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As we head into a presidential election year, I’d wager a lot the mainstream media will focus their attention on the horse race for the White House and other prime time campaigns. But this is a moment—when we are seeing a real shift in our politics, from Wisconsin to Ohio to Occupy—to be recruiting and supporting what I’d call 99 percenter candidates: those who share the core convictions of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent movement.
This space that’s been opened by movements provides a real opportunity now for a progressive politics that is strong at the grassroots and strong in principle, and that finds champions inside an electoral system badly in need of reform—reform that will only come if we can elect enough “inside” progressives to help our “outside” movements make it happen.
So it’s great to see candidates like Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono on the campaign trail talking about issues like democracy and equality. It’s also good to know Progressive Majority, along with allies like the New Organizing Institute, Rebuild the Dream and Democracy for America, has pledges from over 1,500 candidates to run in 2012.
Many candidates understand the need to seize this moment—not to co-opt it but to genuinely channel it. Here’s one good example: Norman Solomon, who speaks eloquently on the need to fuse movement energy and electoral politics, and he was doing so before the eruption of Occupy Wall Street. He’s running to represent California’s 6th District, the seat being vacated by ten-term progressive stalwart Lynn Woolsey.
The vision of Solomon, founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, is aligned with what is now so central to our political discussion and must remain so: action on jobs and income inequality; ending the wars and investing those resources at home; sane and fair taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street; protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; ending our dependence on fossil fuels and preventing catastrophic climate change.
Solomon is no political opportunist—he’s been fighting for these values for decades and describes his approach to campaigning this way: “principle as strategy.”
“I intend to stick with principles, what I believe and what I’m willing to fight for,” Solomon told Texas A&M journalism professor Robert Jensen. “The quest is not for heightened rhetoric, it’s for deeper meaning, with insistence on policies to match—economic populism, human rights, civil liberties, ending wars and working for social equity.”
Solomon understands the need to elect people at all levels of government who are truly in spirit and in sync with the grassroots progressive movement.
“I used to say that having a strong progressive movement was much more important than who was in office, but now I’d say that what we really need is a strong progressive movement and much better people in office,” he said. “Having John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Jim McGovern, Raúl Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey in Congress is important. We need more of those sorts of legislators as part of the political landscape.”
Solomon has been endorsed by both Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) co-chair Grijalva and CPC member Conyers, as well as the legendary co-founder of the United Farm Workers Dolores Huerta, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).
The CPC is eager to introduce legislation that speaks to the 99 percent and Occupy issues, and certainly a member like Solomon could help further that effort. The People’s Budget was fully aligned in spirit and substance with the movement, and the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act will build on that as well.
It’s just common sense that progressives who come out of movements have a far better chance of staying connected to the Occupy movement energy and principles than Democrats who don’t. Solomon is such a candidate, and there are others.
I’ve always believed lasting progressive transformation will come from people’s movements, the kind now taking root in towns and cities across the nation. But it will also require people on the inside who share those principles and are fully dedicated to fighting for them. In 2012, we have the opportunity to elect those champions.