After national progressive victories, time for bold vision from Massachusetts progressive leaders

The challenge for progressives is to develop a clear, specific and focused agenda, and communicate these priorities to every Massachusetts State Representative and State Senator

Guest post from State Senator Jamie Eldridge — Two weeks ago, I attended the Progressive States Network (PSN) annual conference in Washington, DC. Through PSN, progressive state legislators from across the United States are connected to policies that make real differences in people’s lives, including in education, immigration reform, and health care. My State House legislative work on corporate tax credit transparency, green jobs, and improved access to lending to small businesses and working families (through a state bank) has been strengthened by my collaboration with PSN.

Over one hundred progressive legislators, from over 30 states, made this year’s conference its largest yet, an encouraging sign for the next generation of progressive leaders: among these legislators are tomorrow’s Governors, US Senators and Representatives, and perhaps even a President.

With good reason, participants and speakers were energized, hopeful and emboldened by the November 6th election results:

  • Gay marriage was made legal in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state.
  • The ranks of progressives grew substantially in the U. S. House of Representatives–the Congressional Progressive Caucus is expected to have between 90 and 100 members, making it the largest caucus in the House. By contrast, only 14 Blue Dog Democrat remain.
  • Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy took retiring Senator Joe Lieberman’s seat, giving the U.S. Senate another clear progressive voice.
  • Krysten Sinema, a young progressive and former lawmaker, was elected to Congress in not-so-progressive Arizona.

Many of these new members ran populist campaigns, focused on raising taxes on the wealthy, and clearly opposing cuts to Social Security and other domestic programs.

One of these newly elected progressives is, of course, Massachusetts’s own Elizabeth Warren, whose stature as a national progressive voice was inescapable at PSN. Many in attendance expressed their high hopes that Elizabeth Warren will lead the fight on issues like opposing cuts to domestic spending, taking on Wall Street and Big Oil, and cutting our military budget.

Massachusetts had progressive victories at the state level, too. Democrats picked up four seats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and a number of Democratic seats will be filled by progressives, including Mary Keefe of Worcester and Aaron Vega of Holyoke. Democrat Kathleen O’Connor Ives’s  victory in the First Essex Senate district brings far more progressive values than her predecessor–and in a region commonly thought as “conservative.”

TIME TO SET THE AGENDA NOW

All of these victories are incredibly exciting, so what now? Elections are promises; legislation is where these promises are meant to be kept.

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Campaign for Our Communities

ourcommunities.jpgThe Campaign for Our Communities was formed to improve the quality of life for Massachusetts families and the strength of our economy; we need to make smart investments in our people and communities.   To fund those investments we support tax reforms that will raise substantial new revenue while holding down increases for low and middle income families.

Our Principles:

  • Our families and our communities need investments in the services, schools, and infrastructure that make Massachusetts a great place to live and work.
  • In order to make the necessary investments, we will need to raise significant new revenue.
  • That revenue should come primarily from the highest income earners.

Our model legislation, An Act to Invest in Our Communities, would raise $1.37 billion dollars by restoring the income tax rate to 5.95% while increasing the personal exemption to hold down increases for low and middle income families, and raising the tax rate on investment income to 8.95%, with an exemption for low and middle income seniors.

Our plan is to pass major revenue reform in the Commonwealth in 2013. In order to do that, we are engaged in an 18-month campaign to make the demand for investment in our communities clear by:

  • Mobilizing activists to call for adequate revenues to invest in our communities through local grassroots organizing and social media outreach.
  • Demonstrating local support through municipal resolutions, forums, and press coverage.
  • Building a broad coalition of allies from business, healthcare, transportation, and higher education.
  • Educating the public on the need for revenue and community investment.
  • Lobbying the Legislature

RESOURCES:

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Now What? The long-term work of bending the arc

grassroots.pngWHAT DOES/DOESN’T HAPPEN AFTER ELECTIONS

I’ve now worked as a grassroots volunteer and organizer on a number of campaigns since Obama 2008 (my first). After they end, there’s the glow and satisfaction of the win (or depression and coming to terms with the loss). The grassroots team that worked doggedly for months and months recognizes that what we did was important and good, regardless of outcome, and there’s a resolve to keep the momentum going.

