The Importance of Local, Organized Action to Build the National Agenda

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Grassroots (from

Nearly twenty years ago, I was a waitress at a Chinese restaurant (don’t ask me why, but I worked at Chinese restaurants for almost a decade), and happened to be the banquet server for a group of conservative evangelical activists.

The group was well dressed and groomed, very pleasant, and scared the ever loving piss out of me.  Keep in mind that in those days, I was a libertarian.  In their oh, so nice, oh so middle class way, they were gathered in a Chinese Restaurant in southern New Mexico, plotting to take over the world, one municipal office at a time, in the name of their narrow interpretation of the Bible.

Astroturf: or Tea Party Nation

Their goals are familiar to all of us, twenty years later — if you look at the official platform of the Republican party, that’s pretty much the content of all of the well printed, glossy brochures they handed out at that little gathering.  All the envy, all the hate, all the blaming the poor for their own problems and exalting the rich, all that was there.

In essence, they were successful.  They built up a political machine that over time created the Republican party we see today, including its lunatic Tea-O-P members.

Why bring up this ancient history?  A long acquaintance, and new friend, filkertom at LiveJournal (Tom Smith, an excellent musician who works out of this website, here), posted something I hadn’t seen anywhere else in his LiveJournal

True Grassroots movement in WI.  How do we keep the momentum?

The money quote:

Voters in Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved, by an 84 percent majority, a city referendum calling for amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that “only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights.” In Dane County, Wisconsin, which includes the city of Madison, 78 percent voted for a similar county referendum, rejecting the rationale underlying the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited, and secret, corporate campaign spending.

Tom got his information from this article at the Daily Kos, which I hadn’t read. The text of the referendum reads as follows:

RESOLVED, the City of Madison, Wisconsin, calls for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the United States Constitution to establish that:
1. Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and
2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.

Up in Vermont, the land of my birth, a referendum started the process by which the state is now passing (and almost certainly will pass) universal health care for the state.

Those creepy Stepford Christianists at that banquet twenty years ago had one thing absolutely right.  When neither party in Washington is listening to you and meeting your needs, you need to organize locally, win local elections, and move up from there.

What are you doing in addition to protesting?

The problem with us liberal types is that we’re so up front and open about our radical ideas of equality and freedom of religion and speech for all and ensuring that the rights of the most fragile of Americans are protected from the more powerful.  We get up on our soapboxes and yell into the wind, demanding that the world change right now to please us.  Too many liberals organize short term, around specific causes, but then go wander off in between rallies.  Where are the electable liberals running for school boards and city offices?  Where are the clean cut, nice folks who can sell the message and at the same time have integrity and drive.

I know they’re out there.  Claire McCaskill, though not really liberal, is an excellent example of a very personable politician with integrity.  My Representative, Emanual Cleaver II, is another, and so did Alan Grayson (someone get him a new office to run for, please!).  If they’re out there at the national level, I’m sure they’re out there at the local level.

Once upon a time, city machine politics (which I’m not endorsing) provided the funnel that got progressive after progressive elected.  Harry Truman came out of machine politics.  So did the Kennedys.  Some would argue that Barack Obama came out of machine politics.

The attack on the unions from the right tells us that they recognize not only the role of the unions in ensuring that corporations provide protections to employees, but also the role that unions play in organizing Democratic and liberal politicians at the local level.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (attributed to Margaret Mead)

What local groups are starting this process in your neck of the woods?  How can you contribute to this movement?  What national groups are contributing to this effort?

This is just a “Saturday post” that riffs off what I found in Tom’s journal.  I should have time next week to gather some resources for you all.


  • WA farmers block federal drones and Agenda 21 (
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  • California’s supermajority: use it or lose it (
  • Montana Passes Referendum Declaring Corporations are not People (
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