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Conservatives May Control State Governments, But Progressives Are Rising

Progressive activists flooded the rotunda of the State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois as part of the 'We Rise' national day of action on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. (Photo: National People's Action/flickr/cc)

In November, conservatives swept not only Congress, but a majority of statehouses. While gridlock in Washington is frustrating, the rightward lurch of statehouses could be devastating. Reveling in their newfound power, state lawmakers and their corporate allies are writing regressive policies that could hurt families by exacerbating inequality, further curtailing an already weakened democracy, and worsening an environmental crisis of global proportions.

From a law that would censor public university professors in Kansas to a governor who prohibits state officials from using the term “climate change” in Florida, ideologues in state capitols are wasting little time when it comes to enacting an extreme agenda. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Wisconsin officially enacted right to work legislation on Monday, a policy that’s shown to lower wages and benefits by weakening the power of unions. Missouri, New Mexico, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois are all entertaining various versions of the law. In states like New York and Ohio, legislators are considering severe cuts to public education, while vastly expanding charter schools.

"We will continue rising to challenge corporate power and win the policies that put people and planet first - not last."

Of course, a look at key 2014 ballot initiatives shows voters held progressive values on issues like the minimum wage, paid sick days, and a millionaires tax. And just 36.4 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in 2014, meaning that there is surely a silent majority sitting on the sidelines.

The path to policies that put families first is not short, but a bold coalition across the country took an aggressive step forward this week.


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On March 11th, under the banner “We Rise,” thousands of people joined more than 28 actions in 16 states to awaken that silent majority and call their legislators to account. A joint project of National People’s Action, Center for Popular Democracy, USAction and other allies across the country, the message of the day was simple: our cities and states belong to us, not big corporations and the wealthy. We can work together and push our legislators to enact an agenda that puts people and the planet before profits. And at each local action, leaders unveiled their proposals for what that agenda would look like in their cities and states.

In Minnesota, grassroots leaders are fighting for a proposal to re-enfranchise over 44,000 formerly incarcerated people. In Nevada, our allies are agitating for a $15 minimum wage. In Illinois, we are organizing for closing corporate tax loopholes and a financial transaction tax (a “LaSalle Street tax”) that would help plug the state’s budget hole. With each of these proposals, we are moving from defense to offense and changing the conversation about race, democracy and our economy.

We’ve seen over and over again in American history, change starts close to home – in our towns, cities and states. On March 11th, we saw a fresh reminder of the power of local change. Our families and communities are defining this new front in American public life, and we will continue rising to challenge corporate power and win the policies that put people and planet first - not last.

If November was a wave election, then this Spring will be a wave of bottom-up people power activism. What starts with defending people and our democracy from an extreme corporate conservative agenda, will pivot to offense as grassroots organizations across the country fight to fundamentally reshape our government and our economy from the bottom up. Expect an unabashedly bold agenda that holds the potential for awakening the progressive majority and ushering in a new era in America, an era where our country works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well connected.

George Goehl

George Goehl

George Goehl is co-executive director of People's Action and People's Action Institute, a national organization of a million people in 30 states fighting for economic, environmental, racial, and gender justice.

Ana María Archila

Ana María Archila is co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.

Fred Azcarate

Fred Azcarate is executive director of USAction.

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