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:
- 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 columnist and editorial board member for BlackCommentator.com. He is also a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal. He is the author of The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Relations, 1934-1941 and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice.