On election night, 2008, when the word went out that Barack Obama had been declared the winner, there was quite literally dancing in the streets. All over America, people hungry for change and fed up with eight years of George Bush running our country into the ditch were overjoyed that hope had been chosen over fear of more of the same. Young people, black people, immigrants, and all kinds of Americans who wanted a new day were out in the streets dancing and celebrating. A friend visiting from Sweden's Social Democratic Party was out on U Street in DC as throngs danced their butts off, weeping with pure joy, and he turned to a friend and said, "Are all American elections like this?" The answer is a big no; election night 2008 was different because it felt like change was coming.
A couple million people showed up for the inauguration, shattering all previous records. In early 2009, one of DC's big progressive groups, the Campaign for America's Future, announced their annual conference, for years entitled Take Back America, was changing its name (to America's Future Now) because, well, America had been taken back from the right wingers who had been governing it. I had just written a book (The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be) about how progressives had every so often in our country's history been able to create a big change moment, and I was on my book tour telling audiences that we had a chance at creating another one.
A year later, it all feels a lot different, doesn't it? A version of health care reform is still alive, but struggling mightily and so weakened by concessions to insurers and drug companies that there's a palpable sense of disappointment by the progressives who have been fighting for it. Climate change legislation is stalled in the Senate after barely getting through the House in highly compromised fashion. There's been no action on labor law reform. The Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than Bush did in 2008, and there's still no movement on long promised immigration reform. The war in Afghanistan has been escalated twice by President Obama. Almost 20% of Americans are unemployed or under-employed. Financial reform is on the verge of being watered down to almost nothing, and the big banks on Wall Street are still running roughshod over the rest of us- economically and politically.
It's time for a different kind of dancing (and marching and chanting and raising hell) in the streets - the kind where regular folks tell the politicians and the special interests we aren't going to sit around let them ruin our country.
On Tuesday, March 9th, several thousand people will be marching in Washington, DC - not to the capitol, but to the Ritz-Carlton, where the insurance industry that is still running things is meeting. There may be mass arrests, and serious disruption of the insurers' event.
On Sunday, March 21st, the immigrants" rights movement is marching in DC. I hear that there will be several tens of thousands at this one, and that immigrant advocates are extremely angry at the Congress and White House for doing nothing on the issue after all the promises that have been made.
And I'm hearing reports from community organizers working on banking issues that anger at the big banks has reached a boiling point, that with Congress listening to Wall Street more than the people, people are planning to take new kinds of demonstrations and direct action in the coming months directly to Wall Street and the K Street lobbyists running things. They will be taking demonstrations to bankers' and business lobbyists' offices, and picket their favorite lunch places and country clubs. And they will be moving their money out of the big banks and into community based banks and credit unions.
The tea partiers are not the only angry people in America. Progressives who were promised change and didn't get it are getting more and more ready to take things to the streets themselves. A lot of people gave President Obama and Congress the benefit of the doubt after the election, and they do deserve credit for trying to make progress on these huge issues, but with Wall Street and the insurers still running things, a lot of folks are running out of patience. And by the way: nobody outside of DC cares about which White House staffer is smart and which isn't. They don't a care about which Senate procedure works to pass a bill. They don't care about which power player is up or down, or in our out. People want results, and they want big business to no longer be in charge. Do you really think a recent immigrant in this country - demonized by the right, in fear that a neighbor might deported and that families might be ripped apart - that they care which politician is blocking immigration reform? They don't. They want change, the change that was promised to them. Just like the diabetic who can't get health insurance, and the guy who lost his job and his house because of Wall Street bankers.
People are going to be doing a different kind of dancing in the streets over the next few weeks and months - dancing and shouting and carrying sings and risking arrests. The bankers, as Senator Durbin famously said, still own the place (along with the insurers and drug companies and businesses exploiting cheap immigrant labor). It's time to take our country back. We need to stop relying on the politicians, and confront the powers that be directly.
Check out all of Mike's pieces on progressive strategy and history at his home blog, OpenLeft.com.