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How Can Progressives Win Again? Look To California

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Big corporate money couldn't buy democracy in California Tuesday. Progressives didn't win every top office and key ballot measures because voters are more progressive, but because of the power of populist tactics practiced here that should spread across America.

I was celebrating Tuesday because the $4 million insurance companies spent on deceptive advertisement to buy the insurance commissioner's office didn't succeed. My colleagues and I had crisscrossed the state for the last two weeks sounding like Paul Revere, "The Insurers Are Coming!"

Oil companies' millions could not trick Californians into repealing their greenhouse gas emissions caps.

Hellraising California US Senator Boxer withstood an advertising assault fueled by corporate cash laundered through the US Chamber of Commerce.

An undocumented nanny foiled Meg Whitman's $150 million gubernatorial bid, backed by Ebay and Goldman Sachs money, because nanny-gate showed how out of step Whitman was with Californians' values.

Mass mobilization played a big part too. Whitman's big strategic mistake was taking on the mighty and hard working members of the California Nurses Association early on. Bus loads of nurses literally followed Whitman across the state for months to keep the pressure on her and help force the candidate's big mistakes.

Progressive populism won in California and it can gain more power across America if progressives get back to the basics of populist power we practice here: 1. Expose 2. Confront 3. Force Your Opponents To Make Mistakes 4. Make the Mistakes the Issue 5. Don't Let Go.

My new book The Progressive's Guide To Raising Hell tells the tales of California's progressive populist victories and lays out the battle-proven steps by which average people can use these principles to win against big money by standing on strong public opinion. The big takeaway for progressives: what happens between elections is much more important than election day itself.

If we want America to reflect our values and opinions, we have to assert them every day. So here's a short 5 point plan to get progressive populism rolling toward Washington.

New Rules For Progressives

1. Harness public outrage and stand on strong public opinion, not against it -- Progressives need to focus on issues where 70% to 80% of the public agrees with them and there may even be common ground with the Tea Party and conservatives. For example, 80% of Americans support a repeal of mandatory health insurance purchases set to take effect in 2014. Progressives should join with conservatives to demand such a repeal. The rest of Obama's overhaul stands on much stronger public opinion, and is more progressive. An exit to the wars, more reform of Wall Street and reining in oil companies' prices at the pump -- pocket book issues are the ones to organize around because the vast majority of the public agrees.

2. Remember that issues move politicians, not the other way around --- Progressives cannot wait for Obama or another leader to push their issues, progressives have to push their leaders to take on their issues. Stop apologizing for Obama and start building a movement that will make him move. Social media and online organizing targeting Obama to be more of a populist will get his attention quick. The White House needs to be the target of progressive organizing at every level to force Obama to move forward rather than defend the status quo.

3. Take it to the states -- The public option to the private health insurance market, greenhouse gas limits (upheld in CA Tuesday night), and even financial reforms are possible through the state ballot measure process in 24 states. When you stand on strong public opinion through direct democracy, voters will stand with you. A ballot measure can change the world a lot quicker than Congress. By building progress in key states like California through ballot measures we can show Washington how popular a more aggressive, progressive plan is.

4. Focus on two key changes in DC: blow up the filibuster and repeal mandatory health insurance. Mandatory health insurance, with 80% of public opinion against it, is a ticking time bomb for Democrats in 2014. We should repeal it and keep the progressive parts of health care reform law and use all our energy to convince progressive leaders in Washington of this wisdom. Second, you should not have to muster a supermajority in the US Senate to get meaningful reform. The US Supreme Court has ruled that majority vote of the US Senate can change the US Senate rules, including how many votes it takes to overcome a filibuster. The Republicans will change the number of votes needed to invoke cloture to 51 the day after they have power, Democrats should change it now while they still can and use it as leverage.

5. Remember sunlight is the best disinfectant in politics -- The election results show that revealing corporate money is often enough to prevent it from putting our democracy up for sale. If the Courts won't allow strong campaign finance laws, we need to make sure there is truth in election advertising with every dollar of corporate money clearly identified on every advertisement.

More than $4 billion is likely to have been spent on the mid-term election, but money didn't make the difference in a lot of places.

What mattered most was good old fashioned populism: the power of public outrage, voter's perception of how out of step candidates were with their values, and a leader's authenticity.

The two dozen new Tea Party candidates who will hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives sprung to power in the primaries with virtually no money, but a lot of authenticity and popular anger on their side.

Connecticut senatorial candidate Linda McMahon's $50 million could not buy her a senate seat either.

Republicans gained crucial seats but more money was spent by and on Democratic candidates overall according to the Center for Responsible Politics.

What really matters is the power of public opinion. If we want to win progress, we need to rally around it. Progressives need to raise more hell and worry less about raising money.

For all the mud and money thrown around Tuesday, the results show democracy isn't for sale when its supporters have the right tactics. We need to start practicing them today.

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Jamie Court is author of The Progressive's Guide To Raising Hell and president of Consumer Watchdog.