How Progressives Won Four Important Victories in 10 Days
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Pixel Embargo
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Progressives won big in four arenas over the past two weeks. They played key roles in stopping a military strike on Syria, defeating Larry Summers’s bid to head the Fed, winning basic protections for 1.9 million home health care workers, and forcing companies to disclose the gap between their CEO and worker pay.
Were the stars just aligned for once? Or are there some lessons here for future fights? Here are some thoughts from four Institute for Policy Studies analysts and activists.
1. Stopping U.S. military strikes on Syria
It is a huge victory that the United States is not bombing Syria right now. If not for the huge mobilization of anti-war pressure on the president and especially on Congress, things would have turned out very differently. It was what the Washington Post called a “test of the strength of the anti-war movement in the Obama era.” We’ve failed earlier tests – Guantanamo, Afghanistan, the expanded drone war, Libya… But this time, yes – we passed the test.
First the British parliament, facing a cavalcade of protest from our friends in the Stop the War coalition and beyond, unexpectedly stood up to pressure from their conservative prime minister, voting against a US strike. That turned everything around. Suddenly President Obama – who had been prepared to go to war illegally without the UN, without NATO, without the Arab League – was apparently not quite ready to go to war without the Brits. His decision to ask Congress for authorization to use military force against Syria set the stage for a resurgent anti-war movement that cohered quickly, re-energizing long-time peace activists and pulling in new constituencies from those mobilizing for economic justice, women’s rights, immigration, labor and beyond.
We were everywhere – and we kept the focus on Congress. We were inside and outside the Capitol, in raucous protests outside and in one-on-one meetings with Members, in church basements and on world-wide television. We didn’t worry about organizational forms or creating new coalitions. We just went to work. Organizing groups like Peace Action,Grassroots Global Justice, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Code Pink, Win Without War, MoveOn, Just Foreign Policy, and others led campaigns that were agile and focused. Analysts from IPS and other groups helped frame the debate through media work, talking points, statements, and teach-ins.
The overall strategy was go broad, keep the inside and outside work coherent, don’t spent a lot of time trying to organize big demonstrations, and keep the focus on Congress. And it worked. Our pressure made Congress scared of antagonizing their anti-war base – and thus unwilling to support military strikes. The White House has enormous power to shape the narrative, to control the media, and to bully Congress. They tried to do all that, but they failed.
Celebrations should perhaps be muted – the threat of US military strikes remains, and Syria's brutal civil war is far from over. But this is an extraordinary, unforeseen victory for the global anti-war movement.
2. Defeating Larry Summers
The victory in knocking Larry Summers out of the running for Fed chair is connected to the Syria victory. Summers saw the writing on the wall when Obama couldn’t line up progressive Democrats behind a Syria attack. How could the president possibly hold the party line on an unpopular Fed nomination?
But the fact that at least five key Democratic Senators were reportedly prepared to vote against a former top advisor to both Presidents Clinton and Obama was the culmination of years of work by various segments of the progressive movement.