Democratizing the Economy for a New Progressive Era

After many demonstrations like this one, Vermont’s government passed a statewide single-payer health care initiative in May 2011. State and municipal reforms can pave the way for more systemic transformation at the national level. Credit: Creative Commons/National Economic and Social Rights Initiative

Come what may in November’s presidential election, progressive prospects at the national level are far from encouraging. Truth be told, we live in an era of deepening stagnation and political stalemate. While the short-term consequences of who occupies the Oval Office are important, in the long term, the logic of the system as now structured is producing inexorable results: deepening inequality, proliferating ecological crises, and increasing pain for the majority. With the labor movement—the traditional countervailing power that drives progressive politics—at its historic nadir, we cannot expect the kind of systemic transformation we need to come from Washington.

Nevertheless, our present deadlock and decay open up possibilities for longer-term systemic change in surprising directions. Emerging beneath the media’s electoral radar at the neighborhood, city, and state levels all across the country is what many have called “the new economy”—thousands of experiments that democratize ownership, stabilize communities, and build a more sustainable future. These developments address immediate needs while also pointing the way toward a more sweeping, possible longer-term systemic transformation. And at this moment—the prehistory of the next progressive era—this may well be the most important arena in which to organize.

What can be done, and what kind of victories can we win, if we shift our focus in this way?

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