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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/27/14

Making The "New Populism" A Reality: Lessons From The Conference

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Rev. Barber's populist agenda was similar to that of Sen. Warren, who outlined hers in the day's keynote address:

"We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it.

"We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage -- and we're willing to fight for it.

"We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security -- and we're willing to fight for it.

"We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt -- and we're willing to fight for it.

"We believe workers have a right to come together, to bargain together and to rebuild America's middle class -- and we're willing to fight for it.

"We believe in equal pay for equal work -- and we're willing to fight for it.

"We believe equal means equal, and that's true in the workplace and in marriage, true for all our families -- and we're winning that fight right now."

Resisting Consensus

There was a strong sense of unanimity of purpose at the conference, which took place in Washington -- a city whose political and media elite continue to argue that these goals are politically impossible. Rev. Barber had a response for that:

"One of the things that prophetic moral vision must do is restore the kind of hope that is the refusal to accept the reading of reality that is the majority opinion at the particular time."

In a political world which is fixated on -- and imposes arbitrary limits on -- the "art of the possible," the importance of this subversively indefatigable hope cannot be overstated.

Which is not to say that bipartisanship, albeit of a more transformative nature, was not on the table at the New Populism conference. Rev. Barber said that "we have to have language ... that's not bound by partisanship, but gets into people's souls and asks them ... Don't you still want to be human?"

"I don't want people to go left or right. I want them to go deeper into who we're called to be. "

Fusion Reactions

Rev. Barber went on to talk about his experience in Mitchell County, North Carolina -- which is 89 percent Republican and 99 percent white -- where he was invited to speak and the listeners formed a local chapter of the NAACP and supported his economic agenda. "Don't tell me it can't be done," he said of populist-themed "fusion politics."

Polling data shows that this kind of left/right fusion politics, however utopian it may sound in a time of polarized politics, has genuine potential. Eight out of 10 voters polled believe -- perhaps "understand" would be a better word -- that economic inequality is a real problem in our society. More than two-thirds of those polled believe the government should do more to address it.

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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