Through three successive national elections, it has become clear that America’s political left is insufficiently coordinated to influence politics and policy in a meaningful way. Too few people with progressive values are represented on school boards, library boards and city councils, in mayors’, prosecutors’, and sheriffs’ offices, and subsequently in state legislatures, governor’s offices, the United States Congress and now the White House.
It is also clear that the most effective organizing forces around progressive issues are successful at galvanizing a young and radical left (using radical in the political sense of those who seek dramatic and sudden change to structures of power), but has thus far proven unable to harness the potential of those who share common goals, but who favor a more conservative, incremental approach, or disagree on proposed solutions, or whose personal commitments make it challenging to participate in political actions like marches, sit-ins, and other forms of political defiance.
The result, on the one side, is an active, empowered movement of youthful change agents and activists (i.e. the Bernie Sanders coalition, Black Lives Matter, the Green Party) whose energies ebb and flow dramatically in response to current events, who have tremendous power to influence popular culture, and who lack the infrastructure and resources to build a national coalition of political actors and organizations (therefore capturing only a small section of the overall electorate).
On the other side exists a much larger but more complacent body of moderate or marginally engaged voters (i.e. the Gore, Kerry, and Hilary Clinton coalitions), and whose energies are often channeled into apolitical forms of engagement like volunteering for a local food shelf, participating in a faith community, or donating to an animal shelter. The size of this group is more stable over time and (through the Democratic Party) has the resources necessary to win elections. However, it lacks the ideological passion and engagement to ensure that politicians and policies supported through their efforts uphold and effectively advance progressive principles, values, and priorities.
When progressive issues have advanced in America, it has often been when the left is active from its most left-leaning edge to the very center of the political spectrum. Woman suffrage made progress on the efforts of both the radical National Woman’s Party and the more conservative National American Woman Suffrage Association. The civil rights era benefited from the efforts of organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and also the Black Panthers.
The aim, therefore, is not to eliminate one camp or the other, but to ensure that the political left works from a place of strength across the political spectrum. The more that we activate a broad range of left-leaning individuals, the more we build momentum behind the core values that drive the progressive movement in America. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there are signs that the slumbering majority of liberal voters are awakening, but that many are paralyzed by a sense that they are too disconnected or are unsure where to start. The Coalition for Effective Political Action seeks to harness their interest and direct them toward action.