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Obama’s Grassroots Supporters Demand “Jobs Not Cuts”

Obama’s grassroots supporters voted for jobs and social services, not for the budget cuts that Congress is demanding. Now they’re working to make sure that message is not forgotten.
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Immigrants march in Chicago on May Day, 2006. Photo by Joseph Voves.

November’s election results showed strong support for progressive values, which are now being attacked in the debate about the so-called “fiscal cliff.” A better name for it would be the “grand disconnect” because, in signaling its willingness to make cuts to essential services, Congress shows that it has already forgotten the message voters sent in November.

Much of the grand bargain talk is also based on a grand delusion that our main problem in this country is the deficit.

The good news is that, across the country, the same grassroots energy that helped deliver record turnout among low-income people, especially low-income minorities, is being turned to fighting for an economy that works for everyone.

Politically, the disconnect is obvious. This past election was a referendum on the right-wing austerity policies put forth by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and the outcome was clear: voters rejected the austerity economic agenda of the right. Exit polls showed about half of voters still blame President George W. Bush and his tax cuts for the wealthy for our current economic problems.

The president and Democrats in Congress are anxious to brandish their deficit-cutting credentials, while Republicans are eager to use the current showdown to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—programs they have long sought to undermine.

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Much of the grand bargain talk is also based on a grand delusion that our main problem in this country is the deficit. It’s not. The main problem is a lack of bold investments to create the kind of policies we need to get people back to work – a solution which would address our fiscal balance sheet far more effectively than slashing essential services that help people.

Austerity measures do not work. Just look across the ocean to Europe, where austerity measures have led to serious hardship in countries like Spain and Greece.

Changing the conversation

To challenge the grand delusion that austerity will somehow help our economy, a broad coalition of civil rights, labor, community, environmental, consumer rights, and other advocates, including the Center for Community Change, where I serve as Executive Director, are committed to changing the conversation in America from cuts to jobs.

Our coalition’s demand is simple: We want an agenda that can build real prosperity for all Americans. America needs quality jobs that pay living wages and are accessible to people looking for work right now. Public investments should be used to create millions of jobs and lay the groundwork for a stronger economic future.

Our campaign, called Jobs Not Cuts, includes five pillars:

  1. Creating millions of jobs to restart the economy. This must include steps to spur private investment and create targeted investments in infrastructure and education that will strengthen the economy and create quality jobs.
  2. Requiring the wealthiest and corporations to pay their fair share. This should start with ending tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent. While a wide range of programs have been cut in recent years, the very wealthy and corporations have so far not been required to contribute a penny in additional revenues toward deficit reduction.
  3. No cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Millions of seniors, children, people with disabilities, and others depend on these vital programs and they must not be cut. They are a cornerstone of our nation’s health care and retirement systems and a promise made to future generations.
  4. No cuts to vital services for low-income people. We should not allow the fiscal burden to be shifted to poor and working families who have already borne a disproportionate share of the nation’s economic pain in recent years.
  5. Stopping the sequester. According to the Budget Control Act of 2011, if Congress and the president cannot agree on budget cuts, then forced reductions called “sequestration” will begin on January 2, 2013. We believe that sequestration harms the fragile recovery of our economy and will result in a substantial loss of jobs in both the public and private sectors. These cuts will damage vital services that are needed to promote health, development, and economic security for people and communities nationwide.

Our work is just beginning

One great lesson of Obama’s first term was that we made progress when we pushed, and we stalled out when we waited and watched. The LGBT and immigrant-rights movements challenged both Republicans and Democrats and achieved significant policy wins. Health care reform would never have made it over the finish line without relentless grassroots pressure on moderate Democrats. Only robust campaigns operating independently of both parties have a chance at putting economic justice on the agenda.

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The problems we face are deep enough that there will be no quick fix. The most important question for progressives is how to build a movement for economic justice—a people’s movement that can topple the elite austerity consensus and overcome the massive money and energized conservative movement on the other side.

The real crises facing the country are barely being discussed inside the Beltway, and rarely are the solutions proposed commensurate with the problems at hand: More than 106 million people—one in three Americans—are facing material hardship, defined as living under 200 percent of the poverty line; 20 million are living in extreme poverty; 12.5 million are officially unemployed; and wages and working conditions are in decline for a majority of Americans.

A new framework for shared prosperity endorsed by a broad swath of labor, community, and civil rights groups spells out an alternative to austerity with the capacity to address these crises—but only an organized constituency can give such ideas life.


Deepak Bhargava wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Deepak is executive director of the Center for Community Change, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that affect their lives.

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