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With the media’s preoccupation with Tea Party politicking, and with the full force of raw corporate power suffocation our democracy, you probably haven’t heard that many beacons of progressive hope are shining brightly from America’s grassroots.
These efforts show that well-organized alley cats can defeat the big money of the fat cats. Check out New Jersey, where the state AFL-CIO is not merely getting its rank-and-file members to support good candidates, but to become candidates.
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For the past dozen years, Jersey’s federation of working families has been recruiting, training, supporting – and electing – its own members to state and local offices. In a state where campaigns routinely cost millions of dollars, the AFL-CIO spends a modest $250,000 a year to run a political boot camp that schools ordinary folks to be successful candidates. More than 160 of New Jersey’s current office holders – including the state senate president – are union members elected through this grassroots program. They learned the how-tos of speaking, media outreach, fund-raising, and other basic democratic skills, all focused not merely on winning, but on enacting public policies to advance the middle class.
The AFL-CIO president says, “We started with zoning boards, school boards, councils, then mayor, freeholder, and then senators and assemblyman.” “[We] take our members and apprentice them in the field of politics, just as we apprentice them in their own crafts,” he says. The result is that labor no longer is a hapless outside group trying to persuade corporate-backed officeholders to do the right thing for workaday people, but is now an inside player with real power to help set the state’s policy agenda.
Why not do this in your state? For information go to www.njaflcio.org, and click on COPE.
“Union Effort Is Grooming Candidates in New Jersey,” The New York Times, October 30, 2010.