Moments after television networks declared Barack Obama the winner of the 2012 election, the environmental organization 350.org, led by Bill McKibben, sent out a press release announcing a protest demonstration for November 18 in front of the White House, in opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Few on the left have been as vocally, and visibly, disappointed with Obama as the climate movement — understandably, since he made little progress in his first term, and then kept mostly silent about it in his re-election campaign.
But that is only one issue on which the left felt betrayed by the man they worked so hard to elect in 2008. On LGBT rights, civil liberties, economic inequity, immigration, criminal justice, labor organizing, money in politics, and voting rights, the Obama administration let progressives down time and time again.
And who's to say Obama's second term won't be the same as the first?
The sense among activists seems to be: we're not going to let that happen.
"We definitely do want to hold his feet to the fire on a number of different environmental priorities," says Jamie Henn, 350.org co-founder and communications director. "It's not to tear Obama down, but to build him up — to say, 'We have your back.' "
Henn thinks Obama understands the issues, and wants to do the right thing, but has been too cautious in battling Republican (and some Democratic) resistance. This is a common sentiment among dissatisfied progressives.
So, they set aside their disappointments and worked to re-elect him — if only to prevent the ultra-conservative horror of a Mitt Romney administration.
Having helped secure a second term, those advocates for change are wasting no time shifting their sights forward.
They feel that they have armed Obama for progressive battle in two ways. First, and most crassly, they have given him his margin of victory in a close election, and he owes them. One study already suggests that LGBT voters — who went 76 percent for Obama — provided the margin of victory in Florida. Hispanics turned out in historic numbers, and more than 80 percent of them voted for Obama in the swing states of Nevada and Colorado. Unions ensured victory in Ohio and elsewhere in the industrial Midwest.
But the elections also demonstrated that the country is ready for progressive action.
Not only did they reject the regressive Mitt Romney — voters across the country chose progressive US senators; voted out industry-financed science deniers; and approved ballot measures in favor of marriage equality, legal marijuana, and rational criminal-justice measures.
In other words, the country is getting out ahead of the president. He has no excuses left for going slowly — he doesn't need to educate the public or build up consensus. They're waiting for him to act.
SIGNALS AND WORDS
Progressives were encouraged on election night by Obama's optimistic, uplifting speech, which explicitly included shout-outs to many of these issues – including references to "the destructive power of a warming planet" and "a tolerant America open to the dreams of an immigrant's daughter."
He kept it up in his first post-election weekly address, which began with a declaration that Americans "voted for action, not politics as usual" — a questionable interpretation of a largely status quo vote, but exactly what many progressives wanted to hear.