I originally wrote a completely different post that was my typical whining about why more young people don’t go into grassroots organizing. I decided to scrap it and start over. I often accuse my generation of wanting the immediate feel-good of direct service and charity, the socially-accepted professionalism of law and government, the comfortable removed intellectualism of academia and think tanks. But after reflecting on it for a bit, I decided to set down my glass of haterade and re-examine the barriers within the nonprofit sector that actively keep young people from working as community organizers. I think that’s a more constructive conversation to have.
I wanted to write about this because I’m becoming painfully aware of how much my employer struggles to fill organizing staff positions. Yet at the same time I know so many unemployed and underemployed young people. What’s the problem? Wasn’t Obama supposed to inspire a whole generation of kids to become community organizers when they grew up or something? Maybe it’s time for me to stop blaming my generation and start talking about the root of the problem and real solutions.
What’s the problem?
We’re reaching a dangerous time in America’s social movements. The veterans who run many of our organizations cut their teeth as young people in the 60’s and 70’s at the height of progressive activism. Today many of them are on the verge of retiring or already doing so. To keep alive the organizations built by the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before us, we’re all going to have to step up. Yet as we reach an era with perhaps more potential for progressive change than any other since the 60’s, opportunities for the next generation of movement leaders are limited.
More than anything, there’s a need for organizers on the ground. No social movement has ever succeeded without organizing people. You can have brilliantly crafted policy and flawless legal arguments but without heat in the streets, there is no movement. Power responds only to power. And without money power, people power is all we have.
So what would I do if I was a young person looking to get into this type of work? Obviously go to Idealist.org, like any other do-gooder who doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. So I did that. I searched for “organizer” and filtered by “Entry-level position” anywhere in the US. I only came across 72 hits and after reading through them, almost none of them were what I would classify as organizing. Most involved providing charitable services or doing administrative work.
Generally the vast majority of community organizer job postings I see require 2-3 years of experience. But where we’re supposed to get those 2-3 years of experience I have no idea.
Why are so few organizer jobs entry-level?
Most community organizing nonprofits, like mine, are relatively small local groups in a particular city or region. They don’t really have the capacity to train people who don’t already know what they’re doing. There’s no Human Resources department, no instruction manual, no large cohort of new employees fresh out of school you can train all at once every year. And in a tough field like grassroots organizing where people often work for a year or two before realizing they can’t make the cut, nobody wants to take risks on people. Even worse, when an organizer leaves the job, it severs many of the relationships they built in the community, and some members/leaders leave with them.
Unlike for-profit corporations, nonprofits can’t raise money by selling stock to investors who want to take a risk with the promise of future gains. It’s hard for nonprofits to take the long view and investing in young talent just isn’t worth it in the short-run. And as much as we like to think we operate as broader social movements, we really operate as individual organizations out for ourselves. Why pay to train someone who’s probably going to be working for some other organization five years from now?
What’s out there for a young aspiring organizer?
Opportunities for people who want to start organizing usually lie with large national groups that have the scale necessary to train lots of new staff. For example larger unions like SEIU and AFSCME, faith-based community organizing networks like PICO and DART, or the PIRGs and their broader Public Interest Network. At one point ACORN was probably the biggest trainer of new organizers, but they’re gone now. And unfortunately, labor unions, faith-based community organizing groups, and the PIRGs are all shrinking. Some important training programs like the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) have also shrunk significantly from their former reach.
The other option that fills job postings for people looking to enter social movement work is as a canvasser doing grassroots fundraising. Of course they’re willing to take a risk on us when our job description includes raising our own salary. What is there to lose? Although canvass offices provide a point of entry for countless young people into activist work, they have high turnover since many people find the work somewhat unpleasant. Canvassing also teaches a limited skill set: canvassers get great at making initial contact with other people and getting them involved at a basic level, but never learn how to build relationships, develop leaders and deepen their commitment.
Of course the biggest advocacy groups in the country really do have the money to invest in young people if they wanted to. (Think the Sierra Club, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, etc.). But they typically don’t do much grassroots organizing or hire significant amounts of organizing staff. They prefer to contract with canvass offices to build their membership.
Don’t my endless hours of activism in college count for anything?
