Last night I got home from speaking at a rally just north of the Golden Gate Bridge — like many others along the California coast on Sunday, protesting the Obama administration’s backroom global deal that now threatens to legitimize commercial whaling.

This is 2010, there’s a Democrat in the White House, and we’re back to the necessity of building a “Save the Whales” movement! Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported this morning, the federal government is still granting permits for new offshore oil wells.

Killing whales and drilling for oil in the ocean weighed grimly on our minds as we rallied along the sparkling wind-swept shore yesterday. I told people that such policies are unacceptable. The fact that I’m a Democrat, and for that matter was elected as an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention from this North Bay congressional district two years ago, in no way makes me inclined to pipe down.

The next speaker after me was a Democratic member of the state legislature (Jared Huffman) who represents Marin County in the California assembly. He went out of his way to say that he wouldn’t “attack” President Obama. “I won’t go there,” he added.

Of course, what’s desperately needed is not a matter of “attacking” Obama. It’s a matter of speaking up and working for basic progressive principles.

I went home, pondering our current situation, and began to write. Here’s my article:

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Many are familiar with the adage, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow.” But what happens when people enable leaders to follow the dictates of the powerful?

These days, the answers are arriving in the form of a news drumbeat that’s apt to seem like a dirge.

From Afghanistan to Wall Street to the Gulf of Mexico, policies of military action and regulatory inaction are exacting terrible costs: in human life, economic resources and irreplaceable nature. Silence and inaction enable the destructive policies to continue.

We’re living in an era of crises so dire and unrelenting that many souls must struggle not to shatter. At the same time, the election cycle keeps turning.

Millions of us have received countless emails this spring urging defeat of two corporate centrists now in the Senate. Those messages contributed to positive results in Democratic primaries last week: After giving mediocrity a bad name for decades, Arlen Specter finally lost in Pennsylvania. And corporate shill Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff election in Arkansas.

Now, overdue national attention should turn to the imminent possibility of defeating a powerful Blue Dog in California’s June 8 primary — a war enthusiast, civil-liberties nemesis and Wall Street collaborator — Congresswoman Jane Harman.

While Harman may rank even worse than Specter or Lincoln on scales of odiousness, Harman’s challenger Marcy Winograd is far more progressive than Joe Sestak (who beat Specter) and Bill Halter (Lincoln’s surging foe). Defeating Harman would be a huge victory to show that progressives can send Blue Dogs packing.

Big money and longtime incumbency bring plenty of advantages. But for a determined grassroots campaign, a sustained volunteer effort can pull off an upset. That’s the prize where tireless Winograd volunteers have kept their eyes.

Not long ago, the conventional political wisdom pegged Sestak and Halter as longshots. If progressive groups and individuals had deferred to that “wisdom,” Specter and Lincoln would have celebrated victories last week.

Despite the weight of the Democratic Party establishment thrown against Winograd, recent polling indicates that her energetic campaign is within striking distance of a vulnerable Harman.

Such situations are unpredictable. A strong surge of support for Winograd from progressives around the country in the days ahead could undermine Harman’s efforts to circle the wagons in her Los Angeles area district.

The national press does plenty of “horseracing” coverage that speculates on how many Democrats will win congressional seats in November. But an unaddressed question is: What kind of Democrats?

Revitalizing the Progressive Caucus in the House will require some new members — not only to join the caucus but also to help it cohere into a purposeful entity. Right now, when the chips are down, many caucus members seem to be PINOs — progressive in name only.

Back in the home district, Jane Harman is now desperately straining to present herself as a “progressive” member of the House. But she is a longtime member of the center-right Blue Dog Coalition and has never joined the Progressive Caucus.

In sharp contrast, Marcy Winograd would not just instantly join the Progressive Caucus — she would immediately be one of its most intrepid and resilient members. Anyone who has ever worked with Marcy is sure that her progressive commitments are unshakeable. That’s why Democratic Party power brokers are doing all they can to defeat her.

Washington’s policies are taking their toll from Afghanistan to Main Street to the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why so many people are more determined than ever to lead from the grassroots by sending genuine progressives to Congress.

Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon

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