Start a Progressive Alliance
It is my belief that the two-party system in the United States is an impediment to achieving true democracy. Both major parties are funded heavily by corporate money. In fact, most big corporations donate to both parties to keep their corporate-backed, two-party system in place. In all other advanced countries, there are parties based on promoting the specific interests of non-corporate sectors, such as the interests of ordinary working people. What a novel idea!
For over 140 years the two major U.S. parties have effectively prevented the emergence of any mass political formations that could challenge them. Their ties to corporate America and the corporate-backed media have assured the two-party monopoly.
In spite of this monopoly, mass struggles for social progress to expand democracy and civil rights have periodically exploded throughout U.S. history, demonstrating the power of independent political action. However, such mobilizations have been unable to expand their efforts due to co-option by the Democratic Party, which has continuously led strong, empowering movements to their burial grounds. As a party, the Democrats have always stopped short of any serious challenge to the corporate system that backs them. As a result, under both parties, wealth inequality has grown, wars have continued, Wall Street has been bailed out, public education has suffered, and our planet is in peril.
I know there are good people who believe the Democratic Party can be reformed. And if someday they conclude that such a goal is not possible, they know already that there are many of us willing to build with them, and with all our progressive sisters and brothers, an alternative political structure that will take our nation where it badly needs to go.
In the meantime, some of us could not wait for a major shift in national consciousness, and instead have built an independent movement right in our local communities. That is what happened in Richmond, California. We formed the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) in 2003 and have been transforming our city ever since. With elected officials who take no corporate money and principled community leadership, we are demonstrating a successful model of social change and transformation. While I am a member of the Green Party, our local elections are nonpartisan, so the RPA has focused on building an alliance of people based on our progressive values and vision rather than on party affiliation. The RPA has built a strong local movement through our independent grassroots organizing and by running independent candidates who take no corporate money. I was elected to the City Council in 2004, and then was elected as mayor in 2006 and again in 2010. I termed out as mayor after serving for eight years, but decided to run for City Council again in 2014 to keep our work moving forward in Richmond. Other RPA progressives were also elected through our progressive electoral work.
Our biggest challenge has always been the fact that we live in a city that is also home to the most productive oil refinery in California, the Chevron Richmond Refinery. This refinery pollutes us daily; periodically has major incidents, like the 2012 refinery fire that sent 15,000 people to local hospitals for respiratory treatment; and is the largest single greenhouse gas emitter in California. We have overcome the influence of this big 1–percenter in many ways. First and foremost, we defeated their candidates and preserved our democracy on the electoral battlefield. In 2014, they spent over $3 million trying to defeat progressive candidates and elect Chevron-friendly officials. In a clean-sweep victory, all the Chevron candidates lost, and all our candidates won!
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McLaughlin, Gayle. 2016. Start a Progressive Alliance. Tikkun 31(1): 16.