Often when young activists finish school, we find the social justice organizations we want to work for don’t take our student activism seriously as real work experience. It’s devastating to those of us who poured our hearts into this work, while struggling to balance our activism with paid jobs and studying. But it might be justified. Most campuses have little to no opportunities to work with well-organized groups that have experienced organizing staff who can serve as mentors. Many of the best and brightest young activists are sucked into the black hole of student government. Student activists often graduate with lots of experience planning workshops and movie nights and speaker panels but few of the tangible skills required to win a real issue campaign.
At best, many organizations that claim to do campus organizing will have one staff person assigned to tons of campuses across a whole region, so they spend little time on the ground building relationships, developing leaders, and investing in their skills. Movement organizations aren’t willing to seriously invest in students while they’re in school, so young people don’t gain the skills they want. Then young people don’t have the skills they want, so they’re not willing to take the risk to hire them.
So after graduation, many student activists end up unemployed or underemployed. Maybe we do Peace Corps or Teach for America because even though those organizations are deeply flawed, at least they want us, and kind of stalk us a little bit, which is nice I guess. Or we end up working in government or charity nonprofits or going back to grad school. Or slaving away at some dead-end low-wage job just like the people who write all those obnoxious articles scoffing at humanities majors said we would. Or with a sigh we acknowledge that our parents were right all along and that our pipe dreams of fighting for justice and equality were unrealistic, and we should just settle down and work as a desk-monkey at some faceless corporation and one day buy a house with a white picket fence and a golden retriever. Either way, a critical opportunity to become an organizer has been missed.
Is there a solution?
Here’s the point I’m trying to make: We need more young people to become organizers. But a lack of young people wanting to be organizers isn’t the problem. (At least not the whole problem.) There are tons of young people already out there with the right personality type and natural talent who would be willing to give this work a shot and might become badass organizers if seriously given the opportunity. Here are my recommendations on how to provide those opportunities:
1. Invest in on-the-ground organizers who spend quality time at high schools, community colleges, and universities. Tap into the young activists who want to contribute to your work, help them develop tangible skills, and build relationships with the youth you’ll need to staff up your organization someday. Sure, not all organizations have interest or expertise in youth organizing. But then why not give some funding to a local organization that does directly work with youth to plug their members into your campaigns? (Side note: Someone should start a nonprofit that specializes in student organizing and contracts with all the big progressive advocacy groups in the country to organize student activists around their issues.)
2. If you have interns, give them real responsibilities that are the type of things you expect incoming junior staff to already know how to do. Think: if I hired this person in two years, what skills would I need them to have? Yes, sometimes you just need help databasing sign-in sheets from your events. And yes, sometimes it takes longer to train someone how to do something and clean up the mess when they fuck up than to just do it yourself. But if you view interns as long-term investments in future staff rather than short-term exploited labor who you’ll never see again, you might find that the benefits eventually outweigh the costs.
3. Link temporary training opportunities to permanent job opportunities. Develop organizer-in-training programs that allow you to both train and assess people, reducing the risk of hiring entry-level staff. But make sure those programs have the possibility of a real job at the end of them. This is probably the most difficult one to implement: Where’s the budget to pay these people? Who’s going to supervise them? In large cities, community organizations and unions could pool resources and hire someone to run an organizer-in-training program that plugs a cohort of students into local campaigns every summer and then pipelines them into whatever job openings are in the area when they graduate. In a less urbanized environment like where I work, there might not be enough organizations to do that, but on the flip side, if we train local organizers, we directly reap most of the benefits because they don’t have many other places to work except for us.
This might all seem like a lot of money to spend on a bunch of wayward millenials who might quickly change their minds and decide they don’t want to work for you after all. But that’s the nature of investing in the future. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s one way to make it more likely to pay off: If you’re spending all the time and money to grow your own staff, don’t be afraid to recruit them aggressively. Big corporations give out free Chipotle burritos at their info sessions at college campuses. Teach for America literally hires student interns whose job is to recruit other students. But if you’ve been intentionally working with young people, you don’t need any of that—you have direct relationships—take them out to lunch and say “Hey, what do you think about working for us when you graduate?” The reality is, most young people don’t know what the fuck we’re doing with our lives and could probably use the help thinking it through.
I’ll admit I understand the problem more than I understand the solution. What I do know is this: If our movements are going to survive, our organizations will need to take the long view and intentionally invest in a comprehensive pipeline that provides meaningful roles in our movements for young people.
Yesterday I read a post on the Daily Kos that included a searing critique of the 4th of July holiday by Frederick Douglass. The article mentioned Douglass’s feud with Abraham Lincoln over the president’s stubborn dedication to the policy of capturing and returning runaway slaves from the South, even while he advocated for abolition.
I was struck by a similarity to President Obama, who often cites Lincoln as his personal role model. Obama recognizes the need to create a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States who moved here to find a better life, but now live in constant fear of deportation. He made the issue the most important policy priority of his second term. But at the same time, his administration is deporting immigrants at a faster pace than any president in history, causing hardship and heartbreak among separated families. Moral inconsistency? Political necessity? Who knows.
But here’s the real reason Obama deports so many immigrants. He’s the president of the United States. That means a majority of American voters had to like him better than the other guy. The problem with a lot of American leftists is that they live in places like Berkeley and don’t get out much. They just don’t come in contact with the solid majority of Americans who support drone strikes, militarizing the border, and all sorts of other nasty things.
Honestly, ask yourself: Could I be elected president of the United States? I couldn’t– not by a long shot.
Anyone who can be elected president is either:
a) Not really that progressive, or
b) Acts like a centrist really convincingly
In Obama’s case I think it’s a combination of both. Generally I would say Obama is better than the average modern Democratic president of the United States. So I think it’s nice that he’s done more progressive stuff than the guy who signed NAFTA and DOMA, deregulated the banking system and slashed the social safety net. But I’m just not going to expect him to be the messianic love-child of Karl Marx and Gandhi.
Someone recently told me a quote that struck me: “Those who are easily disillusioned were suffering from too many illusions in the first place”.
My main point is one I’ve harped on before.
Elected officials shouldn’t be your movement leaders. They should be your targets. Even elected officials who are your allies should be your targets, because you can often push them to do more than they would otherwise (see Obama, DREAMer sit-ins, Deferred Action).
What I’m trying to say here is don’t expect Obama to become Frederick Douglass. Obama is Lincoln. Frederick Douglass could never be elected president of the United States.
Just be Frederick Douglass. We could really use one right now.
You could fill a high school yearbook with superlatives about different issues within the broader progressive movement: Most Likely to See a Victory This Year, Most Important Total Lost Cause, Best Facebook Profile Picture, etc.
Today I want to cast my vote for “Most Strategic”. I’d define “strategic” as the issue that focusing resources on to win a major victory now will most build the long-term strength of our movement and set us up to be more effective in taking on everything else.
We’ve all heard the talk about how immigrant communities won the election for Obama in 2012 and the Republican Party is doomed. There’s some truth in it. The percent of Americans born in another country is the highest it’s been since the 1920’s. The combined political muscle of those who are immigrants, live in immigrant neighborhoods or have immigrant family members is pretty hefty. Immigrants tend to have more progressive views on most issues than people born in America. And American-born Latinos and Asians are even more progressive than their parents.
But I think we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Latino and Asian voter turnout is still really low. Latinos and Asians are shamefully underrepresented in Congress, more so than African-Americans. Community organizations in Latino and Asian neighborhoods tend to be weaker than those in black neighborhoods.
Lack of political power is a cycle, a positive feedback loop. When a community is disenfranchised and oppressed, people see no value in engaging in a political system that shits on them. This weakens their organizations, results in scarce political representation, and an absence from the negotiating table over policy. This leads to being shafted even further by policy and budget decisions, which further heightens the community’s distrust of politics.
It takes a major social movement to break this cycle. The Civil Rights Movement and its echoes grew political power within the black community. The civil rights generation saw their collective action directly result in change in their daily lives. They saw powerful institutions panic in the face of their strength and scramble to maintain the status quo. And they saw themselves win.
It’s not emphasized enough that winning is fucking important. People like winning. They feel afraid, powerless, and insignificant until they win. Even incremental, incomplete victories create organizations and develop leaders and build the confidence to win again.
It’s no accident that despite a massive coordinated effort to suppress them at the ballot box, black voter turnout rates in 2012 may have surpassed whites for the first time ever. The dominant media narrative said the novelty of voting for the first black president had worn off and turnout would plummet. Maybe true for white liberals. But for the black community, it was no novelty. It was a moment in history where many people of color felt a sense of their political power and the motivation to win again.
We won’t see the true power of American immigrant communities until we win a major victory. The Chicano Movement was smaller and won far fewer victories than the Civil Rights Movement. Immigrants’ rights activists have seen a few small victories lately like deferred action for DREAMers. But something big has yet to come. And when it does, the result will be a shift in our political landscape.
I expect the passage of comprehensive immigration reform to create a shift in communities like the ones I organize in. I believe folks will see the power of taking to the streets and demanding justice, and many more will join future struggles over education, income inequality, even climate change.
Now I’m not saying everyone drop whatever you’re doing and work on immigration reform. I am saying leaders and participants in all progressive movements should be paying close attention to what happens here, because it affects all of us.
Even symbolic displays of solidarity make an impact, especially on issues strongly dependent on winning public support. When a black civil rights leader, a union president, or an LGBT rights activist publicly takes a stand on the issue of immigration, it signals to their followers that their struggles for dignity are bound to each other.
For example, Bill McKibben, one of America’s foremost leaders of the movement to stop climate change, recently wrote an op-ed in the LA Times supporting immigration reform. Environmentalists and immigration advocates haven’t always been BFFs. But McKibben gets it:
Election after election, native-born and long-standing citizens pull the lever for climate deniers, for people who want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, for the politicians who take huge quantities of cash from the Koch brothers and other oil barons. By contrast, a 2012 report by the Sierra Club and the National Council of La Raza found that Latinos were eager for environmental progress. Seventy-seven percent of Latino voters think climate change is already happening, compared with just 52% of the general population; 92% of Latinos think we have “a moral responsibility to take care of God’s creation here on Earth.” These numbers reflect, in part, the reality of life for those closer to the bottom of our economy. Latinos are 30% more likely to end up in the hospital for asthma, in part because they often live closer to sources of pollution.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign came under fire last week for telling one of their speakers at their rally in front of the Supreme Court not to mention that he was an undocumented immigrant. The largest gay rights group in the country should know that “coming out” as undocumented is a key strategy for moving hearts and minds, because like with LGBT issues, people are most likely to change their minds if they know someone personally affected.
Listen, all I’m saying is, this shit is really important, not just for undocumented immigrants, but for all of us. So try to say nice things and don’t fuck it up, okay?
One might say the ultimate dream of progressives is to replicate the Civil Rights Movement and the accompanying progress on a range of political issues that occurred throughout the 1960’s (and to some extent 1970’s). In fact, I like to talk a lot about how I believe we’re at the beginning of a “movement time”– a decade or so where social change advances quickly on many fronts. (Here’s my case for why I think conditions are ripe.) But if so, it seems like a problem that the face of progressive America is Barack Obama. (I’d challenge anybody to come up with someone else who they can honestly call the face of progressive America.)
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2013, which also happens to be President Obama’s second inauguration, like many in the media, I’m irresistibly drawn to compare and contrast the two men.
I’m not angry about Obama being sworn in on MLK’s bible. I’m a strong Obama supporter and I think by historical standards of American presidents, he’s been great for progressives.
But Barack Obama has done a good job as an American president, not as an American social movement leader. As much as the Obama team has adopted the language of organizing, as much as he painstakingly emphases passages in his speeches like “this has never been about just one election” and “this campaign belongs to you”, Barack Obama left the community organizing business decades ago. He inspires people to come to events to see him speak, and to wait in lines to vote for him. He can claim the most “liked” picture in Facebook history. But he does not inspire people to march on Washington together or engage in civil disobedience to demand change (except the Tea Party). Not a personal failing. That’s just not what presidents do.
Barack Obama is not our Martin Luther King. Barack Obama is our Lyndon Johnson, to a yet-undiscovered Martin Luther King.
