannot ignore.

 

By: Jim Hightower, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Elected Officials, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Vote For Survival”: You’re Damn Right Electability Matters To Black Voters

Coming off his near-upset in the Iowa caucus and his massive win in New Hampshire, polls (PDF) are showing that more voters nationally are “feeling the Bern,” with Bernie Sanders now appearing to have the momentum against Hillary Clinton. These polls seem to confirm two theories.

First, the enthusiasm gap that many of us have long written about and that Hillary Clinton struggles with is very real.

Second, not caring about which candidate is actually electable might be one of the greatest forms of privilege there is. This is one reason why despite being more progressive than Clinton in some areas, Sanders has struggled to gain traction with black voters. Because ignoring whether a candidate is actually electable is a luxury most minorities simply can’t afford.

Here’s what I mean.

Every voter I’ve ever met has fallen into three camps: Those who see voting as a civic duty, those who only do it when they’re really inspired, and those who view it as an act of survival. For those who view it as a civic duty, voting is on par with volunteering for charity—something good, responsible people do regularly but not necessarily something they believe will immediately impact their lives. But they may believe that voting for a candidate who cares about climate change today could possibly have some impact on the world one day, like when their grandchildren are here.

We have all met at least one person who falls in the only when they’re really “inspired” camp. They only vote when a candidate makes their heart sing by saying something witty on The Tonight Show or giving one great speech.

Then there are those who vote for survival. That’s the person who votes, and gets family members to vote, to try to overturn a Stand Your Ground Law in her state, because she knows more than one unarmed teen in her community who was killed because of such a law. That kind of voter doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to be “inspired” by a candidate or to think long term about how their vote might make a difference a decade from now.

Which is why the battle between Bernie and Hillary is actually much bigger than the two of them. It’s a larger debate the progressive movement has struggled to settle within its broad coalition for years over whether considering electability is in itself a moral issue on par with the many policy issues voters and parties must consider.

For years there was a saying in Democratic circles: “Democrats want to fall in love with a candidate. Republicans fall in line.” (Obviously Donald Trump’s supporters didn’t get the memo this year.)

Hillary Clinton continues to struggle because she’s not a candidate who inspires love; admiration perhaps, but not love. The crowds at Bernie Sanders rallies could easily be mistaken for those attending a mega-church tent revival—all smiles, music and enthusiasm out the yin-yang. Hillary Clinton’s events by comparison have the more sobering feel of the Sunday School class your mom made you go to. But that doesn’t change the fact that beyond his core loyalists Bernie Sanders is not widely seen as presidential material. Yet watching Bernie Sanders gain momentum and be enthusiastically celebrated by the same people ridiculing Trump’s supporters as delusional has been a combination of ironic and baffling.

For starters, Sanders is a self-described socialist and a recent Gallup poll found that socialists are even less electable than atheists these days, which is saying something.

And in a poll released recently by Monmouth University a plurality of Democrats declared Clinton the Democratic candidate with the best chance of beating the Republican frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

But details like these have not deterred Sanders loyalists. This is not exactly surprising because we have seen this before. I mean that Sanders inspires the same measure of devotion shown to previous progressive icons like Ralph Nader, who played the role of spoiler to Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. Nader’s and Sanders’s supporters have a few things in common.

For starters, few of Nader’s supporters actually looked at him and thought, “I genuinely believe this man has a serious shot of making it all the way to the White House.” But it wasn’t actually about winning. Instead Nader supporters had a whole host of reasons why they were willing to cast a vote that would help insure a Bush victory. Reasons like:

“We need his voice!”

“The system is broken and we need to send a message!”

“I’d rather vote my conscience than vote for the winner!”

“All I care about is who is right on the issues!” (i.e. which candidate most aligns with me ideologically)

Of course the message they ended up sending with their vote of conscience was ultimately, “I’m fine helping elect Bush.”

The similarities don’t end there. According to polling research Sanders supporters are primarily white, and they have higher levels of education and income than Clinton supporters. In 2000 The Washington Post described Nader voters as “disproportionately young, white and well-educated.”

Again, this isn’t a surprise. Because if there is anyone who can afford to vote for a candidate and genuinely not care whether he or she wins or loses, it is a young person of privilege who ultimately has very little at stake. For instance, it is doubtful that many of the white, well-educated voters who comprised Nader’s core constituency were among those who ultimately comprised the young men and women who ended up losing their lives in the War in Iraq that began under the president Nader helped elect.

