12 Steps to Realizing the U.S.’s New Populist Movement
By Roger Hickey
Campaign for America’s Future
March 19, 2014 – A new progressive populist movement is rising up in the United States. Inspired by an expansive vision of greater economic opportunity for all Americans, this new movement is also fueled by anger over politicians’ broken promises. After decades of recurring economic crisis, which now seems systemic and permanent, millions of Americans have come to realize that much of our democratic system is now owned by a moneyed elite that use their power to resist real change and to manipulate the economy for their own financial gain.
Even the mass media know something big is going on. At the end of November, a Washington Post headline announced, "More liberal, populist movement emerging ahead of 2016 elections ." And the New York Times, in a September article , reporting on the new progressive insurgency, cited the excitement generated by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the new populist mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio. These and other media reports have been based on important new populist victories that represent the visible tip of a very large iceberg:
Low-wage workers and their allies have filled the streets of America’s major cities, demanding a living wage and the right to bargain for wages and benefits. Their basic demand, echoed now by political leaders, is that full-time work should pay enough to keep a family out of poverty.The cry of "break up the big banks" is now heard from protests at bank shareholder meetings to the halls of Congress. Many of the groups who worked to pass the Dodd-Frank bill have joined with housing advocates and others to demand Wall Street prosecutions — and real bank reform championed by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Warren.
Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top choice for Chair of the Federal Reserve, was stopped from getting that important job by a coalition of civic activists, including women and financial reform groups. Their favorite, Janet Yellen, was appointed instead.
The national debate on the future or Social Security has been flipped — from "Stop cutting benefits" to "Expand Social Security." Activists got Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin to introduce a bill with Sen. Sherrod Brown to expand benefits. Sen. Warren helped achieve critical mass. Conservative "Third Way" operatives attacked, but actual Third Way Members of Congress denounced their own group — and several actually embraced Social Security expansion . And after grassroots pressure, President Obama withdrew his plan to cut Social Security benefits
Political reporters have tended to frame the New Populism as either a challenge to President Obama, or as an agenda and constituency for whoever might run against Hillary Clinton. But hard experience has taught us we need to build an independent force that can fight the big corporate interests and shape a positive agenda for all politicians who claim be for progressive change.
To be clear, this new movement is still coming together, most visible politically in the grassroots campaigns to raise the minimum wage and extend unemployment insurance. It is still too early to know whether the New Populist agenda for change will be embraced by Democrats trying to win back the House and keep the Senate in the 2014 elections — especially since far too many Democrats, including the President, have trapped themselves into claiming the economy is on the mend, when most voters think things are still pretty bad. But politicians wondering what works with the voters should go to the new website, www.populistmajority.org .
Here is a description of ongoing organizing around 12 big elements of the emerging New Populist agenda. All this activity is not completely coordinated, but it is very real, involving hundreds of thousands of organizers who get up every morning and reach out to their neighbors and networks to fight for this economic change agenda and to challenge the interests that have rigged the economic system. And many millions more share the vision of an economic system that works for the majority of Americans. As you can see, the New Populism is on the move.
1. Revive Sustainable Economic Growth, Creating Jobs for All.
In the turbulent months after the economic collapse the rallying cry was jobs. Grass-roots citizen organizations  and think tanks agitated publicly for a big, bold economic recovery program  based on investing in getting Americans back to work. This organizing helped build momentum to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in February of 2009. Citizen and labor groups held demonstrations at aging bridges and schools in hundreds of communities, making the point that America has lots of needs for investments that would put people to work immediately, while making our economy more productive for the long term. The Recovery Act succeeded in stopping America’s plunge into a deep recession, but should have been seen as only a first step toward economic revival.
Tragically, President Obama failed to mobilize the people around a demand for the continuing stimulus investment necessary to sustain recovery after such a profound recession. As a result, voters in the 2010 Congressional elections, voters, most of whom were still discouraged about the lack of jobs, blamed Democrats and sent a new Republican majority to the House.
On March 12, the Congressional Progressive Caucus  — led by 70 Members of Congress and backed by hundreds of citizen groups — released their new Better Off Budget . For the fourth time in four years, they are demonstrating the level of investment America should be making in order to revive growth. If Congress had passed the CPC’s first budget, the economy would have grown more robustly and consistently, unemployment would have come down dramatically, wages and opportunity would have increased, and the deficit would have even been lower. The Economic Policy Institute finds  it would create 9 million jobs by 2017.
Many progressive organizations are joining to promote the Progressive Caucus budget. They will remind voters that radical conservative austerity killed jobs, and conservatives have obstructed every major investment and growth plan. And many groups will also organize to ask candidates for Congress what they would do to create enough jobs for all Americans who want to work.
2. Invest in America’s Infrastructure and in New Jobs for the 21st Century.
Immediate action to stimulate growth and achieve full employment is the number one priority of most Americans. But when we ask the experts and elected officials what will drive long-term job creation, too many turn pessimistic, mumbling warnings about globalization, the rise of technology, and the failure of the U.S. education system. We know from bitter experience that conservative "growth plans" — tax cuts, austerity and deregulation — don’t work. They lead only to speculative booms, growing inequality, and then financial collapse.
America’s future depends on the growing movement demanding productive public investment in the new industries, energy technologies, research, and the education systems America will need to drive a new generation of economic growth and good jobs. The best parts of the Obama stimulus made a start at creating new industries, such as advanced batteries and high-speed rail, and helped existing industries, such as photovoltaics and wind energy. Powerful coalitions, like the Apollo Alliance  and the Blue-Green Alliance  have united environmentalists, unions, mayors and governors with business leaders to push for a new development strategy for America that retools our infrastructure (including advanced and open Internet) and energy systems in a way that rebuilds our cities and creates the next several generations of jobs, while stimulating new private industries.
Again, it is the ultra-ideological conservatives, whose only tools are cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations, who stand in the way of this new nation-building movement. Polling shows that most Americans remember when public investment in highways and financing for suburban homes drove private sector prosperity — and public investments the space program helped America’s private-sector domination in computers and advanced technology systems. Younger people, who may not know that history, are strongly committed to society-shaping investments in alternative energy and conservation — and they are delighted to find out about America’s long history of federal aid to education, including our creation of land-grant universities, which once made college virtually free.
Tags: Popular Front