Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

The Conversation: President Obama and the Left

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Last week angry House Democrats, meeting to discuss the tax deal President Barack Obama negotiated behind their backs with Senate Republicans, chanted, “Just Say No!” at a meeting in the basement of the Capitol. In exchange for extending unemployment benefits the president agreed to keep the lower tax rates on America’s richest 2 percent that President George W. Bush had helped enact a decade ago—tax rates candidate Obama had promised to let expire. Those on the Left felt betrayed. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent/socialist Senator from Vermont, filibustered the bill for 8½ hours on the Senate floor, saying that Obama’s “credibility has been severely damaged.” The president did not appreciate opposition to the compromise from within his own party, calling them “sanctimonious” and unrealistic “purists.” Now there’s talk of someone from the left-wing of the party actually running in a primary against the incumbent, shades of Eugene McCarthy jousting with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968! Has the Left been so dissed it’s time for a third-party challenge? Here to discuss are Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition; Janine Melillo, regional coordinator for MoveOn.org; and Nassau Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead).

Lisa: The idea that we’re purists is just wrong. This is a bad bill, and it’s basically giving everything away to the wealthy. The estate-tax component of it is a bitter pill that we are being forced to swallow. But does that mean we’re going to run a third-party candidate against him? No. What it does mean is that the grassroots need to build our own power, and we need to be more vocal and more organized just like the Tea Party is right now. Look at the health care bill. The president definitely took the Left Wing for granted on that one. We didn’t get the public option. He could’ve pushed harder to make sure that it was a requirement. He has never been a progressive. When he was coming into office, we always knew that. The question is how much to the right or how much in the middle is he. This latest bill really is scary for us because what’s going to happen in the next two years? How much to the right will he move?

Kevan: Well, during the campaign I will say that Barack Obama probably came across more as a progressive guy than I thought. I don’t know if I would technically agree with Lisa because he’s gone to the center on this one issue. He’s been more than progressive, I think, on health care reform. Again, he had to structure a deal with moderate and progressive Democrats. At the end of the day it’s something that other presidents hadn’t been able to do. I think he’ll have an opportunity to prove to progressive Democrats that he is definitely in line with their policies and what they’d like to see from their president.

Janine: Progressives need to keep reminding Obama that he was elected quite convincingly by a majority of the voters because he talked explicitly and confidently about moving this country forward in a progressive direction.  This is what people wanted; this is what people expect. And so there is a lot of disappointment around his preemptive capitulation on the fight over the Bush tax breaks for the rich. MoveOn members have been extensively surveyed since the tax deal was announced, and most members oppose it. For starters, the lion’s share of the benefit will go to the very rich, and this is not an effective way to create jobs, according to most economists. What’s more, the deal would cut payroll taxes, endangering the long-term funding of Social Security−giving Republicans just the opening they want to gut or even nix the program.

Kevan: My response to progressive Democrats is: What would you have done on January 1 if there’s no deal in place? What do you say to those millions of Americans who are no longer going to be receiving job benefits? I don’t think that now is the time that we should be challenging within our own party. The president’s only been there for two years. From my standpoint he should be judged on his full term. America spoke on Nov. 2nd. Republicans took back the House. And it’s important that progressive Democrats, independents, everybody listen.

Janine: The most frightening thing is that we know this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end, of the Republican tactic of holding the middle class hostage to demand huge and unnecessary bailouts for the rich. Rewarding this tactic now will only encourage them to do it again. As for the president, we will keep urging him to articulate and fight for the progressive agenda he ran on in 2008. And whether he does or not, we will keep doing that ourselves.

Lisa: Right now he has basically put his name on a redistribution of wealth. But a third- party challenge won’t help. We need the left to be stand up and be organized in every district across the country. Having a third-party candidate could give the Republicans the win in the next presidential election. We saw the Ralph Nader effect in 2000, and that’s the last thing we need.

Progressives rally under 'One Nation' banner, invigorated for midterm elections

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Progressives – thought to be sitting out the midterm elections – came by the tens of thousands to rally in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, October 2. They came from different places and different backgrounds and championing different issues and agendas, but they came in force under a “One Nation” banner, in recognition of the consequences if Democrats lose control of Congress.

