A group of MoveOn activists in my town, Upper Dublin, just north of the Philadelphia city line, gathered earlier this week at a local bar to discuss--and to some extent to celebrate--their performance in the campaign.
They had a right to be pleased, even though their main man, John Kerry, had conceded the presidential election. Upper Dublin, which has traditionally voted Republican, and which has more Republican than Democratic voters, went for Kerry by 40 votes. The MoveOn crew, by diligent door-to-door legwork aimed at a targeted group of Democratic slackers--party registrants whom records showed had voted, but not in every election--and by calling those few voters on their list who had not shown up at the polls by evening, had brought in 160 voters, many of whom probably would have sat the election out if left alone.
The district had also gone for Allyson Schwartz, the Democrat who won the Republican-gerrymandered seat that had belonged to Rep. Joe Hoeffel, who had left to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (Hoeffel lost by 7 percent).
"So what do we do now?" asked the local MoveOn coordinator, Lee Wenkos.
Across the country, activists at organizations like ACT, MoveOn and other groups are asking the same thing.
Here's a suggestion: Instead of moping about the last election, and waiting around disconsolately for the next primary season, how about starting a campaign right now to take over the Democratic Party from top to bottom, so that next time around, progressives won't be in the position of doing all that grunt work on behalf of a weak-kneed and compromised candidate who barely qualifies as a liberal?
How about starting from the bottom up and sweeping Al From, Terry McAlliffe and the entire corporate-whore Democratic Leadership Council out the door?
Every election season, progressives are faced with the same bitter debate--whether to support the mealy-mouthed, sell-out candidates offered up by the party machine, or to step away and support a quixotic third party candidate.
Both alternatives are terribly demoralizing. Campaigning and voting for the lesser evil of a Democratic candidate is what brought us Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and then Al Gore and John Kerry. If the DLC has its way, next it will be Hillary Clinton or, god forbid, John Kerry or Al Gore again.
As for the third party route, the system is so structured in favor of the two major parties that there is little chance of a third party breaking into double digits in our lifetime, so that will always be just a protest vote.
But the Democratic Party, a desiccated carcass that only exists because the political structure keeps pumping air into its corpse, is waiting there to be revivified by a progressive takeover.
If even a fraction of the energy and numbers of activists that labored heroically on behalf of Kerry's doomed candidacy this fall were to be turned to the task of conquering the Democratic Party, it could be accomplished easily.
Progressives should check out the party rules and caucus schedules, and start now organizing to take over those caucuses. We progressives should be flooding those caucuses and voting in our people. We should be running candidates for local office and for state party positions, and getting ready to take on the national leadership.
Never again should the party leadership be in a position to undermine a popular candidate like Howard Dean, as was done in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses.
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