I don’t know exactly when and how it developed this way, but it’s not a good thing for progressives that U.S. Presidential elections unfold these days over an almost two year time span. It’s bad enough that we have a very undemocratic “democracy” which is corporate-dominated, non-proportional and overwhelmingly stacked in favor of the two-party duopoly. As I’ve believed for three decades, it’s not a democracy when the system forces you into a box of thinking that there are only two “real” choices, neither of which gives you much hope of real change.
But it’s even worse when the corporate-owned media daily pushes a definition of “politics” as essentially a horse race, tracking which candidate is ahead in the polls a year and a half or more before the actual election. It severely distorts what politics at its best should be all about.
One example of the negative impact of this U.S. version of politics is what is now happening with some within the climate movement. Some of them have, for all intents and purposes, given up on the possibility that the Democratic-controlled Congress—one which many of them worked to elect in 2006–can be pushed from below to pass strong federal legislation to cap and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are dangerously heating up our planet.
I recently heard a top leader of one of the major environmental organizations speak publicly about how the oil, coal, gas and uranium interests continue to dominate Congress. He then went on to urge that we focus our attention on local and state governments. He as much as said that we should put little hope in this Democrat-controlled Congress even as the need for federal government action on this dangerously deepening crisis becomes more and more critical..
Some of our leaders don’t appreciate the power that we have, given the large majority of the population who want action now on the climate crisis before it is too late. They don’t appreciate the leverage we have coming from the weakness of the Republicans.
What would happen with the Republicans if the Democrats were forced by a massive, citizen’s political uprising to pass strong climate legislation? The Republicans would be in big political trouble if Bush vetoed that legislation. The Democrats would be in a strong political position to refuse to accept that veto, to keep passing and submitting climate legislation to Bush in the same way that they should be doing about the Iraq war, refusing to accept no for an answer.
Think about it: Republicans facing the prospect of going into the Congressional elections next year publicly exposed as enablers of the most unpopular and despised President in decades as he stiffs Congressional efforts to end the war and address the climate crisis . It’s enough to lead to a significant number of Republican defections from the party line.
Of course, the recent capitulation of the Democratic Congressional leadership on funding for the war only underlines how necessary it is that we step up our tactics.
Politics at its best is about struggle over issues. It’s about differing views on how a country should be organized and run. It’s about who should own the resources of a society and how they should be used, for whose benefit. And most fundamentally, it’s about the contention between different visions for the future.
Fortunately, there are some national initiatives underway which hold the promise of reminding the country as a whole, including its progressive movement, what is needed if we are to bring about the kinds of changes urgently needed.
One is the upcoming U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, beginning a little more than a month from now. It is strengthening to see the way this multi-cultural, grassroots-based initiative is bringing together the kind of an alliance that has the potential to really shake up the supremely unjust status quo. Many thousands of people will be coming together June 27 to July 1 to take part in hundreds of workshops, debates, performances and presentations with spaces for dialogue and building community. All of this will help shape future organizing efforts around the country in the coming months and years. And it will help to push out key issues, the issues of low-income people, workers and communities of color in particular, into the political arena.
Another significant initiative is the No War, No Warming effort.
Just last week representatives from 30 organizations, peace/justice, climate, students, global justice, farmers and others, held a productive day-long meeting to discuss a proposal for a major “intervention” in Washington, D.C. this fall with our war- and fossil fuel-addicted federal government. “Intervention” as in nonviolent civil disobedience on a mass scale directed at Congress. “Intervention” as in we, the people, refusing to accept war without end that enriches the Halliburtons of the world, refusing to accept Exxon Mobil control over federal energy policy, refusing to accept the suffocation of our cities, towns and rural areas as needed resources are wasted in an illegal war of occupation that never should have happened.
There was a consensus among the organizations present that this kind of intervention was timely and appropriate. Follow-up is now taking place to move the organizing forward, to pin down the date, to involve additional groups and all the rest to make this be a large and significant event.
We need to make this fall politically impactful the way the fall of 2006 was when the Republicans lost control of Congress. But it is clear that we need much more than a change of people sitting in the Congressional chambers, much more than a change of which party is in control.
The fall of 2007 needs to be politically impactful in a way similar to the way that the heroic actions of thousands of young people in the fall of 1999 in Seattle impacted the World Trade Organization and the process of corporate globalization.
Politics without direct action for a clean energy revolution, for racial and economic justice and peace, is dead-end politics. It’s time to step it up.