Many came to use their bodies as the counterpoint to the Tea Party and Glenn Beck who rallied at the same place, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in August. They wanted the pictures showing the rainbow of colors of t-shirts showing affiliations to unions and causes, to mirror the image and contradict the notion of an “enthusiasm gap” for Democratic candidates.

In contrast to Glenn Beck’s rally which had a religious theme, the progressives’ message, “Jobs, Justice, Education” more closely tracked Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which was recited by a group led by James Dean.

Instead of the “Vote for Change” message of the Tea Party, the signs here read “Standing Up for the Change We Voted For”.

The 50 Long Islanders on the Long Island Jobs With Justice bus were representative of the range of issues, causes and groups that met up at the rally: peace activists, unionists, environmentalists, advocates for public education, universal health care, and an economy that brings about full employment. Some were veterans of protests going back to Martin Luther King and the Vietnam War, and some were on their first march on Washington, including 15 students from Stony Brook University.

The students were protesting the privatization of the state university system, the cuts in spending to public education that has resulted in the South Hampton campus being closed, and the rise in tuition at state and city universities, making them unaffordable, or sending them out with $25,000 in debt, and turning them into “wage slaves”

Helene Manas, of the Long Island Progressive Coalition and a New York City school teacher, said, “It is really, really important to show the nation that the Tea Party is minimal and the true majority are like us. I believe people deserve justice, equal rights, good education and health care.”

Helene and her husband, Mark Manas, said they were championing the issue of Fair Elections Now – publicly financed elections – to mitigate the massive flow of money now for wealthy individuals, corporations and special interest groups to literally buy candidates “Money is the cancer in politics,” they said.

The sentiment “Money is buying all our candidates, even Progressives,” was echoed by Esther Confino, but Confino, who is secretary of the Long Island Coalition for a National Health Plan, was advocating on behalf of a single payer system.

The so-called Obamacare health reform that has the Tea Party so teed-off, “Is only the beginning.” She expressed the upset Progressives had that the Obama Administration so quickly gave up on expanding the Medicare system through the age groups or offering a public option, and even recalled how single-payer advocates were arrested at Senator Max Baucus’ hearing. “Single payer people were in mourning.”

But, she noted,  “If we didn’t get [what we got], it would have taken 30 years” before there was any health care reform at all.

She reminded Progressives of what is at stake: Republicans are calling to privatize Social Security and repeal the health care reforms which were won, which only really provided access to health insurance. Connecticut’s Republican candidate for Senate, Linda McMahon, has said that the minimum wage should be reduced.

Naomi Feldheim of Great Neck, who has been marching since Martin Luther King, said she was marching this time to “change priorities of country.”

She urged support for the “War is Making You Poor” act that is in Congress. The spending on unending wars is “taking away from education, the social net, creation of jobs, all the things FDR addressed with WPA. We need to rebuild infrastructure, education and health needs instead of killing our youth in foreign wars.”

Charlene Obenauer, director of Long Island Jobs with Justice and the organizer of the bus, pointed to the “Move the Money” campaign, from war and foreign spending to domestic issues.

Since 2001, the cost of wars totals $1.1 trillion; the cost to New York State is $97 billion. The bill to Nassau County taxpayers in fiscal 2011 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $1.8 billion.

That same amount of money could provide 1,675,621 Long Island households with wind-powered renewable electricity for a year; pay for 25,051 police or firefighters, provide 297,243 scholarships for a year or provide Pell Grants to 321,719 students; provide health care to 717,661 low-income children, pay for 191,404 Head Start slots, pay 21,976 elementary school teachers, or provide 182,269 military veterans with VA medical care.

Nancy Durgan of Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, said, “We have got to stand up and make noise and not just make it like the Tea Party, and move the money to the intense need we have at home.”

Paul Auerbach of the Interfaith Alliance, said he was also showing opposition to war and to bring that money home.

Judy Gardner, Huntington, of Code Pink, said she was marching  because, “We have to be visible, or else you’re not there. If we aren’t involved, we get the government we deserve. We have to be out there.”

