06/22/2010 07:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Your Voice And Vote Do Matter

Political activism in America has rarely been as widespread and sustained as it is today. Our reality demands it in light of a national unemployment average hovering just under 10% (and north of 10% in many parts of the country), home foreclosures continuing to spiral out of control, a financial system teetering on the brink of collapse, two endless wars draining us of blood and treasure, millions still without health insurance and a surging national debt that distracts from what should be our major focus: creating jobs, jobs and more jobs.

Add to this list of nightmares the continuing BP disaster poisoning the Gulf of Mexico (with the Atlantic next); its short- and long-term effects to the physical and financial health of our nation neither defined nor understood. What will be its ultimate cost? Why has there been no mention of the lack of regulation and laissez-faire, "free-market" philosophy that laid the groundwork for this disaster? How many more Deepwater Horizons are lurking out there in the thousands of aging and neglected oil rigs off of our coastlines? And why is our government even now authorizing new offshore drilling without stronger and tested safety regulations being put in place?

This multitude of issues and our government's clumsy and tepid responses to them, have given rise to one particularly (radio)active element- the Tea Party. Their effective organizing (at least at low levels, it appears) and belligerent, intimidating style of street theatre has scared the living daylights out of the Republicans, driving the GOP even further to the right for their own survival and forcing them to support far-out whackos like Rand ("Jim Crow") Paul and Sharron ("A Chicken In Every Doctor's Office") Angle. The TPers' loud and forceful message is simple: less regulation and less government involvement, despite the obviously tragic results of this philosophy - adhered to fanatically by the last administration - with which we are still living.

Unfortunately, the real problem here is that the progressive movement has no "Coffee Party" to counteract the TPers' presence and blustery message. Oh, yes, progressives have become masters of using the internet for online organizing and activism, but where are the activists taking to the streets en masse from coast to coast, demanding Democrats and our President act on his apparently empty promise of "change you can believe in?" Where are the hoards of outraged progressives protesting outside the offices of right-wing lunatics like Tom Coburn and Jim Bunning over their willingness to see unemployed people starve in the street to score political points? In Europe and elsewhere in the world, any time the working class is threatened, thousands take to the streets in loud protest, toppling governments. We have no such historical tradition.

Of course, I may be whistling in the wind to suggest that the many leading progressive organizations unite and speak with one voice on any issue, but I will anyway: PDA, The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (also known as Bold Progressives), MoveOn, Democracy For America, Public Citizen, the AFL/CIO, Common Cause and other progressive activist heavyweights must put their muscle behind the passage of the FAIR ELECTIONS NOW ACT, currently with 155 endorsements in the House and 21 in the Senate. We desperately need public funding in our elections to remove the toxic special interest money that now owns and infects our government. None of the issues that face America can be resolved without this kind of comprehensive election-finance reform.

A massive and unified education and petitioning campaign should be undertaken by all of these organizations together, with petitions personally delivered by the leaders of each organization together to the White House, with a large-scale rally of real people taking place simultaneously outside on Pennsylvania Avenue. As a part of this campaign, we must also let our other elected officials know that no donations will flow into their campaign coffers unless they endorse the FAIR ELECTIONS NOW ACT.

While such a campaign may seem like a head-in-the-clouds proposition, there is evidence that it could work. Some examples would be the recent primaries in Pennsylvania (where progressives helped Joe Sestak knock off Arlen Specter) and West Virginia (where progressives helped Mike Oliverio beat Allan Mollahan). But an even more illustrative example would be the primary and runoff in Arkansas between Lt. Governor Bill Halter and Senator Blanche Lincoln - beloved by corporate America for her vote against including the Public Option in the healthcare "reform" bill. I, for one, could not help but laugh when listening to her victory speech after she squeaked by in the runoff, where she sounded like a populist, declaring, "This Senator is not for sale, and neither is Arkansas!" Surely she jests.

Numerous factors helped to save Blanche's bacon, including a last minute personal appeal by native son Bill Clinton. However, her resulting victory by a paltry 4 points over Halter - 52% to 48% - should still give pause to the Democratic establishment, especially considering that Halter started his campaign down by 20 points against a long-time incumbent and powerful Senator. Imagine the possible victory for Halter if Arkansas had not shut down close to 40 polling stations for the runoff in Garland County, Arkansas, leaving only 2 open (see Blue Arkansas blog for more on this). This warrants an investigation by the Justice Department.

How did Halter come so close? Some statistics below help tell the story:

  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) members donated over $250,000 to Halter's campaign.
  • PCCC volunteers made over 380,000 calls to Arkansas voters - including a record 60,224 calls the day before the election.
  • PCCC staffers worked as field directors for the campaign and opened 7 offices in Arkansas, hired 15 field staffers, and designed Halter's grassroots program.
  • Progressive groups such as Democracy For America and MoveOn also plugged their membership into the campaign. DFA staffers played a key role organizing Get Out The Vote for the final week.
  • PCCC also mobilized its over 3,000 Arkansas members.
  • PCCC ran web ads seen by over 300,000 people.
  • PCCC wrote the Halter campaign's final TV ad "Pauline," featuring the real story of 75 year-old PCCC Arkansan Pauline Wildman.

What an amazing, professional and successful effort this was in mobilizing and spreading the progressive message. No tepid Dems, these Bold Progressives --and with the Halter experience serving as a teaching tool for progressive activism going forward-- will become even more emboldened to act.

Unfortunately, even with all of this energy on display from the re-energized progressive wing of the Democratic party, it appears that this administration still plans on supporting Blue Dog incumbents and the status quo. Just as with Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, Rahm Emmanuel continues to demonstrate his preference for Republocrats over true progressives, as he demonstrated during his days running the DCCC in the 2006 cycle. On a recent Sunday political talk show, David Axelrod proclaimed that unions should have used the $10M they spent helping Halter in support of other "progressives;" yet another conflict of messages coming out of the White House.

Unions are well aware that they no longer have a seat at the table with Obama, and therefore have little to lose going against this administration and its lackeys in Congress. Will unions recognize from their recent successes in PA, WV and AR that they can execute a truly independent, progressive strategy for dealing with the 435 seats in play in the House in November, Rahm and the White House be-damned? This administration certainly has wimped-out on supporting the Employees Free Choice Act that would provide organizing muscle to unions to build and grow. Perhaps it is time for a little union payback?

Additional content by Jon Stone