Progressive Americans: A call to action against neoliberalism

We lost the presidential election in a huge upset, and Donald Trump will be our president for the next four years. Now what?

It is my belief that we Democrats lost this last election for two reasons: first, we have become complacent and allowed the party elites to set the agenda; second, those elites have lost touch with huge swaths of liberal America and have set an agenda that puts corporations ahead of people. The Democrats used to be the progressive party, but the philosophy of Neoliberalism embraced by President Carter and furthered by President Clinton has transformed the Democratic Party into a machine for ensuring that the will of corporations and moneyed interests is done in D.C.

How did this happen?



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Simply put, it costs an enormous amount of money to mount a political campaign, and in order to secure that money a politician has to agree to protect the interests of people giving her the money. It takes votes to win a campaign, and in order to get votes she has to convince people that she is on their side. But when it comes time to govern, who does the politician actually serve? She needs the people to get re-elected, but she needs the money first to even mount a campaign. The money wins, it has to. It came first, and she will need it first again.

But this system doesn’t serve us — it doesn’t serve our country. This system creates ever-increasing wealth inequality and panders to the will of the wealthy at the expense of literally everyone else. It erodes our faith in politicians, and by extension our faith in government. It foments distrust, anger, resentment and fear. In short, it is strip mining the confidence of liberal America. A true progressive movement is needed to take back the Democratic Party, find new resources to win political battles that don’t come from corporations, and put the people first again.

This is an action plan for Progressive Americans to take the Democratic Party back from the Neoliberal establishment and the corporate interests that have infused every aspect of it.

Here is how we are going to do it:

  1. Show Up
  2. Learn the System
  3. Change the Platform
  4. Lobby
  5. Win Elections

If it sounds too simple, read on.

 

Step 1: Show Up

Do you know how the Democratic Party works? Nationally, in your state, and in your county? I know that I didn’t really understand the party until after the election. I always supported progressive causes in theory, but aside from voting, I didn’t actually do much. In truth, I had no idea how. I was complacent. I had a general sense that things were heading in roughly the right direction, and so I was content to sit on the sidelines and pay the bare minimum of attention to politics. Well, now it appears that things have taken a hard right turn, and I am awake to political realities in a way that I have never been before. The first thing I realized upon waking up is that I didn’t even know where to begin.

Here is a short list of ways to get involved from the site Local Victory: http://www.localvictory.com/organization/local-political-party.html

From the intro to that article:

Too often, people who want to get involved in politics think that it will just ‘happen,’ that someday someone will call them out of the blue and ask them to run for office or get involved in a campaign. This is simply not the case.

Well today, it is the case. And this is the call: I am telling you that it is time to get involved in a more meaningful way. Now is the time to show up, take interest, volunteer with the party, get out of your house and go to the meetings, run for office, speak up and refuse to not be heard.

For those of you who did volunteer and get involved, for either Hillary or Bernie, thank you for your service. Now I have another ask: help the rest of us get involved. Embrace newcomers with open arms and show them the ropes. If you know people that you think should be involved, ask them why they aren’t, and hold them accountable.

It is important to avoid engaging in purely symbolic ways (what the internet has dubbed slacktivism). Symbols are important, but they can be damaging when they are used only as a salve on your bruises, to ease the pain and keep you from doing something real. Ask yourself, with every political action and statement that you make: what am I really committing here? Am I committing my time, my resources, my money to a specific action? Are the outcomes clear? Are the goals SMART? The only way to permanently remove corporate money from politics is to replace it with other money. For now, that will have to be our money. The only way to change the narrative of the party elites is to drown out their voices with our own.

 

Step 2: Learn the System

So when we show up, as progressives taking back the party, what do we do? First of all, we have to learn our local systems and find out how to get involved. In my state of Oregon, there is a state-wide democratic party and a county by county democratic party. I am reaching out to both to volunteer. You can start at your state party’s website, most have some direct way of contacting them to volunteer or get involved.

I also noticed that there are several Democratic Party caucuses I could join, but there is not a progressive caucus in my state, so I expressed my interest in starting one. There should be a progressive caucus or a democratic socialist caucus in every single state in the union, in every major city, and ideally in every county as well.

Here it may also be important to understand how your party works and what structures they use. In Oregon, for example, ‘caucuses’ work like interest groups (e.g., the “Education Caucus” or the “Environmental Caucus”), whereas in Washington State, the ‘caucuses’ serve as the local units of jurisdiction. Do your research, and make sure you are getting involved in the right organizations at the right level in the right way.

 

Step 3: Change the Platform

Once we get a handle on the system, what are we fighting for?