Charlotte Coons, also from Code Pink, said she is marching “to bring the war money home” and, because the perpetual “War on Terrorism” has resulted in compromised privacy, she added, ” I march for civil liberties.”

Bob Marcus, of the North Country Peace Group, Setauket, picked up on the themes of the march, “One Nation working together for jobs, justice, education, economy that works for all to create one million new jobs right away; a world class public education system; end racism; fix the broken immigration system; that workers have green jobs and safe working conditions; a clean environment; equality for all women; peace; energy independence; public education and transportation.”

Maria Contreras, with the Long Island Jobs with Justice board, was advocating to fix the broken immigration system, another theme of the rally.She urged support for the DREAM Act, languishing in Congress, which would have addressed the complex issue of undocumented immigrants (by some estimates 11 million people). It would provide that enrollment in high school or college as well as military service would provide a path to citizenship. But the group wants other paths – such as community service or owning a small business that employs other people.

Susan Darcy, of West Hempstead, a special education department chairman who also hosts meetings of Moving Forward Long Island, said she wanted to show that Progressives were just as much a force as Tea Party. “They say they want America back. We want to go forward.”

Zina Fayache of Mineola said she wanted to be at the rally because, “We have to support the President. He’s not perfect, he’s but going in the right direction, moving forward.. He was left a lot of problems and he’s solving them, making our world a better place. That’s very important to me.”

Jack Belelo recalled President Harry Truman’s Labor Day 1948 speech. “He called them Republican Reactionaries, not Conservatives That’s the term we should use. The Tea Party is reactionary.

“In 1948, which was only 15 years from the New Deal, Truman was the underdog. These Republican Reactionaries were against Social Security, the FDIC, the Wagner Act (that gives workers the right to organize and strike), child labor laws.

“He said, ‘If you vote for these Republican reactionaries, you will get what you deserve.'”

The same Republican Reactionaries, he said, were against Civil Rights Act in 1964, voting rights and Medicare in 1965 “and every Progressive legislation.

“Although Obama is not perfect, not as progressive as we would like, he is such a damn sight better, and if we don’t support him and the Dems in his corner, we will get what we deserve.”

“No matter how you feel about Obama and the Democrats,” echoed Andrew of Stony Brook’s Environmental Club, “they are all that we have to work with. Obama and the Dems are not perfect, but in November, we have to come out to vote. If not, it will be the Tea Baggers.

“The biggest problem with Progressives,” he said, “is that they don’t come out in support each other..My interest is environmental, but I support other causes. The only way for our agenda to succeed is to support each other.”

But march, gather, rally and support each other they did.

With some 400 different organizations supporting the rally, including United for Peace and Justice, Moveon.org, NAACP, 1199 SEIU, AFL-CIO, Green for All, United States Student Association, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Campaign for America’s Future, National Action Network, Center for American Progress, Jewish Funds for Justice, Veterans For Peace, Code Pink, and Progressive Democrats of America, to list but a few, the marchers poured out from some 2,000 buses, plus cars, the metro.

They carried signs as diverse as the people carrying them: “Corporations Are Not People.” “Make Food Not War.” “We March for Hope Not Hate.” “No Turn Right”

There were even signs thanking Obama, such as carried by twin sisters Valerie & Winnie Mackend, of New York City, “Thank you Obama for passing health care reform; withdrawing troops from Iraq; restoring our reputation abroad; increasing aid to veterans; appointing the first Latina to the Supreme Court and restarting Mideast peace talks.”

In fact, as marches go, this one was “mellow,” Feldheim later commented.

Seven feeder marches funneled towards the Lincoln Memorial. People lined the Reflecting Pool.

Gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, Progressives stood up for their causes, but were careful not to betray frustration with the Obama Administration or Democrats for compromises on everything from continuing the Bush war on terror in Afghanistan to the too-quick abandonment of single-payer or public option in the health care program, to the disrespect shown teachers in the press to tie compensation and job security to test scores.

Instead, the call was for unity.

“We are together. This march is about the power to the people,” said MSNBC host Ed Schultz. “It is about the people standing up to the corporations. Are you ready to fight back?…This is a defining moment in America. Are you American?..This is no time to back down. This is time to fight for America… We as one nation must fight … We must vote Nov. 2.”

