Uprising Updated

When visionary journalist/author David Sirota published his book, The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington in June 2008, he traveled the country—including an appearance at Valley Dems United Democratic Club—making his case. But even before November 4, it was clear that Americans were living their own insurrections; some readers of The Uprising felt, as they turned the pages, that their own stories were unfolding.

Small populist fires had been lit in the late 1990s as the dot-com bubble ruptured. These smoldered for the next few years and by late 2002, when war was all but launched– anti Iraq-invasion marches grew in size and intensity.

Rebellions Spread
People all over the country rebelled against what they considered corporate-owned-and-run government, leading to the Democrats’ Congressional win in 2006. Meanwhile, the housing/sub-prime mortgage crisis was roiling.

During the next two years, foreclosed-on homeowners and laid-off US workers– right and left– revolted. By last September when Wall Street crashed and bullied our reps in Washington into fed-exing us the bills for CEO bonuses and shareholder dividends, millions more joined the fight.

After November, What Uprising?
Many Americans are acting as though Barack Obama’s election and the Democratic capture of both federal legislative houses ended the uprising, and maybe the need to rise up. Some people think Obama is the uprising.

When Sirota addressed VDU last June, he said, “I’m afraid that on Election Day we’ll think once we vote, we’ve created change. That’s the moment change starts.”

In recent blogs and columns he updates The Uprising. He quotes a survey of 2,000 voters by Democracy Corps/Campaign for America’s Future, during and immediately after the election. Findings include:

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  • The general election shows that Sen. Barack Obama’s historic victory in the presidential race spearheaded a sea-change election. It marks the end of the conservative era that has dominated our politics since 1980 and the beginning of a new era of progressive reform, driven by an emerging progressive majority.
  • The survey also reveals the consolidation of a new majority coalition and the mandate for progressive reform that Obama and congressional Democrats have.
  • Republicans emerge from this election as an aging, monochromatic, largely regional party, increasingly in the grip of its evangelical base. Democrats are consolidating a governing majority in what is, increasingly, a center-left nation

In his December 4, 2008 creators.com column, Those Other Elections, Sirota cites “a stunning string of state legislative victories that leaves one-third of Americans now living in 17 Democratic “trifecta” states — those where Democrats control the governorship, state house and state senate. Trifecta-state Democratic legislators and governors now have the unobstructed opportunity to play a pivotal role on everything from setting national energy and health industry standards to addressing rampant wealth inequality.”

New York is one of those states. But the opportunity won’t be seized unless the Dems are pressed by the Working Families Party (WFP), an exemplar featured in The Uprising (see Can You Feel It? VDU Newsletter, October 15, 2008). It’s a third party which uses New York election laws to help progressive candidates from other parties win campaigns, as long as they share WFP’s populist economic agenda. Once victorious, the winners are expected to legislate on behalf of WFP’s constituency.

Millionaires Tax
Sirota writes that the party is “demanding passage of priorities like a millionaires tax — a major revenue raiser in a place that domiciles Wall Street. With the party’s additionally important 2008 gains in Connecticut and Oregon, the WFP may be the model for a new kind of third party politics — one that isn’t defined by attention-hungry presidential gadflies, and actually does the unglamorous work of local organizing and ultimately wields significant power.”

In more election news, the author notes Colorado “Democrat Mark Udall’s resounding U.S. Senate victory in the face of Republican Bob Schaffer’s relentless criticism of him as a ‘Boulder liberal’ (which) has effectively defanged the entire ‘liberal’ attack in a once reliable GOP stronghold.” Colorado is also the first “in history to elect both a state House and state senate headed by African-Americans.”

In addition, the Colorado Progressive Coalition led a grassroots campaign that voted down a ballot measure which had destroyed affirmative action and equal pay elsewhere. 2008 saw 22 of 26 national conservative initiatives defeated. Sirota praises these elections for setting “the stage for precisely the kind of nationwide ‘bottom-up’ change that Washington’s filibusters and fighting all too often prevent.”

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The Godfather
Sirota’s political godfather is the late 1960s uber community organizer and Chicago native Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals has inspired nearly four decades of young activists, among them Barack Obama.

Our president-elect is surely familiar with this Alinskyism: “Start from where the world is, as it is, not as [you] would like it to be.” (See How We Can Win, Valley Dems United Newsletter, September, 2008.) Obama’s appointment of progressive Ca. Representative Hilda Solis for Labor Secretary, and his prospective new CIA head, former Ca Congressman (and CIA outsider, unlinked to torture) Leon Panetta, as well as most of his more conservative Cabinet choices, demonstrate his understanding and adherence to this “rule.”

In In Barack we trust? salon.com, Nov. 29, 2008, Sirota suggests that worried progressives need not flip out about any early center-right appointments. “…the president-elect’s initial declarations imply a boldly progressive agenda. ‘Remember, Franklin Roosevelt gave no evidence in his prior career that he would lead the dramatic sea change in American politics that he led,’ says historian Eric Rauchway. ‘And yet, his time in office became a major shift in a liberal direction.’”

The Progressive Center
At the same time, “I tell e-mailers they are right to be somewhat distressed, right to ignore Obama loyalists who want them to shut up, and right to speak out…voicing concern is critical. As Frederick Douglass said, ‘Power concedes nothing without demand.’… progressive pressure benefits Obama by helping him play off it and define the progressive center his campaign promises embody.”

The Civil Rights movement itself “provided the political opportunity for candidates to take positions they previously were afraid to take, “ Sirota told VDU last June.

If We Don’t, They Will
He added, “An important subtext of the book is that there needs to be a social movement that makes it easier for candidates to take strong positions…if we don’t seize this moment, it’s our fault. If it’s not us, lobbyists and Big Money will control them.”

wendy-block.gifThat recognition also applies to Obama. “If there’s not a continuing uprising to pressure our new President to do specific things in office, change won’t come.”

The best news of all— the uprising lives, it’s gathering strength, and we know how to amplify its reach.

by Wendy Block

Wendy Block represents the 42nd AD on the DSCC, is a board member and the Recording Secretary of Valley Democrats United, Recording Secretary of the 42nd AD Permanent Precinct Task Force, and a member of the Kitchen Cabinet of Kitchen Table Democracy. She speaks to area groups on behalf of the California Clean Money Campaign. She also volunteers for Barack Obama.

Republished with permission from the Valley Democratics United newsletter, Margie Murray, where it first appeared.

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