I’m really interested in his new organization that he’s been asking his supporters to join, the revamped OFA– Organizing for Action. I think it could be an innovative tool for advancing the president’s legislative agenda in Congress– it’s got a big list and can probably generate insane numbers of phone calls and petitions etc. But I don’t think anybody seriously believes it’s going to be a movement-building organization like MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It’s run by people with the Campaign Brain, and will never be truly independent of the Democratic Party, will never have people willing to be beaten and jailed and shot for it.
At the time of his death, King was not just the de facto leader of the civil rights movement, but also one of the nation’s most prominent labor/antipoverty activists, one of America’s premier antiwar activists. He did not need to engage in fiscal cliff negotiations. His job was instead to fuel the burning engine of pure human will that drove forward social progress– and allow the axles and cogs of the legislative machinery to be ground along by the miserable grunts of the United States Congress. As a social movement activist, he was not constrained by the demands of re-election, by the pull of donors, by the gravity of his office. He could say things like this, that Barack Obama could never say:
“In the ghettoes of the North over the last three years — especially the last three summers, as I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action.
But they ask — and rightly so — ‘what about Vietnam?’ They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
He could take unequivocal stands for justice without having to hedge his words while simultaneously awkwardly holding the reins of a government whose laws dictate separating undocumented immigrant parents from their children and sending suspected enemy combatants to detainee camps. The leader of a movement cannot also be the Commander in Chief (unless his name rhymes with Schmitler).
We don’t seem to have our time’s Martin– a powerful, independent, multi-issue voice of the American Left, committed to organization and movement building. Maybe instead we have an equally important behind-the-scenes figure that I’m too inexperienced or unimportant to know about– a modern Ella Baker or Bayard Rustin. Maybe the army of paid staff of advocacy organizations made possible by the nonprofit industrial complex has replaced our need for a few big leaders as the pillars of social movements. Maybe we don’t need leaders at all anymore because of the interwebz and tweets and whatnot.
But I do feel like many of the shortcomings of progress in Obama’s first term were due to a lack of outside social movement. They were due to Obama being the face of the left, the glowing messiah of 2008 who allowed movement activists to chill out and let Barack take care of it. I believe the first black president is part of King’s legacy. But I think a new generation of leaders of organizations within an independent movement for equality, peace and freedom would be a more important legacy.
My reaction to the final fiscal cliff compromise was something along the lines of an exhausted sigh and shrug. Seems fine I guess. The whole manufactured crisis thing is hard to get worked up about after a while.
But I began to think… maybe there’s something being overlooked here: In an odd way, this could be seen as the first national policy victory of the Occupy Movement.
Like the fiscal deal or not, in 2013, the 1 Percent will pay the highest tax rate they’ve paid since 1979.
At the movement’s peak, although I was excited about its potential, I was kind of a pessimist about Occupy. I wrote then that without institutionalizing itself, it would dissolve before achieving the kind of national policy victories that the Tea Party had won.
But there is something to be said for the more intangible impact of social movements. They shape the thinking of everyone from your everyday dude on the street to professors, journalists, leaders of organizations and even presidents.
During Occupy Wall Street’s initial explosion onto the scene in 2011, I was in DC interning for the White House Council of Economic Advisers. It was fascinating to see how think tanks, economists, columnists, even the great global institutions of capitalism like the OECD and the IMF all felt it necessary to respond to Occupy and start talking about income inequality and how to address it.
Then one day the chief economist at the CEA brought all of us into her office to watch on TV as the president gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. It didn’t create much media buzz, but she insisted this was an extremely important speech. And it was. It was the moment where Barack Obama publicly shifted to the strategy and message that won him re-election a year later.
Since the Tea Party’s rise and the miserable beatdown congressional Democrats had taken in 2010, the president had spent the past year moving his rhetoric to the center and trying to appease the right wing. Although in 2008 he originally campaigned on letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire for those making over $250k a year, he had outraged progressives like me in 2010 when he compromised with House Republicans to fully extend them for two more years (which would eventually lead to the fiscal cliff).
