Time Out: A Reality Check for Progressives

TV, radio and print media are filled with predictions of the possible demise of Democratic control of Congress as a consequence of the November 2010 midterm elections. This is based on various polling numbers of voter sentiments from different geographical parts of the country.

The Obama administration and democratic surrogates appear to be struggling with how to craft a message to respond to Republican and Tea Party attack ads and thereby energize their assumed Democratic Party "base".

We suggest some pause and reflection should be exercised to carefully reexamine the current characteristics of this so-called party base that has to be motivated and "energized". Those of us who participated in the Civil Rights and Anti-war Movements over the past forty years or more understood that either of the two major parties or a third party were only political instruments or agents for the changes we sought. In other words, it wasn't the political party, per se, that defined our ideals or "Movement". It was the ideals of the Movement and its component participants that defined and determined the political objectives; we sought to get either the Democratic, Republican or a Third Party to incorporate as part of their legislative party platforms.

The "base" of the Democratic Party on the eve of the midterm elections should reflect those voter components most likely to motivate and energize potential Democratic voters to the polls. There have been significant qualitative changes in the base of the party since Obama's 2008 election. The components to which I am referring are Hispanics, African-Americans, Gay and Lesbian, Independents, 18-25 age group, and labor unions.

During the last half of the 20th Century it was often the progressive leadership of the Civil Rights, Women, Peace and Labor "Movements" that "energized the base "of the Democratic party around specific issues directly affecting their constituencies. There is abundant evidence too numerous to recite in this article that the Movements' participants mentioned above provided the moral and political backbone and spine to the leadership of the Democratic Party in several past Presidential and Congressional elections.

So, the critical question today is why aren't the leaders of the African-American, Hispanic, Gay and Lesbian, Anti-War/Peace, Labor Movements, coming together in a coalition with our young brothers and sisters, 18-25, to energize their constituencies most likely to be affected by the assumption of Republican control of Congress?

Yes, Senator Barack Obama asked us to support his election for president to implement "change we could believe in". And, many of us did. The fundamental strategic political issue or question is not what Obama has or has not done; but, what are those, who comprised the Movements who made his election possible, going to do, today, between now and November?

Failure of Obama to achieve "political perfection" should not blind or paralyze our ability to recognize his pragmatic political achievements of the "good". Vice-President Biden is reported to have commented that the choice for voters in the mid-terms election is not between the Democratic Party and the "Almighty"; but between the Democrats and the "Alternative", the Republican or Tea Parties.

In the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, to develop and sustain our coalition of support and participation with the Jewish and white majority communities we had to address and deal with issues of racism and anti-Semitism within our leadership and among our constituents. Today, homophobia and anti-immigration sentiments may be the equivalent principal obstacles to energizing a politically essential coalition among and with the Hispanic, African-American, Independent and Gay and Lesbian components of the potential Democratic voter base.

For example, when the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill was essential to implementing the democratic precepts enshrined in our Declaration of Independence the progressive leadership of the African-American, Jewish, Religious and Labor movements came to together to insure its successful enactment. So, now, once again, with one voice, progressives must say, loud and clear: NO MORE, IN OUR NAME, will we continue to permit our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, who volunteered to serve in the armed forces of our nation to protect us, to be summarily dismissed from their military service because of the enforcement of a Defense Department's policy of "Don't Ask; Don't Tell". This would go a long way toward energizing not only the Gay and lesbian part of the potential voter base of the Democratic Party; but, would send a message of moral relevance and political integrity to Independents and the 18-25 potential voters.

Finally, candidate Obama said repeatedly that we were the change we can believe in. If so, then why don't progressives stop sitting on their butts, expecting now President Obama to deliver them to the promise land of peace and prosperity. Support for Obama and the Democratic Party is only justified if progressives CAN MAKE THEM become effective agents or instruments of the change "WE SEEK". It's not the party; it's the Movement whose message progressives must organize to get either party to reflect.

Years ago, at the founding dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., the actor, civil rights, peace and labor activist Ossie Davis, in his keynote dinner speech, reminded everyone attending that the future of African-American participation in the political process was not about "the Man, but the Plan". Progressives should say to the leadership of the Democratic party, their plan, in a high unemployment economy includes an accelerated end of the war in Afghanistan, except for pursuit of Al-Qaeda terrorists, continued withdrawal from Iraq and the redirection of those previously allocated military expenditures to the rebuilding of our schools, a national education plan, neighborhood housing, hospitals and veterans care. That's the "Plan". It's not just about Obama.