The outcome of the 2012 election is extremely important, but even a victory for President Obama and the congressional Democrats will not ensure that our nation moves toward a new shared prosperity and genuine economic opportunity and security for all. For more than years, corporate America’s relentless attacks and its economic and political domination have been growing and will not stop regardless of the election results.
What is the way forward? First and foremost, we progressives from many movements need to do an-depth self-criticism of how we are organized and carrying forward the fight for a better future. We need to ask ourselves tough questions about our vision, values, agenda, strategy and collective organization. I include myself in this tough self-critical examination.
I submit that the progressive movements lack the critical collective organizational capacity to the develop an overall coherent vision of a better future and to proactively map the road forward. We are a multi-limbed organism that lacks a well-developed brain and central nervous system. If hard work, dedication, and a deep commitment to justice were all that were needed, our nation would look very different. Unfortunately much more is needed.
What does this deep self-criticism look like? Major league professional sports teams study game films every week. They study the offense and defense on every play. They analyze the strategies, tactics, timely adjustments, quality of the players, and the role of random luck. Their study leads to decisions to rebuild the team, to fundamentally shift strategies or tactics, to add a few new players and/or persist with the current strategy.
For political and economic movements, history itself is the game film. Let’s look at the 30-plus years of the game films of the origins of the financial collapse and the Great Recession. Most importantly we need to look hard at what we, the progressive movements, did to combat the financial deregulation origins of this economic catastrophe.
For decades, Corporate America, its Republican and Democratic allies, and many elite economists and commentators aggressively pushed deregulation of the banks and financial industries. President Carter and the ruling congressional Democrats started the process in the late 1970’s. President Reagan and Congress continued. President Clinton and most of Congress delivered massive deregulation in the late 1990’s. Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and their cronies mismanaged the weakened regulatory protections in the 2000’s.
It added up to a largely bipartisan selling out of the American people. Final score: Big banks bailed out — for the people, massive pain.
Studying the game films of our opponents is easy. Deregulation took place in broad daylight. We know what they did if we care to look. Here comes the uncomfortable part for the movements and for me personally. What was our collective offense and defense over the past 30+ years?
Our offense and defense were largely non-existent. If you doubt this, try to recall how many demonstrations and protests of any size took place across the country in opposition to deregulation and the need for greater regulation. I can’t remember any. Why? Deregulation took place publicly. Brilliant progressive economists and some progressive Democrats warned us of the great dangers. Let me be blunt. We were not paying attention. We can’t blame our opponents for this. Why were we so unprepared?
The progressive movements are splintered up into literally thousands of organizations focused on single issues. We have labor, health care reform, immigration reform, hunger, poverty, human services, senior issues, reproductive and gay/lesbian rights etc. etc. etc. What mass movement is in charge of ensuring that we don’t have unnecessary economic collapses? None. More importantly, we lack a central organizational structure to discuss these matters across movements to ensure an effective vision and strategy to prevent crises and lead us forward to a better future. The institutional Democratic Party failed miserably in this historic task.
All progressive movements and their constituencies have been hit hard by the five-plus years of economic hard times. For decades, we have lacked the collective capacity to ensure that economic policy and financial regulation serve the people and not the wealthy elites. When the collapse came, we were both powerless and largely clueless regarding what to do.
All of us want a brighter, more secure and sustainable future. We must recognize our collective strategic organizational failure as the first step in laying out our positive vision for the future and how we will get there. More on this in later articles.