My grandmother used to say..
“Democrats fall in love. Republicans fall in line.”
I’m not sure what my grandmother would say about the chaos that makes up our political landscape in 2017, but I think it would be safe to rephrase Grandma’s words as..
“The left thrives on passion. The right thrives on conformity.”
Being a die-hard advocate for Bernie Sanders and the mantra he espouses, I have repeatedly been told that my group and I are “just like the Tea Party”. These words are most certainly meant as an insult, but before we dismiss this assessment out of hand, let’s examine what we have in common with these right-wing radicals and let’s discard all that we do not stand for and use only what was effective for them.
Consider this article a blueprint for political activism.
How can we drag our government, kicking and screaming, to the left?
What tactics made The Tea Party so successful?
And what were the mistakes that ultimately destroyed their movement?
Let’s examine, take what we want and leave out the racism and hatred synonymous with The Tea Party.
The Tea Party Was Completely Dissatisfied with their Republican Leadership
A movement needs people and the post 9/11 GOP was simply not conservative enough for millions of Republicans. This dissatisfaction provided fertile ground for the growth of a new populist movement that took the GOP by storm.
Much in the same fashion, the left has grown sick and tired of corporate Democrats who masquerade themselves as representatives for the working class, while cashing huge checks from the large corporations that dictate their policy decisions.
The left sent a resounding message to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment in 2016 by refusing to vote for her, even against a fascist candidate that the Democratic Party intentionally elevated in order to ensure victory for their corporate-owned nominee.
Just like The Tea Party, our movement is issue based and not set up to follow a single candidate. We are the millions who stood up alongside Bernie Sanders, to fight against tyranny, but these same people showed that they were committed to destroying the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, when they blatantly refused Sanders’ suggestion to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Jill Stein claims that 90,000 Michigan voters filled out their down-ballot, but left the presidential line blank and that this proves voter fraud against Hillary Clinton. I counter with the more likely hypothesis that 90,000 Michigan voters wrote in the name of Bernie Sanders for President as a protest against the DNC and their rigging of the “Democratic” primary election.
Some will say that Sanders’ supporters caused the election of Donald Trump. Although Trump is definitely an unfortunate side effect of Sanders’ supporters refusing to vote for a corporate shill, the election results sent a much needed message to the DNC that the left is mad as hell and will no longer be coerced into voting for candidates that do not represent their values.
But we did not rest after the presidential election.
In fact we increased in power.
Recently Cory Booker, a shill for the Democratic establishment and probable favorite to gain the Democratic nomination in 2019, made the mistake of voting against a bill that would have made it legal for Americans to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada.
Within minutes leftists lit up social media with a list of Dems that had voted against the bill, along with a chart of how much money each candidate had received from Big Pharma lobbyists.
Booker, being the most high-profile Democrat, took the brunt of the blow-back and within 72 hours Booker decided that he didn’t have the constitutional makeup required to stand up to our movement.
Booker announced that he was no longer interested in running for president.
Just as the GOP learned to fear The Tea Party, the Democrats are gradually learning to fear our collective movement.
What else can we steal from The Tea Party to further our collective leftist agenda?
The Tea Party Was Loud
One of the lessons political activists can take from The Tea Party is that they excelled at getting in the face of their representatives.
People often overestimate politicians and think that they do not care about criticism. On the contrary, they live in constant fear of it. Many politicians say that if they receive an email, then they assume that 10 other people feel that way and if they receive a phone call then they assume that 50 other people feel that way.
So what happens when you organize a small group of people and show up at your local representative’s office?
What happens if you and your group show up at a ribbon cutting ceremony that was supposed to be a photo op for your local rep and you bring signs, chant, get up in their face and ask them what they plan to do in regards to an upcoming bill?
What happens is that your rep becomes afraid that this movement will spread and cost them their job.
They become afraid because they know that their actions are being observed.
Recently some lawmakers in my home state decided that it would be a good idea to pass a bill that would allow police officers to use “any means necessary” to disperse crowds of “10 or more” people.
