In her new book, No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein asserts we must reflect back on the past and understand how we wound up with Trump and to learn from our mistakes if we are to not repeat them. This post tries to do that at a national and state level.
Noting that the Democratic primary process was unbearable, Naomi Klein wrote: “Tensions during the election and in particular during the Democratic Primary were almost unbearable. For a long time I could not look at social media because all I saw were people who used to like each other warring over ‘Bernie Bros’ or ‘Hillary Bots.’ I lost friends over it, as others did on all sides.” She goes on to say that while she is eager to move beyond the election and the Obama administration and to focus on the future, some reflection on how we have gotten to Trump is necessary if we are not repeat our mistakes. She concludes, as have I that, “there is some evidence that the only lesson a lot of establishment Democrats are learning is: don’t let Russians hack your email.” There is much more to learn.
This post has devoted enough time to the Bernie-Hillary debate and so that will be set aside. If you want to review my thoughts on what we need to learn from that, click here, but today I want to look at the Obama campaign and Democratic Party efforts nationally and in New Mexico.
I followed the Obama administration closely. I have expressed some of that disappointment in my posts and I have been criticized by some Democrats in NM for criticizing Obama, Hillary, the DNC and our state party. But, as Klein states if we don’t examine our past work critically, we are simply going to repeat it. And for many of us, our disappointment goes back far further than 2008. Many of us, myself included, thought with some certainty way back in the 60’s and 70’s that our generation would change the world. Clearly, we have not, so some reflection on our democratic process and the Democratic Party in which we have placed much trust, may help us find a new path. I apologize for the length of this post, but I think it may be one of the most important I’ve done in some time and the last portion describes a clear plan for how New Mexicans can take more responsibility for achieving our still unrealized aspirations and Retake OUR Democracy.
So what happened to Change We Can Believe In?
I need to preface these comments by noting that I was completely inspired by Barack Obama; my office hosted ongoing phone banking to Nevada and my 14-year old son, Jesse, and I canvassed in Nevada. With 20 of my close friends in the room on election night there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when the TV blared that Obama had won. But Change We Can Believe In never really materialized. Why?
It started with the credit default and Wall St. bailout, when Obama offered a $700 billion bailout to the banks, I wondered why there was hardly any discussion of bailing out the people who had lost their homes, the government letting the banks fail. Wasn’t this the critical moment when we could have taken a different path, a change we could believe in and create a national public bank that would actually invest in our infrastructure and our communities, instead of speculating for obscene profits with those ‘investments’ doing absolutely nothing for our collective quality of life, but very much putting that quality of life at risk. Why wasn’t a different approach considered?
From an extremely thoughtful Rolling Stone review of the implications of the bailout: “We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it.” To read the full article, click here. To me this was the first sign that this wasn’t going to go as well Obama’s speeches. It seems slogans are easier to create than change.
There were a myriad of other disappointments, to name but a few:
- Guantanamo remaining open to this day,
- The Puerto Rico ‘bailout,’ the Western Hemisphere’s version of Greece that is destroying Puerto Rico;
- Continuous wars the entire 8 years, with drones sprinkled in, a kind of anonymous genocide done in my name with my taxes and your name and your taxes;
- Obama’s reluctance to stop DAPL or the Keystone except with fierce grassroots pressure. Where was the leadership we had voted for? Obama was supposed to be out front on things like this, not boasting that no US president had ever generated so much oil.
- Obama’s strident endorsement of the TPP was just inexplicable, as TPP would have gutted the autonomy of state and local jurisdictions from creating minimum livable wage levels, creating regulations to protect the environment, or protecting our food supplies from GMOs, as once again, private profit would have trumped human priorities;
- Obama deported 2.5 million immigrants, more than any president? Why? Most had ‘criminal’ records, but the majority of those offenses was entering the country illegally. Wasn’t the point of immigration reform to create a path to citizenship for those who were living in our country now? How many families were torn apart when the change we voted for was to find a way to maintain those families?
- And why on earth did Obama decide not to free Leonard Peltier? This one just made no sense to me. Was there some huge lobby out their advocating for keeping this very ill 80 year-old Native American in jail?
