Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here? A Progressive Roadmap for 2009 and Beyond


I think we've all awoken from our coma of joy. We elected a progressive president. We took the House and the Senate by storm, increasing our numbers. In states like Michigan, we've approved Stem Cell research and made positive changes to the state supreme court. Colorado and South Dakota defeated sweeping anti-choice measures. We lost the Prop 8 battle, but we're organizing for the future.

In other words--yes, we did.

But now reality is sinking in. Round about the time the Christmas music started playing loud enough for anyone to hear in stores, progressives everywhere perked up and realized that electing these people and approving these measures is a good start, but not the end of the road. It didn't matter who we elected, come November 6, 2008 we all had to start focusing on the nitty-gritty details.

So where do we go from here? What policies do we support? What legislation do we push forward? What tactics will put the issues in the best light?

There is so much to do and relatively so little time. We must focus our priorities to ensure sweeping changes for the better and not stagnation, or worse change in the wrong direction. We have a chance to make things better for the present and the future.

Here's what we need to do to ensure that "Yes we did" is echoed by "Yes we will":

The Seven First Term Working Goals for Women and Progressives

1. Pass the Freedom of Choice Act
The FOCA is a legislative measure intended to codify t what Roe v. Wade achieved in the 70s. The Act will ensure that state laws cannot escape the Constitutional protection of privacy found by the courts and provide a safeguard for a woman's right to chose. The legal nuts and bolts of the FOCA is this--if it is enacted, anti-choice groups will have to do more than just appoint conservative activist judges; they will have to show that a duly enacted law of Congress is somehow unconstitutional. This is much harder than showing an already sympathetic judge that the past precedent of the Supreme Court was wrong. Therefore the FOCA is needed to ensure choice as a national policy, just not a regional right.

2. Create a national health care plan.
The one thing that we must achieve in the first term is a blue print for national health care. This is crucial to the survival of our country and our society. Too many people are going day-to-day, not knowing whether they'll have to chose food and shelter or treatment and prescriptions. This is an unrealistic choice for our citizens to have to make. The lack of a national health care plan puts our nation at risk and creates a third-world society inside of a first-world nation. The haves and the have-nots are pushed further apart, creating class-warfare. For progressives, this health care dilemma comes at such a trecherous time when our country is leaning over the edge of a giant abyss called "depression." What we truly need is a single-payer health care system, like the one promoted by Physicians for a National Health Care Program. What Obama proposed during the election would be a great concession, but a single-payer program is what's needed to ensure equality in health care.

This isn't just a socialized-medecine issue, this is a trade issue. When countries like China are proposing to ensure their billion-plus population and world leaders like England already have a system to ensure all, it is absurd that we intend to lead the world into the 21st century without having a plan ourselves. It's worse than the blind leading the blind--it's the blind attempting to lead the sighted with a cliff ahead. It threatens our position as a world power and diminishes our status in the eyes of the world.

With an economy so abysmal, the government should stop giving handouts to corporations and focus on the very people who move the system forward on a daily basis.

3. Stop unaccountable corporate bailouts
Every day since September 15, 2008 brings news of a new government idea to help their friends on Wall Street. Sure there's rhetoric about Main Street needing help too, but since the bailout was formally enacted, what has Congress done to ensure that Wall Street is playing by the rules (and there are rules to be played by) and that Main Street is receiving the help it needs? The answer is "nothing."

Corporate bailouts can be important when they affect the lives of everyday America. To let the whole banking system fail would have been catastrophic, but to allow individual banks to take chunks of money with no promise to repay it and no strings attached is like handing a heroine addict a syringe. Meanwhile, the whole impatus behind the bailout--to ensure credit is flowing freely--is going untouched. Credit is stagnant as ever and business and individuals alike are finding it hard to make ends meet where they used to be able to make a profit.

Not all bailouts are bad. An auto industry bailout would provide security for hundreds of thousands of jobs for average citizens on Main Street. In fact, it is the only proposal over the past two months that has anything at all to do with the working man and woman (soon to be the unemployed man and woman). Yet Congress is hesitant to help the auto industry out, presumably because they aren't as influencial on Capitol Hill as the banking and financial industries.

