Monday, December 29, 2008

Discussion on Our Future - What Next for Progressives for Obama?

Discussion on Our Future - What Next for Progressives for Obama?

An Organizing Proposal for a Left-Progressive National
Network and Clearinghouse

by Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher, Jr.

[Introductory Note: We're using some metaphors from the
language of IT and the internet here because  our old
organizing models-hubs and spokes on a wheel, pyramids
of blocks in organization charts-don't help that much
these days, given how people actually relate. Better to
use the metaphor of a large fisherman's net, with the
knots at the intersections of the strings being groups
of people, and the strings being the relations between
and among them. There's two ways of looking at a net-
seeing mainly the knots first or seeing mainly the
strings first. At the risk of sounding sexist, men
usually see the knots first; women usually see the
interconnecting strings first. Nor is the net
completely flat and even. It's rumpled and tattered,
with little peaks and valleys, and some parts in dire
need of repair. Having said all that, the IT and
internet part is still merely a tool. What's most
important are the real world face-to-face, and group-
to-group meetings, discussions and joint efforts that
need to take place in the period ahead, as it always
has been.]

How can the people brought together by the
`Progressives for Obama' project make a transition into
a broader and ongoing post-election nationwide network?
How can that network continue to serve as a left-
progressive pole within the broader alliance of Obama
activists and voters, while contributing to the
organization of the instruments for popular political
power? What follows is an outline of the organizing
tasks and components of such an effort, with an
invitation to wider discussion among our community of
supporters and activists.

Starting Points

The most important node on the new network is the base
community. This is a grassroots group of left-
progressive voter-activists situated where people live,
work or go to school.

1.      Where people live can be a neighborhood, a
township, precinct, church parish, temple or mosque, a
ward, town or city, state legislative districts or
congressional districts. It can be any combination or
variation of these, but the main point is that they
have a set of elected officials or governmental body as
a target.

2.      Where people work is important because of the
potential power of organized labor, whether their
workplace is currently organized or not.  That power is
multiplied by the direct engagement of the rank-and-
file in base organizations, committees and such.

3.      Where people go to school is important because
of the powerful role of youth as a critical force,
often serving to awaken the wider society to
injustices, local and global. School is the most common
place they come together, but faith, culture and sports
venues are also important here.

Left-progressive defines the political orientation,
essentially broad agreement with the principles of the
initial call to `Progressives for Obama', groups like
the Aurora Project, Progressive Democrats of America
and others. The main themes to focus on: Healthcare not
Warfare via HR676, Green Jobs Not War Jobs via
recession-busting infrastructure spending, Alternative
Energy Investments dealing with climate change, College
for All who want to learn for the work and study
required by the 21st Century, wider democracy through
EFCA for unions and other anti-discrimination measures,
and stopping the wars now and cutting defense to help
pay for it

The voter-activists we seek are the kind of people who
hold these politics and either already belong to mass
democratic organizations working on the above, or they
want to join them. They can be ad-hoc single issue
groups, 501C4 nonprofit groups, faith-based and
community based groups, union locals or even clubs of
political parties or the campaign organizations of
local candidates and elected officials. But it's best
if they have individual members, and see themselves
growing by getting more of them. During election
cycles, they are people who vote and work in campaigns.
Between election cycles, however, they are also active
in a variety of other mass campaigns. They have little
problem shifting from one to the other as the situation

Without these base communities, we can talk about
politics and change, but we can't DO anything about
politics and change with much impact.

Second in importance is the local cluster of similar
nodes. This means student groups getting together
across a city, a local labor council, or a citywide
meeting of peace and justice groups, and so on.

Third in importance is the local wider horizontal
network of a variety of local clusters of nodes. This
means a citywide or CD-wide alliance of labor unions,
community organization, student coalitions, peace and
justice activists, as well as others.

Fourth in importance are the broader networks of these
networked clusters reaching both upward and outward.
These are statewide or regional alliances or
federations aimed at mobilizations or longer-term
lobbying and pressure campaigns.

What Links the Networks?

