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WFW Update: Steering Occupiers to Political Outreach

Posted by Will Rice (will) on Nov 07 2011 at 5:10 PM
FALL 2011 >>

Almost since the Occupy movement began, supportive mainstream progressives have pondered how the energy and idealism of the protests could be translated into effective political action.  Iowa Working Families Win has taken a small but significant step towards bridging the worlds of Occupation and politics.

This fall, our long-time organizer in the state, Chris Schwartz, has been involved simultaneously in two important campaigns.  He’s been leading an independent effort to prevent Iowa from following Wisconsin, Ohio and other states down the road of undermining middle-class families with radical attacks on public employees and services.  And he’s been participating in the northeastern Iowa manifestation of the Occupy movement, Occupied Cedar Valley.

Like many Midwestern states, Iowa was caught up in the conservative wave election last year, ending up with a governor and house of representatives dedicated to a national program of stripping public workers of their hard-earned collective bargaining rights, and public services like children’s health and pre-school education of the funding they need to succeed.   All that stood in their way was the state senate, where progressives held a one-vote majority.

Then, in a crafty political move, the Republican governor appointed a Democratic state senator to a state board, creating a vacancy in the senate to be filled by a special election.  A GOP victory would result in a tie in the state senate between the two parties, a tie that would be broken by the Republican lieutenant governor casting the deciding ballot. The conservative agenda could proceed.

Working Families Win was among the first independent advocacy groups to swing into action to prevent this planned assault on Iowa’s working families.  Our staff not only in Iowa, but in our Washington headquarters and elsewhere around the country, immediately began crafting our message, targeting voters, creating literature, and organizing volunteers.

By the time of the election on November 8, WFW volunteers had made over 10,000 phone calls, identifying voters and getting them out to the polls.  Chris had met with the Democratic candidate, Liz Mathis, to confirm her commitment to working family values.  And that important connection between the Occupy movement and grassroots political organizing had been made.

That’s because some of the volunteers hitting the phones several evenings a week in support of a progressive victory in the state senate special election, spent their days hitting the streets as part of Occupied Cedar Valley. Let’s all work to encourage Occupiers across the country in reaching the same conclusion: achieving real social change requires both an “inside” and an “outside” game. 
Don Kusler is national director of Working
Families Win, a joint project of ADA and the ADA Education Fund.