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Why the Democrats take progressives for granted
Don't just blame the Democrats

April 8, 2005 | Page 4

KEVIN ZEESE served as the Press Secretary to the Nader-Camejo campaign in 2004 and currently works with the Stop the War campaign at Democracy Rising.

RECENTLY, PROGRESSIVES who supported the Democratic Party in 2004 are expressing dissatisfaction with how Democratic elected officials are voting on the funding of the Iraq war, minimizing bankruptcy protections for working families, weakening the right to file class-action lawsuits against abusive corporations, shying away from environmental protection, as well as how the party leadership is moving away from fully protecting a women's right to choose.

Progressives need to recognize they can't blame just the Democrats for this--it is the liberal intelligensia that led them down the path of supporting a candidate for president who opposed progressives on many important issues who deserve a large share of the blame. By giving their support to a candidate who openly disagreed with progressives, they sent a message that Democrats will get their vote for nothing--in other words, progressives could be taken for granted.

Norman Solomon said it well in a recent article criticizing for not taking on the Iraq war: "When a large progressive organization takes the easy way and makes peace with war, the abdication of responsibility creates a vacuum." Sadly, the same criticism could be applied to Solomon in his making "peace with war" during the recent presidential election when he led support for a pro-war candidate.

In a recent column, Ted Glick, formerly of the Independent Progressive Politics Network and a supporter of Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb--who advocated a "safe-state" campaign, the Anybody-But-Bush approach to third-party politics--criticized the Democrats in a column entitled "Democrats do it again and again": "how about all those House Democrats who voted for the $81 billion to continue the Iraq war, not even attempting to put any conditions on it?"

It is not a surprise that the vast majority of Democrats voted to continue to fund the illegal occupation of Iraq. The peace movement, perhaps more than any, gave its support to Senator Kerry without any demand. Even the fearless, aggressive and vocal Medea Benjamin urged support of Kerry in swing states. Many peace activists stopped their antiwar work and went to work for the Kerry campaign.

When Kerry said on numerous occasions, including during the first presidential debate, that he wanted to manage the war better and was in it to win--much of the peace movement leadership remained silent. When Kerry mocked Bush for backing down on Falluja--much of the peace movement leadership remained silent. When he said he would send more troops if that was needed to win--much of the peace movement remained silent.

What was the lesson the Democrats took from this? The peace movement leadership will not criticize them for supporting--indeed, saying they will escalate--the war. They will not only vote for Democrats, they will remain silent and work for pro-war Democrats.

The Democrats learned a lesson--take the peace movement for granted. Hopefully, the peace movement also learned a lesson: Democrats need to be opposed for engaging in war just as pro-war Republicans need to be opposed.

The anti-Vietnam War movement removed LBJ from office because of his support for the Vietnam War. Today, pro-war Democrats should be removed from office for supporting the Iraq war.

We need to stand firm on our principles, especially when it comes to the illegal war in Iraq that is destroying or damaging the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, killing or maiming tens of thousands of Americans, torturing prisoners by rendition or in Guantánamo Bay, Afghanistan or Iraq, isolating the U.S. from the world and making us less safe from terrorism.

The antiwar movement is only one example. Labor, civil rights, civil liberties, anti-corporate globalization, fair taxes, women's rights--indeed every progressive movement is taken for granted by the Democrats. Why? Because progressives let them.

Does standing up for progressive principles mean that the Democrats will lose? Of course not. The issues progressives stand for are populist issues. Opposition to the war; a living wage for full-time work; health care for all; prosecuting corporate crime, fraud and abuse; a women's right to choose; equal justice for all; protection of Constitutional rights; a more vibrant democracy; investment in the necessities of the American people rather than the military industrial complex--all are popular issues.

If we push political leaders to stand for them, they will win more often, not less. It is when Democratic politicians mimic Republicans that they lose and lose and lose.

My view is the Democratic Party is not savable--it is time for progressives to leave and start a new party and a new political movement. Others are still trying to work within the party to reform it. While I wish them luck, I urge two things for them. First, recognize that those of us on the outside pushing can help you on the inside by letting Democrats know you have somewhere else to go.

Second, and most importantly, do not support Democrats who are wrong on the key issues. You will fail in your reform efforts if you give your support to candidates you seriously disagree with. In fact, you need to oppose those candidates--not only in primaries, but in general elections. Otherwise, the lesson you will be teaching is that progressives can be taken for granted and ignored.

Progressives are reaping the harvest from the seeds they sowed in 2004. Hopefully, most will learn the lesson and not repeat the mistake in 2006 and 2008.

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