David Sirota's prescient new book, The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington is coming to life and we're in it!
It's been a terrifying and illuminating few weeks living amidst the fury of millions of Americans from left, right and center. Many of us are accusing our elected representatives of tolerating the greed on Wall Street that inevitably led to the country's dive into financial disaster; and of acquiescing to the shady bailout plan which everyone knows we are paying for.
He Saw It Coming
Sirota predicted this kind of rebellion - among others--in The Uprising. Last month, Valley Dems United ran the first segment of this review of sorts, about current populist insurrections against the political establishment. Some are succeeding; others--like the anti-Iraq war uprising--are not.
But Sirota doesn't just tell lively compelling stories. He uses them to illustrate practical strategies for success. He offers specific instructions for rescuing the disintegrating progressive movement, engaging millions of other outraged Americans, and restoring our democracy.
He shines a beam on the machinations of mainstream politicians and media to grab and keep power. He takes us to the coffee houses where intrepid uprising activists and leaders devise their own tactics to defeat or at least sidetrack the oligarchs. And he explains how our history led us here.
In brief, Part I recapped the way an eccentric, bolo-tied Montana Democrat wrested the governorship from long-reigning Republicans; and described the two warring factions that comprise the anti-Iraq war uprising. These are the left's Protest Industry--disillusioned grassroots activists who've renounced what they see as a gutless Democratic Party; and The Players, mainstream Dems who fight the war from inside the system, but whose vacillating commitment often seems more partisan than progressive. Sirota believes unless these siblings unite, the Iraq war will slog on until pols decide it's advantageous to exit.
The author contrasts the unruly left-leaning grassroots with the highly disciplined right-wing uprising, which whipped it minions into shape and shoved US centrism rightward. And he pays homage to brilliant community organizer(!) Saul Alinsky, whose book Rules for Radicals directed and inspired the left to its many successes in the mid-20th Century.
Uprising, New York Style
Lots of us cringe at the term "third party." But New York has a resourceful third party whose electoral triumphs are proving it an uprising force strong enough to push mainstream Democrats toward progressivism.
It's called the Working Families Party (WFP). The WFP started 10 years ago when a coalition of major labor, consumer and grassroots groups decided to use New York election law to help achieve its goals of racial and economic justice.
The state allows multiple political parties to list the same candidate as their candidate on election ballots. The process is called "fusion voting" because members of two parties "fuse" their votes together to elect the person favored by both parties.
Once votes are counted and a winner announced, candidates and supporters know exactly how many votes came from which party, and which policies voters expect the winner to advocate. In the WFP's case, these are uprising-friendly racial and economic justice issues.
For example, the WFP endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in New York's 2006 Senatorial election. So members of both parties fused their votes for Clinton--on the Democratic Party ballot line or the WFP ballot line. Either way, all their votes counted for Clinton and helped her win re-election. And these fusion voting results told her how many New Yorkers expected her to work particularly hard on racial and economic justice issues.
The Most Potential
The fusion voting system allows people to form political parties based on narrow, precise issues. Sirota writes that fusion voting third parties were important to past uprisings, and the WFP "has become the one uprising model with the most potential to convert all the populist anger and frustration into functioning political and legislative authority."
It demonstrated that its "populist economic brand could help Democrats win votes and legislative battles among constituents and in districts Democrats usually had trouble winning." Then it started running its own economically and racially progressive candidates against conservative Dems, defeating them repeatedly. The WFP is respected by New York's political community and media/press.
Sirota recommends one particular WFP tactic to the uprising. To get a leader to pledge support on the record, gather a big group of influential activists in a room with the candidate, and make the pol answer pre-determined questions fired off by specific activists. This is a "highly effective model used by AIPAC."
Although the WFP "is proving unusually adroit at threading the needle between compromising for insider influence and taking no prisoners for uprising goals" the author continues, "the question is not whether this scrappy little party can be successful, but whether it can sustain its high-wire act, stay true to its principles, and expand beyond New York's border -- all at the same time."
Because it has had to compromise. And some WFP leaders have left the party.
Proud to Carry the Progressive Banner in Ohio
Ohio's Senatorial election of outspoken Congressman Sherrod Brown in 2006 scrambled brains there and in Washington, DC. How could this brazen progressive beat a GOP incumbent in the same right-tilting state that had clinched George Bush's reelection just two years earlier?
During Brown's first congressional run in 1992, he ran on classic uprising issues--pro-universal health care and anti-NAFTA. Because he represented an uncompetitive district, he could "rake in as much campaign cash as possible" during subsequent elections. By 2006, he had almost $2 million in the bank.
Democratic Party insiders urged him to run for Senate even though they disliked his populist record, because his campaign reserves could power his run. According to Sirota, Brown had orchestrated the perfect situation--to regain their Senate majority, "decidedly anti-uprising Big Money forces inside the Democratic Party were forced to aggressively support an uprising leader of out sheer self-interest."
