As the smoke starts to clear from the November elections, a new political landscape comes into view. And here in California, we enter a new political era.
Arguments continue among Democrats over whether President Obama’s tax cut deal is one more betrayal or one more pragmatic compromise. But for the time being at least Obama has lost the capacity to inspire us to challenge the power of economic royalty and its array of right-wing foot-soldiers.
Here in Santa Cruz for example, hundreds volunteered to resist the Tea Party takeover of Congress during these mid-term elections under the banner of Obama’s Organizing for America (or OFA). Working through internet-based networks we exported our energies to swing congressional districts, recruiting volunteers and reminding less likely voters to vote. Now however, the wind is gone from OFA’s sails. So while we soldier on for the DREAM Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, we look elsewhere for leadership for peace, economic justice and other community values.
And now looming over the next two years here in California are battles similar to but even more intense than those on the national stage. Here, success has left Democrats holding the bag of fiscal crisis. Though Democrats now can adopt a budget by majority vote, the Republican minority still holds veto power over taxation. And unlike Washington, Sacramento can’t print money. So in the coming months Governor-elect Jerry Brown has little choice but to “rip the band-aid off the wound”, imposing cutbacks that dwarf the austerity of recent years, triggering titanic election battles to establish majority rule and adequate funding for public needs, climaxing in November 2012.
As in all of California’s recent elections the politics of immigration are likely to surface again, and the participation of Mexican-American voters is likely to be decisive.
Also here in California, the single-payer solution to still-climbing health care costs will surface again in 2011, again triggering a political firestorm, again climaxing in November 2012.
All this along with the further chaos of a redistricting process that will put incumbents at risk like never before.
For what it’s worth, though, recent election results suggest that there’s a better chance for a democratic outcome here in California than in the country as a whole.
Importantly however, none of the activist networks that packed such a punch on the democratic left in recent years-not OFA, nor MoveOn, nor Howard Dean’s Democracy for America-are equipped to organize at the state level. All are creatures of federal politics. Unless they become more nimble and less centralized they will fail to harness California’s energies over the next two years. So while we remain involved in contests centered on Washington DC we are now likely to build new movement networks focused on these battles in this state.
Also importantly, the challenges we now face are likely to unite a broader spectrum of Democrats and others both in California and in the country at large. Each of the activist networks produced by the campaigns of the past arose in lieu of a Democratic Party worthy of that name, and each still exists as a parallel structure more or less to the left. But now the center may shift to left, and new networks may be able to embrace the party as a whole.