Achieving Progressive Political Unity
Based on a Speech to the Tacoma-Pierce County Chapter of
Washington Public Campaigns
Tacoma, Washington October 31st, 2009
By Kelly Gerling
© 2009 Kelly Patrick Gerling
My name is Kelly Gerling. I work as a change agent for individuals and organizations. I do this work as a counselor, hypnotherapist and family therapist with clients seeking personal change. I also do change work for organizations, usually as a leadership development consultant and facilitator of more open and honest communication throughout the organizations of my clients. One thread that runs through my work as a change agent is conflict resolution.
When it comes to social change, my work focuses on ways to resolve conflicts and divisions between and among progressives.
Progressives are so conflicted and fragmented that the very idea of progressive political unity seems hard to imagine. But as a specialist in conflict resolution, I have found that there is always a way to resolve a conflict.
I’ve been studying and working for five years on the subject of progressive political unity. And what we are doing here today is essential for that unity.
Part of progressive political unity is having a common story. We need to tell a story that defines our identity, our problems and challenges, and our goals. We need a story of who we are, and we need to share and debate ideas, tactics and strategy, both short-term and long-term.
Let’s begin at the beginning of the progressive story, which is a crucial part of the overall human story, based on the available evidence.
About 500 centuries ago, or perhaps somewhat earlier, the first fully human tribe emerged in East Africa. These people were the ancestors of all human beings in the world today. Scientists know this now, with a high degree of certainty, due to converging streams of evidence—genetic, linguistic, archeological, neurological and more.
At that time the great human migration began, and we proceeded to spread over most of the Earth. For example, by 45,000 years ago, humans had migrated to Australia, using boats or rafts to travel there. (For details of this story see the National Geographic program on the great human migration, featuring the work of Spencer Wells. Also see Richard Klein’s books called The Human Career, and also, The Dawn of Human Culture.) Humans migrated into Europe about 40,000 years ago. The earliest cave paintings there, those at Chauvet, date to 36,000 years ago.
For the first 300 centuries of our history, up to 20,000 years ago, we spread all around the world as roaming bands of hunter-gatherers. We hunted. We gathered food. We sang. We danced. We told stories around the yellow flickering flames of campfires. We began populating the continents and most of the islands in the world. Life between people was mostly cooperative.
What is the biological foundation of the progressive worldview?
I believe it is this: as parents of children who are helpless for many years, caring for them was essential for the survival of those in one’s own group. This capacity to care for children enabled caring for others as well. Humans developed close bonds of nurturing, cooperation and mutual love.
The ancient and peaceful bands of hunter-gatherers who migrated all over the world were the first progressives, and when possible, they created cooperative, egalitarian social structures and cultural norms.
But in addition to this cooperative impulse, we have another side to us. As predators we hunted animals. And as prey we were hunted by animals—big ones with big teeth and sharp claws. Our survival through history required violence and deception. Violence to harvest meat, and to prevent being eaten. Deception to hide from hunters and the hunted. And this process was accompanied by a crucial psychological mechanism: the suspension of empathy. This mechanism allowed for the killing of others, whether animals for food, or the Negative Other of enemy humans.
The seeds of violence and domination then grew within us from the beginning. Like all predators, we were (and are) capable of being deceptive and violent.
We therefore possessed two worldviews: cooperation and domination. So we developed two distinct types of politics. One political model thrived on the win/lose situation of hunting with the corresponding suspension of empathy for adversaries. The other thrived on the mutuality of cooperation and love. One saw the bad in the Negative Other (defeat them before they defeat us). The other saw others as potential brothers and sisters in a community. One wanted to take from others. The other wants to work with others. One favored mainly force, the other one favored mainly diplomacy.
And so it still is today. These basic social, biological, historical impulses are the difference between the conservative and progressive worldviews, and their corresponding political orientations. One is based on domination, the other one on cooperation.
Two Interwoven Worldviews
The interplay of these two worldviews and two forms of politics is the interwoven two-stranded braid of history. Like a double helix of DNA, domination and cooperation created a two-part dynamic through history which is still unfolding.