I don’t have to tell you that this bill was clearly designed to make protesting illegal and to make protesters too fearful to protest.
Our local group used social media to quickly organize and we showed up at The State House to make our voices heard. We overflowed the court room and selected some of the more passionate members of our group to speak against the bill. The Bill’s author, a conservative who has also proposed bills to make it easier for drunk drivers to attain gun permits and bills that allow transgender people to be incarcerated for using restroom facilities that do not match their birth certificates, had to deal with us staring into his back the entire time he pitched the bill to the State Senate. After the bill was shot down, this fascist had to push through our army of protesters to get to the door, but more importantly, the other lawmakers, clearly bolstered by our presence, treated him absolutely ruthlessly. The bill was easily defeated due to the tremendous power of our presence. None of the lawmakers wanted to deal with our wrath. They all knew that we were watching their every move.
Politicians are very insecure people for the most part.
They literally live their lives in a perpetual popularity contest.
There is nothing that a politician fears more than a group of loud, organized, concerned citizens.
Being loud and organized are important steps, but there is more we do beyond that.
.Where The Tea Party Zigged We Will Zag
The Tea Party was very effective at scaring politicians and that is something to be modeled. Your representatives SHOULD be afraid of you and if they aren’t then you are not doing your job. We are not referring to the use of violence against government officials. In fact, that is completely ineffective on every level, as violence tends to polarize the opposition.
Our movement is a peaceful one, but it is also a movement of great force.
To put it bluntly, we will simply remind our representatives that we are watching them and that they will work for our agenda and vote the way we tell them to vote or they will be voted out of office and then we will actively seek to fulfill our promise if and when the need arises.
Our movement is a non-partisan movement, which allows us to support candidates from any party. This also allows us to pressure candidates of any party. Representatives are simply tools for our agenda, which of course, is what they were originally intended to be, before they were purchased by corporations.
As we discussed in the case of Cory Booker, there are many ways to do this. We can use social media, email, phone calls and rallies to grow our numbers and to make our voices heard.
I’ve created a rough hierarchy for grassroots political activism, to make these concepts easier to grasp. As I said this is only a rough sketch. The creativity of our members is very important to our movement. Please do not view this hierarchy as a prison, but rather as a guideline for your own ideas and activism.
The Next Level
Where The Tea Party relied on threats and hate speech, our movement realizes that this type of behavior may be effective in the short-term, but for long-term changes to be implemented it is better to keep our friends close and our enemies closer.
There is nothing to be gained from creating unnecessary adversaries. On the contrary, it is best to form friendly and peaceful relationships with our representatives, but this does not mean that we are subservient to said leaders.
As part of our mantra, we must ALWAYS be in a position of power, constantly coming from a place where we call the shots and consistently reminding our public officials that they work for us.
This means taking your activism to the next level and having someone from your group (if you can’t find someone, then that person is YOU) who is willing to go and have sit down meetings with your representatives on behalf of the group. This person does not have to be slick or polished. They do not have to own an expensive suit. All that is required of this person is that they be an articulate speaker who is capable of getting your group’s point across, along with the subtle, yet forceful, reminder that you and your group are monitoring your representative and will immediately begin phone-banking and door-knocking on behalf of their opponent in an attempt to destroy their political career if and when this course of action needs to be pursued.
But who is your representative’s opponent?
The Tea Party was good at this as well…
The Tea Party Primaried Traditional Republicans AND WON!!
Empty threats are just that. Empty and devoid of power.
While an organized group of people can be a powerful motivator on representatives locally, eventually, as you move up the ladder of power, you will run into establishment politicians, who not only wield more authority, but simply require a lot more people to scare them into taking the appropriate actions.
Many establishment politicians have been purchased by large corporations and spend the bulk of their time trying to spin and justify their votes to their constituents. These people are adept at rhetoric and pay professional writers to spin lies that make it look like they are protecting their voters, when in fact they are simply working for their donors.
