In the wake of the distressing confirmation of Scott Pruitt to ruin the Environmental Protection Agency—the very agency he has undermined for years—there are important lessons to learn beyond the fact that Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate, and that millions of Americans are still caught in the false trap of “jobs vs. environment.”
For one thing, two “Democrats” supported a guy with a long record of doubting climate change, weakening water quality protections, and close ties to the industries he’ll be charged with regulating. Both Senators, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are from states that Bernie Sanders won big during the primaries, but that Trump won in November. (In the end, it would have taken one more Republican defection beyond Senator Susan Collins of Maine to defeat Pruitt.)
What makes Pruitt’s confirmation yet more maddening is his flouting of Oklahoma court orders demanding he turn over more than 2,500 emails requested back in 2015 by the Center for Media and Democracy. Tuesday, Pruitt at last released some of the documents (7,500 pages worth, viewable soon on CMD’s website), which may reveal in greater detail his ties to the fossil fuel industries he is now in charge of regulating. How much worse can it get? We already know Pruitt effectively helped the energy industry lobby the federal government to oppose pollution controls while he was attorney general.
Another key lesson: the Democratic Party and its leadership need to do far more to support the earthquake of resistance tremoring across the country. The Democratic Party and national leaders and groups such as Our Revolution, Working Families Party, and others, must put their resources (voter lists, volunteer lists, and more) to work to mobilize tens of millions of voters around the country to bring the heat on Trump and the Republican Congress.
My own experience battling Pruitt offers a cautionary tale. A few of us experienced activists proposed a tried-and-true strategy: contact tons of voters in states with moderate Democratic and Republican senators who might potentially be swayed to vote No on Pruitt, and encourage constituents to pressure their senators en masse. It was bewildering that the Democratic Party and its leadership wasn’t already doing this.
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I called and emailed the party and its leadership repeatedly. I left unreturned messages with the Democratic National Committee and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. Then I tried the California Democratic Party, a richly resourced political machine. The woman I spoke with didn’t know who Pruitt was. Bizarrely, she told me I should contact my local Democratic Party, and that they could then connect me, um, back to the state Party for help. (Yep, you read that right.) Then she gave me two email addresses that didn’t work.
Another call to the DNC. The woman who answered hadn’t heard of Pruitt either, and said there was nothing the DNC could do to help organize any phone bank efforts. She patched me through to constituency services: no answer, no voicemail. The Democratic Party should at least pay and train its front-line staff better. It would be easy for the DNC and all state party offices to have a simple "What You Can Do" cheat sheet, referring callers to groups and efforts on such things as defeating dangerous and destructive Trump cabinet (not to mention Supreme Court) nominees.
I tried Senator Schumer’s office again, reached a sympathetic chap who explained that his office could not help, and knew of no such effort he could refer me to. Then I called Senator Sanders. I was a highly energized volunteer and elected Bernie delegate, who wrote several national stories on the importance of his campaign for president. An amiable sympathetic staffer apologized for having nothing to share about efforts to defeat Pruitt.
I was dumbfounded. True, these Senators must think first of their own constituents—but how could they not have anything to offer committed activists? It’s incomprehensible that during the Trump administration’s foundering formation, there is no coordinated nationwide network of actions—phone banks and strategic social media actions along with protests—to engage as many voters as possible to pressure their senators. The Democratic Party is no change agent, but it does have resources to help arm the resistance: sharing its voter databases and volunteer lists with activists and movements on the ground.
If the Democratic Party or other national groups aren't going to do it, we need to raise funds fast to build a progressive resistance "war room" that can reach voters quickly. We need our own well-oiled machine, capable of rapidly mobilizing phone banks and social media operations, targeted strategic campaigns, as well as larger social movement building and coalition-building.
Beyond simply opposing the disaster of the moment, this resistance could fuel and feed a potent grassroots force that directly confronts corporate power, Republican wreckage, and the need for real political-economic change. We need a well-oiled and BIG progressive political resistance machine. Now.