The state of America's working class continues to challenge and anger the most dedicated and brilliant minds of the progressive movement. Throughout the history of our nation a ray of hope emerges periodically that gives life to our vision of a more equitable society.
Many of us could see it- feel it- evolving as the 2006 elections approached. As in previous times it progressed rapidly from issues within communities and families across the nation, escalating to fruition at the polls in November 2006. The escalating turmoil of Iraq and the horrendous tragedies of New Orleans, that stunned the nation, prompted many voters to express their anger at the polls.
As it approached, progressives began to organize to capture the opportunity that many had seen escape time and time, again.
Personally, I have been overwhelmed with progressive agendas. Most provide sound strategies, but without the resources needed to win they are just more good ideas. I am convinced that while progressives recognize the challenges of organizing around the issues in a state like South Carolina, groups with the necessary resources, like International unions and the Democratic Party offer little to move us beyond rhetoric.
Fortunately, the few South Carolina progressives have not waited on good intending folks to determine how to transform their visions into a working plan to organize the South. While we face many obstacles, we have been able to enact instant runoff elections for registered voters serving overseas in 2006. The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus was able to enact racial profiling, attached to seatbelt legislation in 2005. However, it was only when South Carolina union members recognized the support of activists and trade unionists from around the world, that they acknowledged that the famed "Charleston Five" were being denied their human rights. Victory was attainable because there were those who recognized the injustices and acted to educate and organize the communities on behalf of these five men, indicted for conspiring to incite a riot.
Before I am judged on my cynicism, I am sure that most of you can relate to my frustrations from a different perspective. Progressive leaders are to be commended for their never ending efforts to rally activists to organize communities and build on the present momentum. However, few have been able to give considerable time and thought to the strategies to build a movement that would transfer power to the people.
Everyone agrees that good leadership is a driving force to assure the continuity needed to provide an enduring agenda. My AFL-CIO counterparts consider electoral politics a priority to organizing. I am of the opinion that electoral work impedes the progress, when it becomes the priority. While union membership continues to dwindle, millions of dollars are spent on field support and programs to support candidates, who are proficient in counting the number of constituents represented by unions. There is no better example than Southern Democrats, who bolt from the party when called on to support working families, women and minorities.
It would be a tragedy for history to define us for what we did not intend. The politics of distraction have derailed our opportunities to create a new vision many times before. The politics of corruption plagues our communities and organizations at heightened levels. Effective government must evolve from an educated and organized electorate.
There are so many that need someone to give hope- and deliver it locally. Hopefully, progressives will define themselves at this crucial juncture in a manner that history will celebrate.
Donna Dewitt is President of the South Carolina State AFL-CIO