The Republican lock on Congress

There is a strategic question that faces progressives, one that is receiving increased attention.  Due to the 2010 elections and the Republican domination of state legislatures, Congressional Districts have been gerrymandered in order to guarantee a lack of any significant electoral challenges.  In other words, these Districts have Republican Congresspeople who are not worried about opposition.

As we saw in the lead up to the ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations/resolution, most Republicans felt no internal pressure to compromise.  It is quite likely that they will feel little pressure in their districts for at least ten years.  As a result the sort of pressure that they must feel must transcend their districts and actually be more at the societal level.  What this means is that while progressives absolutely need an independent electoral strategy that builds locally-based organizations capable of  successfully running candidates for office–both inside and outside of the Democratic primary system–that is insufficient.

In fact, it is the Occupy Movement that pointed us in the direction of the other leg of such a movement.  What the Occupy Movement accomplished, among other things, was to change the social discourse.   Despite every effort by the mainstream media to dismiss the Occupy Movement it not only grew but forced the country to start to address the question of economic inequality.

In the current context the implications should be clear.  If, for instance, we are to fight it out on the economy and specifically on unemployment, this will not happen on the basis of fights in the Republican Congressional Districts.  It will be a fight that we will have to take up in cities, including but not limited to state capitols, around the country.  It means social protests which are disruptive.  In order for this to happen we must actually re-train many social movement activists and thinkers in the lessons of the 1930s labor movement, the 1950s-1960s freedom movements (including but not limited to the Civil Rights Movement), the movement against the Vietnam War, and the work of the early environmental movement.  Occupy, in that sense, was onto something.  We must carry out a fight for space as part of the fight for power.   Land occupations, eviction blockades, boycotts, as well as mass demonstrations are all critical.  [Note:  in fact, we need, right now, a series of REALLY mass marches for jobs.]  In other words, the sort of pressure that needs to be brought about must be something that Republicans AND Democrats feel, and in fact, become a serious source of concern.

Before we find ourselves wallowing in self-pity as we worry about the Republican ‘lock’, let’s rethink our strategy and tactics.  We may be able to flip the script, and sooner rather than in the distant future.

6 thoughts on “The Republican lock on Congress

  1. For my money I wouldn’t give up on Republican “strongholds” or “tea party” types. Their agenda is in tatters, its becoming increasingly clear that they have been used as pawns and many of them are solid working people who have been enticed by all kinds of emotional rhetoric that doesn’t fit their real life situations. We should have no smaller goal than pulling progressives and working people together and getting them on the same page. What looks like a R stronghold today, is setting on some really shaky ground.

    • Well said and argued. I think that you are correct that we should not give up on such strongholds, but we should keep in mind that this will be a VERY uphill electoral battle. For that reason i am emphasizing the need to ‘walk on two legs.’ Part of why i wrote this commentary is that i have become increasingly unsettled by what is starting to sound like a “…wow is me…” from many progressives who recognize this ‘lock’ and conclude that nothing can be done.
      Thanks for your feedback!!!

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, Bill. Always enriching.
    Regarding Ike’s suggestion that progressive people engage current and former tea party types, it seems to me there’s a need to burrow down to the core, bedrock assumptions that they hold and ask them if they really think they hold up in the light of day. For example, the idea that poor and unemployed people are in that state because they are lazy, undisciplined, lacking in the ability to defer gratification for long term reward, etc. There’s a grain of truth in their analyses, but it’s only a grain in the whole loaf of engineered social inequality. Say one percent of the poor are not hard working; ninety-nine work long hard hours for sub-minimal wage, etc. Why accept a stereotype for an understanding of a profit system that drives down wages and benefits, or that closes factories, imposing poverty on whole communities.
    I think one goal is to challenge the philosophical underpinnings of right wing ideas and win those who are able to break from their birth training. A conservative christian who demands that abortion be made illegal is imposing an opinion – life begins with conception – on the rest of us at the point of a gun. That’s a Taliban=style way to govern. Get them to see they are imposing an article of faith not backed by any science on those who believe differently, with the threat of imprisonment for not obeying, and reasonable people of faith just might back off trying to change the law.
    Thanks. In solidarity, Tim Sheard

    • Thanks for this.

      What we have to keep in mind is that some people, in the face of the facts, will nevertheless hold to irrational opinions. Right-wing populists, for instance, have an entire narrative that is irrational, but in certain respects it fits together because it is what their base deeply wants to believe.
      That said, i firmly believe that we must challenge the right-wing irrationalists, particularly those who exist within our own base.

  3. Right, guys. Here in Texas, if we do not engage “tea party types,” we’re in trouble. Today at the Capitol I was talking with some AFSCME people who say they have a lot of Republicans in their membership. My union, the Texas State Employees Union, also has Republican members. These folks may vote for the Tea Party state rep candidates based on emotional appeal of right-wing populism. It’s our job to show them what negative results that has on their personal economic interests, and to win them to a more general working-class perspective. But furthermore, many, many of our Dem members are much too tied to strictly Dem party politics. We have a lot of work to do to move our union more to the left–solidarity unionism and social justice unionism are themes we have to pound away at. And I hope we can progress to some “social protests which are disruptive.”

  4. Right, guys. If we do not engage “Tea Party types” in Texas we’re in trouble. Of course there are Republicans in all our unions. But also, so many members of my union (Texas State Employees Union) are much too tied to strictly Dem party politics. We have a big job to develop more working-class consciousness & move our union to the left. I hope we can move forward to “social protests which are disruptive”!

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