From 200 centuries ago to 50 centuries ago, bands cooperated and grew in size, and larger groups, villages, became more common. Gradually, lands got overpopulated and villages grew larger, sometimes into towns and groups of villages and towns we often call kingdoms. Resources dwindled. Competition for resources heated up. (For a summary of this period of our history, see the book After the Ice by Steven Mithin.)
How did our large patterns of history play out in the context of a growing population, larger groups and dwindling resources?
Starting 50 centuries ago, about 3000 BC, competition for resources accelerated further. Hunting bands based in towns and villages in search of game became warring bands searching for other peoples’ tools, women, workers and supplies. Entire societies began acquiring land and resources through theft and conquest. They said, in essence, “If we don’t conquer them, they will conquer us.” They believed in domination. They were the first conservatives.
The conservatives ruled for a long time in many places. Towns and city states conquered or were conquered by their neighbors. For protection and security, groups became larger.
Groups of kingdoms, cities and regions became empires. The first two were Babylon and Egypt. These empires spread. More of them emerged in the Americas: the Inca, the Aztec and the Maya. Most of the history of the last 5000 years involves competition between empires.
The Progressives Strike Back
The great religions arose as peaceful resistance to empires.
Then empires hijacked or co-opted religions, like Emperor Constantine in the 300s. (Karen Armstrong wrote a summary of this process called The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Traditions.)
Then, starting about five centuries ago, nation states arose to counter empires and religious tyrannies. Then, gradually, (fast-forwarding to the last century or so), the conservatives and their corporations took over many nations and conquered helpless societies.
In response, progressives instituted new forms of government empowering the people by making governments mirrors of the people. Political inventions like proportional representation arose.
And the conservatives countered with anti-democratic uses of money to gain control for an illegitimate few over majorities of the people.
This alternating pattern happened in America, and continues to this day.
American Cycles of Progressive and Conservative Eras
Conservatives ruled from the Civil War until 1900. Near the end of the century, the ruling elites were called the Robber Barons.
Progressives got some power back from 1900 to 1920. Women gained the right to vote. Unions emerged.
Conservatives took over in the 1920s.
Progressives took over America with the New Deal from 1932 to about 1975. Wages for all rose two or three-fold, and more in some sectors.
(For more details of this historical view, see The Cycles of American History by Arthur M. Schlesinger. Also see Charles Derber’s book Hidden Power.)
Then the third corporate regime of America’s history emerged. It began gaining more power with the Sunpac decision by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 1975 when money became recognized as speech for political campaigns. Lobbyists grew in number. This trend continued with the case of Buckley versus Valeo in the Supreme Court in 1976.
The third corporate regime consolidated its power much further when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, and in the corresponding years, through the Clinton administration.
But 20 years later, progressives rose up in response.
In 1999 we had the Battle of Seattle.
The George W. Bush years deepened the corporate regime’s hold on the government. Torture, conquest, and government tyranny became the norm.
Now some progressives fought back by establishing progressive caucuses in the Democratic Party in 2004.
The elections of 2006 and 2008 brought back some progressive impulses in Congress, but the hold of the corporate regime is so strong, that President Obama, through 2009, continued most of the Bush corporate regime policies—military, economic and social—with thinly veiled progressive rhetoric and some minor progressive policies. He decided to make deals with the corporations that corrupted the system, rather than to change the rules that allowed their corrupt influence to exist.
The conditions that led to the crash of 2008 were countered with an administration made up of those who helped to cause the crash and who are now striving to recreate the conditions that preceded it.
Looking over the period from 1999 to 2009, it is easy to see the progress that progressives have made.
Our progressive media is growing.
Democracy Now plays every weekday morning. MSNBC progressive news programs play every weeknight. Bill Moyers is on every week.
The progressive base that swept President Obama into power still exists and is hungry for real progressive change beyond the rhetorical changes that characterize the Obama administration.
Progressive talk radio is growing in this quest for a media of, by and for the people. This progressive media revolution is part of a nationwide progressive movement.
We are on the march. Our movements are powerful, but sadly, they are not yet powerful enough. Our presence in Congress is growing as well with the Congressional Progressive Caucus growing to its current 83 members. But they have not yet stood up to the corporate regime’s hold on health care by insurance corporations, military occupations of Muslim nations, or economic policies that serve the corporate good instead of regular people. It is Wall Street before Main Street or your street. The nation is still controlled by a powerful corporate regime.
