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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/27/18

How to Build a Progressive Populist Movement From the Ground Up

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At The Front Door

Can People's Action and its members succeed in building a progressive populism in these regions? The initiative's promise is that its movement politics offers a stark contrast to politics as usual.

First, they engage these citizens, rather than not at all. Establishment Democrats tend to write off rural areas as hopeless, giving new meaning to the phrase redlining. Brigid Flaherty, who also spoke on Tuesday, helped start Down Home North Carolina by organizing volunteers to knock on over 4,000 doors in rural communities.

They entitled their report on what they learned "No One's Ever Asked Me Before," because that is what they heard time and time again at front doors. There's plenty that no one has ever asked rural and small-town residents in their state, they found.

As Flaherty noted, "No one ever asked me to deny a living wage; no one ever asked me to give tax breaks to billionaires and multinational corporations; no one ever asked me to transfer wealth off of the backs of working people or allow big money to influence our election."

The Difference of Movement Politics

Electoral campaigns gear up for a few months, and then pack up when the election is over. PA's movement politics builds enduring grassroots organizations that enlist citizens to join their neighbors in fighting on common concerns, growing power over time.

Working-class voters are sensibly skeptical of hit-and-run campaigns and traditional politicians. Community organizations and grassroots organizers are far more credible in engaging them.

Electoral campaigns are also professionalized, expensive and tribal. PA's movement politics builds organization with local volunteers and community members. They rally people not around a party, but around a bold agenda that addresses the needs of the community.

Electoral campaigns hire staff, often choosing from a pool of campaign operatives. Campaign "messaging" replaces political education. PA's movement politics develop leaders from the community, investing in leadership training and popular education.

Electoral campaigns use polling and focus groups to test messages, tailoring them, if resources allow, to fit the voter. Movement politics build a narrative grounded in the culture, language and morays of the community members that they engage.

Truly Credible Candidates

Politicians often are warned to avoid pushing bold reforms that might open them to criticism. People's Action will build off of strategic issue campaigns that together shape a bold progressive populist agenda.

Traditional candidates depend on corporate and deep pocket donors. That makes them reluctant to call out the entrenched interests and big money that have rigged the rules. People's Action movement candidates -- supported by local volunteers and small donations -- will be able to name names and say what is what. The difference will be telling.

Traditional electoral campaigns can ride electoral waves or charismatic candidates to win elections. They can consolidate their advantage in blue states and blue cities. A charismatic leader like Barack Obama can forge majorities in two presidential elections, yet preside over the loss of both houses of Congress and some 1,000 state legislative seats.

The launch featured powerful voices from leaders of the effort in different states. Cathy Glasson, a nurse and a union organizer running for Governor in Iowa, has put together powerful grassroots organizing with a bold populist agenda. "We can't move forward," she argues, using half-measures and tinkering around the edges on issues. We're gonna lose in 2018 if we don't give people a reason to stand in line to vote again -- that reason is single-payer, $15 and union rights."

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Robert L. Borosage is the president of the Institute for America's Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America's Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to challenge the rightward drift (more...)

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