“I see Inside/Outside as absolutely essential,” says Bill Honigman, PDA’s California state coordinator. “There are going to be times when the party needs to be shook up a little, and the only way to do that is from the outside. By the same token, you can’t do it all from the outside. You have to be involved in the party to change things when it’s going the wrong way.”
Demonstrating examples of movement-partisan groups that engage both in direct action and legislative advocacy, the article profiles Progressive Democrats of America, CodePink, the Aurora Project, and MoveOn--noting that it earned the ire of antiwar movement for its dismissal of the Out of Iraq Caucus' withdrawal bill.
The piece discusses the challenge of striking a balance between free-rein grassroots mobilizing that has the capacity to bring radical new ideas into public discourse, and the more pragmatic political approach, which ultimately legislates change.
The author cautions against "allowing Democratic electoral victories to become ends unto themselves," and highlights the value of "formulating a strong progressive platform that addresses the concerns of middle- and working-class Americans." The danger of political obscurity in attempting to shift the Democratic party to the left can only be overcome through "sustained, local mobilization and leadership development" with the goal being to "shift away from issue-based pressure groups that have dominated left politics since the '70's."
Air America host Laura Flanders makes a crucial observation--organizations like PDA must also “work outside of its comfort zone.” Aurora Project head Bill Fletcher, Jr. notes “a recurring problem in progressive circles, where they come to be dominated by what can best be described as white economic populists. But when it comes to issues of race and gender, there’s a soft peddling in the way of bringing us all together.” This is a source of great weakness for groups like CodePink.
I've had countless conversations with activist friends on the agency of the Inside/Outside approach--it's a favorite topic for Tizzie-P and me. I definitely wore both hats in college, as a Campus Dems officer and organizer in a couple local and statewide campaigns, and as a member of an antiwar group and newscaster on KCSB, the university's independent radio station that proudly proclaimed the motto "bringing the revolution to your radio." When I would table for the Dems, fellow DJs would jokingly ask me if I'd lost a bet. In officer meetings with the Dems, it was difficult to get some of the more cautious officers on board in taking a stance against the war, and taking to the streets, and more lefty peace and justice groups and activists were often maligned in quiet conversation. But the club's power was undeniable, with one of the largest memberships of any political club on campus, if not the largest, and it was certainly the group most responsible for the success of the Associated Students campus voter reg drives (hat tip to Hill). Like a microcosm of the larger party, it was the matter of convincing the middle-of-the-road folks to accept new ideas.
For some on either side, with the exception of those that straddled the line and shared the "Inside/Outside" identity, you're either selling-out or a crazy hippie. I don't see why you can't do both--it can only make the progressive movement stronger if we act in both capacities, standing firm on principle and unafraid of dramatic--though smart--tactics, while acting pragmatically through the right legislative channels. As PDA National Director Tim Carpenter says, “Every great social movement begins in the street. But it ultimately ends in the halls of Congress.”