Defeating this corporate regime and its forces of domination requires a political unity that we have not yet created. While the policies of the corporate regime are failing—they have most of the money. They have the military. They control the workplace. And Congress. They control most of the corporate media. And they determine most of the public debate.
What Now for Progressives?
So what do we do? First, think of our motive—our cause.
We have the greatest motive of all for creating political unity and acting as one. We face two converging sets of problems which place us at the edge of history in the twenty-first century. The technologies of weapons of mass destruction are spreading. The warming of our climate, depletion of resources and the destruction of our ecosystems are accelerating. This emerging global megacrisis threatens the long human quest for a peaceful, secure, prosperous world that works for all humanity. This megacrisis, if not solved, is on a trajectory towards ecocide, the destruction of the major ecosystems upon which civilization depends.
The choices before us at the edge of history are clear. David Korten wrote a book called The Great Turning, about this moment at the edge of history. The subtitle says it all. We have two choices he says: Empire or Earth Community.
The future is a race between progressive change and planetary catastrophe. We can have security and prosperity for all, or no one will be secure and prosperous.
If we fail, there will be no future historians talking about us or anyone else. Instead there will be just a few impoverished survivors telling stories about the destruction of the world and those idiots who failed to prevent it. Us.
But if we succeed in our progressive endeavor, future historians will look back on us and say “there lived a great people who rose up. They brought about the great turning and made our world work for all of humanity.
For us to do that we need the power of politics.
But we are fragmented and at odds with one another. And we face important questions:
Where do we march? When do we march? Who do we boycott or buycott? Who do we vote for when elections come? How do we vote our ideals without helping the worst of the conservatives? How do we work with the Democratic Party without supporting their intent to preserve the current corporate regime? How do we end US imperial domination abroad? How do we stop the emergence of a police state at home? How do we get corporate bribery out of elections? How do we actually bring about a true multiparty democracy which most Americans want?
There is no one progressive leader who can make decisions; nor any group that can decide for us; nor any entity that can provide a single, unifying forum for discussing such questions.
In short, we have no political unity for the American progressive citizenry.
When I began to formulate a goal for achieving progressive political unity after the election of 2004. I asked two questions:
How can we stop the insanity of the Bush administration people and their allies in both parties? How can we gain the political unity necessary to seize power in proportion to our numbers?
My Individual Quest for Social Change
I began searching for clues and ideas to achieve this nationally. Meanwhile, I went to work locally with other progressives.
Up until May of 2009, I lived in Kansas. There, we established a progressive caucus in the Kansas State Democratic Party. Those who I did this with consisted mostly of folks who had supported, in 2004, the Green Party, Dennis Kucinich, and some who supported Howard Dean. Since then, state progressive caucuses (SPCs) in state Democratic Parties have been established by grassroots progressives in a total of over 19 states. See our website at:
Here is a summary of our progressive policy ideas (which I co-authored):
And see the list of other SPCs here:
When I think about making a difference in the sorry state of our nation, it is important to realize who and what we progressives are up against in our quest to be part of the US government.
With the election of president Obama and the Democratic Party takeover of the House and Senate, we have made some incremental progress. But it is easy to see how most Democrats, including the President, intend to prop up the old systems, methods, and institutions of the corporate regime rather than bring forth a new New Deal or what we could call the third progressive regime.
The military-corporate-congressional-media-financial complex (another way of describing the corporate regime) still looms large.
And we progressives are the biggest threat to its existence. We have the policy prescriptions to change the situation by serving the wants and needs of the majority of US citizens. And the good news in favor of progressives is this: most Americans agree with progressive policies in domestic policy, foreign policy and electoral policy areas.
So now we are at the edge of history.
Either we move forward and bring about a new progressive regime, or we risk one of two outcomes: A.) a continuation of the corporate regime with its militaristic foreign policy, perpetuation of the two-party corporate-dominated system, and a semi-police state at home or, B.) the transition to a real police state at home and multiple wars on multiple fronts abroad.
And that means, because of the global megacrisis, we stand at the edge of the larger pattern of history where humanity will decide, in this century, whether civilization is to fail by continuing the trajectory of the current global, military, corporate regime—or succeed, with an American-led new progressive regime whereby we bring about a sustainable, prosperous, and secure world that is safe for diversity. Empire or Earth community. Global chaos or global cooperation. The rule of force or the rule of law.
