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The left and elections.

Cogent reasoning was offered in "The Left and the 1984 Elections" (Review of the Month, February 1984) for helping to defeat Reagan and going more forcefully to the people on basic issues. MR's editors also suggested critical points indicating the need for action by the left beyond 1984 if we are ever to escape the two-party trap that has long pinned us down in defensive struggles. We must start the analysis/organizing process now if we are "to establish a meaningful left presence on the U.S. political scene."

Elements of the current scene suggest ways this process might begin. Both left and right of center coalitions sprout like mushrooms in every part of the nation, all issue-oriented in one respect or another and some multi-issue oriented. Most of the left organizations are defensively embattled around basic issues--peace, nuclear disarmament, health, social security, education, housing, environment, occupational safety, consumer protection, Medicare, infant mortality, voter registration, and so on.

Many thousands of people work long and hard in efforts to mobilize the defenders of surviving progressive policies, but the ranks of issue groups and coalitions are fragmented and spread thin. If enough independent voters can be swayed by the catastrophic damage being done by the Reagan administration, this year may be the high tide of reaction--for now. But what about 1988 and beyond? How might the left transform a victorious defensive electorate of 1984 into a potent political force that could nullify the dominance of the two-party establishment and organize a permanent progressive structure?

Such questions scream for consideration now, without waiting for the usual post-election letdown and customary three-year delay before debating what course to follow in the next national campaign. There is a way to get started. Even as 1984 unwinds, every left-leaning organization and coalition could assign delegates to a national progressive planning commission whose function would be to formulate a program of long-term activities designed to assist, educate, and register independent voters attracted by the variety of issues represented by participating organizations.

How could such a program be launched without a lot of money and a big organization? Very simply, by utilizing storefront centers to provide information, help people with counseling, and register new voters. If participating organizations in each community pooled some of their human and fund-raising resources, they could staff and maintain the centers economically and efficiently.

Each center could publicize its services locally through group networks in many inexpensive ways. (One advantage of this approach lies in avoiding dependence on the commercial media, though press, radio, and television could be used as available.) Each center can be equipped for multi-issue counseling, with knowledgeable people and useful information at hand to help deal with problems besetting the lives and livelihoods of community residents--problems ranging from family crises of everyday life to the threat of nuclear destruction.

Once a network of counseling centers is functioning, opportunities for person-to-person political contacts and education will multiply rapidly and new voter registration can begin almost immediately to increase progressive influence in local and state politics as well as on national policies.

It would be a serious error to pin and arbitrary political "ism" or label on this kind of developing project; a political-party cart should not be put before the organizing horse. Results of the effort to politicize voters for pgressive action must determine the ultimate character of the emerging political force. Strong stresses and strains are likely to be encountered along the way, with sound and farsighted leadership required to maintain steady expansion toward realizable goals.

The main thing is to start. Whatever the outcome of the 1984 campaign, we must plan to get out of the two-part establishment trap into a political atmosphere made more democratic by the emergence of a united, powerful, and permanent progressive movement.
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Author:Silber, Fritz
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Sep 1, 1984
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