First, already mentioned, is a common political
orientation mentioned above. These can be developed and
improved over time as more forces become involved and
new tasks are demanded of us. Second, and perhaps just
as important, and in some way more so, are common
platforms-packages of immediate and transitional
demands for political reform and economic development.
Immediate demands widen democracy and redistribute
wealth and resources downward. Easier voting, anti-
discrimination laws and the living wage are examples
Transitional demands alter the structure of power in
favor of those at the base-seats for unions on
development authorities, worker buyouts of failed but
still profitable firms, wider community participation
in schools.

The platforms, even though they share a common
depression-busting, popular empowerment theme, have to
be custom-designed for their localities-city, state or
bioregional. Wind farms make no sense in places with
little wind; lock and dam modernization means little to
places without major rivers. But the process of
defining and shaping the platforms of the various
levels of the network are an excellent venue in
bringing people together for an exercise in
participatory democracy. Some of these platform-
templates have already been shaped to some degree by
DC-based groups like the Institute for Policy Studies,
the Blue-Green Alliance, the Apollo Alliance, the Green
Jobs Project and others. But others will have to be
done from scratch.

Third is shared new media. The networks and clusters
need public faces. Naturally, we work to get in the
regular mass media, but one way of doing it is using
the new interactive media of the blogosphere, but
locally. The linked interactivity not only helps people
get organized, but their degree of success using it
also helps them gain entrance to the mainstream media,
locally and nationally. Luckily, the new media doesn't
cost anywhere near as much to put in operation, only
the time and talent of those setting them up and
running them.

Putting it all together

We should acknowledge two things here. First, many of
these organizations and networks already exist, have
recently emerged in the Obama campaign, or exist in
embryo to various degrees. There are many areas where
things have to be done from scratch, but many more do
not. What's needed now is for more interconnections to
be formed, and more of these components to become aware
of each other, sharing ideas, resources and mobilizing
efforts. To borrow from the old Hegelian dialectic, the
wider national network exists in itself, but is not yet
fully conscious and for itself. Second, we should
acknowledge that what we are advocating here, the
organization of a new national network and information
clearinghouse is an interim project.  We can't say for
certain yet what the longer-range organizational
outcome will be or even if there will be a single
outcome-a realigned and fully progressive Democratic
Party, a new third party or labor party, or a new
Grassroots Nonpartisan High-Road Alliance of candidates
from many parties.

`Progressives for Obama' is in a position to play a
catalytic role in moving forward in a major way. But it
should not be alone. Why? Most important is an allied
effort understanding the necessary intersection of
race, class and gender for a lasting left-progressive
alliance. It must also have a grasp on the role and
potential power of organized labor and the working
class more generally. The combination of these two
strengths is what counts.

What is required

First, `Progressives for Obama' needs some close
partners, especially those with base communities of
mass democratic organizations with individual members.
Not a lot, but those are really willing to work right
away. PDA is an obvious choice, but there are more.
Jobs with Justice and The Right to the City groups are
another. It also needs partners with resources to
share-progressive think tanks and several of the new
media projects. Some of the existing socialist
organizations that backed Obama may also be helpful
where they have a degree of strength and influence.

Second, we need some startup money. We probably should
approach individuals first, since we need to start
quickly. Then we need a development director to work
the institutional sources for funding, which take a lot

Third, we need to deploy a designated team of field
organizers, people who can move about various regions
or the entire country, to meet with groups and people,
speak publicly and find the best local area
coordinators for the project. These field organizers
will have to be paid, or at least have their expenses

Fourth, we need a designated team of new media workers,
and the funds to retain a webmaster-manager of our web
site and web-centric infoshop clearinghouse. The
webmaster should be working for the allied project, but
the others can be recruited as allies in the media
projects they are already working for. As a team, their
first task is to develop our `brand' and make a big
splash in the blogosphere, drawing the people and
groups we want to participate in the overall joint

Fifth, we need a designated governance body. Most
likely, it can be a coordinating committee with monthly
conference calls, together with a smaller and more
nimble executive that can write checks. Then main thing
is for everyone who has a stake to have a voice and
seat at the table. That will get us started, but more
formal structures are needed to receive grants.

This needs to be seen as a major new expansion of
`Progressives for Obama' and its allies - and time-
urgent as well. The crisis is unfolding and deepening
rapidly, as are the opportunities and problems related
to the new Obama administration. If we do this well, it
will make a big difference.

No comments: