Why Movements Matter

This piece in the American Prospect by Vivien Labaton and Gara Lamarche, titled “Why Movements Matter,” is definitely worth reading. On the one hand, I strongly agree with the identification of pro-worker, pro-fair taxation, and pro-immigrant rights movements as pointing in the direction of a meaningful broader progressive movement (though if you were to look at these three, all based around economic fairness, it might be more accurate to describe it as a populist movement). There is real anger in America at the class warfare being waged by elites on the rest of us. That anger is manifesting itself around different issues – the assault on workers, austerity for workers, tax cuts for the rich, and stigmatization and regulation of immigration to the point of denying immigrants human dignity and pushing them into indentured servitude for the rich and businesses. The campaigns in response to these issues are symptoms of class warfare being waged against working Americans.

However I don’t think contemporaneous outpourings of anger against the attacks on workers, austerity, tax cuts for the rich, and demonization of immigrants is sufficient to say there actually is a resurgent progressive movement. These responses are signs that there is an untapped potential. Yes, there can be organizing around populist economic issues that amount to opposing the transfer of wealth from working Americans to wealthy elites. Yes, some of that organizing is taking place. But it’s too disparate and disjointed. I don’t know what is necessary to pull these separate threads together. Obviously citizen-driven movements like UK Uncut and US Uncut have had success organizing in leaderless models. But I do think leaders matter and so far I don’t see any elected officials, religious leaders, activists, or union leaders stepping up to make this case in a way that is penetrating national consciousness or even the different populist movement threads that need to be woven together. We have a long way to go. The only thing that gives me hope about us getting where we need to be and a populist/progressive movement coming together in America is that the pace of the assault on working Americans is so great that it is giving birth to anger and outrage, which in turn fuels the opposition to it. In short, the general public is ahead of leaders of the public. Interesting things could come from this, but a movement won’t grow itself.

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