One speaker lambasted “The high blood pressure of greed and anemia of deeds.”

Van Jones, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress, brought together the concern for jobs and the need to address climate change: “Most important is green power… We need to beat global warming and put Americans back to work at the same time.”

“Let farmers have a new business –not just food production but energy production” – wind turbines, growing energy crops.

“The environment is in crisis, and economy is in crisis. The Earth is overheating, temperature is going up and employment going down. Fix both at the same time.”

Al Sharpton, advocating on behalf of public education and summoning up the Progressives to go out and knock on doors to get out the vote for November 2, intoned, “You can’t scapegoat teachers- there’s a difference between accountability and union busting….

“In four weeks, is the midterm ‘exams.’ We’ve got to hit the pavement, knock on doors, from 10/2 to 11/2. We will pass the midterm exam.”

As of 3 pm, the peak of the march, the organizing group, One Nation Working Together, estimated 175,000 people, “representing all 50 states and our country’s great diversity – joined together at the Lincoln memorial to re-claim the American dream and raise their voices for jobs, justice and public education. 

“It’s inspiring to look out and see so many people — even more than we even expected — from so many different places coming together as one nation in support of jobs, justice and public education,” said Leah Daughtry, national campaign director of One Nation Working Together. “This is an important moment in the progressive movement – as each person returns home and continues to rally our fellow Americans as we head to the ballot box in November and re-commit ourselves to our common future.”

–Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner

Citizen Action of New York’s History

Friday, June 11th, 2004

by Alan Charney

Understanding the history of Citizen Action of New York (CANY) can only be done by looking at the origins of Citizen Action as a national effort in the 1970s to consolidate an anti-corporate strategy and program as the basis for progressive politics. What I propose to do is first look at the economic and political, the institutional and ideological context in which Citizen Action was founded as a national federation of state organizations. Then, I will point out those economic and political, institutional and ideological factors peculiar to CANY. Finally, I will argue that the overall context previously defining Citizen Action has changed radically – posing a host of new challenges for us. This can only mean that the strategy and program of CA must change accordingly.

The economic and political, the institutional and the ideological context for Citizen Action strategy and program.

