Published on
The Ithaca Journal (New York)

For the Left, This is Not the Time to Relax

Theresa Alt and Marty Luster

Lest anyone misunderstand what we are about to say, let us make it perfectly clear that the election of Barack Obama and the strengthening of the Democratic majorities in Congress please us greatly. It will take all of the energy, strength, focus and determination demonstrated by President-elect Obama during the campaign and all of his enormous talent and capacity to inspire and encourage people of all stations in American life to begin to repair the horrendous damage done to our nation, our Constitution, our values, our reputation and our spirit by the eight years of sloth, cronyism, criminality and mendacity of the worst presidential administration in our national lifetime.

However happy we may be with election results and however great our relief at the end of our national nightmare, we, on the left, cannot for a moment relax in the comfort of this victory. We have much to do to bring this country out of our deep and serious economic plight, restore our liberties and achieve a high level of social justice that has been absent from our national agenda for decades. Our new president, a good, decent and patriotic man, will need vocal support when he acts to further progressive ideals. He will need firm reminders should he stray into political expediency. The Democratic Congress elected in 2006 was a grave disappointment to many of us. The new and (hopefully) better one just elected will need close watching.

We, whether we call ourselves progressives, liberals or socialists (or don't use any label at all), have both a duty and an opportunity to move our agenda forward. Now many Americans are, for the first time, questioning American capitalism as it has developed over the past 70 years (or more). Even more citizens challenge the propriety of our tax dollars being injected into the largest banks, insurance companies and Wall Street investment houses without any public control or meaningful ownership status. This money is not being used to provide credit or capital for new or struggling small business. Instead it is helping the largest financial institutions and big businesses to swallow up their competition and to establish a corporate oligarchy of those financial giants that will then be "too big to fail." Now is the time to ask our fellow Americans to think carefully about the type of nation we wish to be.

This is our opportunity to organize and fight for a national commitment to an economic justice agenda that establishes new priorities for our government and new hope for our people; an economic justice agenda that will:

No. 1 Rebuild equality of opportunity in the U.S. by restoring progressive taxation to fair and appropriate levels, and enacting massive cuts in wasteful defense spending;

No. 2 Ensure government resumes its appropriate roles by:

* Providing single-payer universal health insurance to guarantee health care based on need and not ability to pay and expanding public childcare, elder care, pension security, as well as primary, secondary and higher education;

* Regulating finance and investment (as the Glass-Steagall Act did), controlling interest rates, protecting elections, stopping pollution, improving workplace health and safety, guaranteeing non-discriminatory access to and use of the Internet, breaking up concentrated media ownership; and

* Investing in green jobs, clean and sustainable energy, clean water and air, public transportation, publicly financed election campaigns;

No. 3 Enact the Employee Free Choice Act - to restore the right of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively - as part of a broader effort to rebuild a labor movement able to achieve equity in the labor market and build broader social movements; and

No. 4 Implement a U.S. foreign and trade policy that promotes global institutions that advance labor, environmental and human rights, regulate transnational corporations and allow small farmers worldwide to earn a living in their own homelands.

More details are in "Toward an Economic Justice Agenda" by the Democratic Socialists of America, online at

As stated in the agenda, "The corporate domination of U.S. politics and society has undermined ordinary people's living standards most egregiously over the past thirty years, most perniciously for those already beaten down. Only by democratizing the distribution of power in the United States can we restore the promise of the American Dream to those who have seen it taken away while extending that promise to those previously excluded from full membership in our society."

As the new administration prepares to begin to tackle these and other vital issues, please join with us to ensure that it hears clearly the voices of the progressive community.

Theresa Alt lives in Ithaca. Marty Luster lives in Trumansburg. This column was submitted on behalf of 11 other members of the Ithaca Local Democratic Socialists of America.

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