But as we saw in his shift on gay marriage, presidents, like any human being, change their minds sometimes. I believe it’s safe to say Occupy changed Obama. After that speech in Osawatomie, when for the first time he talked about the 99% and the 1%, he took a combative approach, with a clear emphasis on one issue: economic fairness. That was the message he used to successfully define the choice between him and Mitt Romney, and what ultimately won him the election a year later.
And in the first major political battle after the election, negotiating with congressional Republicans, he drew a line in the sand back to his original campaign promise that the Bush Tax Cuts must expire on incomes over $250k. Of course, being Barack Obama, he then crossed his line in the sand and offered a new threshold of $450k. But this one he held firm to. And interestingly enough, this is roughly the income level that puts you in the richest 1% of Americans.
So the One Percenters will pay the lion’s share of the tax increases in the fiscal deal. Meanwhile, thanks to the almost-impressive vicious stubbornness of the GOP, the incredibly-rich-but-not-quite-obscenely-rich Two Percenters (roughly incomes between $250k-450k) got the best deal. In fact, the downright impoverished will see a larger tax hike than they will next year. But at least in the Occupy frame of the world, the Two Percenters are still part of the 99%.
If anything this deal shows the sticking power of Occupy’s successful framing of our political economy as a conflict between the 99% and the 1%. This frame has, maybe for the first time, made its way into something written into law.
I’m sure if you asked most of the folks who participated in General Assemblies at the height of the Occupy Movement they would not be jumping with joy about this slight increase in the top marginal tax rate. But even if it wasn’t exactly their dream, in a way this is their victory.
Like millions of others looking for a relatively stress-free holiday family activity, I watched Les Miserables this weekend.
I was struck by an unshakeable feeling of the story’s old-ness. Maybe it’s the way characters can fall absurdly in love with each other on sight or decide to die after performing tragic monologues.
But to me the clearest sign this story was written in a different time is its unapologetic political statement. Les Miserables is not about economic inequality in 19th century Europe, it’s about a man’s struggle with personal transformation while being trapped in the sins of his past. And yet it recognizes that the personal is political and the political is personal. The suffering Jean Valjean experiences is wrapped in the context of the political and economic system he lives in and the villain is this system, even more than it is Javert.
This all made me wonder: Why don’t we have bestselling novels about class struggle anymore?
The original Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, despite political criticism, was a huge financial success in the western world of the 1800’s. But today our popular culture seems to shy away from placing characters within a political context.
I want to focus on Hollywood here. Novels and plays were the medium for popular culture consumption in the 19th century, but today movies and TV are the way regular people interact with storytelling. (Also if I start talking about books I’d end up revealing, through my complete ignorance, the fact that I mostly stopped reading them at the age of 16.)
I did some research (okay, it was Wikipedia) on the top grossing movies of the 1990’s and 2000’s. (1990 is the beginning of the After Lucas era, before which nothing is relevant). Pretty much the closest we’ve got in the A.L. era is The Matrix, which gets points for symbolism. Maybe at best some sort of vague, fuzzy critique of organized religion in the Da Vinci Code. Avatar I guess says something about environmentalism and respecting indigenous people?
If anything we’ve moved into the superhero movie era—where our heroes are individuals who seek not to change society, but to maintain law and order. Perhaps the perfect counterexample to Les Miserables is the latest Batman movie. Here the masses, discontent with inequality, are easily swayed by manipulative demagogue villains and can be whipped into a dangerous corrupt mob unless fought by a multi-billionaire heir of a military contracting corporation who can use its sheer firepower to restore the status quo. The political statement is only that social change is at best irrelevant, or at worst an illusion, a convenient backdrop for the epic battles of heroes and villains.
So the more important question: Why?
Is the medium of film, with its badass special effects, simply more suited to the empty-headed action movie? Or are writers and producers, or at least the most talented ones, becoming more politically apathetic? Maybe consumers just don’t want to watch political stuff, so political critique is reserved for niche indie film festival audiences and never makes it to the mainstream.
Whatever the reason, this is a problem for those of us in political work. Social movements cannot exist without artistic and cultural works to win the hearts and minds of the public. A blockbuster movie is worth a thousand press releases and a bestselling novel is worth a million petitions.
This is a political organizer’s cry for help to the storytellers of the world: Can we get some movies about the modern-day 99% up in here that don’t involve us getting our asses kicked by Bruce Wayne in a bat costume?