I don’t have all the answers here — I don’t know what the true progressive platform will look like, but I do have an idea of how we will arrive at it. We need to co-create the progressive platform together, and I hope this section will help outline the criteria by which we evaluate every policy position.

First, recognize that Neoliberalism is a failed experiment, but the establishment that currently exists will try to keep it in place by whatever power remains available to them. It is our job to dismantle Neoliberal thinking wherever we see it, refuse to accept it. So how do you spot neoliberal status quo thinking?

In short, neoliberalism is market liberalism not political liberalism. In other words, laissez-faire attitudes towards business: less regulation, less interference, free trade, privatization, and less government spending. Sound more like a Republican position than Democratic? Well, it is. The Democratic party of the 30s, 40s and 50s make Bill Clinton look like Ronald Reagan (and in truth, they were much more alike than either Democrats or Republicans would like to believe). You would think that Republicans would embrace neoliberalism, but instead, they just went further (to what is called “classical liberalism” in economics), pulling the “middle” or moderate position toward them. While we fight over gay rights and abortion, the elites of both parties are arguing about the degree to which corporations should have total, unfettered free reign over our economy and the degree to which they eviscerate the budget of social service programs.

Meanwhile, very little of substance gets done on either side for the people, and we become increasingly distrusting, disenfranchised and divided. This works just fine for the corporate interests that Neoliberalism serves, the more divided we are the less of an opposition we can mount to their control of the economy and gutting of the tax system — and by extension social programs.

So neoliberalism looks like deregulation (especially in markets that need strong regulations to function well, like finance, utilities, and healthcare), less government oversight of companies, and reduced taxes for the wealthy and businesses. By now it should be clear that both the Republican and Democratic parties are engaged in this plan to varying degrees, but at least the Republicans admit it. Democrats are stuck with lying to their constituency while courting corporate cash and end up living in deep hypocrisy (at least on economic issues).

So what does a truly progressive agenda look like? We have to weigh every single policy on these critical questions: does this serve people or corporations more? Does it lift up the bottom, or reward those at the top? Does this create winners and losers, or does it benefit everyone?

As we are considering these questions it is absolutely vital that we consider all Americans — not just Americans that are like us, or that agree with us (whatever your “us” is). In order to be truly progressive, we have to build more than just a platform, we must build a bridge that connects us across the many great divides that separate America now.

We are deeply divided between urban and rural voters, but a policy that taxes corporate profits more than household incomes benefits both the city and the country American. We are deeply divided along the lines of education level, but a functional affordable healthcare system benefits both the scholar and the blue collar American.

Whatever divide you are staring across, it is of the utmost importance that you actually listen to the other side, not just debate with them. Hear them: understand their perspective, their aspirations, and their fears. Especially when you have more power than the person across the divide, it is vital that you understand their experience without trying to reframe it or explain why they are wrong if you want to build a bridge rather than a wall. Remember, most Americans have progressive values (i.e., they want things to get better), and it was elitism that cost us the last election. A true progressive movement is a populist movement and requires input from all kinds of Americans. I am coming to politics from the most powerful, elite position possible: I am a straight, white, cis-gendered, urban dwelling, Masters Degree holding man. Those of us in power positions must commit to listening more than we talk, to asking more than we explain, and to empathizing more than we dismiss. That is the only way we elites can see what we missed, and bring everyone back into the big tent.

Finally, a truly progressive agenda takes the long view and seeks to preserve the natural resources and environment that sustain all of our lives. Neoliberalism, in service of corporate profits, favors the rapid consumption of natural resources and ignores the externalized waste and pollution of industry. All progressive policies must protect the planet’s resources for future generations and seek to balance the needs of today with the needs of all our generations to come.

So in short, a truly progressive policy is one that puts people above companies, builds bridges between disparate groups, and protects the environment and our natural capital for future generations. A set of progressive policies taken together will create the progressive platform. We have about 3 years to work out the details. That isn’t very long, so let’s get to work.

 

Step 4: Lobby

Once we have an agenda and a platform, and we know what matters to us locally, regionally, and nationally, we can begin to lobby every single elected official from City Council Member and School Board Member to the President of the United States. Let them know what they need to do to get your vote next time.

Here is an excellent piece of advice on how to actually effectively lobby your position to your representatives in congress from the website Attn: Former Congressional Staffer Explains How to Make Congressman Listen. The tl/dr is (in order of effectiveness): show up to town hall meetings, call the local state office (not the federal office), write letters (again to the local office), or (least effective) write emails. In all cases, be polite to the staff and make them your allies. The staff gets a lot of the actual work done, so treat them with the respect they deserve and you will get further with your agenda.