What DOESN’T happen: the campaigns themselves do not reach out and help provide structure for ongoing engagement. (Apart from occasional appeals of money and calls to support legislation). Field organizers who provided recruitment support, software and events are no longer there. The binary outcome of “WIN”/”LOSE” on a specific date disappears.

More often than not, without the urgency and infrastructure, the ‘team’ falls away. Then, when another important election comes around, organizers and campaigns spend a lot of valuable time trying to “re-find” the people who were so active and important the last time around… reinventing the wheel.

The consequences aren’t only electoral. In between elections comes the hard part-–actually governing. “Politics” and ideas become actual legislation-–or not. An organized grassroots -–so important and influential in campaigns-– can also be a powerful force in affecting legislation.

I believe that many of the disappointments progressives felt after Obama 2008 were as much our responsibility as the President’s: he told us to “make him” do what we elected him for. OFA was a great idea and effort. But Organizing for America was always a campaign and Democratic Party offshoot, limiting what they’d be willing to go after. Katrina vanden Hoovel articulated this in 2010:

There were costs associated with channeling progressive energy through the administration. Obama aides, led by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, argued fiercely against going after the Democrats-–-Blue Dogs and New Dems-–-who were impeding reform, and the White House chose not to mobilize its base to pressure them. Groups were often blindsided by backroom deals like the one with the drug companies that sustained the ban on negotiating lower drug prices.
[update: David Bernstein addresses the disappointments of the first term, in this week's Phoenix]

I do not want to simply criticize the candidates/electeds or lament lost opportunities over the last few cycles, but rather be realistic and forward thinking.

It may be impossible, philosophically and practically, for a governing elected to maintain a true grassroots base organized for action. Re-election and institutional power is an endemic part of any campaign or Party infrastructure.  Our leaders need a force to their left, to act as counter-weight to the opposing forces of big corporations and their influence, the center-right mainstream media/punditry, and the temptation to succumb to the path of less resistance (which is rarely the best course). That doesn’tcome from an organization that is focused on re-election or maintaining support.

It is 2012 now. We know of the pitfalls and limits of post-election organizing, and this time, we should be ready:

…to help — or to push — President Obama to have a successful second term

But we don’t need tweaks; we need deep structural change. It’s up to the organized people who defeated organized money at the polls in this election to make that happen. [from The Nation]

While no one is expecting you/us to stay as engaged and work as hard as we do during important elections, it also makes no sense to let a great effort and team disappear in between those important elections. We care about the policies and issues-–that’s why we invested so much time and work in our candidates, not just because we thought Pres. Obama is a great guy. We support him (and Elizabeth Warren and everyone else) by working, between elections, to turn their ideas into policies. (Not to mention that there WILL be important elections again, very soon!).

BENDING THE ARC TAKES TIME, WORK, PEOPLE

Grassroots power is not turned on and off and back on again with a switch, at a moment’s notice. To truly build an effective movement, one that mobilizes true change, it takes long-term organizing, work, relationship-building, and collaboration with others who share our common goals.

  • What if getting better government and policies meant not just an every couple-of-years high-intensity short-term election push?
  • What if we worked on a slower burn, sustained and over time?

We have power; let’s focus it and put it to use!

____

Harmony Wu
progressive organizer
from Needham, MA

____________________

want to be a part of post-election meetings? read more, here: http://progma.us/elexnintoaxn

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Translating Election Results Into Action

Up_to_Us_v1.jpgThe election is over and progressives throughout the state are celebrating – and enjoying a brief respite. But what we are hearing from organizers across the Commonwealth is that they are anxious to stay involved. They want to see the results of the election mean something – in Washington and on Beacon Hill.