Let me start off by saying that elections get way more emphasis than they should, and that most of the real work of social change happens in the aftermath, pressuring elected officials to do the right thing.
But that being said, elections really do matter, and this one was truly beautiful.
To me this election confirmed my belief that we are at the beginning of a movement time, one of those eras when waves of progress seem to come all at once. You’re looking at me like I’m crazy. But it’s a lot more messy and uncertain when you’re experiencing it live than when we look back in the history books. Here’s my case for why I think progressives are going to win huge victories in the coming years.
But here’s my 7 Reasons Why Last Night Was The Best Night Ever:
1. Barack Obama is our president and we never have to hear about Mitt Romney again. In terms of policy change, I’m not that excited about this– honestly the next four years will look like the last two years– Republican Congress, total gridlock, not much getting done. Basically they just gave a black man the worst job in the world for another four years.
What was significant about the presidential race was that in the age of Citizens United, Wall St. wasn’t able to buy this election. Finance normally hedges their bets by giving to both parties or the expected winner. But after the major financial reforms enacted by the Obama administration, they went all in for Romney. And lost. When was the last time Wall St. lost anything except your money? Now I hope Obama has the cojones to give them some ice cold retribution. I’m also happy that in the darkest hour of the campaign, right after the first debate, I still called the election for Obama. Saying I told you so is the best.
2. The youth vote made an even larger impact than in 2008. I was so sick of all the bullshit narratives about apathetic young people who came out in 2008 for a fluke because they were brainwashed by Obama and won’t vote anymore because now they’re stupid and lazy blah blah blah. Oh what’s that? Young people made up 19% of the vote in 2012, EVEN MORE than in 2008? SUCK. ON. THAT. SHIT.
3. California passed Prop 30 and defeated Prop 32. This is near and dear to my heart because it’s what I’ve been working on this election. I think the incredible thing about Prop 30 is it’s a turning point. Since Prop 13 passed in the “tax revolt” of the late 70’s, California has been on the path of endless budget cuts to education. Yesterday we turned this around– the voters chose to invest in our youth and our future. In concrete terms, this resulted in a tuition freeze at the UC’s this year instead of a 20% fee hike. And Prop 32, which may have actually been more important than 30 for big picture strategic reasons, went down too. This all despite millions of dollars spent against us by billionaires and Super PACs who are now being investigated for money laundering. I worked with dozens of high school and community college students who spent countless hours volunteering to get out the vote because they knew their future depended on it. I’m so proud of them.
4. In California, Democrats will likely win 2/3rds supermajorities in both the State Assembly and State Senate. Some close races have ballots left to be counted, but newspapers are already calling it. This is a big fucking deal. Much of California’s budget craziness is due to the fact that you need a 2/3rds vote to raise taxes, or until recently, to approve the budget at all. The California Republican Party has become increasingly isolated and radical, viewing any compromise as a sign of weakness, making it nearly impossible to get the couple of extra votes needed to pass no-brainer bills like the Middle Class Scholarship Act. The bill would have closed a corporate tax loophole that benefits out-of-state corporations and used the money to slash college tuition by 60% for most students in California but failed this year. But this also opens up huge new opportunities. Some of these Dems are pretty conservative, and will be reluctant to vote for more revenue. But with a Democratic supermajority and some good organizing, you could potentially get single payer health care in California, or universal preschool, or dramatically reduce college tuition. As I said, big fucking deal.
5. The next Congress will have more women than any Congress in American history. Women candidates broke records in both the House and the Senate. One of these women, Tammy Baldwin, is the first openly-gay Senator ever.
6. Marriage equality made major strides. Maine and Maryland voted to legalize gay marriage, and Washington looks like it’s on its way. The tide is moving, it’s only a matter of time.
7. We can all stop talking about Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney!
Also, bonus points. For my Ventura Couny folks, we were in one of the closest congressional races in the entire country, and the Democrat, Julia Brownley squeaked out a victory over Tony Strickland, a politician I personally can’t stand. And Measure S in Berkeley, which would have criminalized the homeless for sitting on the sidewalks, was defeated.