Our adversaries who support the corporate regime in both parties have most of the money, most of the media, and most of the members of the Congress, inhabit most of the Obama administration, and about half of the Supreme Court.
So we have work to do. And to know even what that work is, we need to look at history.
I found some historical examples that frame the entire problem and the search for solutions towards the goal of progressive political unity, and an eventual establishment of a new progressive regime, or a new New Deal.
Seven Stories with Key Lessons
Story One: Malcolm X Waves His Hand–A Parable about Representative Leadership for Today’s American Progressives
Malcolm X and his colleagues in the Nation of Islam, worked to free Mr. Hinton Johnson, a gravely injured man in the New York police department jail. Johnson had been beaten by police, when he tried to intervene in a police beating of another black man.
Harlem residents were outraged. Through a phone tree, 2600 people from Harlem surrounded the police station to support getting the injured Mr. Johnson to the hospital. Malcolm X negotiated for the group with the police. After some discussion and Malcolm threatening to walk out, they agreed to get Johnson to the hospital. When this agreement was made, Malcolm X and a police sergeant came out of the police station. The crowd had not left, for they didn’t know what had happened inside. The sergeant tried to get the crowd to leave. They wouldn’t.
According to Robert Mangum, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Police, Malcolm told the sergeant, “They’re not going to move for you. . . . I’ll send them away.” So Malcolm went out to the front of the station, on the first step, and just waved his hand, and the people walked away.
Apparently they trusted Malcolm to represent their interests and those of Mr. Johnson, and that if he said go home, their job was done.
A police commissioner on the scene remarked, “That’s too much power for one man to have.” Malcolm would later take New York City to court and win the largest police brutality settlement in the city’s history.
Who had the power in that situation? Who exactly was a significant force on that day? Malcolm *and* the group. Either was powerless without the other. THAT is the power of cooperation. We can learn to elect progressive leaders we trust to represent us to wave a hand for us to stand up, or stand down, or vote as a bloc.
Story Two: Chalmers Johnson and the socialist party of Japan–Divide and Weaken
Former CIA historian Chalmers Johnson revealed that in the years immediately following WWII, a Japanese socialist party emerged. The CIA undermined it in a very precise way. How? They formed *another* socialist party. That way the socialists were divided. Here is what he said in an article published at tomdispatch.com:
“In Japan, in order to prevent the Socialist Party from coming to power through the polls, which seemed likely during the 1950s, we secretly supplied funds to the representatives of the old order in the Liberal Democratic Party. We helped bring wartime Minister of Munitions Nobusuke Kishi to power as prime minister in 1957; split the Socialist Party by promoting and financing a rival Democratic Socialist Party; and, in 1960, backed the conservatives in a period of vast popular demonstrations against the renewal of the Japanese-American Security Treaty. Rather than developing as an independent democracy, Japan became a docile Cold War satellite of the United States — and one with an extremely inflexible political system at that.”
Are WE giving the CIA anything to worry about in the US? I don’t think so. We are divided. We are weak. And the CIA doesn’t need to divide us. We have divided ourselves. But we can learn to resist that which divides and weakens us.
Story Three: Phillip Agee Described CIA Tactics in Central America for their Favored Party to Win–Unite and Strengthen
CIA agent Phillip Agee referred to the actions of the agency in Central America: “the agency’s job was to penetrate, weaken, divide, and destroy those political forces that were seen to be the enemy, which are those to the left of social democrats, normally, and to support and strengthen the political forces that were seen to be friendly to US interests . . . ”
And when they wanted to mount a credible opposition to an established “enemy” government, they united the opposition.
