Digging In for the Long Hard Slog

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Slowly but surely, signs of pushback from progressive leaders and activists are starting to bubble up. Nancy Pelosi and House progressives are refusing to fold in negotiations with the Senate. Between the Pecora Commission hearings starting this week and the new Move Your Money campaign targeting the big banks, efforts to take on Wall Street continue to build. Discussions about reforming the Senate rules are gaining momentum. In the first three days of this week alone, I am aware of four different planning meetings between cross-sections of progressive leaders about where our movement goes from here.

Progressive action so far during the Obama era appears to be going in stages. Stage one was exhilaration and hope. Stage two was surprise and disappointment that change was so difficult, and that Obama didn't seem to be fighting very hard for it. Stage three is where we are today: people getting over their disappointments and digging in for the long haul. Stage three is a good place for progressives to be.

I think most of us have been in way too many conversations over the last year about whether Obama is a good guy or not. Some are arguing that he's doing all he can to push a progressive agenda but is being slowed down by the Senate, or the lobbyists, or whoever. These optimists talk about all the good things he has done and all the positive policies he has proposed. The other side describes him as a complete disappointment, a sellout. These folks focus on all the disappointments in his policy, and all the times he has compromised away things that matter to progressives. I have even seen it argued that he is barely better than Bush.

Depending on the issue, context, and timing of given arguments, I have weighed in on both sides of some of these debates, criticizing Obama a fair amount while defending him against some of the attacks. But ultimately, I don't really care very much about whether Obama is a good guy or not, whether deep down he has a progressive heart. What I care about is what he does, and whether progressives inside and outside of Congress can push him and Congress to do better things. Being awash in either happy talk optimism or bitter pessimism about Obama does us no good. Organizing, innovating, communicating in strategic ways about getting progressive policies done is what matters, and I think that is the stage we are moving toward now.

In the weeks and months ahead, I expect we will be seeing some good things brewing: innovative new organizing strategies based on taking social networking to the next level; increasing political pushback against the big banks; multi-level discussions about reforming the Senate rules; progressives having the backs of the immigration reform movement as it gets race-baited by Beck/Limbaugh Republicans. We will see progressives digging in for the long hard slog- just the way they should be.