Gathering Power: Future of Progressive Politics in USA

Paul Osterman
Sloan School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Date: February 5, 2003

Event Recap

On February 5, 2003 Professor Paul Osterman from the Sloan School of Management at MIT spoke before a diverse audience about his new book Gathering Power: Re-building Progressive Politics in America (Beacon Press, 2003). The book is a product of nearly ten years of work with the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, a grass roots organization that has empowered church communities and their largely poor and traditionally disenfranchised members to use and expand their political power. Two of the distinctive aspects of the IAF, apart from its political successes, are the way that it draws upon church communities, rather than individuals, in order to build the organization, and the way that it connects to religious ideas and values as a motive for political participation. Osterman sees the gathering and wielding of power by these communities as a leading illustration of what has disappeared from, and needs to be recaptured by, progressive politics in the United States. He argues that the progressive movement suffers from declining participation by people below the median income distribution. These people have been turned off from the current political style that is increasingly biased towards the wealthy with a focus on the “message” rather than substance. Osterman argues that the solution to this dilemma is to work harder on effective local political mobilization and to increase the opportunities that poor and working people have to learn about and participate in politics. The IAF, he argues, provides an example of how progressives can reengage by learning how to practice politics.