This Saturday, a broad coalition of progressive organizations will hold a massive One Nation Working Together rally – actually kind of a revival – aimed at allowing Progressives to emerge from a defensive crouch, stand up straight and mobilize our forces to do battle in the decisive mid-term elections.
Due to a navigational error, the U.S. 4th Infantry Division landed on the wrong inlet on Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day in 1944. For hours they were disoriented and pinned down by German defenders. Then the only general to accompany the amphibious assault, General Ted Roosevelt (son of President Teddy Roosevelt), personally rallied his troops from the beach, over the seawall and established a beachhead that was critical to the successful invasion of France that ultimately ended World War II.
Saturday’s rally is aimed at energizing thousands of latter-day General Ted Roosevelt’s who can fan out across America and do the same for the progressive forces that can be successful on November 2nd if – together – we stand up straight, take the offensive and refuse to be pinned down by constant attacks from the right.
The President’s speech to 27,000 in Madison, WI last Monday night fired up all present. It was a great start. But this weekend’s rally-organizers plan to communicate one central message to the thousands of activists that will gather in Washington Saturday: the President and other Democratic political leaders are not the only ones responsible for rallying our forces. We are all the Generals who will rally our troops off this beach. It’s up to us to take the leadership to prevent the Big Business, Wall Street-dominated, Tea-Party-Republicans from reclaiming right wing domination of American politics.
For forty years the right was on the offensive in America. At least when Bill Clinton was President, Democrats had a team on the field, but in so many respects the right wing offensive continued until their crushing defeat in November 2008.
For the last 18 months, the progressive forces have once again been on the offense. But the entrenched corporate interests didn’t roll over and play dead. They fought tooth and nail – they lied, they bit, they poked eyes – they did everything in their power to stop change.
Progressives won a lot in the last 18 months. We stopped the Great Recession caused by the Republican’s policies from turning into the Great Depression. Over the intense opposition of the insurance companies, after 60 years of trying, we passed health care reform that will finally make health care a right in America – and begins to hold those big private insurance companies accountable. We passed landmark legislation to rein in the recklessness of the big Wall Street banks that collapsed the economy and cost eight million Americans their jobs. We created a consumer agency headed by Elizabeth Warren – a true progressive champion for the middle class.
Along the way Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act to ensure women get equal pay for equal work. It expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. It completely reorganized the Student Loan Program to end wasteful bank subsidies and guarantee that every kid can get financing for his or her higher education. It passed a budget that massively changed the spending priorities of the Federal government.
We did all of this in the face of constant, unrelenting fire from corporate interests.
But as any Progressive can tell you, there is so much left to do. We can’t stop now. We can’t let the furious, intense opposition from Wall Street, the insurance companies, big oil and the far right fringe discourage or dispirit us. We can’t allow them to successfully take over one or both Houses of Congress. That would bring any opportunity for serious progressive change to a screeching halt.
We have to get off the beach and get back on the offense.
Sometimes the day to day back and forth of politics can cause us to forget what’s really at stake – and the massive gulf between Progressive and Right Wing values – the difference between our vision of society and the vision of the other side.
We have to remember the fundamental difference between the right’s belief in unbridled pursuit of individual interest and our commitment to the common good; selfishness versus commitment to others; division versus unity; fear versus hope; that we’re all in this together, not “all in this alone.”
For the first few years after my wife, Jan, and I were married in 1980, her Great Aunt lived with us during the week. Jan and I both worked, so Aunt Sylv looked after the house and was very involved in raising Jan’s two kids and my daughter.
Sylvia Lazar was a warm, wonderful woman who by that time was in her 70s. She’d come to the United States as a teenager from the Ukraine, and still spoke with a thick accent.
Silvia had grown up in a Ukrainian schtetle –– a small peasant town where the family purchased water each day from a salesman who carried two buckets from the river on a yoke over his neck. Oxen and horses were the principal means used to transport goods and people. Life in her schtetle was very much as it had been for hundreds of years.
Her family moved to the United States by way of Canada in the early part of the last century to escape anti-Semitism and find a better life.
By the time she died in the mid-1980s, the world around her had been completely transformed. In the place of oxen, she had flown on jet planes, lived in air-conditioned homes with running water and indoor plumbing. She lived to see the development of antibiotics that changed forever the treatment of infectious disease. She watched a television as men landed on the moon.
Worldwide, life expectancy had skyrocketed. The standard of living in the developed world had exploded.
But Sylv had also lived through two great world wars that had killed tens of millions. She had seen six million of her fellow European Jews systematically slaughtered in the Holocaust. She’d seen pictures of the explosion of the atomic bomb and lived through an accelerating arms race and cold war between America and the USSR that included her old homeland.
She watched with all Americans as the world approached the edge of the nuclear precipice during the Cuban missile crisis. And she had cheered on her niece Jan, who become active in fighting the growing environmental crisis brought on by exploding human economic activity.
Over the tiny span of one lifetime, Sylvia Lazar had been witness to the qualitative transformation of society its culture and technology. She had seen both the breathtaking possibilities and the horrific dangers unleashed by the accelerating march of technology and human history.
Whenever I think how hard it is to make social change, I think about Aunt Sylv.
In the thick of political battle, it’s often difficult to see the qualitative change. But all you need to do is back up a little distance from the everyday struggle to see how quickly our world has been, and is being, transformed before our eyes.
Only 155 years ago, America was ending its great Civil War. Human slavery was abolished in America a mere eight generations ago.
That century-and-a-half represents .002% of the seven million years of human evolutionary development. It represents only 1% of the 13,000 years since humans made the critical evolutionary advance –– agriculture.
Politics is fundamentally the means through which human societies make choices about their futures.
Radical conservatives like to argue that the world is a dangerous place – that the tough, hard-nosed, survival-of-the-fittest, individualist values are necessary to protect our survival. They claim that only by standing up fiercely for our own individual self-interests will we be successful at defending America and the values of “Western civilization.” They claim that radical conservative values are tough, and that progressive values are soft.
But progressive values are the farthest thing from “pie-in-the-sky,” “soft,” “unrealistic,” “head-in-the-clouds” precepts for action. In fact, right wing values are mainly rationales for allowing the rich to become richer and the powerful more powerful. In fact, progressive values allow us the best opportunity to survive and succeed in the future world that is simultaneously bristling with unprecedented danger, and beckoning with undreamt-of opportunity for our children and future generations – if we go there together.
Time for us all to remember that there is a lot more at stake this fall than who gets to wield the big gavel in the House of Representatives.
For everyone who was inspired and energized by the 2008 campaign, who believed that they were making history: you were right. We took a lot of ground, but the war is far from over. Now it is time to saddle up and report for duty once again.