A little too late for the midterm elections, but still a timely primer of political action to reinvigorate a failing left.
The left badly needs a boost, writes Osterman (Urban Studies/MIT), and so does the very notion of representative democracy when politics is controlled increasingly by “economic and political elites.” The author argues that “Fundamental ideas about what it means to be a democracy are violated when few are engaged and when those who do participate are not representative of the citizenry.” Voter apathy wasn’t helped, nor was the widening gulf between rich and poor, with the Democrats’ drift to the center in the Clinton years, and the current, unelected president gives only more reason for despair. By Osterman’s account, the Democratic Party was right in gauging the fundamental social conservatism of the working class but wrong in “buying into the conservative economics espoused both by Republicans and by the Democratic Leadership Council,” for, he argues, at least economically the electorate is ready for a liberal turn while at the same time harboring a deservedly profound mistrust of entrenched politicians. Enter the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a grassroots organization formed, on the model of noted rabble-rouser Saul Alinsky, to “bring together neighborhood, community, and workplace concerns” and to press various points of the progressive agenda, from improving work conditions to spiritually enriching the lives of ordinary people—no godless communism here, Osterman writes, since the IAF is pointedly faith-based, reflecting the ethic of many of its members and assuring the doubtful that it “is mainstream and in line with core American values.” Osterman’s descriptions of IAF initiatives and successes, mostly in the American Southwest, will be helpful as case studies for fans of Rules for Radical and as a powerful argument for giving renewed attention to local-level politics on the road to larger arenas.
Good reading for activists, of a piece with Gary Hart’s recent Restoration of the Republic (p. 931).