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Yes! But How?

How can we gain the power to make the progressive agenda real?  I have a few ideas.


It has been said that in politics, there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests.  This doesn't mean you have to lose your moral compass, only that you must keep your eyes on the prize, and be open to working with a broad range of people with whom you have some alignment.  The left's resistance to this may be the single biggest obstacle to our gaining power.


The movement must work with, but remain independent of, the Democratic Party.  Ideally, we would have a progressive political party like they do in other countries.  Here, at least in the short term, that doesn't work. That makes it even more important that we have a public identity separate from the Democrats.

Electoral reform, a key to fair political competition and voter empowerment, must be a priority for all progressives.

We need some kind of national network to help progressives work together and contest for power effectively, as well as a related shadow cabinet, research and communications hub.


Local victories are being won, coalitions and networks are happening, and there's a lot of good work there.  But without leveraging those up to a higher level, we can't come close to truly changing our society.


I believe in capitalism, though I support many policy ideas coming out of the democratic-socialist camp.  The business community can, should, and does contribute significantly to the progressive project.

Some other key ideas below.

Photo of Paul Wellstone

The Wellstone Triad

I believe in the late great Senator Paul Wellstone's approach to political action: an integrated system or feedback loop comprising good public policy, grassroots organizing, and electoral campaigns.  All are equally important, but it’s the strategic integration of the three that is the key to success.  This is too often missing in our fragmented and competitive progressive world.  As explained in the Camp Wellstone training manual, 2004:


Policy provides direction and an agenda for action.


Grassroots organizing builds a constituency to fight for change.


Electoral politics is the main way we contest for power and hold decision makers accountable. 


Electoral politics without grassroots organizing is a politics without a base.


Grassroots organizing without electoral politics can be a marginal politics.


Electoral politics without policy and program is a movement without a direction.


More background info here:

Graphic description of the four elements, Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses and Threats

SWOT Overview

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  It is a widely used strategic planning tool that creates a 360 degree view, identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving the objectives of a project.


The point of doing a SWOT analysis is to help you make effective decisions and plans for how you will achieve your goals and objectives for ultimate success, and/or need to adjust them.


Any organization or group should nail down its mission (why it exists) and vision (what ultimate success looks like) before embarking on a SWOT analysis.  


I will use my mission/vision and my SWOT analysis of the progressive movement to select strategically important topics for each “SWOT Sunday” blog post.


I briefly outline my initial SWOT analysis below. This is essentially what first came to my mind when thinking about this.  It will no doubt evolve as time goes on.


Steps necessary to execute strategy-oriented analysis involve identification of internal and external factors, selection and evaluation of the most important factors, and identification of relations existing between internal and external features.


For instance, strong relations between strengths and opportunities can suggest good conditions and allow prioritizing an offensive strategy. On the other hand, strong interactions between weaknesses and threats could be a warning and suggest prioritizing a defensive strategy.

SWOT Analysis Of The Progressive Movement


1 New, mass-based, organiz-ing-driven organizations including Indivisible, Sunrise Movement, Our Revolution and DSA, along with other organizations and networks who are effective on more of a local/regional level.



2 Progressives and Democrats have the field of innovative, people-centered, effective policy to them-selves. While Democrats too often settle for small ball, are too close to corporate interests, and don't have enough power to enact sweeping change, the contrast with the GOP is still very striking.


3 A potentially great story to tell.  Partly because we haven't come together around a set of values, we've done a poor job of telling our story. Right wing narratives are far stronger than ours.


Once we have values in hand, a plus will be that many media workers are sympathetic to us. 


In arts and culture, news, academia and public relations, greater and more strategic investment in media and communications could help us win hearts and minds and ultimately political ascendance.


1 Elite capture of the Democratic Party means they just don't function as a choice that's clearly differentiated from the GOP. Too many people, especially poor people and those outside blue cities, are excluded.  Dems spend on ads rather than organizing, and worst, they actively favor big business/the wealthy and hold progressives back within the party.


2 No ALEC.  The left is far less strategic, long-term, coordinated, and ruthless in its approach to gaining power at all levels.  ALEC is massively strategic and effective.  The left holds a protest at ALEC's annivers-ary party rather than building its own structure to gain power, develop and enact key progressive policies broadly.  There are groups working on this, which is great.  The question is, how can their efforts be coordinated and scaled up?


3 We haven't defined our values or ideological principles.  
Bhargava and Hardisty say in “Wrong About The Right”: By carefully constructing an ideological blueprint, the right has been working…with a set of unifying ideological principles...Support for 'family values,' limited government, a strong military, white domination and the primacy of Christianity…have served the right well."

However, "progressives are not...clear about what we want in terms of a role for government, a just economy or rights for individuals and groups.”  The left has long allowed internal strife to keep us from developing unity around principles.  We continue to allow this at our peril. Without clarity around our goals, how can we make good decisions on actions or strategy?

4 Progressive organizations often don't have strong cultures. A strong culture creates pride and unity around the mission, and commitment to doing the work to achieve it.  It welcomes new people and integrates them into the culture. A strong culture is a place where people can do their best work, trust others to do the same,  frequently make their own decisions, and speak up in a productive way about conflicts and problems.  Places with strong culture attract and keep good people.


1 The political environment now is more conducive to progressive growth than even a few years ago.  Unions, climate, even socialism are more popular.



2 The fact that people live better in "Blue States/Cities” is a great selling point everywhere. Many "red state" residents have misery comparable to Third World countries.  We deliver on what matters to people, at least more than the GOP, and we should be hammering that point.


3 Late stage capitalism in many ways just isn't working.  We have the opportunity to lead the debate on what comes next.  Certainly neither the GOP nor mainstream Democrats are going to do it.  Our potential to challenge the hegemony of what Bernie calls “unfettered capitalism,” and present alternatives, is a key tool for victory.


1 Elite capture contributes to lukewarm Dem support.  The right inflames resentment of “coastal elites” and their all-too-real condescension to the working class, as well as fear of “others” like LGBTQ people. It cuts us off from too many people and helps the GOP distract from their own manifest failures.



2 Escalating crises favor the prepared.  As Milton Friedman said, “Only a crisis…produces real change...The actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around... the politically impossible becomes politically inevit-able.”  It worked for the neoliberals. We need to be ready with policies and constituencies lined up to win a crisis. Far from that now.


3 Looming authoritarianism If we don't define ourselves, they'll do it for us, and slide on into fascism.


Our dithering gives the right a great opportunity to paint us as devils.


Our democracy is in extreme danger.  They have people actively engaged in real life political violence against our people.  They have elected officials willing to hang onto power by any means necessary. 


We must be much more ready to fight fascism on multiple fronts, and build stronger and deeper support.


4. Biden loses the election to Trump, ushering in an era of news so bad it couldn't be overstated. I believe he's done better than expected. A lot of our policy desires were literally impossible to achieve with the Congress we have.  That being said, a lot of people are NOT in any way better off.  Gaza is Biden's Vietnam. How can we help Biden get re-elected and still build progressive power and progressive results?

5 Our political system is structured to make it hard for people to be properly represented generally, and for us to achieve significantly greater power. 

There are many aspects of our system that differ from what most countries have, especially developed countries.  These "rules of the game" must be re-written for us to truly compete.


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