If we are going to move forward and fix the economy, we must engage in sweeping measures that protect the sanctity of a hard day's work and discourage handouts to those who have the means to help themselves. If the financial institutions were single mothers, they wouldn't have received a dime.

4. Pass the Employee Free Choice Act
In the years following the Depression, what the New Deal focused on wasn't the sanctity of a mortgage-based-derivative, it was the ability of the worker to bargain for his or her own wages and set his or her own terms and conditions of employment, just like the big wigs at the top are allowed to do. Collective bargaining and unions created a generation of wealth for America, that allowed more people than ever to own homes, send kids to college, and retire in peace and tranquility. People blame unions for so many things because big business has made them the enemy...and big business controls the mind set of America.

Nevertheless, I think that we could all agree on one thing--people should not be fired for trying to organize a union. Well, at least I thought that until I started working in labor law. Turns out that we don't all agree on that, and employers would rather fire someone for thinking about unionizing than engage in fair practices for their employees. And the current law is not enough protection. This is why we need the Employee Free Choice Act. The EFCA ensures workers protection when they seek to unionize and allows first-time contracts the same protections offered to ongoing contracts. It's a simple law that could lead to great things.

We got the weekend and the forty-hour work week from unionized labor's first hurrah--just imagine what we can get from the next.

5. Create a plan for responsible global engagement
On Day 1 of his administration, President Bush enacted a global gag rule, forcing global aid to cease to provide family planning information. This was a striking move for his first day and it sent a clear message to many--Bush idiology was going to rule the day, not diplomacy or common sense. Since then we have watched as our towers crumbled and our nation sought after the wrong people for the wrong reasons. We called on the world to change, while we engaged in politics that were exclusionary and dangerous.

On Day 1 of Obama's administration, we need to set the tone for a more dynamic world view. We need to negotiate. We need to allow common sense to run through all of our policies. We need to recognize that not every nation wants a democracy. We need to appreciate our differences and learn to build on them. This is more lofty of a goal than practical of one, but it is a necessary goal, nonetheless.

It might be hard to see how progressives can help. But we can. We can support programs that foster worldwide understanding. We can support legislators who engage in dynamic world politics and work to eradicate those who favor a more dogmatic approach. We can support funding for programs throughout the world that allow us to be seen as the nation of opportunity we can be, and not the stagnant stalwarts we've become. We can do our part.

6. Advocate for more women and people of color on the bench and to appointed positions
I know this one seems out of place with the lofty ideals cited above and to some it may seem to whisper of quotas--but if you've read my stuff before, you know that I'm not about supporting women for no reason but their gender or the color of their skin. However, it is sad that this day in age we have a lack of representation from females and persons of color.

There is a huge gap to be filled here for women. Of the 179 federal bench positions available, only 48 of those are held by women. This is astaggeringly low 26% compared to the 51% majority women hold in the population. Only 33 women have ever held a cabinent level position in the history of the U.S. This is horrendously low considering there are 19 current cabinent-level positions available.

People of color aren't looking much better. Sure we have a president-elect who is a minority, but the federal bench is predominately white. According to the last census, of the 58,355 state and federal judges on the bench, 48,530 of them are white--a staggering 82%. The fact that we don't keep better statistics on this is telling.

Obama has the chance to make a real change here and public support is key. We need to lift up those qualified candidates and make the federal system a more diverse body. The composition of our federal government should reflect the people, and right now it only reflects a certain type of person that it has reflected for far too long.
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There is so much to do, and so many things to explore. Our opportunities are endless, if we allow them to be. Progressives need to take this next month and relax, because we have a long road ahead of us until we get to the great society we all envision. It's going to take a tremendous amount of work and we'll have arguments along the way, but if we keep key priorities at heart, we'll achieve more than we ever thought imaginable.

The struggle is not over. It has only just begun.

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