Here is his description of how the CIA united the opposition in Nicaragua in the 1980s:
“NED [a private firm] had been active also in Nicaragua from 1984 on, and NED and its associated foundations—all four of them—were also quite active in penetrating and trying to influence the political electoral process in Nicaragua which begins in about 1988, but really gets going in 1989. In order to get the anti-Sandinista vote out and to monitor the elections to create an anti-Sandinista political front the CIA and NED established a civic front called Via Civica and their ostensible job was political education and activism, civic action, non-partisan civic action. When in actual fact all their activities were designed to strengthen the anti-Sandinista side. So first there was the Coordinadora, then Via Civica, and finally the unification of the opposition, and they didn’t achieve this until about August of 1989, about 6 months before the elections, quite late, but they’d been working on it for a long time, and of the twenty opposition political parties, they unified—many simply through bribes—fourteen of these parties and they called it the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO). And UNO ran a single candidate for all the different positions, and the United States selected Violetta Chamoro to run as President.”
He described their favorite tactics: uniting the opposition with unifying colors, with money, with umbrella groups to bring them together. And he said it often worked. The CIA has, so far, little to worry about in American progressives. But we can learn from their tactics. We can learn to unite and strengthen ourselves.
Story Four: Progressive Political Unity in Ireland in 2007—How Progressive Unity Happens with Proportional Representation
In the United States, the House of Representatives does not have proportional representation. Rather, it consists of 435 single-seat districts whereby the candidate who gets the most votes in district elections wins. And votes are influenced by the contributions of money to the campaigns of their favored candidate–money which buys publicity for reaching the 700,000 individuals in each district. And votes are biased even further by designing districts to serve the reelection advantages of the dominant two parties. Single-seat-districts, with whomever gets the most votes winning, results in two major parties and effectively excludes any party that represents less than about 25 percent of the population. It is really a most-voters-lose system. These rules are the basis for the system being a two-party system. However, proportional representation, invented in the mid-nineteenth century, solves the main problems of this system and creates a multi-party legislature.
Ireland has an electoral system with proportional representation. In their 166-seat assembly, the center-left party called Fianna Fail won 78 seats in an election in 2007. But their previous partners in their majority governing coalition, the Progressive Democrats (a center-right party, strangely enough) lost six of their eight seats. So to govern again, they needed the six seats of Ireland’s Green Party. Green Party leader Trevor Sargent, after nine days of post-election negotiations, said that he believed “that we have a basis for an agreement on a programme for government which we are now going to present to our members.”
What is noteworthy here is that in Ireland, progressives do have political unity. Their multi-party democracy based on proportional representation, by its design, gives people political unity in the government if they have enough voting members to gain their party access to the legislature.
What is proportional representation? It is a system whereby groups of people within a population gain access to that population’s legislature such that the proportion the group has in the population is mirrored by their population in their legislature. It is a system that is advocated by the progressive platforms of the Green Party, Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinch. But . . . in lieu of having proportional representation in the existing US government, how can progressives gain progressive political unity? In addition to advocating proportional representation for the US government, we can also learn to use proportional representation to govern ourselves, if we choose to do so.
Story Five: New Zealand Changes from a Two-Party System to a Multi-Party Democracy
In 1978 and 1981, New Zealand’s two-party system experienced some severely distorted election results. The winning party, National, won a majority of the seats in their single 92-seat parliament, yet their other major party, Labour, won the most votes. And a third party, Social Credit, won 16 and 21 percent, and only won one and two seats.
Labour came back and won Parliament in 1984 and subsequently established a Royal Commission on the Electoral System. In its 1986 report, after intensive study, they recommended the adoption of a new Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system modeled after Germany’s.
In 199o, National campaigned on having a national referendum on the issue of election reform. They had the first of two in 1992, with 84 percent of voters choosing “a change to the voting system.” Then, 14 months later they held a second referendum pitting the new MMP system against their existing system. MMP won getting 54 percent of the vote. A new proportional system was born, giving New Zealand a 120 (or so) seat parliament with five to seven parties. Since then they have had six elections, one every three years, and the system remains in place. They govern with a coalition of parties formed after each election.
A fine summary of global electoral systems has been published by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Their superb summary of electoral systems across the world is called Electoral System Design. It remarked about the New Zealand transition to proportional representation that, “the new voting system has seen the index of disproportionality plummet from an average of 11 per cent for the 17 FPTP elections held between 1946 and 1993, to an average of 3 per cent for the first three MMP elections.”
Story Six: The establishment of the Basque Parliament in 1980
The people of the Basque Country autonomous community of Spain decided to create a body of representatives to govern themselves. They did this on their own.
