Inside/Outside Political Strategy
Op-ed/Letter sent to Portland Phoenix
December 22, 2005
To: Portland Phoenix
From: Jean Hay Bright
Democrat for U.S. Senate 2006
Re: A Somber Occupation, by Sara Donnelly, Dec. 16, 2005 issue
Activism Update, by Sara Donnelly, Dec. 23, 2005 issue
Electoral and activist politics are two sides of the same coin. The Progressive Democrats of America call it an "inside/outside strategy."
The Frequent Visit Program Sara Donnelly has reported on recently - groups repeatedly holding rallies at the offices of Maine's sitting members of Congress - is an "outside" strategy. Working to get like-minded candidates elected so they can actually cast votes you agree with is an "inside" strategy.
I was part of the group to visit Republican Senator Olympia Snowe's office in Bangor on Dec. 15, in an "outside" attempt to convince her to hold a town hall forum on the Iraq War, as Democratic Congressman Tom Allen did last July in Portland, and Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud did recently in Bangor.
I shared the group's anger and frustration over Senator Snowe's complicity with the Bush administration in the Iraq War fiasco, over her support for the Patriot Act, and her votes to deny Guantanamo Bay detainees access to our federal courts to exercise their habeas corpus rights and challenge their detention as "enemy combatants."
But I also knew that this would have been a much different scene if that had been my U.S. Senate office and my name were on that door. This was not an idle thought. Since last May, I've been running for U.S. Senate, for the seat now held by Olympia Snowe.
As I looked around at those assembled in the hallway outside Snowe's office, I saw friends, people I have known for years, in some cases decades. Our kids had grown up together.
Others I knew from citizen-action events such as fighting the proposed AES coal-fired power plant in Bucksport in the early 1990s, or protesting the mercury contamination at the HolterChem plant in Orrington a few years later ("outside strategy").
Several had worked with my husband David Bright and me on the Presidential campaign of Congressman Dennis Kucinich in 2004 ("inside strategy"). More recently, with still others, I've read the names of the Iraq war dead in front of the Federal Building, marched with Veterans for Peace in Bangor and Brunswick (more "outside strategy").
What would prompt a long-time political activist like me to take a personal leap to "inside" electoral politics and challenge Maine icon Olympia Snowe? For me it was seeing that her votes did not match her "moderate" billing, that she had become a Bush-enabler. Beyond that, she had become non-responsive to public pressure and hostile to quiet persuasion ("outside strategy" was not working).
I knew I could do a better job. And I happened to be at a point in my life where I could devote the time and energy needed to run against her - and to spend the six years after that doing the job in Washington. Plus, I have the personal motivation - a profound desire to rescue my beloved country from the ruin the Republicans are driving it toward.
The dual "inside/outside" strategy works best when both parts work together. Efforts on the same issue or range of issues can build on each other, each adding momentum to the other's position.
Conversely, "outside" activist efforts against an entrenched incumbent can be frustrated by stonewalling if there is no threat of an effective "inside" campaign challenge. And without the "inside" involvement of like-minded activists, political campaigns can turn into mere personality contests.
When it comes to Olympia Snowe, I believe Maine has reached a tipping point. We are a Blue State, our governor is a Democrat, both members of Congress are Democrats. If both "outside" and "inside" forces work together, I believe we can generate enough momentum to send a pro-choice, progressive, peace activist to Washington.