Last June, after Democratic candidates had lost four straight special Congressional elections (Rob Quist in Montana, James Thompson in Kansas, Archie Parnell in South Carolina, and Jon Ossoff in Georgia), America’s purveyors of conventional political wisdom simultaneously jumped to the conclusion that the policies and message of Democrats were just too progressive for our nation of moderateright voters. The Washington cognoscenti expressed dismay that, despite Trump’s dismal public approval ratings and the nationwide surge of “Resist!” campaigns, the hapless Democratic Party was still unable to score any electoral victories. “Why Do Democrats Keep Losing in 2017?” queried a June headline in The Atlantic. “Democrats just went 0-4. When will they win?” asked a cynical CNN reporter. “It is a bit surprising that Democrats haven’t managed a single victory yet,” declared a University of Wisconsin election expert. “Panic is setting in on the left,” exclaimed a Vox headline.
No, not really. The professional political observers are like cats watching the wrong mouse hole. They are so fixated on the minutia of Washington-centric politics that they’re missing the much bigger story of transformative political changes that have erupted in every region of the country. Far from panicking, America’s political left is organizing, strategizing, mobilizing … and WINNING. Coalitions of local progressive activists (newly energized by an infusion of dynamic, creative young people and people of color) came together after the 2016 election. They recruited and trained candidates from their own ranks; methodically knocked on doors, having thousands of front-porch conversations with voters on basic issues; mobilized supporters for intensive election-day turnout drives; and elected scores of audaciously populist mayors, council members, legislators, and other officials.
This is the mouse hole to watch, for it’s where ordinary people — those fed up with the corporate-rigged, businessas usual politics and policies of both major parties — are actively rebuilding democracy and beginning to produce real change. It’s a nationwide rebellion made up of spontaneous local rebellions, each sparked by various specific grievances with America’s ruling royalists. Linking these uprisings together is a shared determination to restore our nation’s unifying ethic of the Common Good, a principle that my old daddy used to express this way: Everybody does better when everybody does better.
This burgeoning movement is not merely about protesting or lobbying the government — it intends to become the government. It’s a new politics embracing a three-front strategy I call R-I-P:
— Resist the corporatists of all parties who’re imposing plutocratic rule over us commoners.
— Insist on enacting a positive, aggressively progressive people’s agenda.
— Persist in organizing from the ground up to sustain both “little-d” democratic politics and “everybody” policies.
The most common characteristic of last year’s progressive, populist candidates is that they were genuinely of the people, not career pols who were next in line. And they were not simply running for office, but running for specific economic, social and political changes to make America better for families and neighborhoods like theirs. They didn’t need campaign consultants to tell them what to say and not to say, for they were politicized by personally experiencing assorted assaults on their values and sense of justice. Politics is not a game to them — they know who they are, what they’re fighting against and, more importantly, what they’re fighting for.
Knowledgeable and trusted local groups have been key to the recent election victories by bona fide progressives. These groups build relationships through work in their communities, know whom to speak with and can tackle the intensive work of going door to door. Several national organizations understand the power of a local focus and have invested in identifying amazing grassroots partners — their 2017 results speak to the potential of this emerging network. As the Movement Voter Project put in its recent report, “Failure is not an option. Not for our children. Not for our grandchildren.”
Populist author, public speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.