Here is a brief description of the Basque Parliament:
“It is composed of seventy-five deputies representing citizens from the three provinces of the Basque autonomous community.
“The elections are held using closed list proportional representation with seats allocated on a Provincial basis using the D’Hondt method of allocation. In order to qualify for seats in a particular province, electoral lists must receive at least 3% of the votes cast in that province including votes “en blanco” i.e. for “none of the above.”
“From 1984 to 2001, the Election threshold was 5% in each province. Sessions of the Basque Parliament are conducted in both Basque and Spanish, with translation services.
“Thanks to an electoral norm aimed at promoting gender equality within the parliament, the ranks of women and men are close (34 to 41), and in the 2005-2009 term women were in the majority.”
They didn’t wait for permission from the central government to organize themselves.
Story Seven: The origins of the ANC–An Attitude that Led to Political Unity in South Africa by Defeated Zulu Tribes
The South Africa Union formed in 1910.
In South Africa, those advocating the rights of racial minorities and the end of the Apartheid system formed the African National Congress in 1912.
After the South African defeat of the Zulus in 1879, the Zulu tribes were scattered and its members brought into “such a state of poverty and helplessness that the descendants of the heroes of Isandlwana were compelled to work in the kitchens of the whites, cooking their food and washing their dishes, scrubbing and polishing the floors of their homes.”
The ANC founder, Pixley Ka Izaka Seme, “decided to call a conference of all the Chiefs and prominent educated Africans to meet in Bloemfontein on January 8, 1912, two years after the establishment of the Union of South Africa.”
“ . . . It was a gathering of tribes that had never met before except on the battlefields. It was a gathering of Chiefs who had never seen each other before. And they had come from the four provinces and the High Commission territories. It was a gathering of educated Africans who had never exchanged views before.”
Pixley Ka Izaka Seme began the conference with these words:
“Chiefs of royal blood and gentlemen of our race, we have gathered here to consider and discuss a scheme which my colleagues and I have decided to place before you. We have discovered that in the land of their birth, Africans are treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water. The white people of this country have formed what is known as the Union of South Africa – a union in which we have no voice in the making of laws and no part in their administration. We have called you, therefore, to this conference, so that we can together devise ways and means of forming our national union for the purpose of creating national unity and defending our rights and privileges.”
“We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes today.”
What can the American Progressive Citizenry Do to Gain Power?
What is necessary for progressives to gain power in proportion to our self-identity in the US population? And what is necessary for progressives to gain power in proportion to those who identify with our platform of solutions to problems in the three great domains of government: domestic policy; foreign policy; and electoral-and-constitutional policy?
I suggest this: the solution to political unity is simple and obvious—it is literally right before our own eyes and has been done by many other groups in similar situations to ours.
The solution is embodied in the stories above: representative leadership like Malcolm X waving his hand; resisting that which divides us, as in the story of the CIA dividing the Japanese socialists, and instead, doing that which unites us, using the strategies of the CIA to unite ourselves as the opposition to the corporate regime; recognizing that we don’t have proportional representation in the government, but progressives back it as a way to create fair representation, as in the example of Trevor Sargent and the Irish Green Party; appreciating how we in the US can learn from the example set by New Zealand to deliberately create an improved system of representation; learning from the Basques and the parliament they created for themselves; and adopting the attitude of political unity demonstrated by the founders of the African National Congress, a group that now runs the government of South Africa—with a system of proportional representation, including mandatory seats for women.
So What Do We Do to Bring About Progressive Political Unity?
How can we conceive of the problem? We must realize that we are split among different groups, and therefore weak and impotent.
How are progressives split?
Here are a few of the various progressive groups:
– Environmental progressives
– Identity-based progressive groups (Blacks, Hispanics, Women, Youth, LGBT people and others)
– Progressive NGOs, churches, non-profits
– Spiritual and religious progressives
– Philosophical, agnostic and atheistic progressives
– Anti-war/Anti-empire/Pro-international law progressives
– Anti-corporate globalization/Pro-global justice progressives
– Pro-immigration rights progressives
– Progressive labor unions and members
– Progressive economic populists
– University progressives and progressive groups
– Progressive political parties (Green Party, progressive caucuses in the state Democratic Party, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Vermont Progressive Party and socialist parties)
– Independent progressive leaders (See the list of authors at CommonDreams.org)
Have I left out any key groups or categories of progressive people?
