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Jim Shultz: After Election 2004 - What Now?

The Democracy Center On-Line
Volume 57 - November 9, 2004


Dear Readers:

If you happen to be quite pleased with the results of last week's US Presidential elections, you might just want to hit the delete button and skip this issue. If you woke up last Wednesday morning feeling like you had been run over by a truck, you might want to give this issue a read.

Please note - At the bottom of this issue we announce a first, a Democracy Center essay contest: "After Election 2004 - What Should We Do Now?" This is an important opportunity for people to share their ideas about what progressive citizen groups should do to continue the fight for social justice, protection of the environment, and peace. We hope that you will put on your thinking caps and enter and encourage others to do the same.

Jim Shultz

The Democracy Center


By Jim Shultz

The down side of being forty-seven is that, well, I am forty-seven. The upside is that I am actually old enough to wake up the morning after an election like last week's and not fall prey to all the media and GOP nonsense about the U.S. having slid off the side of the earth into right wing oblivion.

In 1972 I was a high school student and worked my tail off for months campaigning for George McGovern in Richard Nixon's hometown. You want to feel like a blue speck in a sea of red, try that! In the run up to the vote Henry Kissinger announced that the US was about to sign a peace treaty in Vietnam, McGovern lost by the most lop-sided vote in US history, and after the election Nixon started bombing again. In those angry weeks afterwards that I spent throwing darts at Nixon on the cover of Newsweek no one imagined that in less than two years he would be winging his way in disgrace back to San Clemente and a Democrat would win back the White House the next time around.

In the 1980s, when it seemed like the Regan/Bush administrations went on for an eternity, I joined with thousands of others across the US in a campaign to end funding for the brutal regime in El Salvador. There we were, as marginalized as you get in U.S. politics, holding candlelight vigils and lobbying Congress members, who wouldn't even hold a hearing before rubber stamping multi-billion checks to a government that had killed tens of thousands. Then in 1989 the Salvadoran army massacred a campus of Jesuit priests not to its liking and suddenly our cause was the top of Sixty Minutes and the dominoes of political change fell. The U.S. Congress finally balked at more aid and the Salvadoran government was forced to sign a peace treaty with its people.

In other words, the political pendulum swings. It always has and it always will and that swing almost always happens when things hit their most extreme point.

The week before the election I was invited in to my daughter's high school government class, to be interviewed on the question: What is democracy? "Doesn't democracy just mean that you hold elections?" they asked. "No it doesn't," I replied. Democracy means something much more than that. Elections are how the cards of political authority get dealt. After the elections begins the process of influencing how political leaders play those cards. What they vote for and what they don't. What they get rid of and what they preserve. Last week the progressive side of politics in the US got beat in the deal of the cards. Now it is time for citizens to step up and begin the work of influencing the choices that will be made in our names.

I have been a political activist for more than 30 years. I have been teaching people how to engage in effective advocacy worldwide for more than a decade. I know how much of a difference activism can make. If progressive citizen groups in the U.S. muster for the work ahead even a fraction of the energy and resources that were mobilized for the election campaign, much of what we fear can be prevented and much of what we think is lost can be protected.

The work ahead is huge and it will be varied. It will involve research and analysis. It will involve campaigning in the media. It will involve mobilizing people into action and organizing diverse coalitions that can gain clout. It will involve both lobbying and civil disobedience.

Most of all, we must be strategic. The stakes of what happens now are high, as high as they were in the election. There is little room for fuzzy thinking or wasted effort. The Democracy Center is planning new ways that it can help. In the weeks ahead we'll be unveiling an updated Web site, full of materials and resources for citizen advocates. We'll be expanding our advocacy training efforts.

But also, we want to invite you, our readers, to join in this. The readers of this newsletter - people that The Democracy Center has come to know through with its work with citizen movements all over the U.S. and all over the world over many years - include many brilliant and inspired minds. Some are old veterans at activism, some are enthusiastic newcomers. All have wisdom to share. And so we invite you to share that wisdom and inspiration with our readers and with a larger audience as well through a Democracy Center essay contest!


The Democracy Center is calling on our friends and allies in the U.S. (abroad as well!) to share your ideas about what progressive citizen movements should so now, following the victory of conservatives in the U.S. Presidential election. What should we do now to protect the environment, to block steps backwards in the fight for civil and human rights? How should we advance the cause of bringing the war in Iraq to an end? How can we stop the Bush administration's plan to add to the debt and reduce funding for essential services through another round of tax breaks?

We will take the five best essays we receive and summarize them in this newsletter, publish them in full on our Web site, and work with the authors to get them published and read as widely as possible. We'll also award prizes (see below). So wipe away the tears, clean up the empty beer bottles, get motivated and get writing.


Essay Topic: After Election 2004 - What Should We Do Now?

Essay Length: 500 - 750 words maximum

Deadline: Friday December 3, 2004

Send to: [Please put "Essay Contest" in the subject line.]

Prizes: The authors of the top five selected essays will receive copies of two Democracy Center advocacy books, the award-winning "The Democracy Owners Manual" (Rutgers University Press) and our popular guide to ballot campaigning, "The Initiative Cookbook".


THE DEMOCRACY CENTER ON-LINE is an electronic publication of The Democracy Center, distributed on an occasional basis to more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations, policy makers, journalists and others, throughout the US and worldwide. Please consider forwarding it along to those who might be interested. People can request to be added to the distribution list by sending an e-mail note to mailto: Newspapers and periodicals interested in reprinting or excerpting material in the newsletter should contact The Democracy Center at "". Suggestions and comments are welcome. Past issues are available on The Democracy Center Web site.


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