My friend Ilyse Hogue, formerly of MoveOn, Rainforest Action Network, and Greenpeace and now of Media Matters for America, has a very important article in The Nation, titled “Why the Right Attacked Unions, ACORN and Planned Parenthood.” Hogue makes the convincing case that the American right has attacked institutions which not only fight for progressive political outcomes, but provide meaningful services in peoples’ daily lives. Serving peoples’ needs creates a strong bond between a person and an organization. A woman who gets contraception from Planned Parenthood or a person getting advice on buying an affordable mortgage from ACORN or a worker who gets a 20% raise from joining a union will all have a strong desire to continue to see these institutions successful, both at the services they provide and in the political mission they take on to better achieve their service goals. As Ilyse points out, the recent attacks on these institutions by rightwing ideologues and conservative activists aims to destroy key pieces of progressive infrastructure not merely at their roots, but because they have roots in working American communities.
There are two key takeaways from Hogue’s piece. First, the importance of institutions like Planned Parenthood, organized labor, and community groups (ACORN’s spinoffs, PICO, NPA, and NACA, to name a few) cannot be underestimated. Unlike local Democratic Party outlets or national progressive online activist groups, the institutions which actually serve their members’ economic, health and educational interests and without them potential progressive activists will be taken out of the fight. Second, with the destruction of ACORN, the assault on Planned Parenthood and labor, there’s a real need for more progressive institutions to provide actual services for their members. Obviously many of the great folks at ACORN have found other outlets to do their work, with varying degrees of success. But part of organizing for a more progressive future includes finding ways to help people in their daily lives – through concrete actions and services, not merely the promise of some help down the road once a legislative solution exists. Frankly one of my greatest joys in working in the labor movement is that when we win, we help someone immediately get higher pay, health benefits, and job security. Compare that to working in electoral politics, where you’re asking someone to support at candidate who maybe will win and maybe will get to vote in favor of legislation which will maybe pass and maybe end up helping the people the candidate courted in the first place.
Organizations which find the way to both provide real services and push a legislative and political agenda which makes it easier for more people to attain those services are the life blood of progressive change. While facing attacks from the right, these groups must not only be defended, but nurtured in their own right and even created anew to attend to the needs of working people and potential activists, needs that may not currently be met due to either attacks from the right or a lack of adaptation by existing organizations to identify what they are leaving on the table. This stuff isn’t easy, but Hogue’s diagnosis of the problem will hopefully be a reminder to movement operatives that the attacks from the right are well-targeted and if allowed to continue unchecked, could be devastating to the chances for a progressive society in the United States.