  1. The economic and political context. Citizen Action, as a national federation of autonomous state organizations, was founded in the mid-1970s at pivotal point in post-war history. It was the point at which the longest period of sustained economic expansion in the history of capitalism was coming to a close. It was a period from the late 1940s to the early 1970s that was based on corporate dominance of the national economy along with mass prosperity for the majority. It was built on a virtuous circle of rising productivity, rising profits and rising wages. During this period, trade unions were significantly stronger than they are today, and working class communities were much more stable. An expanding tax base and an economic orthodoxy of deficit spending promoted an expanding welfare state. Indeed, many corporate interests were supportive of greater government intervention in the economy…unlike today.The strategy and program of Citizen Action were shaped during this time of corporate liberal hegemony. The strategy of CANY was fundamentally anti-corporate: that is, it was based on the premise that the national economy was controlled by large national corporations whose interests were almost always opposed to the interests of poor and working people. Furthermore, the main countervailing institutions opposing corporate power were organized labor, and poor and working class communities, primarily unorganized. The program of CANY was fundamentally pro-government: that is, it was based on the premise that government power was necessary to regulate and control the excesses of corporate power. Thus, unions and communities together would organize state and national campaigns from legislation that would reign in the corporations.So, by 1978, CANY had initiated the Citizen/Labor Energy coalition to combat rising gasoline, electric and national gas prices. Later, there were campaigns against toxic wastes, and of course, the campaign for single-payer health insurance. Ironically, almost the entire history of CANY, from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s unfolded during a period of economic decline for poor and working people and one of ascendancy for corporate power. It was a period in which trade union membership and influence also declined and stable working class communities were in eclipse. During these twenty years – and continuing today – there has been a retrenchment of the welfare state, a great reduction in taxes for the corporations and the top 20% of income-earners, and a right-wing assault on government activism. Except for four years (1977-1978, and 1993-1994), this has been a time of conservative hegemony.
  2. The institutional context. In its origins, Citizen Action was fascinating amalgam of the Old Left and the New Left. Its Old Left side included both an understanding of the institutional importance of the trade unions, even if many of them lacked progressive leadership, and the institutional necessity of organizing poor and working class communities. Saul Alinsky had been the leading advocate of bringing the lessons of organizing the mass industrial unions in the 1930s and 1940s to bear directly on organizing communities as countervailing institutions to corporate power. His approach to community organizing became the basis for Citizen Actions approach to organizing for social change. At the same time, CANY’s New Left side – primarily due to the influence of the Civil Rights movement — included an emphasis on community empowerment and direct action politics, as well as a greater reliance on government programs as the solution to endemic problems of social and economic injustices. In this regard, the civil rights and social welfare laws passed from 1964-1965 served as a model.
  3. The ideological context. CANY was conceived and organized by a cohort of New Left activists, many who had first become involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. Indeed, a disproportionate share of them had been members and leaders of Students for a Democratic Society, the premiere student New Left organization of the 1960s. In advocating a “citizen action” approach to social change, they were explicitly rejecting what they viewed as excesses of New Left politics, such as ideological sectarianism, a radicalism of thought and action that seemed to put off a majority of Americans and issues such as the Indochina war which couldn’t help but divide a broad poor and working class constituency. The citizen action approach was based much more on organizing poor and working people around their immediate interests, which were almost always opposed to corporate interests and avoiding potentially divisive social and ideological issues.We believed there was a majoritarian strategy, based on a program of economic justice, that could organize poor and working people to win progressive legislation, which would both expand the welfare state (as with national health insurance) and regulate corporate power (as with energy prices), as well as elect many more progressives to public office at all levels of government. Moreover, Citizen Action, as a national federation of state multi-issue organization, was central to the realization of this majoritarian strategy. This strategy was bold and flexible, but it also had its major shortcomings. Foremost was its “strategic” neglect of communities of color. A majoritarian strategy did not require a concentration on building bases in communities of color. It also meant that many of our issues were important, but not central, to the interests of people of color.

The economic and political, institutional and the ideological factors peculiar to CANY

  1. The economic and political context. During CANYs first 12 years existence – from 1983-1994 — state government was dominated by liberal Democrats. Only the State Senate was Republican controlled. Moreover, in a period of corporate conservative hegemony on the national level, key corporate interests in New York were oriented in a more liberal direction. (The fact is that Wall Street – that is, the finance sector — has remained the only capitalist sector with some loyalty to the program of liberal democrats.)Historically, corporate interests in New York have always been less resistant to social reform than corporate interests in many other states. (I know it is hard to take this in, but comparatively speaking it is true.) Thus, there was a political climate more favorable to a “citizen-action” economic agenda, particularly around health care. Also, the Republican control of the State Senate determined, to a significant degree, CANYs political focus.The State Senate was the roadblock to the passage of progressive legislation. Most of the Republican State Senators were from Long Island and upstate. Therefore, it made sense for CANY to organize its political base on Long Island and upstate in order to put pressure on these legislators. Indeed, for many years CANY was one of the only statewide organizations, along with the CWA and UAW, openly and actively to oppose Republican control of the State Senate during election time.
  2. The institutional context. CANY was founded in 1983 as an amalgam of a chapter-based organization called the Citizens Alliance, and the statewide affiliate of the Citizen/Labor Energy Coalition. The Citizens Alliance was a membership organization of poor and working-class people, similar to ACORN. C/LEC was primarily a coalition of trade unions. (In other states, Citizen Action affiliates were either organized on a community chapter model, or on a statewide coalition model.) For the first year, we stayed primarily a chapter-based organization, but we quickly realized that in a populous state like New York with many powerful institutions it would be exceedingly difficult to influence state politics from an exclusively community base. So, in our case necessity led to innovation, for we wound up combining the chapter and coalition models. Thus we were able to involve both local bases of citizen activists and influential statewide progressive organizations. And, we have had the capacity to intervene on both local and statewide issues and elections.
  3. The ideological context. Another distinguishing factor of politics in New York State is that it is carried out at a higher ideological level that in most other states. This difference is due partially to the historic influence of the organized left, like the Socialist and Communist parties, as well as the former prevalence of many left-wing unions. But it is also true that the right wing has, for many years, had a distinct ideological presence through the Conservative Party. Ideological identification is not only less of a problem in New York State. Many times it can even be an asset in building coalitions and involving activists. Indeed, our regional chapters are made up of many self-identified progressive, and left, activists. The Working Families Party adds further support to CANYs overt progressive character.