Revisiting the Cory Booker example yet again, Booker claimed that he voted against the bill to import affordable prescription drugs from Canada, because he was concerned about Canadian “safety standards”. While this blatant lie might work on low-information voters, it simply does not work on those who are tuned in. Activists on the left immediately began flooding social media with memes showing that Booker had received $385,000 from large pharmaceutical companies and fact-checking articles that showed that the drugs coming from Canada were actually manufactured in the United States and therefore were already subject to the same standards as drugs purchased in the U.S..
Our movement does not care about the promises of our representatives. We care about voting records and donor money, things that cannot be disputed. Cory Booker talks a good game, but his voter record and donor money expose him.
Booker was caught in a lie and called out for being the establishment shill that he is. Any chance he had of being president disappeared in an instant. We will need some powerful people in New Jersey to take Booker down even further. Someone there needs to run a primary against him.
This is the highest level activism or what I like to call Capital A Activism. When we come up against a “representative” who does not represent us, we fire them. We do this by continuing to grow our numbers at a grassroots level. That initial group of activists that was applying pressure and affecting local policy must follow though on their threat of unseating the establishment candidate for our movement to be taken seriously.
This is done by finding (or being) a candidate who agrees with your group’s platform and by doing the grunt work of rallying, phone-banking, fundraising and knocking on doors. This is not easy work, but it is, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things that you can possibly do.
Your group will be at an extreme disadvantage due to the fact that the establishment candidate will be well funded by their corporate donors and both Democratic and Republican parties are known to funnel money to vulnerable candidates in order to run smear campaigns against their grassroots challengers.
Anyone you select to run for office from your group should be likable, hard working and able to generate excitement in your community. Your job is to work hard on their behalf and motivate others in your community to join the fight.
Just remember that our candidate will always have a huge advantage in the fact that most of your communities problems can be blamed on the current representative and people love the idea of someone new, who is going to make the changes that their community needs.
Use the dissatisfaction with the establishment candidate against them and take their seat.
Never underestimate what an organized group of activists can achieve when they are all in agreement.
Therein lies our greatest challenge.
Our movement is based on a shared collection of values. It is not affiliated with any party. It cannot be destroyed, as it exists only as a system of values shared by like-minded people. Like a virus, we seek to infect the current body and take control of it.
The establishment maintains its power by creating division among the opposition, therefore there is no room for infighting within our movement. As a movement that thrives on passion, it is important to constantly come back to our shared goals instead of focusing too hard on our differences in strategy.
Disagreement and constructive criticism lead to better solutions and the awareness of new options, but if one member believes, for example, that developing a third-party locally is the most effective way to achieve our goals, whereas another believes that infecting and reforming the local Democratic Party is the best way, then there is no need for disagreement as both actions are in line with our movement’s goals of putting Progressive pressure on our representatives.
It is always a good idea to compare and contrast strategies in an attempt to find the best method of attack, but in the end, if no absolute can be arrived at, the appropriate response would be to pursue both actions and see which one was producing the best results. Most theories fall apart in actual practice, so it is best to take an action and learn from it, rather than to waste one’s time arguing theory and never actually taking real proactive steps.
As our movement thrives on passion and the left thrives on creativity, there is the potential for division, but if we are to be successful then we must swallow our pride and be willing to work side by side with ANYONE who shares our collective vision.
For example, I have been attending meetings and rallies with local establishment Democrats. I have been making a point to have discussions with these people and for the most part I find that we have common ground on many issues. Getting hung up on our differences is counterproductive when seeking to mobilize people to action. I have also been attending meetings with the local Green Party and other left leaning political groups. I am not focusing on differences and you shouldn’t either. Our movement is not exclusive. In fact it shares goals with other political movements such as Justice Democrats, Our Revolution and Indivisible.
When we defeated the bill in our local House, I looked around the room and saw members of the local Greens side by side with Democrats and members of the local chapter of Our Revolution.
Our disagreements were not an issue, because we all agreed that this bill needed to be defeated.
Ours is a battle for hearts and minds.
We are engaged in a war for truth and justice and we must fight against the establishment which currently holds the reigns of power.
But history has shown as that “when millions of people stand together, they win.”
It is time to stand up and it is time to stand together.