Tea Party activists represent a small percentage of the American population. But they've managed to dominate the news and transform the political debate by adopting the mass mobilization tactics pioneered by the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and even the Obama Presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, liberals and progressives, millions of whom mobilized to campaign for Barack Obama's election, have been relatively passive in the face of massive unemployment, bank bailouts with no reciprocal obligations to lend, and huge bank bonuses effectively paid for by taxpayer money. They've either quietly hoped that President Obama and Congressional Democrats would take the necessary steps to stimulate the economy, create jobs, restrain bank bonuses, and restructure the Wall Street casino that caused the Great Recession. Or they've engaged in relatively sedate forms of protest like online petitions, blogging, lobbying, and phoning Congress and the White House.
I'm just one Huffington Post blogger and don't represent an organization or organized constituency (although during my life I've participated in, and sometimes helped organize, mass demonstrations). But based on feedback from my Huffington Post blogs, I think there are lots of people willing--even anxious--to take to the streets to demand real change. Millions of people donated to Barack Obama's Presidential campaign. Hundreds of thousands spontaneously showed up at Grant Park to celebrate his victory. Over a million attended his inauguration.
I believe there's a mass movement waiting to be mobilized to take direct action to support the Change they voted for and which so far Obama has not delivered. And perhaps a single spark can start a prairie fire.
So this is a call for a mass mobilization--a Million Person March--to demand jobs and real financial reform.
There are many organizations that have the ability to implement such a call. There already is a coalition, at least on paper, called Americans for Financial Reform whose affiliated members include many of the organizations with the ability to turn out large numbers of their constituents for such a mass mobilization. The coalition includes the nation's largest labor unions including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Change to Win, and the SEIU, MoveOn.Org with its more than 3 million members, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, AARP, U.S. PIRG, Common Cause, Campaign for America's Future, USAction, and over 100 other national and local organization. (For a complete list, click here.) So such a mass mobilization could be sponsored either by Americans for Financial Reform, or by a new coalition made up of some of its key constituent members. There's now an infrastructure of progressive media with millions of viewers and readers, including websites like the Huffington Post and Daily Kos, TV shows like those of Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz, and email lists like those of Move On and Progressive Democrats of America, that can get the word out for such a mass mobilization.
Here's one possible scenario for such a mass mobilization. April 15th--tax day--is often the day right wing populists choose to demonstrate against "big government". Instead, organize a week of mass direct action for the week of April 15th around the theme, "Use Our Taxes to Support Main Street, Not Wall Street". On April 15th, organize hundreds of thousands of people to line up at the biggest banks like Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo to close their accounts and open new accounts at community banks and credit unions. On other days of the week, organize symbolic non-violent civil disobedience at the headquarters of the likes of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Have all of this lead up to a Million Person March on Saturday, April 17th, flooding the canyons of Wall Street with masses of citizens demanding jobs and financial reform. Complement the national march on Wall Street with regional demonstrations at places like Wells Fargo's headquarters in San Francisco.
The demands for such a mass mobilization should be simple and understandable. They might include the following:
• Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. We demand Congress act to put millions of Americans back to work, not just pass a puny so-called jobs bill.
• If they're too big to fail, they're too big to exist! Outlaw federally insured banks from gambling in the global financial casino using proprietary trading. Limit the size of the largest banks so if they fail, they can be wound down without crashing the economy again.
• Join England and France in putting a 50% tax on the executive bonuses of banks who received tax-payer funded government assistance. Without taxpayer bailouts, most of these executives would be on the unemloyment line instead of enjoying multi-million dollar bounues.
• Implement the Consumer Financial Protection Agency proposed by Elizabeth Warren to protect consumers of mortgages, credit cards and other such products from abuses by lenders.
• Give bankruptcy judges the power to modify the principle of underwater mortgages in order to help millions of Americans stay in their homes.
• Pass a "Robin Hood Tax" of .05% on speculative financial transactions which could raise hundreds of billions to create jobs, prevent global warming, and lower the deficit. (To see the website for the British campaign for such a tax, as well as a video by the director of "Love Actually" supporting it, go here.
• Help create a sustainable green economy. Don't let America's economic clock be cleaned by China becoming the world's largest producer of wind powered turbines or Germany becoming the largest producer of solar panels.
• Do everything possible to limit the power of corporations to use their money to buy Congress. Make them get specific shareholder approval each time they want to spend corporate money on a political campaign. Ban corporations with government contracts from contributing to politicians. Strengthen disclosure laws so a corporation-sponsored political ad must include the CEO stating, "I'm the CEO of [pick your corporate name--Goldman Sachs, Exxon, Haliburton] and I endorsed this ad." Ban any corporation with a single foreign shareholder from contributing to American political campaigns. In the long-run, pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that corporations are not the same as We The People for purposes of the Bill of Rights.
This is just one scenario for such a mass mobilization, I'm sure readers, and leaders of some of the organizations I mentioned, can come up with other scenarios. Please add your thoughts in the Comments section below. The point is, it's time for progressives to not just lobby and sign email petitions, but take to the streets. Maybe this blog can start a prairie fire.
POSTSCRIPT: The Tea Party movement first attracted national attention with demonstrations last April 15 on Tax Day. This year Freedomworks, the fake grassroots tea party organization led by former Republican House Majority Leader and lobbyist Dick Armey, is sponsoring the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party in Washington D.C. According to the Freedomworks' website, "On Tax Day, April 15th, hundreds of thousands of Americans will protest big government around the country. They will protest in big cities and small towns, from Los Angeles, California to Burlington, North Carolina. Freedomworks will be hosting the DC Tax Day Tea Party, at the Ellipse, just outside Barack Obama's bedroom window."
The question is, will progressives and liberals sit on the sidelines and leave the field to the teabaggers? Or will they step up their game and stage an even bigger mobilization than the teabaggers and their corporate and Republican sponsors can even imagine?
A NOTE ON THE COMMENTS: Many of the people writing comments seem to be debating whether there's anything effective the government can do to create jobs and regulate the financial system. That's a fine debate to have elsewhere. As far as this column is concerned, many people have already eloquently spelled out on the Huffington Post and elsewhere the policies that the government needs to pursue to revive the economy, regulate the financial system and help create jobs, including Robert Reich, Bob Kuttner, Dean Baker, Bob Borosage, Paul Krugman, James Galbraith, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Stiglitz and others.
The point of this column is that there's no failure of economic and policy ideas. There's a failure of political will by a system seemingly unable or unwilling to address the enormity of the problem, and one which is too dominated by the power of big money.
The question posed here is whether mass political action can play an important role in changing the political dynamic, in the same way that the labor movement did in helping bring about the New Deal and the Civil Rights and student movements did in bringing about the reforms of the 1960's.
I'd appreciate more feedback in the Comments section on that issue.
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