The individuals in these divided groups (and some individuals are members of several categories) are united by a belief in progressive policies. Such policies come from a progressive worldview.
So the key idea here comes from this question:
How can we use the electoral policies of governance in the Green Party-Nader-Kucinich progressive platform intended for the governance of the nation, to govern ourselves?
Obviously, the answer to this question would mean some form of proportional representation to unite the above groups into an elected, representative, democratic umbrella assembly, caucus, council or congress. Such an institution would provide a forum for debate, for making decisions, and to help inform its constituencies among the American progressive citizenry as to what those decisions are. This institution could be formed by representatives from four groups: the State Progressive Caucuses (SPCs) in the Democratic Parties of the states, the Green Party, smaller state progressive parties, and independent leaders. It would be called something like the American Progressive Congress, the Progressive Alliance, or United Progressives.
Such a body could even have an American Idol-style online national instant referendum to provide feedback by its members about decisions, or to verify them. And then the range of decisions could be made: buycotts and boycotts, marches, tax protests, voting as a bloc, candidates to back, presidential election candidates and strategies, and more could be made by progressive representatives—the leaders we choose to lead us. Because of such unity, our numbers would grow as would our political power. Long-range plans could be developed and implemented. Most of all, an umbrella body we trust, could empower us with unity by representing our diversity, tied together by our common progressive worldview and platform of progressive policies.
This is a long-term idea, but there are short-term actions that any progressive can take.
Progressive Political Realities
Here are two important political realities: we have one party that has the scale, infrastructure and numbers to bring about an overthrow of the corporate regime: the Democratic Party founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. And we have one national progressive party that can create a political threat against non-progressives in close general elections: The Green Party of the United States. There are also smaller, but important progressive parties such as the Vermont Progressive Party.
Short-Term Actions to Take
Join your state Democratic Party and your progressive caucus in your state, and/or form such a caucus, and/or join your state Green Party. Also, support national progressive political organizations.
Here are key specific links:
In Washington State . . .
Washington State Democratic Party:
Progressive Caucus in Washington:
Washington State Green Party:
In Oregon . . .
Oregon Democratic Party:
Progressive Caucus in Oregon:
(It has not yet been established.)
Oregon Green Party
Nationally . . .
State Progressive Caucuses List:
Learn about Key Electoral Reform Policies by Progressives
The best sources I’ve found about problems of the Constitution in general and the Senate in particular are these books:
• Larry Sabato: “A More Perfect Constitution”
• Daniel Lazare: “Frozen Republic”
• Steven Hill: “10 Steps to Repair American Democracy” and a longer book: “Fixing Elections”
• Sanford Levinson: “Our Undemocratic Constitution”
• Robert Dahl: “How Democratic is the American Constitution?”
• Doug Amy: “Proportional Representation”
And this website by Rob Richie and his colleagues: www.fairvote.org
Together, these sources tell a comprehensive story about our constitutional and electoral problems and likely solutions.
Sanford Levinson has articulated how very few politicians who talk about broken government connect the dots from that problem to its cause: a flawed Constitution.
For example, there is a large list of problems with the Senate: it is overpowered in terms of powers such as advice and consent over judicial appointments and treaty approvals; disproportional representation; veto power over the House; jury for impeachment; supermajority required for approving a convention or amendment; and much more.
The books above go into much more detail.
Regarding the US Senate, it is interesting to read the story of the evolution of the House of Lords. Here is a brief summary:
My favorite solution to the problem of disproportionate representation in the Senate is to amend the Constitution to require all bills pass by a new procedure: a majority of a joint session of Congress. That would solve a lot of problems. Of course there is no way the Senate would give up their own veto, so we are left with state-level work to get a constitutional convention or amendments.
And it is a conservative body like the Senate that approves our conservative Supreme Court justices. Together they keep our campaign bribery legal, preventing real democracy. Few if any nations allow private money to so dominate political campaigns as we allow in the United States.
My other favorite solution is to amend Article V itself along the lines of the Montana Constitution’s amending mechanisms.
