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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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Jess King is running in a deep red congressional district in rural Central Pennsylvania, populated by people who have been largely ignored by politicians in both parties. She argues that "we're at a moment of choosing" between an inclusive racially diverse populist coalition on the left and the right-wing populism that is emerging.

Maine's People's Alliance has shown the potential of organizing in a largely rural state. They have taken bold populist reforms directly to the ballot box and passed them -- raising the minimum wage, taxing the wealthy to fund public education, and becoming the first state to expand Medicaid by initiative, overcoming the opposition of the Trump-like Tea Party Governor. This November, Mainers will vote on providing universal homecare for seniors and people with disabilities, funded by closing a tax loophole for the wealthy.

Building a Progressive Majority

The only way to build the enduring progressive majority needed to make the fundamental reforms vital to making this country work for working people is to build -- from the bottom up, across lines of race and region -- a broad movement of poor and working people mobilized around an agenda for change. Traditional politics doesn't even attempt to do this. People's Action new organizing project provides a serious strategic test on how to get this done.

Because they intend to stay and build, People's Action member groups have begun their project by listening. In addition to the work in North Carolina, volunteers from member organizations across the country have already knocked on more than 5,000 doors and documented 2,462 individual conversations through phone banks, door-knocking and in person surveys at events and churches, and they're just getting started.

What they found thus far shouldn't surprise, given the economic distress afflicting these communities. Residents were understandably suspicious of a government that doesn't serve them and a politics that doesn't speak to them.

But they are not in the thrall of conservative ideology. They express more support for basic bread and butter reforms -- health care for all, raising the minimum wage, improving public education, better access to mental health and addiction treatment, clean water -- than for conservative proposals like cutting government regulation or deporting more immigrants.

The initiative is building organization now, engaging rural communities in issue campaigns and races up and down the ballot in 2018. The plan is to keep growing into 2020, consolidating a real force in early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and in swing states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

No Guarantees

The opportunity is here, but there's no guarantee of success. Resources will be scarce; much will depend on citizen energy and leadership emerging in different communities. At a time when too many Democrats are focused on litigating the last election, or are counting on the reaction to Trump to sweep them to victory, People's Action and its member groups are offering a bolder vision and a clear strategy, a critical contribution towards building an enduring majority for fundamental change.

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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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