As we approach 2012, it's increasingly important that we as progressives do more than criticize the right - we must hold the people we put into office accountable for representing our interests, whether on the county school board or U.S. Senate. Gloria Totten, Julie Martinez-Ortega, Mike Podhozer, and Rashad Robinson brought this point home on Tuesday at the Take Back the American Dream Conference. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Photo courtesy of cpence on Flickr"][/caption] Totten is president of Progressive Majority, an organization that aims for voting as many progressives into office as possible to make a real difference in city, state, and national politics. At Progressive Majority they have been testing different ways to hold people accountable in the electoral arena. In the state of Washington, for example, they started a program called the Democratic Upgrade Project. The project takes a systematic look at how the organization can upgrade democratic seats to a progressive majority; in Washington, they're only 5 seats shy from their goal in state legislature. They also took a symbolic victory when Nick Harper, a young environmental activist, won a highly contested race against Jean Berkey for State Senate. For Totten, Haley is an example of how you can replace someone who has simply been in office for too long with someone vibrant from the community. "Sometimes it's really fun to fight with our own folks and go after our own people," said Totten. "But it's also important to remember that there are different ways to do this that keep us moving forward and not just constantly engaged in the same old fights." Julie Martinez-Ortega works to engage people of color in the electoral arena with PowerPAC.org. She thinks the biggest key to putting progressives in office is making sure that we stay aware of demographics - who is voting for us, and how those numbers are shifting. "Wake up and do the math," she said. It's been proven that African American, Latino, Asian, and labor voters tend to vote progressive at significantly higher numbers than whites. And Martinez-Ortega thinks monitoring those numbers will lead to a victory. She also thinks it takes year-round citizens to hold progressive officials accountable. While in many ways it does begin with selecting great candidates who carry on progressive work year-round to keep people engaged, those people must recognize their work isn't over at the ballot box. Without pressure, the candidates we've elected won't represent our needs. From Color of Change, Rashad Robinson has found that his work constantly walks the line of organizing and advocating for not just black candidates but all those who represent the needs and interests of the black community. One example was in the last presidential election. The Congressional Black Caucus decided to host a debate sponsored by FOX news. This didn't sit well with Color of Change staff or members, so they organized to ensure that mainstream media asked tough questions about the corporate ties behind that process. They researched how the Black Caucus was influenced by corporate needs and how this diverted them from serving the African American community. "You don't make a lot of friends, you don't get invited to the parties afterwards," said Robinson. "But you make the process better in the end; I'll be very surprised if that caucus will hold a debate with FOX anytime soon." Mike Podhozer wrapped up the panel with some advice for 2012: "We need to do a little less commentary on the failings of people who are built to fail [conservatives] and more about getting out there every day and holding whoever gets elected accountable." It's time, he said, for people to take advantage of this amazing coalition and elect real, progressive candidates.
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