We won our share of victories, including the mayor’s office in 1983 and 1987. But most of the gains we won at great cost in those years were taken back, piece by piece. Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, specialized in neutralizing the measure of local parent and teacher control over individual public schools by dissolving those schools altogether and establishing charter schools in their place, a policy that has gone national with the Obama administration’s cynically misnamed “Race to the Top” initiative.
To varying extents, the culture of public officaldom absorbed many of the people we put in office. For some of them, it must have been like going into the US Navy and supposing you could use it more than it would use you.
The Democratic Party has made itself people-proof, and activist-proof.
In response to efforts like ours around the country, the Democratic Party, as a vehicle of corporate rule, has evolved mechanisms to protect itself against the democratic influences of its activists and voters. Both houses of every state legislature, and the federal House and Senate, have house speakers and senate presidents, whips, minority and majority leaders. These are not the legislators with the most expansive view of how government can serve their constituents. These party leaders are elected on the basis of who can attract the largest amount in corporate campaign contributions. Some of the funds are used to guarantee the re-election of the Democratic Party leader on the state or federal level, and the party leader distributes the remaining funds to those of his or her fellow legislators most loyal to the corporate agenda. At best, Democrats who listen too closely to their constituents, and to the activist base that makes their elections possible, get nothing. At worst, they find their party’s leaders are funneling corporate money to right wing Democrats who oppose them in Democratic primary elections. That’s what happened to former Atlanta congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, to name just one example, and it happens scores of times every election cycle on the state and local levels. Rahm Emanuel, now White House Chief of Staff, performed this duty for Congressional Democrats in 2006, ensuring that even if Democrats had a whopping majority during the final years of the Bush Administration, they would pose no effective opposition to the Iraq and Afghan wars, or the Bush-Cheney crime wave in general.