While watching the President Obama address Congress last night, I was thinking about what progressive groups need to do better to support our President. Then, watching the Republican response from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, (I too was born in Louisiana and to immigrant parents), I was struck by how disingenuous his speech was. He argued that based on the experience from Hurricane Katrina federal stimulus dollars for his State would be counter-productive.
After President Obama's encouraging address, Governor Jindal's remarks were a stark reminder of why as progressives we need to organize and rally our base more than ever.
Inside the Beltway, many of my fellow progressive leaders are happy to be 'back in the White House' after eight years of being on the outside. As such, the Economic Stimulus Package was not just the first big test of President Obama's leadership, but also of progressive leadership in Washington.
We should all celebrate the fact that President Obama was able to sign the Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law by President's Day. A major Economic Stimulus bill is the fastest way of pumping money directly back into the economy and creating desperately needed jobs.
Given the seriousness, however, of our country's economic situation, it is distressing that President Obama did not get the bi-partisan support he sought on the Economic Recovery Package, despite major comprises from both parties on the legislation.
Economic stimulus is only the first step in putting our country back on track. Just wait until healthcare reform and climate legislation is in the hands of Congress. If it was that tough to get votes on pure stimulus and job creation, then we are in for a fight to pass strong progressive legislation.
Thousands upon thousands of young Americans got involved in politics for the very first time during the Election last year. Now they must also learn that their role is not limited to the voting booth, and where much is given, much is required. President Obama cannot make change all by himself; change still has to come from the bottom up.
Progressive organizers must get active and fast, because if President Obama goes down the road of change alone, without the vocal help of a progressive base, our vision for change may get hijacked along the way.
President Obama has an administration to finish developing, troops at his command in two war zones, a stock market on the edge of collapse, and he probably has not even finished moving in to the White House. That is why we must get organized. Let President Obama concentrate on governing the country, and let's become an echo chamber on the issues we support and the fire to his feet on the issues we don't.
To veteran progressives, my call to action is an obvious and unoriginal one - maybe even irritating because there are outstanding progressive infrastructures in place already.
Without reservation though, I put forth that some of the existing progressive infrastructures are tired, outdated, and too comfortable inside the Beltway.
There is an entirely new community of young people who want to be involved in politics. They have bought Barack coffee mugs, calendars and bobble heads, they watch CNN in the barbershop now instead of ESPN, and most importantly they have never been on the inside.
To get these young folks involved in issue advocacy at local, state and federal levels would be a major gain for the progressive movement. And the time to begin is now, at the state level. Stimulus dollars will be handed over to states almost immediately, and it is going to be impossible to oversee from Washington how the dollars are spent.
We need the Obama Administration to make www.recovery.gov the most transparent and understandable tool imaginable. We need to understand where and how stimulus dollars are being targeted to the communities hardest hit by the economic crises. Armed with this information, we can train newcomers to progressive politics on how to hold their elected officials accountable to delivering the required programs, jobs and funds to their communities.
Our alternative is to continue to pat ourselves on the back for being on the inside. Then wonder where all the new young voters from the 2008 elections are when we need broad mobilization for issues like healthcare reform, an end to urban poverty, and bold action on climate and energy. You see all those young Black and Brown and working class voters will still be on the outside, and the networks utilized during the Election to mobilize them, will have continued to work in isolation.
We are living in a moment in history when we can put forth really big ideas. Seeing that everyone has a role to play in our democracy is a really big idea.