Creating A "Citizens Operating Majority"

Submitted by George Friday on Tue, 02/12/2008 - 20:54.

By Joel Segal

Almost a year ago I saw Rep. Jesse Jackson make a remarkable speech at the Progressive Democrats of America founding conference in Washington DC. In a packed room at the University of the District of Columbia, Rep. Jackson implored the progressive movement to unite under one quilt and to work together: black, white, yellow, brown, gay, straight, in a new rainbow coalition for the 21st century. Like a burst of radiant sunshine that comes through the clouds on a rainy day, Rep. Jackson struck a beautiful chord when he said that the progressive movement needed new leaders to carry on the fight for social justice, because many of the freedom fighters from the old guard were getting up in age.

Rep. Jackson was making a profoundly important point that I think many progressive leaders have not really carefully considered - how do we ensure that the future generations of progressive activists will continue the struggle for peace and social justice regardless of what political party is in power? The answer is simple: create a permanent, progressive national alliance with a structure that ensures "operational unity" within the progressive movement regardless of the movement's episodic ebb and flows.

Clearly, the time has come to create a new “progressive national alliance” that stretches from coast to coast, has the respect and legitimacy of the people to place hundreds of thousands of people in the streets when needed, elects progressive candidates, defeats conservative ones, and gets legislation passed that will help the people, not the powerful. It could be modeled after the Indian National Congress, the ANC in South Africa or Solidarity in Poland. This new national alliance would establish a workable structure so that an independent third rail democratic opposition political movement can be established that has a name, an office, a political plan, and a major media presence on the local, state, and national level. Many Calls, Slow Progress

Many progressive leaders recently, and for many years, have called for such a national alliance; yet remarkably, this alliance never seems to materialize. We must begin to ask one very important question: why is such an obvious and needed political institution not in existence yet, given the need to counter an increasingly powerful and growing right wing in this country? Perhaps it is because the other side wants to win more than the progressive movement does. Or, maybe the American progressive movement has incorrectly convinced itself that "it can not work together." Therefore, it is more confortable blogging and analyzing, as opposed to working together as one beloved community fighting the right wing with all the might we can muster. This is a right wing whose heartless policies have resulted in 45 million uninsured, thousands of Katrina evacuees about to be evicted from hotels into the streets, two million in prison, working families living in deplorable homeless shelters instead of homes, global warming, slums, voting machines that seem not to work, and the development of a "new police state."

Danny Glover and Bill Fletcher have called for the creation of a new neo-rainbow organization. Katrina Vanden Heuval, editor of the Nation, for years has been advocating a united progressive organization. Rep. John Conyers has often spoke of the need to create a “coalitions of coalitions” in order to more effectively fight a well-funded and media-savvy right wing and successfully promote the progressive agenda of jobs, justice, and peace.

We must be honest with ourselves. The far right wing, which is comprised of the evangelical right wing, anti-government “crack pot” ideologues, Fortune 500 companies and the military/corporate/health care industrial complex, have now taken over the House, Senate, Judiciary and the State Department. We live in dangerous times.

If we do not begin to think out of the box and organize politically in a more creative and strategic way, the right wing will gain even more strength. The U.S. is becoming more conservative, not more liberal. Just look at the last election, and you can see where this country is going. The progressive movement since the late 1960’s has been very good at ideology, but it has been ineffective at galvanizing real political power. There is a big difference between “revolution in the head” and “revolution on the ground.” The former takes a strong cup of coffee at Starbucks with a good Noam Chomsky book at hand. The latter requires hours of hard work, raising money, building linkages with other organizations, finding allies in Congress or with local elected officials, and having a dynamic media presence so the powers-that-be can not ignore us like they do now.

Progressive Dialogue

On Saturday, March 4, 2006 in Washington, DC, dozens of progressive activists and organizations will gather at Plymouth Congregational church to discuss how we can create a more powerful, multi-issue progressive national alliance. The IPPN-initiated Progressive Dialogue is bringing progressive activists closer together. Last year, "United Progressives For Democracy" was founded at that year’s Progressive Dialogue as a new national communication and coordination network. Since that meeting it has successfully brought together activists from across the country to work on voting reform and pressure Congress to provide real relief to those impacted by Hurricane Katrina, something that FEMA has failed to do.

Fragmented and disorganized does not work. It is time for what civil rights leader Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus calls "solutionaries;" progressive leaders who have a new vision of how to take the progressive movement to an entirely new level of political power, who can articulate real public policy solutions to the myriad of problems facing the USA and the world.

In January of 2006, almost one year after I heard Rep. Jackson speak, I witnessed the birth of a new, multi-racial progressive university organization called RISE, the new youth wing of the Hip Hop Caucus. It was amazing to see young activists from across the country who represented the rainbow of humanity talking about ending poverty, free college and youth empowerment. Matching their intellectual power was their "soul power"- they were busting rhymes, laughing, dancing to Hip Hop music, and respectfully dialoging about the new youth political revolution. Let's be tactically smart and build the foundation for a new home that these beautiful young people can flourish in.

Joel Segal has been a senior legislative assistant for Rep. John Conyers for the last 6 years. He has been organizing national and international coalitions to address universal health care, voting reform, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Democracy in China, homelessness, and youth empowerment for over 20 years. He is a co-founder of UP For Democracy, Vice Chair of the Progressive Democrats of America, and a national leader in the movement for national health insurance.