The need for a grassroots liberal movement

A liberal tea party movement can effect real change in not just race relations, but politics.

Posted by LM on June 13, 2020

I've been looking for a solid way to present this idea for quite some time, and the events of the last few weeks in America have inspired me to really wordsmith it and nail it down on this site. The sight of House Democratic leaders taking a compulsory knee on Capitol Hill sealed the deal.

Firstly, I want to say I feel tremendous pride in the reaction to Mr. Floyd's May 25 death. This is the first time, it seems to me as a white person, that white people are really taking seriously the fact that yet another black man, after saying, "I can't breathe," has died at the hands of police. Those of us who don't need to instinctively fear police finally seem to accept that racism indeed exists within law enforcement, and as one smart young woman of color recently said, "I believe this is a systemic problem. I don't believe in the good cop narrative. I believe that there are good people who decide to become cops, but in choosing to do that I feel you are choosing to join an oppressive system."

Secondly, I want to say I hope I can proceed without seeming like I'm hijacking these events in service of another voice. It can be challenging to connect dots with those who don't share your brain without risking a separate challenge to your credibility.

This time really does feel different. I was skeptical that it would and I wasn't alone; even prominent black leaders such as Tyrone Terrill, president of the African American Leadership Council, felt things wouldn't change.

But that's actually my point. Like other incidents that spark protests and marches over injustices - African American, LGBT, women's rights, income inequality, climate change - the protests will end eventually but, as Mr. Terrill says, the aftermath will continue. And the sad reality is that, even though this time does feel different and some cosmetic change is almost certain, the system itself won't change without a change in our politics. The system I'm speaking of is not limited to systemic racism, but systemic oppression of those without political means. That can mean being black in America but it can also mean living in a Democratic county in a red state that is trying to limit ballot box access (even without the current debate on mail-in ballots during a pandemic); it can mean being a woman seeking autonomy over her body and her choices; it can mean having less access to the real political process because you're not a member of the donor class.

We're in this together, and as conservative lawmakers and judges become even more powerful and even less relenting, our shared interests and our need for solidarity become even more apparent.

Here is my suggestion. What we need is a grassroots movement that eschews our previous strategies at political reform: chiefly our exclusive focus (and deep analysis) on specific issues, and our tendency to embrace folk hero candidates who have or have not earned their bonafides. Instead we need to embrace philosophy. Issues can become hot or cold, candidates can be defeated or enter presidential contests unprepared (*cough* Bernie *cough*), but philosophy itself is what endures. Like theology, political philosophy is what guides thoughts, actions and justifications. It gives context, and context is what we need to confront these various major problems.

The best way to achieve that, in my opinion, is with a liberal tea party movement that attempts to replicate the success of the conservative tea party ten years ago. They marched and protested too, but then they got organized behind desks and drafted non-establishment candidates for office nationwide to replace candidates they believed had insufficient conservative philosophy. We need to find and agree on a common set of standards and expectations based on our shared views that can be used to inspire candidates to run for office and change the ideological makeup of the Democratic party from within. When those who kneel on the Hill because they're obligated to refuse to really rock the boat because they're committed to other interests (*cough* the same donor class Republicans work for *cough*), all they will pay us is the lip service they need to retain our vote and their power.

I plan to continue writing and expanding in detail on this idea in the future. How this need shows itself in other situations, the ways in which establishment Democrats try to maintain the status quo, why cause for a single politician is not itself a "movement," how an enduring movement could begin, and so on. Please check back, and please feel free to add your ideas or thoughts. The best way to get my attention is on Twitter. Thanks!
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