The disappointment that many, perhaps most, progressives feel regarding the policies of the Obama administration are certainly understandable, and there is no need here to reiterate the details of the discussions that have been going on for almost two years now.
Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but when I voted for the President in 2008, I expected more enlightened positions on war, poverty, and the environment, to name a few of the most pressing problems that we face.
Nevertheless, it is distressing to see so many moderates, liberals, and progressives who seem to be willing to allow the Republicans take over Congress again. Have we forgotten so soon what they (and Bush) did when in power?
Do we not understand the frightening and irrational proposals from the "Tea Party" types who dominate the GOP?
Republican victories in the mid-term elections would be a disaster, especially regarding the environment. For instance, as Ronald Brownstein, conservative columnist for the National Journal, recently noted:
"Virtually all of the serious 2010 GOP challengers have moved beyond opposing cap-and-trade to dismissing the scientific evidence that global warming is even occurring. … It is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.”
This ignorant position is hardly surprising, given, among other things, the millions of dollars being poured into Republican/Tea Party coffers by such corporate forces as BP Oil and the Koch brothers.
In the face of the environmental threats that confront us, it is imperative that we develop strategies that will have the greatest impact as quickly as possible.
In the medium term, the most promising approach is to put pressure on governments by using a multitude of tactics, including the ballot box, to demand an immediate Second World War-type mobilization to deal with the systemic crises of environmental destruction and growing poverty (unemployment, home foreclosures, and so on).
Such “ecological Keynesianism”— massive government programs to protect the natural world—could create jobs in sustainable industries and promote a plethora of ecological initiatives (local food production, public transportation, energy conservation, and so on) – but only if enough people demand it.
However, even those who understand the seriousness of our situation often do nothing, due to distractions, despair, and busy lives.
The simple act of voting could make all the difference.
Nothing provides such a direct—and easy—route to politicians as voting does.
As Bill McKibben wrote: “We need to be able to explain to them that continuing in their ways will end something that they care about: their careers.”
In many districts, even a small increase in “environmental” voters would make a difference. And if everyone gets, for example, just two friends to vote who otherwise wouldn't, the Republican/Tea Party machine will be dealt a stunning defeat.
On the other hand, a Republican/Tea Party victory will shift the political landscape even further to the fundamentalist right.
We must remember that Tea Partyers, big oil, and the corporate elite in general want progressives to sit out the vote and allow their stooges to have even more power. If that happens, the damage that will be done will make it even harder to build a sustainable and just society.
Obviously, voting is not enough. The key to a successful ecological movement is the concept of “unity in diversity” – organizing movements that focus on common values and working together with mutual respect.
Other forms of action must intensify: organizing, letters to the editor, demonstrations, media reform, and public education – working both inside and outside of the political system.
There may not be enough time to transform the global economy into one that is democratic, just, and sustainable. But as Noam Chomsky observed, while we can’t know if our efforts will prevent tragedy, we can be sure that inaction will guarantee greater disaster.
Cynicism is a luxury that we – and our children - can’t afford.
We already have enough wealth, knowledge, and technology to solve the environmental crises, create a more humane society, end war, and eliminate global poverty – but only if we take democracy seriously, get organized and take control of our lives.
Voting is the simplest way to make a difference.