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Progressive Democrats say people should take to streets to demand real change

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Behind me is the Supreme Court. Over here is Congress. And today in front of the Lincoln Memorial a protest will take place. Tens of thousands of people under the banner “One Nation Working Together”—for jobs, some people are saying, to de-fund war, and to fund health care. Joining us now to make sense of what this day means are three members of the board of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). Steve Cobble is a board member, used to help run the Jesse Jackson campaign. Tim Carpenter is the executive director of the PDA. And David Swanson, who’s often been on The Real News Network, is also a member of the board. Thank you all for joining.




JAY: So the theme of the protest, of the demonstration, of the march is “One Nation Working Together”. Now, this is—obviously, most people support the Democrats that are here, or at least voted for President Obama during the last election. A lot of the demands are demands actually of this administration that one would have thought this administration could have fulfilled. And the banner itself of “One Nation”, in the primaries many Democrats voted for Edwards as a candidate who said there were two Americas. President Obama himself, when he was running, said, I’m going to fight for the middle class, although he also said red states, blue states, United States. What do you make of this whole one nation idea?

SWANSON: Well, you’re right. There are two nations, if not more. We have 400 people with $1.4 trillion, and we have foreclosures at a record clip and people losing their jobs and their homes. So there’s more than one nation. There’s also more than one nation in the world, and some of us would like to talk about one world coming together. But I think where it does ring true, where it is encouraging and useful to use that phrase, even if this wasn’t the full intention of the organizers who thought of it, is that for the first time we’re seeing peace activists and those who work on international issues in this town and around the country joining hands with those who work on domestic issues—demanding jobs, demanding civil rights—which makes perfect sense, right? We’re putting all the people who know where the money is being misspent together with all the people who know where the money should be spent, to say we don’t want to be funding the military in this way, we want to fund jobs and houses and schools and green energy. That’s what I find very encouraging. You know, we’ve done marches. It’s just another march. But it’s a different coalition.

JAY: Steve, does the idea of one nation, you know, the idea that there’s one, did it also kind of imply this kind of bipartisanship that the Obama administration undertook very early? There seemed to be a war going on in Washington, but only one side was fighting the war, and the other side was trying to find compromise.

COBBLE: I think that’s right, but I actually—there was only one side fighting. It’s sort of like the class war, which only the upper class is fighting and winning. But I actually think the one nation idea is a counter to the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs who are trying to divide us. We did something historic two years ago. We assembled a coalition that had never been assembled before, we expanded the Democratic Party beyond what they ever thought they would or most of them actually even wanted, and we elected a black man president of the United States, which most of the world never thought we would do. We shouldn’t have been surprised at the strength of the backlash. This country was founded in slavery, and segregation lasted and Jim Crow lasted for 400 years. And we have sat around for a year and let the backlashers take the streets up. When we get progressive stuff done, it’s not just when we vote. We do have to vote, and we have to vote in a month. We have to hold these guys off, ’cause they’re crazy and they’re mean. But we have to march, too. When we march and we vote, then we move the nation. And that’s—at least in my lifetime—I was born in 1951. So through the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, Vietnam, the environmental, when we were marching and voting, we got stuff done. When we weren’t voting or when we stopped marching, we get put on defense. And we’ve been kind of waiting for Godot for the last year, waiting for Barack Obama to step up and read the polls that show half of America wants him to focus on jobs. And for whatever reason, they haven’t done that, and they may pay a price at the polls next year. The problem is the people that’ll be hurt the worst are the people who need the jobs, the people that are in poverty, the people whose homes have been foreclosed, as David said, and, of course, people in other countries that are getting hit by drones.

JAY: Tim, you’ve heard from the White House telling people on the left of the Democratic Party, “stop whining”, in fact even “you’re the problem”. What do you make of this? The Progressive Democrats have not had a heck of a lot of access or influence. Even members of Congress who are in the Progressive Caucus have not had a heck of a lot of influence here.

