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An Angry Mom on the State of Progressives: Wake Up and Snap Out of It

photo: lensfodder via Flickr

I’m so torqued off right now I could spit. Perhaps it’s because I’m a mom and I’ve dealt with enough temper tantrums to last me a lifetime. But I’m tired of the whining I see and hear about the lack of democratization in progressive organizations, and about the ineffectiveness of these groups, specifically Organizing for America and

Yeah, these groups are in tough shape. But the challenge is really YOU.

YOU have the power — it’s just not with OFA and MoveOn. It’s actually rather disappointing to see that readers are supposed to assume these are the only two progressive organizations out there. Both groups cited have pointed limitations apart from democratization.

Until only a few months ago, MoveOn was an online organization which punctuated the face-to-face world only at election time on races of national importance. MoveOn was a first for progressives in that it captured the energy of the disenfranchised but wired left starting in 1998 as an email group, but it did not have a physical state/local infrastructure, so efforts and democratization was naturally limited to national issues voted on by participants located across the internet. It’s been nearly 12 years since MoveOn launched, and it’s still heavily online and only limitedly represented on the ground; don’t you think by now that progressives should understand this fundamental limitation?

Organizing for America was the remnants of the Obama campaign, which means that from the start it was hampered by the lack of a unifying mission and vision since the original goal around which it had organized — the election of Obama — had been realized. Without an immediate regrouping to shape a new mission and vision with clear objectives, OFA floundered. It was also co-opted by a struggling Democratic National Committee which has been equally rudderless under the leadership of VA Gov. Tim Kaine.

And about the DNC: those of you who are not Democratic Party activists need to understand there is a cycle of events dictated by the party’s charter. The cycle includes the election of a party chair every two years; after a Democratic president has been elected to office, tradition dictates that the new president and his team have considerable power to earmark the new party chair who takes the helm at the DNC after inauguration.

Which should explain to you why the highly effective former Gov. Howard Dean, the man who set in motion the 50-State Strategy which enabled Obama for America’s campaign, is no longer the DNC chair. No, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has had an ongoing feud with Dean and instead of sticking with effectiveness opted for a pawn who would ensure that the party did what Emanuel wanted. The members of the DNC comprised of representatives from each state party, voted to follow tradition. (I suspect there would be a revolt if an election for party chair was held today.)

So OFA has been doing what the DNC chair and in turn the White House chief of staff have wanted up until this time: they floundered and waited in a kind of invisible cage allowing themselves to be called “fucking retarded” if they ever tried to escape and demand real change, while the foot soldiers they’d recruited and engaged in 2008 slipped away.

And now the whining about the lack of democratization and ineffectiveness…

Frankly, real activists know where the action has been all along. They know that there are more than two progressive organizations which get stuff done.

Some of them also know that the Democratic Party continues to be ripe for a coup, because there is a power vacuum from top to bottom of the organization. You want to democratize progressive activism? you can actually take over the Dem Party at this point if you tried. Been there, doing it, new party chair who is a hard core progressive to be elected in a scant two weeks, and we’ve already been reshaping local and state politics since 2004. Have you checked to see if there’s a progressive caucus within your state’s Democratic Party? Are they organizing enough caucus members to shape and create the agenda and platform of the state party? There’s one route to real change.

Democracy for America is another; it has a boots-on-the-ground organization, and it’s been working on getting progressives elected to office from bottom to top of the food chain since its inception. Its mission is to get progressives elected to office and once there, keep them in office. Just look at their website and you will see state/local progressives they are endorsing and supporting in their run for office (This I know well as I’m a local organizer, have been since 2004).

Progressive Democrats of America also has a boots-on-the-ground organization, although it’s thin and needs more groups across the country (I know I need to look into having one set up in our locale). They also work on getting real progressives elected to office; they also work on shaping Democratic policy (again, been there, done it as a task force member).

There’s more groups out there, but you have to take the time and energy to look. Once you find them, you have to make the commitment required to create a thriving, effective, and sustainable. organization.

And if you can’t find a local progressive organization to work with, MAKE ONE. It’s not rocket science. Go to, create a regular meetup, start working with a group of like-minded invidividuals – but I’d start by checking to see if some other equally frustrated progressives don’t already have something set up in

The founding fathers didn’t sit around whining about the lack of democratization; they got off their butts and they did something about it. They swore with their lives and on their honor and committed themselves to making change happen. They certainly didn’t wait for some big all-powerful organization to come to them and ask how they could get their wish for democracy granted. I know my kids are learning about the founding fathers in their history and government classes right now, and they aren’t hearing about who waited and talked about democracy and the process of realizing one; they’re learning about activists who actually made democracy happen.

To realize democratization both as a progressive and as a citizen, it’s going to take the same kind of commitment from you. Oh, and you won’t even have to swear your life and honor to do this. Better get moving, because real progressives are already working on fundraising, endorsements, literature drops and door-knocking, website design, social media planning, organizing candidate forums and phonebanking. We could use your help.

And if you do a really great job, you’ll find OFA and MoveOn are calling you for help. I’ll answer their emails when I have time, really I will. But right now this mother has laundry and real progressive work to do.

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Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, FDL community member since 2005, geek since birth.

Fan of science and technology, wannabe artist, decent cook, successful troublemaker and purveyor of challenging memetics whose genetics may be only nominally better.

Assistant Editor at Firedoglake and Editor at The Seminal.