As the state legislature meets in special session to reinstate I-747’s irresponsible one-percent annual cap on growth in regular local levies, I’d like to remind members of the Democratic caucus that the rallying cry of the progressive netroots — “More and Better Democrats!” — has two clauses. So while the leadership may safely if cynically gamble that bloggers and other grassroots activists would never dare threaten their majority over something as petty as, well… getting totally fucked… individual members should not feel so secure.
Yes, the modern progressive movement is still in its nascent stages, and yes, I agree with Carl that it is not yet clear that we have the strength in numbers, resources or influence to successfully primary a Democratic incumbent… but that doesn’t prevent us from trying. The state House in particular is in many ways a shit job that doesn’t pay nearly enough money to do it right, but it would be all the more shittier if incumbents faced a serious primary challenge every two years. All that fundraising, doorbelling, coffee klatches and boring, boring meetings… it doesn’t leave much time to earn a decent living, let alone enjoy your family. See, we don’t have to actually win a primary to be effective. We just have to make the incumbent’s life miserable.
Clearly the governor has no qualms about screwing her party’s progressive base, a political miscalculation mired in a profound lack of understanding of what it is, exactly, the base actually does. (Hint: we don’t just vote.) But our local representatives, who are, theoretically, more in touch with their constituents… they should know better. I’d wager there isn’t a legislative district Democratic organization in Seattle that would endorse reinstating I-747, and yet I’d be surprised if a majority of the Seattle delegation didn’t vote to approve the governor’s plan. I’ll be counting. And I won’t be the only one.
Oh, it’s not like most of us progressive activists would ever abandon the party, or refuse to cordially work with representatives who cross us, it’s just that I want to make it absolutely clear that those who accuse bloggers like me of being “tools of the Democratic Party” have it exactly backwards: the Democratic Party is our tool, and we intend to use it to enact our agenda. And that’s how it should be.
I know there are many who are disheartened by the Democrats’ ill-advised capitulation on I-747, but it only makes me more defiant, and even more committed to the cause of “More and Better Democrats.” In presenting the history of the phrase, Daily Kos diarist Major Danby sums up the mix of passion and political pragmatism that drives our movement:
I see support for the motivating principle of “More and Better Democrats” as being a lot like the commitment to freedom of speech: it is most important when it is hardest to justify.
It’s easy to support free speech when things are going your way, when nothing offensive is being said, etc. Most people can do it, across the political spectrum. It’s easy to profess because it’s meaningless, it’s ineffectual, it’s cheap words. What matters is how much you support free speech when it’s hard, when it means being confronted with something offensive. […] That is when free speech is most in danger; that is when you just have to take a breath, buckle down, and do it.
It’s important to believe it then — to believe that when we get tackled we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work — because it is at that exact moment when support for the principle is in greatest danger. It’s when people are screwing us over, acting like the “Republicrat Party,” that we have to tell them that there is nothing they can do to keep us from making sure that, ultimately, we will not only have enough Democrats to keep the other side out of power, but enough good Democrats to enact our own agenda.
In Mozambique’s drive for political independence from South Africa, the slogan was “A Luta Continua” (“the struggle continues.”) In the Spanish Civil War, it was “¡No pasarán! (they shall not pass)” Of course, often they do pass, and the struggle often continues for decades or more. But the battle cry — for us, “More and Better Democrats,” meaning “we will keep on doing what we are doing until we defeat you” — sustains the movement. Yes, it involves a willful suspension of disbelief, it involves the prospect of complicity with those who fail us. But those, I submit, are better than ironic detachment or self-immolation, because in our world there is nowhere else to go. We need more and more people on our side. Better and better ones.
Given the political reality, there is only one way to enact a progressive agenda in both Washingtons: more and better Democrats. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but our goal is nothing less than seizing control of the Democratic Party and putting it back in the hands of the people… people who are willing to use a legislative majority, and not just build it. More and better Democrats, that is what we are fighting for, and those Democratic representatives who don’t fit the bill will eventually have to start looking over their shoulders.