Election 2008

MoveOn Launches Campaign for Bold Progressive Reforms as the Obama Era Begins

The Real Voices for Change campaign promises to push hard on universal health care, green jobs and leaving Iraq as Obama outlines his agenda.

Huge throngs came to Washington to watch President-elect Barack Obama get sworn into office and attend one, or if they were lucky, several balls, parties and events. Widely billed as the biggest celebration ever to come to town, visitors couldn't help but notice that the grassroots progressive groups that helped get Obama elected are far from fading into the background until the next round of elections. Instead, those visitors -- and perhaps some Washington insiders, too -- were forced to see the advertisements spread across D.C.'s transit system proclaiming that MoveOn.org is preparing to throw its full weight behind immediately launching bold progressive reforms.

 All last year, 5 million members of the MoveOn organization put their blood, sweat, tears and money behind Obama. The massive group reportedly spent $84 million and worked 20 million volunteer hours to help elect Obama. Now with his inauguration around the corner, MoveOn members, among other groups, such as the 2 million-strong Service Employees International Union, are not-so-subtly reminding Obama of their work to put him in the Oval Office and dedicating themselves to supporting his progressive agenda.

"At this historic moment, we want to recognize the real folks who helped Obama to win this election and who will go on to help achieve the change this country needs," said Eli Pariser, MoveOn's executive director.

With ads put in place last week and running during inauguration week on buses, bus shelters, subway trains and rail stations, the "Real Voices for Change" campaign promises to give Obama help in moving priority issues through Congress.

"Special interests and their friends in Congress should see these ads and take notice -- the grassroots powerhouse that got this president elected isn't going anywhere until Congress makes the real policy changes that matter to most Americans," Pariser said, announcing the campaign.

But MoveOn's commitment to Obama is no stretch for the progressive organization. The Real Voices for Change campaign concentrates on issues, chosen by members at parties, events and in a survey MoveOn sent to its members immediately following the election, that have long been centerpieces of the progressive movement. But now, because the issues correlate so strongly with Obama's stated goals for this time of financial crisis, the progressive community has an ally in power, and they're ready to work. The tagline at the bottom of  all MoveOn's new ads reads: "5 million members. Ready to get started."

At the more than 1,200 post-election parties and in the survey, MoveOn members chose "universal health care," "economic recovery and job creation," "build a green economy, stop climate change" and "end the Iraq war" as their advocacy goals for 2009. Nearly half the members in the survey voted for ending the 6-year-old misadventure in Iraq and working to build a green economy. More than 60 percent of members voted to enact universal health care and working toward economic recovery and creating new jobs for Americans.

The goals are largely the same ones that Obama has said he plans to have his first term judged on, especially because of the turbulence in the markets and recent job losses and other financial hardships being visited on Americans of all stripes. But Obama has also made strong commitments that are directly aimed at easing the burden of the current financial crisis on Americans. He plans on bolstering employment with his ambitious economic recovery plan and the creation of a "green jobs" sector by investing political capital into developing environmentally friendly technologies at home.

The No. 1 priority for the group is universal health care. The health care deficit in America, with nearly one-sixth of the population, some 46 million people, without health insurance, is not only a woeful statistic on its own for the self-proclaimed richest country in the world, but is both a strain on and a symptom of the nation's economic troubles.

But regular people, not the rather abstract notion of the national economy, are the ones hit hardest. MoveOn member Pat L. in Los Angeles put it best when asked why he voted for universal health care as a top aim for his administration: "Reform isn't an option any more -- it's a necessity."

Likewise, with daunting and growing unemployment numbers coming in, the parts of the economic reform package targeting job creation is likely to have the greatest impact on struggling working families increasingly out of work. What one MoveOn member called a "devastating year" is likely to end up that way for many more. But by pumping money into programs like what Obama called "the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure," the recovery plan hopes to save or create 2.5 million new jobs in the next two years.

By investing in green-technologies and policies, such as making all federal government buildings energy efficient, Obama hopes to not only make positive progress toward stemming rapid and already-destructive man-made climate change, but he will also be creating new jobs and entire industries based on green standards. "This not only helps all Americans," said MoveOn member Cher H., of San Antonio, Texas, "but our planet as well." With the commitment to green, America should be able to put its former manufacturing prowess and technical innovation to a whole new range of environmentally friendly endeavors.

As for the war in Iraq, most of the nation has seen the folly behind the George W. Bush administration's bloody attempt at unilateral, pre-emptive war. But bringing the war in Iraq to close will have benefits far beyond merely ending the previous administration's crackpot misadventure. One will certainly be the eased burden on the treasury. "With our economy destroyed, the last thing we need to be throwing money at is a futile war," MoveOn member Francis T. said astutely. By enacting his plan for a responsible withdrawal, Obama will also be able to take the military resources from Iraq and redeploy them to more pressing national-security concerns like Afghanistan.

But without the support of Congress, Obama won't be able to implement the kind of broad-based change he is pushing for. As part of its new campaign, MoveOn held a series of "Congressional Action Trainings" this past weekend to kick-off its citizen-lobbying effort and to teach members to organize in their own states and districts. If Congress didn't get the call for change sent by Obama's overwhelming electoral victory, then it will when it starts hearing from regular constituents.

SEIU has also promised that it plans to maintain an active advocacy role throughout the election cycle lull. Two weeks ago, the union, boasting nearly 2 million members, launched a campaign of its own to help push through reforms very much like those of MoveOn. The powerful, combined voices of some 7 million politically organized Americans from across the country will be tough to miss -- even inside the Washington bubble where SEIU has pledged to appeal directly to Congress and the new administration with phone calls, letters and other actions.

SEIU, like MoveOn, is focused on the ambitious sorts of reforms that will help families across the country. Its stated goals are the passage of Obama's economic recovery plan, a universal health care bill and the Employee Free Choice Act that protects workers' right to unionize. An early institutional supporter of Obama after endorsing him only a month into the long Democratic primary battle, SEIU is looking for a return on its huge effort to elect Obama.

After knocking on 3.5 million doors and making more than 15 million phone calls in the last election cycle -- and showing its mettle and value by winning more than 80 percent of its key races -- SEIU has pledged massive resources to the new push. The group plans outreach efforts in 35 states, 1,000 full-time field staffers and an incredible 30 percent of the group's resources towards the campaign. The group has already put aside $10 million for the effort.

With a recent poll showing that more than half of America wants a strong package for recovery like the ones MoveOn and SEIU are advocating for and, notably, Obama has proposed, an aggressive and progressive agenda looks more promising than ever before. And with the country's woes -- two wars abroad and the economic downturn hitting hard at home -- bold initiatives have never been needed more.

But despite the relatively friendly climate, progressive groups and Obama are likely to encounter some push back. SEIU, for example, has set up a "war room" to battle opposition to its agenda. One thing is certain, the progressives that put Obama in power won't be happy with simply his inauguration; they want his agenda to make it through Congress and start providing the "change" and "hope" so eloquently described during the presidential race last year. And if these latest campaign's by MoveOn and SEIU are any indication, they intend to fight hard for them.

Ali Gharib writes for the Inter Press News Service.