2012 will come down to a handful of votes in key races swayed by voter suppression and voter depression. To win, progressives must overcome both. This will require courage in calling out the acts of our opponents and in changing our own patterns of advocacy in order to succeed.
Voter suppression is catalogued by many voting rights groups such as Rock the Vote, the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute and the Brennan Center for Justice -- election codes to limit the voting rights of students and movers, reduce early voting days, and restrict voter registration and "get-out-the-vote" mobilization efforts that all told could restrict voting rights of 5 million Americans in 2012 and disability rights advocates.
When it comes to voter depression, the challenges are external and internal to the progressive movement.
External forces will simply blame everything on President Obama, claiming that change has not come or come fast enough because of him. In classic projection, the Republican party of "no" that blocked more robust stimulus, healthcare reform and Wall Street reform, will blame the cleaning crew not the wrecking crew.
They also engage in the not so subtle dog whistles that seek to "other" the president and progressive Democrats. For months we have heard Republicans complain about Mitt Romney and say conservative dollars will be spent on congressional races instead of the presidential. Karl Rove and company will swoop in and pollute the airwaves with ugly dog whistles about LBGT Americans ("San Francisco"), African Americans ("food stamp president"), Latinos ("illegals") and Jews ("Alinsky").
Internal forces include the purists who see their role as attacking elected officials rather than supporting them. My inbox is full of pledges and petitions from groups seeking political reform but precious few actually lift up elected officials who need to cast the tough votes for reform. Over and over they will say "tell Congress" or "tell the president," but very rarely will they say "praise Congress" or "thank the president" for taking action. Talk about depression! To read their notes is to think there is no hope for change -- when I know that there is.
Simply put, If you are going to amend our tax code in the face of Republican threats to impeach the president as Grover Norquist just threatened or pushing for Citizens United Reform, it takes votes from legislators to do so. Expecting people to take tough votes for reform without a whiff of public support is ludicrous.
What is to be done? Occupy the vote. Cure voter suppression with a commitment to participate in the civic sacrament of voting and to protect others' rights to do so. Cure voter depression by calling out the "othering" and smears from opponents and by pushing and praising progressive politicians. We know the problem and we know the cure -- now we must summon the courage to act and the courage to change.