Each of these bullets, save the last, have huge human implications for millions of people and all seven of these bullets have huge implications for what we stand for as a nation. And the tears in my eyes when Obama was announced as our next president were tears filled with the hope that perhaps for once the aspirations many of us have held for decades might finally be realized.
Obamacare. But even what is claimed as one of Obama’s major policy accomplishments, is fraught with problems. No doubt, Obamacare brought healthcare coverage to millions who previously could not afford coverage, but even this legacy-level achievement had many holes, holes being disingenuously exploited daily by Trump and the GOP. For the post yesterday on Single-Payer and the flaws in Obamacare, click here.
This review isn’t about beating a dead horse, or even about criticizing a president who would look awfully good in the White House right now. It is about learning from the past eight years. What happened to Change We Can Believe In? Obama’s rhetoric was so inspiring, so compelling, so believable. For that matter, so was Bill Clinton’s Putting People First campaign as he sold the US on neoliberal policies that decimated low-income communities, primarily communities of color. How does this happen? We vote for a vision that inspires, that promises a government responsive to human needs and aspirations and we get something that caters to corporate America, at our expense.
Yesterday’s post described how the Democrats appear to have learned little about ignoring the needs of low-income and middle class America as, despite 75% of Americans supporting Single-Payer Healthcare, Democratic leadership does not see Single-Payer as part of the 2018 campaign. Why not? This is an issue that could inspire support and passion and failing to incorporate it in the campaign will just generate cynicism. Could it be that the Party health industry benefactors are the one’s the Party leadership is listening to instead of the 75% of Americans who support Single-Payer?
To be fair, the Obama administration certainly was better than any GOP administrations, there were some important policy advances made, and he conducted himself with great dignity. But the inspiring Change We Could Believe In never really materialized, the idealistic vision many of us have had in the 60’s and 70’s and still beats in our hearts, is still a distant aspiration. And with Trump in office and the GOP in control of Congress, we can only resist. So what can we do now to do more than resist and to advance those aspirations? I am only halfway through Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough in which she first covers the No, and will then move on to the Yes. I will report on her views on Yes, but for now, let’s look at New Mexico and what we can do here/
After the Convention, many of us were immersed in trying to restore our state legislature to the Democrats. Retake the Roundhouse worked with a half dozen other activist groups and the Democratic Party to launch canvassing and phone banks across the state, especially in targeted districts thought to be winnable. And we Retook the Roundhouse. Alas, we now have another lesson to be learned. With a Democratic legislature, I suspect many of us had hopes of many progressive bills getting to the Governor’s desk, forcing her to either sign or veto them. And if, as one would surmise, she vetoed most all of them, we could draw a distinct contrast between the GOP and DPNM.. As with Putting People First and Change We Can Believe In, it appears that it is not quite so simple.
While the Democrats got the long sought Ethics Commission to the ballot and an incredibly important bail reform will go to the voters in November while limits to solitary confinement were also passed. These are very important accomplishments. And a few other progressive bills advanced that were mostly vetoed. But too many bills stalled somewhere (and this is a VERY partial list):
- Health Security Act
- Predatory lending reform
- Expanded funding for K-12
- Use of the permanent fund to expand pre-k
- Expanded commitment to renewables
- Legalized marijuana and
- Several worthwhile election reform and bills limiting the influence of money in politics
So while we had retaken the roundhouse, something kept these bills from moving through the legislature, a Democratically-controlled legislature. I spoke with Peter Wirth and Brian Egolf about this and while acknowledging that too many bills got lost in the process, they still felt that much had been accomplished in 2017. And I have heard Senator Wirth say that it simply takes 2-3 or more sessions to get a bill through the Roundhouse and that the time to get traction for a bill is months before session in constituent conversations with legislators. I still am mystified that a very good idea can be introduced in a session and with a Democratically controlled legislature, it can still take multiple sessions to be passed, i.e. six years, that this is how business gets done in NM. But if that is the case, I want to return to where we started: we were going to change the world and that was decades ago and since then our electoral wins have brought us Putting People First, Change We Can Believe In and in NM a very few progressive bills passed with many more stalled in ‘how NM does business.’ But with climate change we no longer have decades or multiple sessions of the Roundhouse. So what now? If what we have done in the past has gotten us here; what can we do differently?
