Monday, February 11, 2013

Building a Movement

This weekend , along with the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups is organizing a Forward on Climate Rally (on Sunday the 17th) and other activities in Washington in support of federal action on confronting the climate crisis, and specifically calling for the Obama administration to deny approval for the Keystone pipeline.

Demos and pressure from groups and people who are otherwise allies can be very helpful not only in spurring action but in giving the Administration some political room to act.  It was the March on Washington in 1963 that told Washington there was a lot of support for Civil Rights legislation, which gave President Kennedy the political room to propose what became the Voting Rights Act and other laws.

One of the problems on responding to the climate crisis as well as other issues has been the lack of a cohesive and persistent progressive movement.  It still doesn't exist--marches like this should have the kind of broad institutional support that the March on Washington had, from most Civil Rights groups to religious groups to Big Labor.  We'll see if this particular march has made any progress in that regard.

So the web site's call to action --"Tell Obama to Step It Up!"--is relevant, although as everybody knows, the real problem is Congress.  Still, there are things that the President can do and advocate that don't require Congress, and I hope we do hear some of those in the State of the Union.

But it's very important to the effectiveness and credibility of this effort not to go too far in personalizing this, especially in regard to President Obama.  And that's for a very clear political reason.  As this last election proved, there are millions of voters who feel very protective of President Obama.  They are mostly but not exclusively people of color, and members of other minorities.  They are very sensitive to the kind of slights they've heard about themselves, and they won't tolerate personal attacks on this President. 

To name a conspicuous example, Joe Romm at Climate Progress declared the Obama administration a "failure" because it didn't succeed in passing cap and trade or otherwise do what Romm wanted them to do.  That was (if memory serves) barely two years into Obama's first term, although Romm has repeated it several times since.  It got him attention, but not all of it was positive.  It turned people off, including me.

Whether an administration is a success or failure is a judgment for history, when more is known and the consequences are clearer.  We all wish the last 5 Presidents, including Obama, had been more successful in leading on what is very probably the most consequential issue of our time. If we fail to confront this crisis, there will be plenty of blame to go around.  But making a premature judgment on success or failure of a presidency is arrogant and unfair--and in this case it has been perceived as such.  Repetition of this will only alienate more people. 

 The environmental movement needs to move beyond affluent white liberals, and the perception that it still is that.  The necessary environmental coalition--let alone the necessary progressive coalition--will not happen if a lot of natural allies are driven away.

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