By Cole Harrison, Massachusetts Peace Action
Grassroots organizations develop advocacy campaigns around individual issues, but the current U.S. economic crisis is making it more and more difficult to win with that approach, as our agendas are pitted against each other. The labor movement, the peace movement, human service advocates and racial justice organizations have all faced an uphill struggle in recent years due to an overall climate of austerity that shows every sign of deepening rather than dissipating. Meanwhile, Washington-centric top-down progressive coalitions, formed and re-formed every couple of years, have lacked the long-term commitment required to sink their roots deep and stay the course.
The crisis and conflict reflected in Washington’s current budget impasse are fundamental and will be with us for decades. In response, a progressive coalition must also go deeper. Single-issue groups will continue to fail and austerity will continue to be the order of the day unless substantial new revenues are available. They can only be found by taxing the 1% and curtailing U.S. militarism.
The money is there. The Congressional Progressive Caucus’ annual alternative budget, which in 2012 is called the Budget for All, gives the lie to the austerity agenda promoted by both Republicans and mainstream Democrats. Its four-point agenda calls for preserving critical services and benefits, investing in jobs, taxing upper incomes and corporations, and cutting bloated military spending – and it balances the federal budget faster than either the Ryan budget or President Obama’s budget. The Budget for All resolution received 78 yes votes in the House of Representatives in March. Our goal is to expand this voting bloc in Congress by holding legislators accountable to the Budget for All agenda.
In Massachusetts, Peace Action is helping to build a budget coalition that first came together in Fall 2011 to resist the bipartisan effort to gut the social safety net in the guise of the SuperCommittee. Under the slogan “Stop the Cuts – Invest in Jobs – Tax the 1% – Reduce Military Spending,” the Budget for All coalition includes 44 organizations — labor unions, low-income and people of color community organizing groups, tenants’ groups, Democratic and Green party groups, Occupy groups, and peace groups.
To bring our issues into the 2012 election season, we created a Budget for All non-binding referendum question. We gathered over 25,000 signatures to put it on the ballot in 8 state Senate and 24 state Representative districts, including all or part of 91 Massachusetts cities and towns across the state. About 33% of the Massachusetts electorate, or about 1 million voters, will have the opportunity to vote on the Budget for All November 6. The Budget for All Referendum has been endorsed by Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Jim McGovern, Rep. Ed Markey, and by a dozen state legislators.
We achieved this by coupling the door-to-door organizing capacity of low-income Boston community groups with the suburban reach of the peace movement.
Led by grassroots community groups, the referendum qualified in the entire city of Boston, and in the depressed cities of Lawrence, Fall River, Holyoke, and Chelsea, which have substantial Black and Latino populations. In these areas the great majority supports our agenda – people strongly agree with the need for jobs programs, care about services such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and housing, and support cutting the military. Canvassers registered many new voters and used the referendum to motivate people towards political participation.
Locally based peace groups, in some places supported by suburban Occupy groups, tackled two dozen towns in Boston’s near suburbs. In these and other liberal, majority white areas, most people are sympathetic to our agenda, except for those who think they might earn above $250,000 someday or who express a generalized distrust of government.
The Budget for All faced its most challenging territory in far suburban areas where there has been less peace and progressive activism and more influence from right wing, anti-tax ideas. In these areas there is more support for the military and a call to cut the military budget raises eyebrows. Public education will be key to p
Our grassroots coalition is working hard to get out the word to the 1 million voters who will vote on the B4A on November 6. We’re printing yard signs and flyers, we’ve begun to get press coverage and we’re using social media. We’re setting up events and forums, giving presentations to union and community groups, and racking up endorsements from elected officials. And we’ll be covering the polls on Election Day to make sure voters pass the Budget for All overwhelmingly!
This fight will take time to win. Beyond Election Day, we’ll push for a resolution on Beacon Hill to put more pressure on Congress. It’s important that the peace movement hang together with allies such as the SAVE for All coalition of human service advocates and push wavering legislators to stand up for prosperity, not austerity!
Check out the Budget for All – Massachusetts coalition at www.budget4allMass.org