The good news according to a book by John Dinan called “The American State Constitutional Tradition” is that we’ve had over 200 state-level constitutional conventions. The US has more historical experience with constitutional amendments because of state-level changes than perhaps any other nation.
It is the Federal Constitution that is the big problem, which should be no surprise since it was written by men in 1787 with so little constitutional knowledge. Much has transpired since then, including proportional representation, invented in 1844 by Thomas Gilpin and others who followed. Gilpin’s essay was the earliest known proposal for proportional systems. His essay is called “On the Representation of Minorities of Electors to Act with the Majority in Elected Assemblies.” He was US Attorney General from 1840-41.
A great source of ideas for electoral reforms such as proportional representation can be found here.
You can download free their booklet called Electoral System Design.
Their work is comprehensive about global electoral knowledge.
THIS idea of fixing our system via constitutional changes is the topic that Americans need to study. THIS is the conversation that Americans need to have. It is not surprising that THIS topic of electoral reform is never discussed in the corporate media. Their totalitarian rule would be threatened by reexamining the rules of the country that allowed them to execute a coup over our nation.
We don’t have a democracy. The word “democracy” is Greek for self rule, from Greek, demos kratos or common people rule. We don’t have a republic. The word “republic” is Roman for self-rule, from Latin, res publica, or affairs of the people. Instead, we have a totalitarian, non-democracy, non-republic system of rule by the rich posing as a democracy.
For a great analysis on the totalitarian nature of the US political system, see:
Sidney Wolin’s book, Democracy Inc.
We can fix this. A great progressive slogan for electoral reform is “The will of the people shall be the law of the land.” That statement by Robert LaFollette in 1912 is clearly what we need on electoral reform when public policy is conservative and public opinion is progressive.
We have plenty of work to do to bring forth a peaceful, constitutional, progressive revolution to modernize and democratize our political systems. To do that, we need progressive political unity through a new institution that governs and leads us democratically. And to actually accomplish progressive political unity, we need to identify the key barriers to such unity.
Identifying the Barriers to Conceiving of the Solution to Achieving Progressive Political Unity
For such a reality of achieving progressive political unity in America in the long term, I need your help, for I’m writing a book about it. It is obvious that there are psychological and political barriers to even conceiving of this general solution, for few people are even talking about it among progressive activists, and it hasn’t happened. What are those barriers?
I need your help in answering that question. I have some candidates for barriers but I might be wrong, or my list of psychological and political barriers might be too short.
Would you please read over this list of barriers, and if you are so inclined, let me know:
Which barriers do you agree with? Which do you not agree with? (If any.) And are there barriers that I’ve not listed? (If so, please write to me and elaborate.
Here are nine key barriers, posed as questions. (The answers to them will be provided by my book on progressive political unity.):
1. Aren’t progressives, liberals and people on the left just scattered hopelessly, or are we desiring of and capable of uniting? (What is the evidence for uniting?)
2. There isn’t a “progressive we” that really exists that can unite politically, or is there? (Where is the evidence for a “progressive we”?)
3. Isn’t change of the magnitude of creating a new progressive regime impossible, or is it possible? (What in our history indicates such a possibility?)
4. We don’t really have a progressive platform of policies that unite us—bridge issues— or do we? (If so, who wrote it? What are the bridge issues?)
5. A multiparty democracy isn’t possible in America, is it? (What in history suggests this can be done and tells how?)
6. We have to wait for a multi-party democracy to come to the United States to unite ourselves, don’t we? (Or can we unite ourselves anyway?)
7. Other nations have not solved the problem of having a corrupt, two-party system, have they? (Are there good, historical cases to study?)
8. There is no one who can decide for progressives to unify politically, is there? (Or would progressive parties and independent leaders be open to this idea?)
9. There is no way to break through the political apathy of Americans who would prefer to distract themselves from such complications with entertainment rather than study how to fix our government, is there? (Or will continued economic, military, and environmental crises wake them up and reduce their apathy?)
Please Help with These Questions
Are any of these nine questions real barriers in the minds and hearts of progressives? If so, please tell me which ones are valid and if any are not. And I’d like to know your ideas about how to eliminate these barriers.
Are there any real barriers in the minds and hearts of progressives that I haven’t listed? If so, please write to me and let me know which ones you have identified.
Kelly Patrick Gerling, Ph.D.