A friend called me the other day. “Bill,” he said, “How will all of this enthusiasm for Obama translate into anything long-term?” He went on to comment on the potential this upsurge of support for Senator Obama COULD have for a progressive movement. The discussion led me to draw some conclusions I would like to share with you.
First, and as I have noted in previous columns, we must all be clear as to what politics Senator Obama holds and what politics he does not hold. He is not the political reincarnation of The Rev. Jesse Jackson (and his ’84 and ’88 campaigns) and he is not the leader of the progressive movement. In reviewing his platform and his speeches, I do not see much difference from the platform of Senator Clinton, a fact which I think helps to explain some of the intensity between the two of them. Thus, we should not try to make of him something he is not. Such an approach will lead to long-term problems.
While there are many progressives who have entered into the Obama campaign and are doing good work, there needs to be an independent voice and location to push progressive politics. I spoke the other day with someone working in the campaign that - as enthusiastic as she is - acknowledged that a number of the proposals her committee has been developing have simply been overlooked. My guess is that more of that will happen and the candidate will be increasingly influenced by financial contributors and those forces he believes to be most significant. If the progressive voice is only one among many, it will be drowned out. Progressives need to figure out where they can make a difference in the larger campaign as well as explain to their respective constituencies why they are taking the step of supporting Obama; what to expect and what not to expect from the candidate; and what can be done now.
Electoral activism and energy is so easily and quickly lost. For those who have become motivated through this campaign, they should be encouraged to build organizations in their communities and social movements that reflect progressive politics. Such organizations should be grassroots based and, among other things, aim to identify, train and run progressives for local elected office. Holding a President of the USA accountable - be it Obama, Clinton, McCain or Huckabee - will necessitate organization at the base, organizations capable of both putting people into the streets as well as getting them to the polls.