Beginning in the mid-1980s, Bhargava spent ten years working in various capacities (including legislative director) for ACORN. Most notably he agitated on behalf of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), testifying before Congress on CRA-related issues on 20 separate occasions. He also authored several widely publicized studies on redlining and discrimination by banks and insurance companies in the early 1990s.
In 1994 Bhargava joined the Center for Community Change (CCC), where he directed the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support (NCJIS). Launched at a 2000 event attended by then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama, NCJIS is a collaboration of 200 grassroots organizations whose mission is to promote the passage of federal laws that will result in ever-increasing benefits for welfare recipients.
Bhargava also helped lay the groundwork for CCC’s Fair Immigration Reform Movement. According to Bhargava: “Immigration reform is right not only from a moral, human rights perspective, but also from an economic perspective. Undocumented workers, who contribute to our economy, are unable to advocate for fair wages or humane working conditions.”
Bhargava spearheaded the creation of Generation Change, a CCC program that “recruits, trains and places the next generation of community organizers.” Moreover, he helped establish CCC’s Community Voting Project, which aims to increase the participation of low-income voters in the electoral process.
In 2002 Bhargava became CCC’s executive director. In September of that year, he was a keynote speaker, along with Frances Fox Piven and Holly Sklar, at a Washington, DC event organized by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). In his speech, Bhargava referred positively to the work of DSA founder Michael Harrington.
On November 29, 2006, Bhargava participated in a roundtable discussion—moderated by Bill Moyers and entitled “How Do Progressives Connect Ideas to Action?”—at George Soros‘s Open Society Institute. Other participants included such individuals as Robert Borosage, Anna Burger, Eric Foner, John Podesta, Joel Rogers, and Katrina vanden Heuvel.
At a December 1, 2007 national forum for “community organizers,” Bhargava, a strong backer of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, introduced the latter to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters. In his introductory remarks, Bhargava characterized America as “a society that is still deeply structured by racism and sexism.”
Asserting that “health care access and outcomes in America are radically unfair and unequal,” Bhargava advocates a government-run system of universal health care. Toward that end, he supports the activities of the Health Care for America Now coalition, which counts CCC as a member organization.
In December 2008, Bhargava expressed his hope of “building a new economy for shared prosperity.”
In February 2009, Bhargava was a guest speaker at an event titled “Advancing Change in the Age of Obama,” sponsored by the Liberty Hill Foundation. In his speech, Bhargava cited the Reagan era as a low point in American history, where “we had a cultural kind of revolution in this country—the idea that greed is good, that suspicion of our neighbors at home and abroad is just and justified.”
At that same event, Bhargava described President Obama as a figure capable of bringing “structural changes” of “enormous” magnitude to American life. Referring to Obama as “the country’s first Community-Organizer-in-Chief,” the CCC leader said: “I feel really lucky to be alive at a time when I think transformational progressive change is possible, because those moments in American history are very rare.” He then identified “three ingredients” that are required in order for such change to occur: “visionary leadership that is capable of building durable coalitions”; “big crises—economic, foreign policy and otherwise that force the breakdown of old paradigms and old ways of seeing the world”; and “independent social movements that create public will, that generate ideas that deliver votes.”
In Bhargava’s calculus, the 2008 presidential and congressional elections signified “not just the rejection of a political party [Republicans], but also of an ideology built on market fundamentalism and culture-war politics.” “The arc of history,” he said, “is maybe beginning once again, after 40 long, hard, dark years, to bend towards justice.” Further, Bhargava expressed his hope that “permanent progressive change” could be brought to the United States by coalitions of “African Americans and Latinos, and Asian Americans, and lesbian and gay people, and women and young people, and so forth”—in large measure by “expanding the electorate” to include more members of those demographics and persuading them to support leftist candidates and causes.
Bhargava also advocated “a more robust role for government” in the lives of Americans—by way of such policies as “greater regulation, public investment, [and] universal healthcare” that “could restore confidence in the role of government.” In addition, he called for the creation of an economic system that “values our collective quality of life more than the private accumulation of wealth.”
While the first National Tea Party Convention was in progress in Nashville, Tennessee in February 2010, Bhargava declared that there “should be no place in America for this type of racial and ethnic hate-mongering.”
In June 2012, Bhargava enthusiastically endorsed President Obama’s decision to suspend deportation of, and grant work permits to, hundreds of thousands of young-adult illegal immigrants who first came to the U.S. as minors.
In a television appearance on Washington Journal, Bhargava incorrectly stated that illegal immigrants “can’t pay taxes because they are not legal.” In fact, they are obligated by U.S. law to obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and pay taxes on their income. As the Center for Immigration Studies points out, “many immigrant-rights advocates urge their clients to get right with the IRS in anticipation of a future amnesty program that would require them to demonstrate an effort to comply with the tax law.”
Bhargava is a former board member of the National Neighborhood Coalition. Today he serves on the boards of the Center on Law and Social Policy, the Applied Research Center, the Center for Policy Alternatives, the Poverty and Race Research and Action Center, the Discount Foundation, the League of Education Voters, The Nation, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, and Democracia Ahora.
For additional information on Deepak Bhargava, click here.