President Obama gave a good speech last night at the State of the Union, and overnight polls show the American people liked it and believe he’s on their side.

That’s a good start. Now we progressive Democrats must follow through by becoming a movement with a clear, simple manifesto we can voice together in our party and in our communities. It’s time to lace up our boots and take it to the streets.

Our Democratic Movement, Part I – People over Profits

This week Morning Feature will call progressives to join a movement. We’ll offer a simple, clear, progressive message in three sentences:

  1. People matter more than profits.
  1. The earth is our home, not our trash can.
  1. We need good government for both #1 and #2.

Today we’ll discuss people over profits. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the earth as our home. Saturday we’ll discuss how both goals require good government.

But this week won’t be just about theory and messaging. It will also be about action. If progressives thought we could change the world by writing to each other on the internet, the past year should have proved the folly of that idea. This is an excellent medium for fundraising – witness our contributions to Haiti – and a good medium for organizing and planning political advocacy. But this is a poor medium for doing the advocacy. For that we need a movement in the flesh-and-blood, face-to-face world, because people trust faces more than words on computer screens. And there’s a movement waiting for us:

Our movement is the Democratic Party.

This post from the site’s founder has been quoted time and again and it’s in the DailyKos FAQ, but just in case:

This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we’re all still in this fight together. We happily embrace centrists like NDN’s Simon Rosenberg and Howard Dean, conservatives like Martin Frost and Brad Carson, and liberals like John Kerry and Barack Obama. Liberal? Yeah, we’re around here and we’re proud. But it’s not a liberal blog. It’s a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory. And since we haven’t gotten any of that from the current crew, we’re one more thing: a reform blog. The battle for the party is not an ideological battle. It’s one between establishment and anti-establishment factions. And as I’ve said a million times, the status quo is untenable.

Many of us are disappointed in our party’s performance over the past year. As President Obama admitted last night in his speech to the nation, we have reason to be disappointed. But as he also said at the end of his speech, disappointment can’t be a reason to quit. Except for most of us, it wouldn’t be quitting. Most of us have never really joined to begin with. We’ve donated to candidates. Maybe we’ve done some phone-banking. But most of us aren’t members of our local Democratic Party groups, don’t attend meetings, don’t help with or even attend local events.

Then we wonder why the party doesn’t listen to us, and maybe even talk about starting our own movement. No. Let’s join a movement that already exists.

If your community’s Democratic Party isn’t progressive enough, maybe that’s because not enough progressives are active members. Become one of those active members. Ask progressive friends in your area to come with you. Turn your local Democratic Party bluer. Then help them reach out and turn your entire community bluer. Then your state. Then our nation.

That’s how real populist movements happen. We Democrats – not tea partiers who hate government and will let business run amok – must be the party of the people. We Democrats must stand for Fred, our archetypal median voter. Because while Fred has no overarching ideology, he’ll agree with this:

People matter more than profits.

Fred, Mrs. Fred, and the Fredling live on a median family income. That varies by state, and it’s gone down since those numbers were compiled in 2006, but nationally it’s about $53,000 a year for a family of three. That’s the median; half of Americans live in families earning less. When President Obama talks about “helping the middle class,” he doesn’t mean the top 6% with family incomes of $ 150,000 or more. He means Fred. As Dr. Elizabeth Warren writes, Fred’s middle class is on the brink of poverty.

This doesn’t mean profits are always evil. But people matter more, and when there are hard choices between profits and people, we Democrats must choose the people. That’s why President Obama announced last night that he will let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for families earning $250,000 or more, work to get tax breaks for small business and repeal tax breaks for the insurance and oil companies, and to repeal tax breaks for businesses that move jobs overseas and leave Americans out of work to increase their profit margins. That’s a start, but it’s only a start.

As we’ll discuss tomorrow, the illusion that our economy can both make the wealthy wealthier and also protect Fred from poverty is based on the myth that “the pie can always get bigger.” But the real pie hasn’t been getting much bigger since the mid-1970s when the U.S. hit domestic peak oil. That’s when Fred’s inflation-adjusted income began to stagnate, and since then it’s begun to slip. The “bigger pies” since then have been based not on more flour – real increases in productivity – but on frothier whipped cream: speculative bubbles that have burst again and again.

We Democrats must stand for the principle that if our economy doesn’t work for Fred, our economy doesn’t work period. If a median income family is one bad life event away from poverty, and Fred’s is, then our economy doesn’t work … no matter how many billionaires we create. People matter more than profits, and if we Democrats stand for that, Fred will stand with us. But we progressives have to stand up….

We have to take it to the streets.

You don’t know me, but I’m your brother.

I was raised here in this living hell.

You don’t know my kind in your world.

Fairly soon the time will tell.

You … telling me the things you’re gonna do for me?

I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see.

Takin’ it to the streets (takin’ it to the streets).

Takin’ it to the streets (no more need for runnin’).

Takin’ it to the streets (no more need to hide).

Take this message to my brother.

You will find him … everywhere.

Wherever people live together,

Tied in poverty’s despair.

Are you … telling me the things you’re gonna do for me?

I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see.

Takin’ it to the streets (takin’ it to the streets).

Takin’ it to the streets (no more need for runnin’).

Takin’ it to the streets (no more need to hide).

Fred isn’t blind, and he doesn’t like what he’s seeing. We progressives must put our faces – not just our words and campaign donations – on the promise of something better. We progressives must put our faces on the promise that, for Democrats, people matter more than profits.

If you’re not willing to take that message to the streets of your community, don’t expect progressive change. Life is not a spectator sport, and neither is politics. Call your local Democratic Party today; you can find contact information here. Ask them how you can join and how you can volunteer to help. Help turn your local Democratic Party bluer. Then your community. Then your state. Then our nation.

Take it to the streets.


Happy Thursday!