And if we’re being honest, a person of privilege won’t really be that affected by who becomes attorney general or who is nominated to the Supreme Court. What I mean is, a white affluent college student will always be able to secure a safe abortion if she decides she wants one, whether it’s legal or not, just as a white affluent student is far less likely to have his life derailed by an arrest for narcotics possession than a poor black one. In both cases their familial and social networks will provide a safety net for them, which is why what motivates their voting decisions will be different than what motivates others.

The fact that Hillary is trouncing Sanders in the first primary state with a sizable black population, South Carolina, speaks volumes. There she is not only leading substantially among total voters but winning up to 80 percent of the black vote.

The reason is simple. If you are worried about your black son possibly walking out the door tomorrow and being shot in either random community violence, or by another George Zimmerman, then determining whether a candidate inspires you is probably not high on your list of Election Day priorities. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Most minorities do.

Recall that even with respect to Barack Obama in 2008, some African-American voters were enthusiastic from the start, but they didn’t really go all in until after he won in Iowa—that is to say, until they saw that he was truly electable. More specifically, that he could win support from diverse constituencies—African Americans as well as voters in white states. This is something Sanders hasn’t proven.

I guess the question becomes whether the needs of less privileged voters will ever become a priority for more privileged progressives who have the luxury of letting inspiration be their guide.

 

By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, February 12, 2016

February 13, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Black Voters, Electability, Hillary Clinton, White Voters | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Irresponsible American Ruling Class Is Failing

The American ruling class is failing us — and itself.

At other moments in our history, the informal networks of the wealthy and powerful who often wield at least as much influence as our elected politicians accepted that their good fortune imposed an obligation: to reform and thus preserve the system that allowed them to do so well. They advocated social decency out of self-interest (reasonably fair societies are more stable) but also from an old-fashioned sense of civic duty. “Noblesse oblige” sounds bad until it doesn’t exist anymore.

An enlightened ruling class understands that it can get richer and its riches will be more secure if prosperity is broadly shared, if government is investing in productive projects that lift the whole society and if social mobility allows some circulation of the elites. A ruling class closed to new talent doesn’t remain a ruling class for long.

But a funny thing happened to the American ruling class: It stopped being concerned with the health of society as a whole and became almost entirely obsessed with money.

Oh yes, there are bighearted rich people when it comes to private charity. Heck, David Koch, the now famous libertarian-conservative donor, has been extremely generous to the arts, notably to New York’s Lincoln Center.

Yet when it comes to governing, the ruling class now devotes itself in large part to utterly self-involved lobbying. Its main passion has been to slash taxation on the wealthy, particularly on the financial class that has gained the most over the past 20 years. By winning much lower tax rates on capital gains and dividends, it’s done a heck of a job.

Listen to David Cay Johnston, the author of “Free Lunch” and a columnist for Tax Notes. “The effective rate for the top 400 taxpayers has gone from 30 cents on the dollar in 1993 to 22 cents at the end of the Clinton years to 16.6 cents under Bush,” he said in a telephone interview. “So their effective rate has gone down more than 40 percent.”

He added: “The overarching drive right now is to push the burden of government, of taxes, down the income ladder.”

And you wonder where the deficit came from.

If the ruling class were as worried about the deficit as it claims to be, it would accept that the wealthiest people in society have a duty to pony up more for the very government whose police power and military protect them, their property and their wealth.

The influence of the ruling class comes from its position in the economy and its ability to pay for the politicians’ campaigns. There are not a lot of working-class people at those fundraisers President Obama has been attending lately. And I’d underscore that I am not using the term to argue for a Marxist economy. We need the market. We need incentives. We don’t need our current levels of inequality.

Those at the top of the heap are falling far short of the standards set by American ruling classes of the past. As John Judis, a senior editor at the New Republic, put it in his indispensable 2000 book, “The Paradox of American Democracy,” the American establishment has at crucial moments had “an understanding that individual happiness is inextricably linked to social well-being.” What’s most striking now, by contrast, is “the irresponsibility of the nation’s elites.”

Those elites will have no moral standing to argue for higher taxes on middle-income people or cuts in government programs until they acknowledge how much wealthier they have become than the rest of us and how much pressure they have brought over the years to cut their own taxes. Resolving the deficit problem requires the very rich to recognize their obligation to contribute more to a government that, measured against other wealthy nations, is neither investing enough in the future nor doing a very good job of improving the lives and opportunities of the less affluent.

“A blind and ignorant resistance to every effort for the reform of abuses and for the readjustment of society to modern industrial conditions represents not true conservatism, but an incitement to the wildest radicalism.” With those words in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt showed he understood what a responsible ruling class needed to do. Where are those who would now take up his banner?

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Class Warfare, Corporations, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Education, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Koch Brothers, Middle Class, Minimum Wage, Politics, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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