>>> Why is continuing to organize so important? Read more here!

Over the next six weeks, progressives are meeting in living rooms and community centers around the State to talk about what’s next.

>>> Check our events for a meeting near you! Or host one if you don’t see one yet! 

We already have organizers planning meetings in Newton, Cambridge, JP, Third Middlesex, Natick, Springfield and Western Mass, and more all the time! It’s clear activists and volunteers are ready to stay engaged.

Can you help organize a session in your community? Let us know, below!

At these meetings we will:

  • Celebrate!
  • Share and Reflect (what went well, what didn’t)
  • Focus (urgent issues upcoming in the next few months – the fiscal cliff, the Campaign for Our Communities, the potential selection of an interim-Senator to replace John Kerry should he get appointed)
  • Plan for Action (steps the group could take, actions individuals could commit to)
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Our Values – What We Believe

We believe elections matter – both in Washington and here on Beacon Hill.  That is why Progressive Massachusetts is actively working with key legislators to ensure that the issues we care about are front and center.

As bills are drafted and sponsored, we will alert our members to both opportunities to move Massachusetts forward as well as policies that threaten to undermine our communities and all our residents’ well-being.  Over the course of the legislative session, we will be following the progress of these bills closely and working with both our members and like-minded legislators to ensure passage for the bills we favor and defeat for those we don’t.

But in all we do, we will always be guided by our values.  Progressive Mass works to move our Commonwealth  toward a future where the values of equal opportunity, social and economic justice, consumer and environmental protection, health care as a right, equal access to quality public services, respect for all residents and accountable and transparent government are given top priority.

Check Out Our Values on Key Issues.

Tell Us What You Think.

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State House Rules Reform

We believe:

  • Our government functions best and residents have the highest possible confidence in their representatives when the work of the legislature is fully transparent and easily accessible to the public.
  • Our legislature works best when power is not concentrated in the hands of the few.
  • The rules of the legislature should promote the open airing of issues and spirited debate on the future of the Commonwealth.  Hearings on vital issues should be held and bills should come for an up and down vote, particularly when a majority of legislators (and the residents they represent) support them.
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Collective Bargaining

We believe:

  • Employers should have respect for fair wages, decent working conditions, dignity or self-determination by workers.
  • Unions have and continue to ensure that these workplace issues are addressed
  • Workers everywhere have a right to form and join unions for the protection of their interests and that employers (both public and private) should be required to bargain in good faith with workers and their representatives.
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Immigration

We believe:

  • America is a country of immigrants and that those who come here seeking a better life strengthen both our economy and our culture.
  • We must implement comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens our borders, toughens sanctions against employers exploiting undocumented workers and provides a path to citizenship for the millions of people who, but for their immigration status, are like other hardworking Americans, contributing to our rich heritage and vibrant economy.
  • Young people who came to this country with their parents and lived in this country continuously should be able to attend attend college and serve in the military.  And if they do, they should be eligible for citizenship.
  • Our immigration enforcement resources should be focused solely on those who endanger our communities
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Veterans

We believe:

  • Individuals who serve in our military are heroes who have risked their lives to serve and protect our country.  We have a obligation to care for the families of our soldiers and for all our veterans
  • We must end homelessness and unemployment among veterans and confront the epidemic of post-traumatic stress syndrome and brain injuries, ensuring all veterans get the services and support they need.
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Revenue

We believe:

  • Our families and our communities need investments in the services, schools, and infrastructure that make Massachusetts a great place to live and work.
  • We must ensure we have sufficient revenue to make the necessary investments and our current revenue is not sufficient.  Significant new revenue must be raised if we are to grow and prosper as a Commonwealth.
  • Our tax system should be stable over time and simple to administer and understand and fair in that the luckiest and most successful pay their fair share
  • New revenue raised should come primarily from the highest earners and that working families should be shielded from additional burden.
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