Posted 12 months ago on May 8, 2014, 4:14 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Progressive Activism Seen as Key to Democratic Turnout in Midterm Elections
Thursday, 08 May 2014 00:00
By Sam Knight, Truthout | News Analysis
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) warned that Democrats are likely to lose ground to Republicans this November if they continue to emphasize fundraising over organizing.
He told Truthout that midterm turnout is "killing us" and that the party needs to rally working- and middle-class families to bridge the enthusiasm gap.
"Republicans don't really vote more than us during the non-presidential years; they just vote the same as they always do. We've got to re-engineer our turnout," he said.
The cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said that "issue-based campaigning" could facilitate organization and boost support for the party's candidates this November. He singled out minimum wage increases, immigration reform, equal pay and mandated paid sick leave as being crucial to this strategy.
"That will get voters to say, 'Oh okay, if that's what you're talking about, I'll show up,' " he said. "But if it's just 'Come vote' - it's like, for what?"
Ellison explained that an organizational strategy needs to be built on "progressive activism in the south" and in inner-cities, and described collaboration with organizers as part of an optimal left-leaning governing mantra.
"Trying to go dollar for dollar with these Republicans is a losing strategy."
"My whole political orientation now is as much about redefining progressivism as a strategy of reaching and gaining power as much as it's a policy agenda," he said. "We might say 'raise the minimum wage, equal pay, immigration reform,' and that's a policy agenda. But if you don't have a strategy to engage people, all across this country - who are working, who are the ones who make the profits for these corporations - then you're not really complete, right?"
The congressman made the comments about organization and campaign finance in response to a question from Truthout about an assertion made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in October 2013. In an interview with Playboy magazine, the senator lamented that in six years of going to Democratic Caucus meetings, he has "never heard five minutes of discussion about organizing. It’s about raising money."
"Trying to go dollar for dollar with these Republicans is a losing strategy," Ellison argued. "I'm not saying that money's irrelevant. What I'm saying is we've made it too important."
"We've got to break the mold of sitting in these cubicles all day asking people for millions of dollars. We've got to get out in the street and talk to the people. That is the road to success."
At the start of the interview, Ellison described organizing as "literally the antidote to the Koch Brothers billionaire-type politics." The congressman has seen in his home state how this "antidote" has worked. In 1990, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) famously defeated then-incumbent Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) despite being outspent by a margin of 7-to-1. Ellison called Wellstone his "inspiration."
"I loved that guy. I've got pictures of him in my office because I admire him so much," he said. Wellstone died in a plane crash while campaigning for re-election in 2002.
"Politicians see the light when they feel the heat."
The cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus spoke to Truthout during an April 28 march organized by the National People's Action (NPA), the National Domestic Workers' Association (NDWA) and Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United. He joined the last leg of the march, as it approached Capitol Hill, before addressing demonstrators in Upper Senate Park. Ellison thanked the crowd for pressuring Congress to consider the Minimum Wage Fairness Act - a bill that would raise the federal wage floor to $10.10 per hour two and a half years after presidential approval and tie it to the Consumer Price Index six months after that. He said, "We wouldn't be talking about it today" if not for the work of activists.
"Politicians see the light when they feel the heat," he proclaimed.
On April 30, however, a mere two days after the march, a Senate motion to invoke cloture on the proposal fell by six votes due to Republican opposition. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was the lone Republican to vote "aye," and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) was the lone Democrat to vote in the negative - a procedural tactic employed by Reid so that the bill can be brought up again during the 114th Congress.
The continued opposition to a minimum wage increase could hurt the GOP, but its actions since the 2012 election don't appear thus far to be dampening their candidates' prospects for a successful November. A recent Harvard University poll found that Democratic voters aren't as likely as Republican voters to cast ballots this midterm - the latest in a series of non-presidential votes favoring the right. Over the past six federal polls, overall turnout has been higher in presidential elections by an average of about 20 percentage points, and a 2011 study by George Mason University professor Michael McDonald concluded that midterm turnout among older voters has repeatedly benefited Republicans throughout the past decade. Two out of the last three midterm elections resulted in gains for Republicans, with the exception being the vote that marked the midway point of George W. Bush's second term - a year, characterized by voters' widespread disillusionment with the Republican party, amid four years of record low presidential approval ratings. Attempts to raise the minimum wage between now and November can only help Democrats avert this slow motion car crash. According to a January Quinnipiac poll, 71 percent of Americans favor a minimum wage increase, with 51 percent favoring a raise to $10.10 or higher. After the vote, the failed bill's sponsor Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), vowed that the party would try "again and again"
But given the the lack of zeal for midterms among left-leaning and younger voters, a pro-minimum wage stance alone might not translate into electoral success for Democrats - which is why grassroots organization oriented around a broader populist economic policy could prove to be a panacea of sorts for the party; a reversal of 10 years of systemic right-wing midterm domination.