So your local community is hurting and needs jobs. Some in your community have asked for cleaner-and-greener infrastructure projects, but your local government is run by naysayers. Or your local government has some sensible people – maybe even progressives – and has approved some project, but your state is run by naysayers who’ve blocked it.

Either way, federal stimulus money doesn’t get to your community and people you know keep on hurting unless there’s a profit incentive to change it. Those are likely to be jobs that barely pay enough to survive, if that. Chain, meet Weak Link.

Our Democratic Movement, Part III – We Need Good Government (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature has called progressives to join our local Democratic Party groups and engage in public, face-to-face advocacy. We’ve offered 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.

Thursday we discussed people over profits. Yesterday we talked about the earth as our home. Today we’ll examine how both goals require good government.

This week is not just about theory or messaging. It’s about action. Writing to each other online is not enough; the internet is an excellent medium for fundraising and a good medium for organizing, but for effective advocacy we must become the visible faces of the Democratic Party in our local communities. To reach Fred, our archetypal median voter, we have to “take it to the streets” and make sure Fred sees effective, progressive government at each link in the chain.

If not We the People, then who?

President Reagan’s quote that “Government is not the solution to your problems; government is the problem” has become the mantra of conservatism. It sounds pithy and clever, but that’s about all it has going for it. It’s not true even for conservatism; they clearly think government is the solution to crime, or who sleeps with whom, or whether a woman carries a pregnancy to term. And it’s certainly not true for the progressive ideas I’m advocating this week. Conservatives love to say they favor freedom and private solutions, but they mean the freedom of profit-seekers to make as much profit as they can, and for the wealthy to decide through private charity which other people matter. As Meteor Blades wrote, that’s a recipe for an unhealthy society.

Most corporations won’t put people over profits. Most corporations can’t, by law. Corporate officers have a legal duty to return a profit on their investors’ money. Otherwise investors wouldn’t entrust their money. For the same reason, corporations will treat the earth as a trash can unless it’s more profitable to treat the earth as our home. It’s not that those corporate officers are evil; their legal duties to their investors leave no other choice.

Private charity isn’t a complete solution either. At any given time, one-in-seven Americans live below the poverty line. Four-in-ten of us will live in poverty within any ten-year period. Almost 60% of us will live in poverty for at least a year of our adult lives. That includes Fred, trying to scrape by on a median family income. If private charity were enough, the United States poverty rate would not be 50% higher than the average for industrialized nations.

Fred knows who will and won’t help.

Public Strategies recently polled Americans on whether they trust government or corporations “to do the right thing.” Despite what conservatives would have you believe, Americans don’t put much faith in big business:

Who Fred Trusts

Fred is not a “low-information voter.” He’s a “different information voter.” He may not know the case law I linked to above, but he watches how corporations behave in his life and the lives of people he knows. Fred trusts government, but not corporations, to “do the right thing.” But he often doesn’t know why government doesn’t work well. Only 26% of Americans know 60 votes are required to break a Senate filibuster; about as many think a simple majority is enough. And only 32% know that not a single Republican Senator supported the health care reform bill. Fred doesn’t watch cable news, and not enough of us are talking to him face-to-face about….

How government breaks down.

Back to your community, where Fred and people he knows are hurting and need good jobs that pay living wages. It’s easy to focus on Congress, and there are mistakes aplenty in Washington. But it doesn’t matter how much money Congress appropriates for spending if that money doesn’t get spent on projects that people can see. By the last statistics I could find, less than a quarter of the stimulus bill has been spent. The CBO projects only 75% will have been spent by the end of 2010. Most of the stimulus bill was tagged to support state and local projects. If naysayers block those projects at the state or local level … the money sits idle.

For progressives, that is the worst possible result: a large, expensive federal program that most Americans think has been wasted because they haven’t seen any results locally.

Take it to the streets, locally.

As we’ve seen this week, Fred thinks people matter more than profits. He agrees that the earth is our home and not our trash can. And he still trusts government to do the right thing. But we’ve also seen that Fred is a “different information voter.” He needs to see results in his own life and the lives of people he knows.

That means locally. That means we progressives must help make changes happen in our own communities. Life is not a spectator sport, and neither is politics. Call your local Democratic Party today; you can find contact information here. Many of those groups are tiny, with fewer than 30 members. We’ve let our local parties atrophy while we complain about what isn’t getting done in D.C. That has to change, or Fred won’t see change.

Call or email a local Democratic Party group today. Ask them how you can join and how you can volunteer to help. Take it to the streets.


Happy Saturday!