To Rebuild the American Dream, Put Pressure On Democrats

by Randy Shaw on July 26, 2011

You may have been too busy bemoaning President Obama’s attempt to slash Social Security and Medicare to notice, but MoveOn and other progressive groups have launched a new “movement” to Rebuild the American Dream. According to its backers, “the American Dream Movement is growing stronger by the day, and it’s not going away until we can find jobs, afford to go to college, retire with dignity, and secure a future for our children and our communities.” But the coalition’s action plan is curious. Today, it is organizing turnouts at the district offices of House members to make sure they oppose “cuts for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as part of a deal to avoid default.” But focusing on the Republican-controlled House, whose members won’t be influenced by progressive activism, rather than the Democratic President — or Senate Democrats — also backing cuts applies pressure in the wrong place. A progressive coalition that claims to be “Bigger than the Tea Party” must hold Democrats accountable as effectively as conservatives do for Republicans .

Progressives may feel like bystanders during the debt crisis debate, but this has not stopped activists from launching two “national movements” in recent weeks to prevent crushing cuts to people serving programs. In addition to Rebuild the Dream, the Caring Across Generations campaign was introduced on July 12. This new “national movement to protect and expand our nation’s support system for the aging and people with disabilities” is led by Jobs with Justice and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, with SEIU and AFSCME among its “70 organizations representing women, people with disabilities, seniors, workers, students, and caregivers.”

It’s great to see progressive activists and organizations going on the offensive. Both coalitions can help shift the national debate toward unemployment and the need for greater social spending and away from deficit reduction.

Organizers for these progressive “national movements” know the importance of targeting key decision makers. Yet President Obama’s decision to prioritize budget reduction over unemployment and public investment goes unacknowledged, as is his role in shifting the public debate away from progressive goals.

Pursuing only Politically Safe Targets

It would be great if progressive change could be achieved solely by pressuring Republicans, but that’s not how it works. It’s not just Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Congressmember Michelle Bachmann, and the Tea Party that hold back change – it’s the many Democrats who betray campaign promises to reward wealthy donors/corporate interests and/ or to “broaden” their base.

Successful activists understand that allowing political decision makers to violate campaign promises because you helped elect them is a recipe for failure. That’s why Cesar Chavez and the UFW did not hesitate to publicly protest against their close ally, Jerry Brown, when he vacillated on passing a farmworker labor law only months after they had worked to elect him in the 1974 California Governor’s race. And why Greenpeace attacked the Clinton-Gore Administration in 1993 when it broke its promise to kill a proposed incinerator for East Liverpool, Ohio.

Mobilizing against politicians who either have no reason to be swayed or who already are on your side – like today’s event targeting House members district offices – does give frustrated people the feeling they are part of the struggle. But progressives do not have the luxury of spending time on strategically pointless fights, particularly when the President and Senators they worked to elect are desperate to make a deal that dramatically slashes core progressive programs.

Rebuild the Dream leader Van Jones recently stated:

“There is a silent majority of Americans who are fighting back, and many of them have been fighting alone. They’ve been fighting to find a job and provide for their families. They’ve been fighting against the banks that are trying to take their homes. They’re fighting against unfair budget cuts that will disproportionately hurt the middle class and poor. They’re fighting for the American Dream. But, as we saw in Wisconsin, and we’re now beginning to see around the country, millions of Americans are starting to fight back together. And, it’s only a matter of time before the American Dream Movement comes to Washington.”

I would say that when it comes to bringing the Rebuild the American Dream Movement to Washington, there is no reason for further delay. Activists are angry and the time for action is now, before Obama and a compliant Senate Democratic leadership sign off on a deal that will permanently alter Social Security and Medicare and decimate domestic programs.

But if national progressive movements are coming to Washington to only criticize Republicans, they may as well stay home.

Randy Shaw is the author of The Activist’s Handbook.

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