Book Review/Ben Kjelshus

Taking up the Challenge

David Reynolds' latest book, Democracy Unbound -- Progressive Challenges to the Two-Party System [South End Press, Boston, 1997] is a must-read for all who are disillusioned with the Democratic and Republican parties and especially for progressive populists who are "chompin' at the bit" to challenge the two party system.

The independent and third parties and progressive party-building efforts that Reynolds deals with include: the Progressive Coalition in Vermont, The New Party, the Labor Party, the Greens, Campaign for a New Tomorrow, the Rainbow Coalition, and Connecticut's Legislative Electoral Action Program (LEAP) which is a joint program of the regional office of UAW and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group.

The author works with the Labor Studies Center at Wayne State University in Detroit and teaches labor education classes. He holds a PhD in political science and has worked as a labor organizer for the UAW.

Reynolds states that the prospects for a progressive movement are promising, not at all grim. "Indeed, the political and economic changes of the past decade, and the inspiring responses of people at the grassroots, give ample reasons for optimism." The author makes the point that in earlier populist movements their demise came not as a failure to appeal and not because a large number of Americans would not have supported them, but because the powerful and privileged were able to mobilize successful efforts to destroy them using extreme and blatantly undemocratic practices.

Reynolds also cites action steps, namely, in the areas of grassroots efforts, crossing the racial divide, alliance-building and developing strategies:

In conclusion, the author states that political parties and movements provide the best context for addressing real change, provide progressives the means to go on the offensive, and build ways to interact with mainstream America. He writes, "The task facing activists is to realize the emerging potential and to begin laying the ground work upon which the larger movement can grow. ... In short, progressive politics works. Proven paths are out there. We need only take up the challenge."

Ben Kjelshus of Kansas City is a member of the MO-KAN Citizens Alliance.

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