Obama has also issued a post-election call for citizen action in the process, adding to his previous statement that Washington can only be changed from the outside — meaning that he needs help from citizen brigades exerting pressure.

The rhetoric, at least, is a change from the start of Obama's first term. The signals he sent then were as harsh as a Dear John letter: he went incommunicado from his campaign's grassroots network, hired Wall Street insiders to run the economy, stopped mentioning climate change, and abandoned the public option in health-care reform.

But talk is not enough, and Obama needs to understand that he'll be judged on results. That's why 350.org and others are sending a signal loud and clear — and quickly — that the excitement of the campaign and the joy of victory have not led the left to forget their long laundry list of unfinished business.

While pundits and partisans are busy dissecting the election results, parceling credit and blame, and forecasting the future of the GOP, progressives are forging forward to fight for their agenda items.

All deliberate speed is especially important because the smartest activists understand that resources and political will are limited, and that those who make the strongest case the earliest stand the best chance of getting results. They remember waiting their turn until after Obama completed his top first-term priority, health-care reform, only to find the time for getting big things done had passed.

There are, sadly, so many vital priorities facing the country that the Obama administration can probably only tackle a limited number, at least in the short term. And beyond the short term, events have a way of crowding out a president's agenda — and before you know it we'll be in his lame-duck final two years in office.

So in some respects, progressives will be battling each other for attention. Advocates of each issue feel they have a strong case for the top of the term-two to-do list.

Representatives of activist organizations insist that they are supportive of one another, and that their causes overlap and reinforce one another. "When the Obama White House is feeling pressure from the progressive community, it opens up space for all of their priorities," Henn says.

We'll see how long that camaraderie lasts. In any event, the priorities may actually be set by rank-and-file progressives, who will decide which issues to pressure Obama on now that they have won him a second term.


Environmentalists understandably feel a particular sense of urgency. The earth is in crisis, and time is running short to mitigate the damage.

And there is a feeling that the moment is ripe for public support of serious action. Even before Hurricane Sandy tore apart the Eastern Seaboard — and Bloomberg Businessweek shouted from its cover "It's Global Warming, Stupid" — Americans were coming to understand the obvious changes around them and the potentially disastrous consequences of inaction.

That awakening has come in spite of Obama's tragic silence and inaction on the issue, both in office and on the campaign trail.

But environmental activists are cautiously optimistic that the second term will be different — if they keep up the pressure. Ideally, they would like to see a resurrection, and passage, of the comprehensive energy and environment legislation that passed the House but failed to clear the Senate.

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