07/16/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Wither the Autocratic Progressives?

Sitting in the Indianapolis airport the airport waiting for a flight to D.C., I got this email from a friend in progressive politics:

I'm reading The Uprising now and I'm wondering how you think [the new Health Care for America Now (HCAN) coalition] is going to work? Is this another AAEI? Or something better that will build real grassroots support? I like the idea of targeting Blue Dogs and putting organizers on the ground.

2581824136_fec1f79696_m.jpgMy friend is referring to the controversial chapter in my book about Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), which was also excerpted in In These Times.

The crux of the chapter is about how the antiwar uprising was hurt by a strategy that put a massive amount of resources into a top-down, Washington insider campaign whose major outside-the-Beltway activity was astroturfing, not real grassroots organizing - and whose strategy was a purely partisan one: namely using the war as a political weapon only against Republicans, regardless of whether that would actually help end the war.

The AAEI fiasco was an example of Autocratic Progressivism - the kind where organizations acting in the name of the progressive movement structured the operation in an autocratic, undemocratic, insular fashion - a "trust the Beltway elites" model that defies Saul Alinsky's most basic principles of organizing.

Two initial tidbits of news tell me that HCAN is going to be different.

First and foremost, grassroots groups seem like they are going to play an integral role in the national campaign from the get-go. For instance, I just received word that in my home state of Colorado, the Colorado Progressive Coalition is spearheading the launch of the campaign in state. I've also heard that Connecticut Citizen Action Group is going to be launching the campaign in Connecticut. These groups are the antithesis of astroturf groups - they are real grassroots organizations.

Second, there's this story from Huffington Post about how HCAN will, in fact, operate with a movement psychology - rather than a partisan one. Specifically, it will target pressure against anyone who gets in the way of real health care reform - Republicans OR Democrats. This is different from a partisan strategy that says pressure will only be brought to bear on one party.

Movement psychology is precisely what takes uprisings and turns them into full-fledged social movements. Partisan psychology - otherwise known as Partisan War Syndrome - is what destroys uprisings. It's fantastic to see HCAN taking a confrontational, movement posture right out of the gate. It suggests an understanding of how power and movements have worked - and not worked - in American history. If the organization can preserve this movement posture and reject the Autocratic Progressives who populate so much of D.C.'s new self-satisfied "progressive" infrastructure, there's a solid chance that today's populist uprising can be channeled into a powerful movement for universal health care.

You can join Health Care for Action Now here.

This is cross-posted from the TPM Book Club about The Uprising this week. Come join in.