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Monday, December 19, 2016


Field-tested and battle-ready

by Tom Sullivan

Politico has a lengthy conversation between Politico's Glenn Thrush; Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress; Guy Cecil from Priorities USA, the pro-Clinton PAC; Thomas Frank (What's the Matter with Kansas?); and Matt Barreto, a political science professor from UCLA. The topic is how the Democrats rebuild. There are a lot of these pieces out there, plus recommendations for how the left battles back in a Trump administration. Digby linked to one here. Two comments in particular caught my attention. Thomas Frank notes that Democrats need a message to compete with the culture war narrative people in rural areas hear coming incessantly from their radios and TVs:

Frank: And this is what the Democratic Party obviously used to do. This is not even hard to look up. This is very recent. You look at a place like Missouri. I grew up in Kansas City. And when I was a kid, Missouri was a very Democratic state. Harry Truman is from Missouri. Dick Gephardt is from Missouri. But you look at the map now, and Trump took every county except for St. Louis, Kansas City and the college town, Columbia. And it is a wipeout for Democrats out there. You go to these small towns, and there is no Democratic presence in these places.
If you don't show up to play, you forfeit. Frank continues:
Frank: Small towns, all over America, boarded up, the businesses are all gone, the kids leave as soon as they can, the family farms are dying. OK, what do you do about that? Well, one thing that’s really easy is antitrust. You know, you start going after the agricultural monopolies. Every farmer I’ve ever met knows about these companies, and is furious about them. And those people—I mean, this is a very Republican cohort now—but, you know, you start talking about their one obsessive concern, and you might be able to win some of them over. You start going after Wal-Mart, which has destroyed the businesses in every small town in America. Do you remember when Barack Obama won Iowa over Hillary Clinton in 2008? It was a big surprise, a big shocker. And the way he did it was by promising to use the antitrust laws against agricultural monopolies, or that was one of the things that he said.
Obama spoke to local concerns and won their votes. Guy Cecil gets around to what happened in North Carolina where Trump just won but Gov. Pat McCrory lost (emphasis mine):
Cecil: Yes. And I think one of the other things besides unions, which I totally agree with, besides the infrastructure of the Democratic Party, is you look at what Reverend William Barber did down there with his Moral Monday movement. He is a civil rights leader from North Carolina who understands the connection between economics and race and identity. He has been traveling all around the country over the last six months. But, really, when he saw what was happening in the North Carolina state legislature, long before HB2 [the state bill requiring people to use bathrooms based on their biological gender at birth]—when they were gutting funding for college public education, when they were gutting funding for the state university system, when they were refusing federal dollars for expansion of different projects, when they were really moving away from sort of the moderate approach that North Carolina had become known for compared to the rest of the South—he built a coalition of people that every Monday showed up. Sometimes it might be 100 people; sometimes there might be 50 people; sometimes there might be 1,000 people who consistently brought attention to these issues and organized across identity, organized across interest group. He didn’t do it alone. It wasn’t the sole reason. Yes, we need unions; yes, we need party establishment people, but we need local people; we need progressive religious leaders; we need others who are standing up and doing this type of work in all of these states and, frankly, doing the work here in D.C.
Progressives lament their tendency to remain isolated in issue silos. If we could just ditch the silos that dilute our strength and prevent us from forming an effective, unified movement with real numbers, we all might get somewhere. Barber has created — he might say rediscovered — a model for doing so that works. Give him a chance and he'll lecture for an hour on the history of fusion politics:
Now, if you can bridge that in a fusion, and if you can get black people and white people and Latinos to begin to see their issues together, if you can get people, for instance, the LGBT community, to understand the same people against the LGBT community are the same people that vote against public education, the same people that vote against public education normally vote against health care, same people against healthcare vote against living wages — and you can go on and on — same people against living wages are normally against voting rights, and in the states, if you can build a from-the-bottom-up, indigenously led, fusion coalition, you can have the kind of transformation we’re beginning to see in North Carolina in the South.
There are a lot of people pitching ideas for what might work. Barber has one that's field-tested and battle-ready.