Don't Drink the Tea. Think With the WE.
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“Democrats need to find out what they stand for and get busy standing for it.”

In a very well written piece, “Which Side Are You On?”, writer Andrew Cole calls out the Democratic Party for doing nothing but trying to elect other Democrats and riffs on other lessons learned from the Wisconsin recall elections. His article argues that Democrats blew an opportunity to make the recall elections about what the protesters were fighting for, collective bargaining rights, and instead tried to turn it into a soft debate about populism. As the 2012 Presidential Election gains steam, I wonder if Democrats will have the guts to go on the attack and fight to regain the fundamental rights stripped by the Tea Party’s radical agenda or if they will rally under a less controversial message, with hopes of keeping their incumbents in place and picking up a few extra seats. It seems to me, and presumably to Andrew Cole, that the Democrats need to find out what they stand for and get busy standing for it.

Here is an excerpt from “Which Side Are You On?”

While conventional wisdom dictates that it was good politics to de-emphasize collective bargaining, Democrats missed a crucial opportunity to change the terms of the public debate on organized labor. Walker and the GOP spent weeks demonizing public workers and the unions that represent them, and instead of hitting back on behalf of the very same people who worked tirelessly to help them seize the senate, the Democrats decided to accept the Republican’s terms. Even if Democrats eventually take both houses and the governor’s office, can labor really count on them to restore their rights?

Before the election, union-organizer-turned-journalist Josh Eidelson suggested that the Democrats were embracing a class-based populist message, and that the recalls would provide a test case for this strategy going forward. He notes that Democrats often “dabble in populism” without actually embracing it once elected, but seems to think that something is different this time; the Democrats may have had a genuine change of heart when it comes to speaking in stark terms of rich vs. poor or worker vs. boss. From my vantage point, it looks like they’re still dabbling. Their rhetoric is missing the fire and militancy of a genuine worker’s party, which ought to speak in terms of protests, occupations, and strikes and help workers understand and articulate an alternative vision of economic justice rather than emphasizing elections and accepting the terms of corporate capitalism as the limit of its vision. The Democrats channelled the movement’s best energies into electoral politics with the aim of increasing their own power. By abandoning the collective bargaining issue, the Democrats showed their true colors and proved once again that the Democratic Party exists solely to elect Democrats.

In retrospect, perhaps funneling all of that time, money and energy into the recalls was a mistake. The Democratic Party can certainly spin it as a victory and enhance its own political power, but it was working people, union and non-union alike, who occupied the Capitol for weeks and prompted the 14 Democrats to leave the state. Tens of thousands of people in the streets of Madison sent a message to the elite, Democrat and Republican alike, that they could not ignore. The protest movement, with spontaneous acts of civil disobedience, mass rallies, and a militant posture, genuinely empowered workers to take matters into their own hands. The Democratic Party co-opted that energy to serve its own political ends and did more to demobilize the protest movement than any Republican could have hoped for. But are their ends the same as ours?


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