Writes Sirota, "Brown happily rammed his uprising credentials and political ideology down everyone's throats (saying he was) proud to carry the progressive banner (and) fight uncompromisingly for progressive values."
Observes Sirota, "Brown's victory shattered the entire DC myth that Democrats have to steer clear of the uprising to win the heartland. (He) showed that if you run an ideological, uprising campaign you can win--even even in most conservative areas, even in the most closely divided and politically important state in the nation,” even in a district that had gone Republican since 1938.
Lead the Uprising, Win the Heartland
Observes Sirota, "Brown's victory shattered the entire DC myth that Democrats have to steer clear of the uprising to win the heartland. (He) showed that if you run an ideological, uprising campaign you can win--even in most conservative areas, even in the most closely divided and politically important state in the nation," even in a district that had gone Republican since 1938.
Brown views the "outside rabble rousers, agitators and activists who comprise the uprising," as allies. He says, "the progressive movement is making it easier for members of Congress to be progressive, both because members see the results of the (2006) election and because the progressive movement is holding people's feet to the fire."
Brown views his Senate presence as "an inside-outside job," building relationships, "working" his colleagues, helping to organize pressure on the Senate. He knows it's tricky to be an uprising leader and a calculating pol--and to reject the temptations of Establishment co-option that have ruined others.
Guts and Luck in Montana
To please Wall Street eleven years ago, Montana's legislature deregulated the energy industry. Democrat John Tester, an organic farmer, got sufficiently angry to run for state Senate and win his Republican district. Eventually he became Montana Senate President.
In 2006 the Daily Kos and MyDD blogs discovered him, loved "Tester's rural populism and real-guyness" and the largely coastal and urban Netroots made him a star. Blogs raised campaign awareness and money.
Montana's progressive community backed him for the primary, and just before that contest the state's largest newspaper chain ran a story about the Democratic Establishment candidate's extramarital affair. Tester beat the favorite by a 61 to 35 percent margin.
Then he challenged a three-term GOP incumbent---in a Western Republican state that hates infringements on basic privacy. When the Republican accused Democrats of trying to weaken the Patriot Act, Tester responded, "I don't want to weaken the Patriot Act, I want to repeal it." Then he launched an ad attacking the incumbent for refusing to support the repeal.
That summer, the press ran stories linking the GOP opponent to the now infamous lobbyist convicted of bribery earlier that year--Jack Abramoff. Tester's uprising Senate campaign had "railed against corruption, lobbyists' influence, the general DC stench." Tester won narrowly, and the Dems regained their Senate majority.
In early 2007, Tester tells Sirota he's frustrated "that (Senators) take real pride in being slow---they call it 'deliberate' but the Senate is slow." He says Congress is just starting, weeks after the president proposed his Iraq surge, to consider a non-binding resolution of disagreement. He adds dejectedly, "After that, we'll see what happens."
As we know, despite huge anti-war marches and grassroots pressure on the new Democratic Congressional majority in early 2007, they passed Bush's surge. Then, rather than holding out for a definitive law requiring America's prudent exit from Iraq, or a bill cutting off war funding, Congress passed the notorious non-binding resolution to oppose the surge.
Sirota blames it on "the capitulation of the outside uprising." Just before Congress began the anti-war debate, "MoveOn's leadership refused to make big, confrontational demands on Democrats to hold the antiwar line---they deserted the uprising's true allies in Congress." Besides Brown and Tester, Sirota is referring to Bernie Sanders, the proud socialist Senator from Vermont who says, "it makes it that much more difficult to fight in this very conservative institution without loud voices and pressure coming from outside..."
We Still Don't Get How They Win
Sirota reiterates that the left's uprising still doesn't understand how to strategize. When conservatives want Congress to act, their think tanks and activists bully it mercilessly with positions so far to the right that lawmakers can't possibly comply. But that constant outside pressure fortifies conservative representatives "to stand firm, which pulls the inevitable legislative compromise closer to the Right's objectives---the uprising has learned none of these lessons when it comes to Iraq."
To pass laws that force our leaders to end this war, Democrats considering voting to continue it must fear defeat, and politically endangered Republicans who say they're antiwar have "to put up or shut up," contends Sirota.
When Democrats don't suffer "for refusing to hold out for something stronger, they feel free to ignore the uprising in the future and on every issue."
Tester defends the use of primaries, considered, according to Sirota, "the ultimate form of apostasy" in DC ---primaries are among the uprising's most potent weapons against status quo political cultures." Tester believes primaries provide "the ability to hold incumbents accountable for past voting records and influence them on future voting records---that's democracy."
Next issue, we'll visit the Senate's proud socialist who wins by huge margins even in GOP strongholds; and we'll go on location with the King of Uprising TV, and the right-wing minions he incites to do dubious battle at our nation's border with Mexico.
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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