CARPENTER: They haven’t seen anything yet. You’re going to see, this morning, tens of thousands of people here marching to make sure that our voices are heard. We organized and mobilized to elect this president to get on with the work of ending an occupation in Afghanistan. We elected this president in the belief that we were going to get on with the work of really getting on with health care for all, and instead we had insurance reforms. So if they’re concerned now, they haven’t heard anything yet. They’re going to hear a lot more from us. And we’re going to continue to organize and mobilize, pretty much in the tradition as progressives who went before us, whether it be in the ’30s, as Steve said, with FDR. When FDR was confronted with unemployment and the Great Depression, it was the progressive movement that met with him, just as we’re going to be on the streets to hold our president accountable. And at that time FDR said, make me do it. Well, we are here to remind Barack Obama to get on and to do it. Yesterday—while we’re standing outside here (as we say, street heat) and we’re marching, yesterday we were inside the halls. The Progressive Caucus—a lot of people forget there are 82 members of Congress who claim to be progressives, that even they caved in. And we aren’t hearing the voices of the real progressives. There are very few even with our own party, within the Democratic Party, who stood up to fight on these very important issues. As we stand here and begin this march, we had to fight to make sure that this march included a demand to end the occupation. There’s only 25 Democrats right now out of the majority that we may be losing, and the reason we may be losing is ’cause they’re not listening to the people. Only 25 Democrats have the courage to stand up and say to get out and join a fight that’s called the Out of Afghanistan Caucus. So when you began this conversation with one nation, it takes me back to a campaign where I cut my political teeth and there was a real progressive African-American candidate at that time, named Reverand Jackson, who talked about a quilt and a coming together. And I think what today is about is to close that gap between the rich and the poor and haves and the have-nots, and to get out in the streets together collectively, and to make those demands, to make this one nation again, where we all matter, where the people that can’t get here that are unemployed or having their houses foreclosed—to remember them today, to create a one nation in which we’re all in this together.

JAY: Is there a point where you give up on the Democratic Party? And what I mean by that is you guys have been knocking your brains out. You’ve been knocking your brains out trying to—if you ever thought there would be an opportunity, I guess—I know not all of you had big hopes for Barack Obama, but I think you must have had some. In fact, you may have ended up with less progressive influence in this administration than some others.

SWANSON: Well, I think those of us who had the lowest level of hope and expectation have been completely disappointed. So, you know, those who fantasized that the president was making all kinds of promises he wasn’t even making, the level of their disappointment has been tremendous. And, finally, some people are taking that and channeling it into some form of action, rather than crawling under their bed in despair, and that’s good. But you started with do we give up on the Democratic Party. You know, I don’t think we should be putting our faith or our expectation in a party. I think parties have way too much power. There are Congress members who are on our side on these issues, of where the funding should be, of ending the wars, of enforcing the rule of law, but they are a minority within the Democratic Party, and the Democratic leadership is not in line with those who are rallying today on any of the key points.

JAY: So how do you break the old conundrum? You want to send a message to the Democratic Party, and the only real message they might understand is you stay home and don’t vote. On the other hand, look at what would be elected in its place.

COBBLE: The problem is the last time we did that it led to [Newt] Gingrich, and then we spent the next six years doing welfare reform, deregulating telecommunications, deregulating the banks. Clinton went along with the deals because it was a compromise and it was bipartisan. And we then spent two years talking about Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. The country was doing well economically, but it wasn’t getting down to the people on the bottom. And we wasted a decade after the Soviet Union collapsed, a time when we could have changed the entire thrust of the world. We wasted it with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich arguing about nonsense. It is [inaudible]

JAY: So what do people who agree with the Progressive Democrats—what should they be doing?

COBBLE: I would argue—and sometimes the times change and you fight the last war. I’m one of the few people in the country that was part of the strongest challenge on the inside of the Democratic Party from the left, which was the Jackson movement. But I was also on the Nader campaign, which is the strongest modern challenge from a third party. My conclusion—and I don’t blame Ralph. It was not Ralph Nader’s fault that Al Gore went into three debates with a literal moron and a five-point lead and came out behind. That wasn’t Ralph’s fault. But I would say that whatever we thought or were hoping to do in that campaign didn’t come to pass. The country did not move our way. It moved the other way. The Democrats did not say, oh, we lost the election because the left broke off, therefore we should sit down with them and see what they want. Instead, they demonized Ralph and made him radioactive in this town, and they moved further to the right and more interested in corporate donations. The experiment didn’t work. The Jackson experiment was incomplete. It clearly didn’t transform the Democratic Party, but African-Americans are more solidly the base of the Democratic Party than they were before he ran. It was a partial success. It was more successful than I think the Nader experiment. And so I would argue that we’ve tested both of both of them. One was a partial success. One didn’t work. We should—until we’re given a different kind of system, we break some some of the rules, or we change some of the rules in this country, it’s really hard to move outside the two-party system. And I don’t think we should overlook the fact the most interesting thing that happened in 2008 was the coalition that was built, an expanded party that could potentially hold the right wing at bay for a generation with the rise of the Latino vote.

JAY: In the next segment of our interview let’s talk about the coming elections in 2012. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with the Progressive Democrats of America on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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