While elections are big events that happen every few years, the work of lobbying is ongoing. Every day there is a decision made by somebody of government, and many of those decisions are either in support of the progressive agenda or against it. From the wonkiest policies to the most blatant and egregious acts of corporate greed over human need like the situation in Standing Rock right now, it is our responsibility to know the issues, take a stand and do what we can. Democracy only works when the citizens are educated and engaged, and the daily work of engagement is lobbying for what you believe in.

At the time of writing, the situation in Standing Rock is perhaps the one issue that needs the most immediate attention. Although the recent decision by the Army Corp has delayed things at standing rock, the battle is far from over. Here is a short list of actions you can take right now to support the water protectors who are standing up to the greed and corruption of the corporate oil interests: Support Standing Rock DAPL Protest

Voting with your dollars is important as well:

 

Source: Resource Generation.

Stand in solidarity with indigenous people by divesting from banks that are invested in Standing Rock. See these resources for more:

Another critical, ongoing issue that is dividing the liberal side of the country is the issue of race inequality. As much as we would all love to live in a colorblind society, we don’t. The systems that our country runs on were forged in a deeply racist philosophy, and the work of dismantling racism has come a long way, but it is nowhere near over. This is one of the critical divides that still separates our country: the divide between white Americans and non-white Americans. Whites are still in a position of significant relative privilege and power, and at every level our society produces better results for whites than for non-whites. Most of us don’t want this to be the case anymore, but the systems created under a racist worldview will not dismantle itself. If you are a white person woke to the need for change, but you are not sure where to begin, here is a good starting point: A racial justice cheat sheet for white people.

It is vital that we stay on the lookout for more opportunities to lobby for progressive values, and it is my intention to add to this very short list and create or link to a separate resource of current issues.

 

Step 5: Win Elections

With a solid progressive platform in place and ongoing lobbying efforts established, it is time to win elections.

First, we must be uncompromising on one thing: people before corporations. To ensure this, we need to ensure that the money to run elections comes from people, not corporations. We have to field candidates that are unwilling to accept large sums of money from corporate lobbyists, and instead are able to raise huge amounts of money through grassroots campaigns. With the internet and social media, this has never been easier, as Obama, Sanders, and even Howard Dean in 2003 have proved over and again.

It can be difficult to find all the information about your candidates, and it would be very difficult to find one resource for all elections everywhere, so you will have to do your own research for each race. The endorsements of local groups that have values aligned with yours can be very helpful, but trusting one source is no substitute for doing your own research. If you enter your address here you can get basic information about who is running in each race for your jurisdiction, which can be a good starting point for research: Vote 411

Once you have found a candidate that you can get behind, ask yourself: what can you do beyond just voting for them? Can you afford to contribute, even a small amount? Do you have any time to volunteer for the campaign? Even a few hours a week? Are you willing to advocate for your candidate to moderates, undecided voters, and independents that you know in person (not just on Facebook)? Phone calls can be a powerful tool to change minds, but posting links on your Facebook feed probably will not convince anyone of anything they don’t already believe.

So what if you can’t find a candidate you can get behind? Well, you could consider running yourself. It is much easier than you would guess to throw your name in the ring, and it is probably much harder than you would ever imagine (unless you have worked on one before) to run a campaign.

If you think you might want to run yourself, recognize that a decision to run for office is a decision to take on a very public, very grueling job with no guarantee of any rewards. A campaign is at least a part time job, and usually a full time job. You will need to ask everyone you know and meet for money, and there is a good chance that despite your best efforts you will lose (Bernie Sanders, who has had a very successful career in politics, lost a campaign for Governor and for the Democratic nomination despite a very well run campaign). If you aren’t daunted yet, check out this very rough overview of how to mount a campaign: So You Want to Run for Office

This is the single most difficult thing that a political outsider can do, and possibly the single most powerful way to achieve real change. If there is no candidate that represents you, talk to your family, talk to your peers and the influencers in your community, and if they support you, go for it. Politics is tireless and often thankless work, but if people aren’t getting into it because of their passion and values, there are plenty of people waiting in the wings to get into it just for the power.

 

Final Thoughts

Recognize that literally every single American that you meet is a potential ally. We all have deeply held values, even when our values differ know that we all make our decisions and act upon those deeply held values and believe that we are doing the best we can. We have to find ways to achieve common ground on substantial policy issues while respecting each other’s differing values and priorities. The majority of Americans are ready to support a truly progressive agenda, and if we can craft a progressive platform and run progressive candidates, we can change the future of this country for the better.

For more on these issues and action you can take, read these articles:

 

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