David Sirota's 9/8/09 article Mistaking a party for a movement makes some excellent points about the failure of progressive reforms.
He gives a good definition between a Party vs. a Movement. He notes that Parties are loyal to their own power regardless of policy agenda and Movements are loyal to their policy agenda regardless of which party champions it. He then goes on to say that this reflects the basic failure of the progressive movement because it has attached itself to a party, somehow believing that if the right party gets into power, then their Movement will be carried in too. But that is not what happens.
And we can certainly see this is true with Obama. Scores of different groups supported his election and now find themselves shocked to discover that their Movement is basically ignored. And how have they responded to this shock? One would think they would get back to their own grassroots work, gather their networks to bring their policy agenda forward with full gusto. But they didn't. Instead, they've sat around patiently, trying to be nice to the Party in Power. Their thinking reflects a belief that access to this power is necessary to have any chance of having their policy agenda to get traction. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that Washington has little or no interest in Progressive policy agendas in general. Washington only pays attention if that agenda threatens their hold on power. Progressive agendas don't rise to that level of interest because they don't have sufficiently organizedgrassroots groups behind them to make a threat to the Party's power. We're splintered into too many groups, too many ideas, too little cohesiveness to make a difference.
If we're going to change anything it will be by our groups working at a grassroots level and building a solid base of such magnitude that we can no longer be ignored. We have to make it clear that the party in power will lose power if they don't pay attention to us. That's the opposite of what we're doing right now. Progressives are waiting for Washington's power to bless their Movement(s). Sirota says and I think he's quite correct this is a failed strategy.
Instead, we should be putting massive quantities of energy and all our money into building the power of a grassroots movement behind the agendas we believe in. We need to be so strong in our organization and networking that we can instantly send out a call and get a response from our networks to insist on change. If we can do this successfully it results in the Party in power having to respond for fear of losing power.