Changes in the context: challenges for the 21st century.

  1. The economic and political context. In the last 25 years, there has been a transformation from an era of national corporate capitalism to one of global capitalism. Overall, transnational corporations, whether American or foreign, operate on a planetary scale. They are more powerful and control more wealth than national corporations ever did. Moreover, national governments by themselves have less capacity to regulate and control corporate behavior and less ability to redistribute wealth in favor of poor and working people.Communities are much more transitional and diverse than before, and unions are no longer organized in the today’s leading sectors of the economy – finance and information-like they were fifty years ago in the mass production industries. This means that the “citizen-action” majoritarian strategy, at least on a national level, will be even more difficult to achieve. But, it does point to the necessity of a new approach – based on transnational organizing, transnational coalitions, and transnational issues. This approach may appear absolutely daunting at first, but so did the idea of national organizing one hundred years ago. So, here is my first prediction for the 21st century: a progressive majoritarian strategy will have to be trans-national to succeed.
  2. The institutional context. In our political activity, we are facing an increasingly diverse and pluralist population. This is so obvious it needs no enumeration. Moreover, communities will continue to get more and more diverse. There may no longer even be a possibility of constructing a simple majoritarian strategy and program around any key issues, save for a few “tried and true” ones like Social Security. We need to think more in terms of a complex majoritarian stategy and program. We need to invent institutional models based on an expanding plurality of constituencies. For, when we add up the myriad of constituencies and communities demanding social and economic justice today, it is actually a larger potential majority than the old one.The key is looking for a program which better encompasses this complex majority. Education is certainly one basis for this new program because it is institutional in nature. A diversity of interests from a plurality of constituencies can be accommodated and coordinated but only if the institution – in this case public education — is protected and enhanced. The struggle over the future of the institution comes first. So, here is my second prediction for the 21st century: a majoritarian strategy will have to be institutional to succeed.
  3. The ideological context. In the 21st century, there will be a “return of the ideological.” In large part, we have the right wing to thank for this resurrection. For one, the right wing has organized its constituencies more around values and ideas than around interests. More importantly, the right wing has mounted powerful ideological assaults on democratic institutions, particularly government. It is obvious that a democratically run, activist government is essential for the realization of a progressive program. How else can we effectively redistribute wealth and expand the welfare state? So, progressives are compelled to defend the integrity of government as a precondition of winning any serious social reforms.Moreover, the collapse of liberalism has left the broad left as the only principled defender of public values and institutions. There is no other way to beat back to right-wing assault on democratic institutions except through ideological means. Indeed, what is most fascinating is that the roles of left and right have reversed. Traditionally, the right has defended the “impartial” character of public institutions against the assaults from the left, which viewed public institutions as subservient to “ruling class” interests. Now the right argues that government is subservient to the interests of our constituencies. In effect, by attacking government, the right is attacking democratic participation and the values of citizenship. That’s why, in the long run, our defense of government will greatly enhance the persuasiveness and prestige of our progressive viewpoint. So, here is my third prediction for the 21st century: a majoritarian strategy will have to be ideological to succeed.Finally, we are the bearers of a noble strain of American life – the inheritors of all those social movements that have instigated changes for more justice and less inequality in American society. The truth is that at no time in our history did a progressive stance really encompass more that minority of the American people. Today, our viewpoint represents about 15% of the population. But, there are several other viewpoints out there. None represents more than a plurality. Ours is hardly the smallest. I believe that our viewpoint – the progressive one – has the greatest potential to expand. But, only if we understand the opportunities afforded by the new context, and only if we are willing to make the changes necessary to succeed.