A post-election message for progressives

by Yule Heibel on November 3, 2004

John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, just sent around the following encouraging email to subscribers. I hope he doesn’t mind, but I’m taking the liberty to quote it here in full. (Emphases added by me):

Dear IPS friends,
My colleagues at IPS and I have been meeting for weeks with allies around the country to prepare action plans in the event of a Kerry win, a Bush win, or no clear winner. Today, as I send you this version, I want you to know that we at IPS share the profound disappointment that the progressive goals of achieving equality and fairness here and around the world appear much farther away. However, experience has taught us all that appearances can be deceiving.

It is important that we realize at this moment all that we have achieved, and all that is still possible. Many of us poured ourselves into unprecedented efforts to reinvigorate democracy in this country. The participation on Tuesday was phenomenal. The continued mobilization and strengthening of these progressive forces will halt the expansion of the Patriot Act, stop the war, and bring the many fights of these past four years to a new stage.

While we may all need some time to recover, we progressives must get back on our feet quickly. For one thing, we owe it to the global anti-war majority to continue to do what we can to end the suffering in Iraq as quickly as possible and prevent future pre-emptive wars. We will send along details of the peace movement’s plans in the next week, along with what you can do.

I would like to invite your engagement with IPS over the next few months to work on broader collective agendas for the progressive movement in these difficult times.

In addition, we offer a few hopeful lessons from history to help guide us through this difficult period.

� Progressives Can End a 2nd-term Republican President’s War. After Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984, progressives recovered from their demoralization to fight the U.S. government’s secret war of arming the contras in Nicaragua and supporting human rights atrocities throughout Central America. Iraq is a different scenario, but we can still take heart and learn from the U.S.-Central America solidarity work that exposed illegal U.S. activities and their brutal consequences and ultimately prevailed by forcing a change in policy. � Victory in Disguise? Barry Goldwater suffered a resounding defeat when he ran for president against Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but his campaign spawned a conservative movement that eventually gained control of the Republican Party and elected Ronald Reagan in 1980. Progressives should see the buzz surrounding Dean, Kucinich, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton during the primary season and the excitement generated by MoveOn and other creative new groups as the foundation for a similar takeover by progressives. � People Power Can Trump Presidential Power. As Howard Zinn has put it, “What matters is not who is sitting in the White House but who is sitting in.” Example: In 1970, President Nixon supported the Occupational Safety and Health Act, widely considered the most important pro-worker legislation of the last 50 years. It didn’t happen because Nixon loved labor unions, but because union power was strong. Progressives should redouble their support of the economic justice, peace, and environmental movements that can make real change.

� Re-election Does Not Ensure Success. As President Bush enters his second term, he faces a quagmire in Iraq and skyrocketing fiscal and trade deficits at home that will likely doom his administration. Remember that Nixon was re-elected in 1972 by a far bigger margin than Bush (61-38 percent), yet within a year he was being impeached for offenses committed in his first term.

In the past two and a half years, millions of people have taken democracy in their own hands, demanding to be heard in the voting booths and in the streets. This is the heart and soul of this country and it will be the heart and soul of the defense of our rights and liberties in the months to come. Across the world, millions more joined in protest. At IPS, we stand with these movements for peace, justice, and the environment, and we will be there with our research, our willingness to convene and build bridges among progressives, and our support.


John Cavanagh

PS. Send us your ideas and please join us in the months to come as we work to refine ideas for moving forward.

PPS. We held a town hall forum today live on Washington’s WPFW radio in which many more analyses of the elections and strategies for going forward were discussed. If you missed it, it will be available on our website at by late this afternoon.

{ 1 comment }

maria November 3, 2004 at 7:30 pm

Thanks for posting this Yule! I have been doing my damnest today in my conversations with people to bring this kind of positive light to events. In fact, by early afternoon, I felt buzzed, re-energized, ready to start working.

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