Chasing the Rainbow: Can We Capture It?

Isaiah J. Poole

I flashed back to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign, which aimed to build a “rainbow coalition” of working-class people based on progressive populist economic policies, earlier this week in my post on Firedog Lake.

It is easy to get discouraged by the racial polarization evident in the election results in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. There is, as my colleague David Sirota has been writing, a serious racial chasm in this country—and, frankly, in the Democratic Party.

But, to borrow a line from Scripture, “we are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed.”

I believe that it possible to begin to bridge the chasm—or at least narrow it significantly—as those who have been hurt by Bush administration policies come to understand that their pain is broadly shared and that the solutions are just as broadly beneficial.

I don’t expect to win over all of the white voters who have told exit pollsters that the race of a candidate is important to them and that therefore they will not vote for an African American, regardless of who he is or what he says. But the spirit of what Jackson envisioned—a polyglot assemblage of people with common dreams convinced to set aside their differences and embrace their hopes—can take shape in the midst of the devastation of the Bush era.

It will take a presidential candidate who is willing to speak directly to their hopes and their anxieties in ways that are both practical and unapologetically progressive. Spelling out exactly what that means is the challenge of the “Making Sense 2008” project the Campaign for America’s Future launched this week, which you will be seeing and hearing more about in the coming days.

In the meantime, I’d like to ask you: What would it take to build a “rainbow coalition” that unites people across race and class lines around a progressive agenda for change? The conversation started at Firedog Lake; I’d encourage you to continue it in the comment thread below.

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