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                                       politics + culture

Thursday, September 28, 2006

six weeks out

Like many of us here in the progressive blogosphere, I find the news coming out of Congress today tremendously disconcerting.  At the same time, I firmly believe that democracy is about both process (debate, discussion, public stands) and results (elections, Congressional votes, legal decisions). These two aspects of our democracy are deeply linked.

As someone who has written numerous pieces raising energy and awareness about electoral activism I know just how significant elections are...and how important what we do and how we conceptualize what we do in the next six weeks will be for all of us.

Here's a reality: in just a matter of days most absentee ballots will have been mailed out around the nation and the national mid-term elections of 2006 will have officially begun. I see what's going on in Washington with the "torture votes" as directly related to this reality. In my mind, our job is keep our eyes on the ball. Our job is to keep relentlessly building our movement.

This essay is written out of that conviction...


I think Democrats need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that the challenge we are facing this fall is a familiar one. This is not new territory.

The GOP is using national security and wedge issues like gay rights and immigration to slam Democrats. Push-polling is underway in swing Congressional districts across the nation. The RNC is spending big in state after state. High profile "side issues" are cropping up right and left and sucking the oxygen out of what a mid-term election should be about: a referendum about the party in power.

I want to be real. From the point of view of progressive and reform-minded Democrats, this year presents a challenge and an opportunity. It's not at all clear that the majority of our party or our Congressional representatives "get" the netroots reform agenda. Not in the least. Further, the media environment remains decidely negative for making our case. While we can be excited that we have more progressive infrastructure in place than in previous years, there is still so much work to do. Any on-the-ground activist will tell you: there are so many lessons for us netroots and grassroots activists to learn. Quite frankly, we are learning them...sometimes the hard way...every single day.

Now, 2006 also presents us with a number of very positive trends: reform-minded grassroots and netroots activism is on the rise, and, in district after district, fresh Democrats are taking on GOP incumbents and mounting serious challenges. I am quite sure that election night 2006 will provide us with exciting stories of Democratic success. But, friends, that prospect is not enough.

We Democrats want both legislative majorities AND the infrastructure to maintain them. That project will not be realized in one year. Even if we did succeed in winning back Congress, we all know, and have learned once again today, that our netroots reform agenda would be far from finished.

What I'd like to point out is this: our job is to fight our long term battle for our reform agenda while we fight the short term battle of the mid-term elections of 2006. The two projects, for the next six weeks, are rolled into one.

Long term we are building a movement dedicated to reforming the Democratic Party and winning back Congress. To do that we have to persuade our fellow citizens to vote for our agenda and our candidates. We need to elect candidates who "get" what it means to be a Democrat so that when they get to Congress they do us proud. In sum, these two projects are linked. We know they won't happen overnight or out of thin air.

Now, getting real, we activists also know that the shape of the 2006 mid-term elections is already largely in place. What electoral infrastructure was going to be built...has been laid out. What's left now is the execution...the debates, the ads, the battle in the press and on the blogs...and, most critically for us grassroots activists, the getting out of the vote.

My message to netroots and grassroots Democrats is this: we need to remember that we are building something long term here. We need to let that insight inform what we do this election season. Let's not let the GOP distract us from the hard work of laying out local infrastrucutre and building the connections that result in long term success.

Democracy is NOT about instant results and easy success: it is about process and results that are sustainable in the long term. It's about building infrastructure and community and maintaining BOTH from election-to-election and year-to-year. We need to be real. We progressive netroots Democrats have a VERY TOUGH dual job. We are trying to reform our party from within AND we are working in coalition with every Democrat and sympathetic citizen nation-wide to kick the GOP out of their legislative majorities. The next six weeks are where those two jobs coincide.

If there's something that I'd like you to take away from this piece it's this: this is a very exciting time. We are building something bigger than the apparent sum of its parts. Whether it's local blogs emerging to take on GOP incumbents in state after state or GOTV volunteers from 2004 reuniting every weekend to make a difference in 2006, we ARE living up to Howard Dean's vision of taking our country back. Don't let the GOP distract us from that reality.

This fall is a time to get local and stay local. This fall is a time to build infrastructure that lasts. This fall is a time to realize that our project is both long term AND short term. The friends we make doing GOTV this fall are quite likely our allies for life. This is no "one shot deal." We are in this for the long haul, and we need to realize that fact. We will not win every race we contest. We knew that going in. We will also certainly have some very HARD LESSONS that we learn coming out of this. We knew that too. But the process we are engaged in is bigger than all that.

If you, like me, are disheartened and disconcerted by what you hear coming out of Washington DC today, I'd ask you to remember this: The next six weeks we are all locked in a battle for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens. That battle is, simply put, what our democracy is all about. The friends we make in that effort, the alliances we forge, the community we develop will be part of our long term effort to take our country back.

Don't lose sight of that. We are building something bigger than short-sighted consultants and GOP strategists can envision.

In fact, I would say this to every local Democratic activist: the friends you make and alliances you build in the next six weeks are the GOP's worst nightmare.

We aren't going away. We are keeping our eyes on the ball. And that, my friends, is what will make the difference. The "people power" infrastructure we are constructing lies at the heart of every successful political movement.

Everything else is a distraction; win or lose this fall, what we are building is for the history books.

[You can read a dicussion of this post at dailykos.com.]


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