Without The Grassroots, No Choice But To Deal
By Bill Scher
May 20, 2009 - 11:26am ET
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David Roberts laments the political squeeze the Waxman-Markey climate compromise puts on progressives, forced to choose between "what justice and prudence demand and what's possible within the current constraints of power politics" but ends on a hopeful note: "if a small step is all you can take, I guess you take the small step."
It appears that right now a small step is all we can take, but did it have to be so? And will it always, especially when we don't have time for only small steps if we are to avert a climate crisis? The political reality for progressives must face is that there are enough congressional Democrats from fossil fuel producing states to block any legislation.
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There are two ways to overcome the political hurdle. Either cut deals with the coal, oil, auto and utility industries that weaken (but hopefully don't completely undermine) the legislation. Or convince voters in those areas that their interests are not the same as those of fossil fuel CEOs, motivating them to take action and putting public pressure on key congresspeople to back stronger climate protection legislation.
Cutting deals can be handled behind closed doors in the halls Congress. Generating public pressure requires major grassroots mobilizing.
The political reality Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey had to face is there has been no major grassroots mobilizing in the broader progressive movement. While poll numbers show strong support for strong legislation, there has been no grassroots intensity to back that up, to convince skittish politicians that the public is demanding action immediately, and will hold politicians accountable if they don't follow through.
Yes, environmental groups are active. Yes, there have been some ads and email appeals. But the issue has not dominated the progressive conversation in recent weeks, and it did not become the top priority issue across most areas of the progressive movement -- even though the most critical negotiations were happening this month.
This is not necessarily the fault of individuals. There has been little in the media -- either traditional or new -- to let individuals know that the past month has been the critical time to influence climate legislation. Engaging voters in the legislative process has not been a priority for traditional media outlets more interested in stoking outrages du jour, and sadly, new media outfits have been spotty on this front as well.
But broad, deep, relentless and coordinated grassroots mobilization is the only thing that can put a wedge between special interest lobbying and Congress. If we aren't present in the halls and offices of Congress, you better believe every day corporate lobbyists are.
So faced the reality of no grassroots mobilization providing real wind at their backs, Waxman and Markey had to deal. And bless 'em for it, or else we'd really be nowhere.
But until we figure out how to get the millions of progressives to engage the legislative process early in the process, we'll be stuck with choice after choice of watered-down legislation or no legislation at all.
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