On the state level Retake Our Democracy has initiated interviews with our lobbying partners to help us better understand how the Democratic Party could not move bills more swiftly to the floor. We want to better understand which committees, which committee chairs, and which elected officials were responsible for key bills not getting to the floor. As both Peter Wirth and Brian Egolf have advised, this is tricky business and not easy to understand, but we have 18 months until the next 60-day session and by not trying to understand the process better, we are leaving it to our politicians. So, Retake plans to do our best to identify a few committees to focus on, a few elected officials and the procedural steps required to move things along.
We are then going to reach out to the activists we know in those communities represented by committee chairs or legislators identified as having either not been effective in advancing bills or who had actively slowed them. We will have conversations with those activists that hopefully lead to a partnership of progressive Democrats and activists who will build a local constituencies who will meet with their elected representatives, share their concerns, listen to theirs and let them know that they will be pressuring them in 2019 or, put another way, give them the coverage to advance their priorities. Our hope is that these conversations lead to a better understanding on both parts, with constituents understanding how best to work with their elected representative to advance our priorities and with legislators understanding that an engaged, educated and organized constituency has expectations and will back their pushing legislation aggressively. But if it is clear that there is no interest in advancing progressive legislation, it may be that in some districts a more progressive candidate needs to be identified and a primary campaign launched. I think the primary lesson to be learned from the past decades and most particularly the past eight years is that If we are going to get actual Change We Believe In and not just another slogan, we are going to have to begin making the democratic process our process. We are going to have to retake our democracy. This is a key strategy for Retake, as on a State level, there is only so much leverage Santa Feans can have, but by partnering with activists in other parts of the state this leverage can be exponentially more impactful.
Another part of the work we will be doing preparing for the 2019 Roundhouse session will include working with our local supporters and with those in other communities to identify a core of 10-12 pieces of legislation that could we will press for DPNM to accept as a set of legislative priorities above and beyond the DPNM platform. While this will certainly a progressive agenda, we will incorporate priorities of rural and tribal communities, not simply reflect the priorities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We will ask the DPNM Platform Committee to to work with this document and have it serve as a preface to the full Democratic Party platform. Historically, that platform has been nearly 100 items long. But when you have 100 priorities, you have no priorities and when you have no priorities you have no accountability. Clearly we need to hold our elected officials accountable.
One of Retake’s members, Tom Leatherwood is on the SPARC, the DPNM platform committee, and he is going to bring the idea of a set of highest priorities as a preamble to the full platform to the SPARC in the hopes that such a set of clear priorities will give our legislators more specific direction. We will then meet with DPNM leadership and ask them to formally adopt this set of priorities as explicit measures by which we can assess the success of the Party in the 2019 session. While it was only a brief conversation, to be continued, I spoke with Senator Wirth yesterday and he understood the need for a set of clear priorities and that having a platform of 100 planks may ensure that all constituents find their voice in the platform, it also ensures no focus. So developing that set of clear priorities will be another key Retake strategy. And most importantly for those leaders, we will also have an engaged and informed constituency who will have the backs of our Democratic representatives. While this initiative will do little to resist Trump, it will build an ever broadening base of engaged, educated, activated and organized base of power that an seek change at all levels of government. The last strategy that is clearly indicated from this entire narrative is the need to get money out of politics and this is an issue that runs through all of our disappointments. Whether at the national or state level, the lobbyists have retaken our democracy and we need to take it back. But that is another post.
Again, while this post is indeed critical of the democratic process and the Democratic Party, it was not developed just to cast stones, but rather to help us all understand that if we want the future to which we have long aspired, WE have to create it; WE have to Retake Our Democracy and WE have to work with our elected officials, engage in dialog, share our priorities, and make it explicitly clear what we want. In other words, we need to get active.
A group of us is meeting in two weeks on the 18th from 6-7:30pm, but we need to confirm the Center for Progress & Justice is available. If you are interested in being part of this work, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many roles to play from researching legislation, to helping develop a set of priorities, to talking with lobbyists and to activists in other parts of the state. We will keep you posted on developments through this blog, but hopefully you will be kept informed by getting involved directly and Retaking Our Democracy. It is OURS to take. But we won’t get it by posting on Facebook and signing petitions.
Paul & Roxanne