By Yezdyar S. Kaoosji
“May tomorrow be more than another name for today.”—Eduardo Galeano
Chances are you will read this column a few days before or soon after the 2020 General Election. In either case, we will soon know who will occupy the Oval Office; the composition of the 117th Congress and the U.S. Senate; and the party control of gubernatorial offices, state legislatures and countless local offices across the country.
What should progressives do for the next four years?
The term progressive herein describes the enthusiastic supporters of the two attempts to place Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Democratic Party Presidential ticket. The term is also used to describe the multiple issues proposed by the Sanders movement aimed at supporting the so-called 99% versus the existing neoliberal stance weighted toward supporting the top 1% of Americans.
This column also probes the dilemma of left-leaning Democratic Party members who want to vote blue while being anchored to the party that has turned purple.
We have realized that the Democratic Party no longer espouses the social democrat label it proudly carried during the New Deal and Great Society eras. Instead, when Reagan conservatism swept across the country in the 1980s, the Democratic Party gingerly moved to the center and adopted neoliberal policies. Add to this the drastic repeal of the 1933 Banking (Glass-Steagall) Act, which had separated investment banking from commercial banking.
This resulted in the Democratic Party embracing center-right policies such as the liberalization of trade, the privatization of government services and deregulation. It shifted “many aspects of managing the economy from government to Wall Street, and to financiers” (Greta Krippner, historical sociologist, University of Michigan). Having moved itself to the so-called moderate center, the Democratic Party has resembled its political rival more than it resembles its New Deal heritage as a “people’s party.”
The two major political parties have done everything in their power to suppress other parties from gaining ground. The most blatant example is the Presidential Debate Commission, a nonprofit organization formed and owned by them since 1988. That year, the League of Women Voters withdrew from managing the Presidential debates because the Dukakis and Bush campaigns entered a secret agreement on how debates are conducted and who would take part in the debates.
Let us also understand the myth of the term third party: Besides the Democratic and Republican parties, there are 53 registered political parties in the United States. Several field Presidential candidates every four years. There is no single “third party.” It is an arrogant and misleading term used to imply that the Republicans and Democrats are the only “legitimate parties” in the United States! That myth has rendered quixotic any political organizing outside the duopoly.
So, now what?
Having realized that we cannot move the Democratic Party to the left from within, it is time to organize a political party that represents the left as a political force. It is interesting to note that several activist organizations promoting a progressive agenda have been successful within their areas of advocacy. These range from established political parties such as the Green Party, the Peace & Freedom Party and the Working Families Party to the newly energized Movement for a People’s Party. Labor unions and workers’ organizations, the Democratic Socialists of America, Our Revolution, MoveOn, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s Movement and Occupy, for example, have become more visible.
The Working Families Party has the support of several big-name progressive legislators at the national, state and local levels and is collecting signatures for their Working Families Party People’s Charter. The Movement for a People’s Party held a six-hour-long virtual convention a week after the Democratic Party Convention. It was addressed by leading progressive activists, politicians and academicians. At the end of the proceedings, 99% of the thousands of nationwide participants voted to form a “People’s Party” and have committed to take part in the 2024 presidential election.
Whether these left-leaning progressive forces merge or remain informally aligned, a scattered leftist movement is taking shape in America, and is growing outside the Democratic Party. It is drawing upon the energy generated by the “yuge” Bernie following composed of left-leaning Democrats and Independents, and progressive members of many organizations and existing political parties.
As recently as half a decade ago, the American electorate had resigned itself to accept the status quo—that political representatives at every level were elected by the voters based on their political pronouncements every two, four and six years. But following their election, the politicians are systematically neutered by special interest lobbyists.
Interestingly, over the past five years progressives have accomplished what many had thought impossible. That energy and optimism was fueled by the grassroots revolution launched in 2015 by Bernie Sanders and has caught the imagination of the people. Young, energetic and idealistic candidates such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are now the face of the emerging progressive movement in the United States.
As Sen. Sanders transitions to a progressive role model elder statesperson, we need to install a new charismatic leader to bring all diverse groups together under one big tent. We need to build a strong coalition modeled on the New Deal momentum that FDR convened.
Finally, progressives will need to step out of their comfortable cubbyholes and commit to participate in a single revolution. We need to convene and weave the common thread that runs through our progressive objectives into a single national movement. The hard work done by the founders and managers of the many existing and emerging progressive political parties and advocacy groups has been admirable. They have done a fantastic job to rally like-minded people with great love and care. Now, upon their shoulders, we need to build a new shining progressive America!
“What lies ahead? Reimagining the world! Just that.”—Arundhati Roy
Yezdyar S. Kaoosji, a progressive activist, is a retired nonprofit organization executive and consultant. He writes a frequent column, “Progressive Voice,” for the Community Alliance newspaper. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.