Don't Mourn, Organize!" This is the growing call from labor and progressive forces following the upset election in Massachusetts of Republican Scott Brown to fill Edward Kennedy's seat in the U.S. Senate.
Brown's election gives Senate Republicans, who have blocked every piece of legislation for people's needs, one more vote, threatening defeat of health care reform to which Kennedy devoted his career.
Even before the polls closed, the right-wing and the media began their spin that the president and Congress should forget their agenda and give in to Republican obstructionism
Such an approach would be a much larger disaster than the loss of one seat.
Voters were angry and looking for relief from the economic crisis: they did not see the jobs that were created from the stimulus; they feared that their health benefits would be taxed or taken away; and they didn't hear Democrat Martha Coakley address their concerns. Meanwhile Scott Brown used populist rhetoric and clips of JFK to claim the Kennedy legacy.
"You see," said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, "they believe that Wall St. is being taken care of. They believe that corporate America is being taken care of. They believe the insurers are being taken care of. But they don't think that workers are being taken care of."
The Democratic Party in Massachusetts was divided after the primary elections, adding to the inability to get out the vote. When national Republican strategists saw the opening of a weak Democratic campaign, their play book went into effect. Millions of dollars were raised on-line from around the country, utilizing the teabaggers network built up over the summer. TV airtime was filled with ads, and automated phone calls went into voters' homes.
Polls did not show that Coakley was in trouble until a couple of weeks before election day. By the time a union get-out-the-vote program was put into place, and President Obama and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis came to campaign, it was too little too late.
Most big-and-medium-sized cities and the small deindustrialized towns in western Massachusetts went for Coakley, but not in large enough numbers to carry her over the top.
During the campaign, union members knocked on over 56,000 doors and made over 760,000 phone calls. The AFL-CIO sent 95,000 pieces of mail to member's homes.
A state labor leader told The Hill magazine, "If officials go running to the center like some are calling for, and away from what they campaigned on, they learned exactly the wrong lesson from this election."
AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman agreed. "When a candidate is strong on the issues and has a strong campaign and makes the case, the union program can turn out voters for that candidate. When the candidate is weak or hasn't been able to prove him or herself that they are fighters for working people, then it's very hard to turn people out," she said.
The anger and frustration about jobs and the economy is national. To regain momentum, big, bold, decisive actions are required that will create millions of jobs and rebuild the economy. It will take standing up to the opposition, not giving in.
An exit poll on health care conducted for Democrats for America showed that "by a margin of three-to-two, former Obama voters who voted for Republican Scott Brown said the Senate health care bill "doesn't go far enough." Six-to-one Obama voters who stayed home agreed. And to top it off, 80% of all voters still want the choice of a public option in the bill."
An AFL-CIO poll conducted by Hart Research showed that the recent Democratic compromise to tax working family's health care benefits is a losing strategy. Voters who thought their health care would be taxed voted 64% for Brown in protest.
This week, as Congressional leaders consider options with the loss of the 60th vote in the Senate, the national coalition Health Care for America Now is holding press events, rallies and e-mails to "Finish Health Reform Right," according to the principles that "health care must be affordable for everyone, not tax benefits and hold insurance companies accountable with the choice of a public health insurance option."
The election in Massachusetts should not be read as a shift to the right, but rather as an indication of inconsistent thinking and flux on the part of voters in a time of hardship and the biggest wealth gap in history. It was a protest telling Democrats they must take on the opposition and deliver for people's needs.
Following the election of Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia, the Massachusetts vote is a huge warning that if the racism and demagogic populism of the right-wing is not taken on and if the broad movement that elected President Obama is not rekindled and enlarged, the country could take a dangerous and repressive turn backward.
Since the election of President Obama, the extreme right-wing has created new organizations with the goal of bringing down the administration, winning huge gains in Congress this year, and re-taking the presidency in 2012.
People for the American Way warns that "groups like FreedomWorks which organized early Tea Party rallies and urged right-wing activists to shout down and disrupt town hall meetings mobilized voters on behalf of Brown."
Following the election, John McCain reported that his group Country First conducted a direct contribution effort for Brown and sent two million e-mails seeking campaign volunteers. "We are just getting started in our fight against the catastrophic agenda the Democrats are pushing nation wide," he writes. "Country First is dedicated to electing bold leaders like Scott Brown to office...in every region of the country."
Two days after the Massachusetts vote, the Supreme Court in a five-to-four decision gave carte blacnche to corporate spending on election campaigns. "If this stands, you can kiss America goodbye," remarked Congressman Alan Grayson saying, "We have filed six bills to reverse this assault, the "Save Our Democracy" platform. Together, we will move these bills forward and prevent the sale of our government to the highest bidder."
Republican strategist Dick Morris was gleeful with the outcome in Massachusetts, and used that as a jumping board to imagine how each and every Democratic Senator could be defeated to create a Republican majority in this year's elections. This trumpeting as a harbinger of things to come is part of the plan to create a favorable political climate for reaction.
But these dire projections will not become reality if labor along with the African American, Latino, Asian Pacific American, women and youth voters in the first place mobilize like never before at the grass roots and push Congress and the president to take on Wall Street and deliver for jobs and economic security including direct government programs financed by cutting spending on the wars and taxing extreme wealth.
The coalition Immigration Reform FOR America urged, "don't let any of this distract you from doing your job" to organize for comprehensive immigration reform that is coming up before Congress this year. They pointed out that "Comprehensive immigration reform will add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy, drive up wages for all workers, and support nearly a million jobs....needed to ignite support and insure turnout from Latino and independent voters."
In preparation for his State of the Union address Wednesday, President Obama visited hard hit Lorain, Ohio to address his program for economic relief. "The president isn't walking away from these challenges. In fact, his determination and resolve are only stronger," wrote Mitch Stewart, director of Organizing for America, as he called upon supporters to "match his commitment with our own."
Trumka's straightforward call to action to all working people sets the pace for the 2010 elections. "It's up to us to fight....because there's nothing more important than creating an economy that works for average working people. There's nothing more important than creating jobs, and there's nothing more important than putting our people back to work," he said. "Now's the time for us to do that. It's up to us to force both parties to fix the problems for working America."