Over the fold, The Antiwar Pragmatist, Part I.
I've been trying to articulate this strategic vision for much of the past two weeks, and I'll admit the response has been tepid at best. I believe the ideas I am bringing forward are hard-headed and practical; pragmatic one may say. In this post I try to begin presenting these ideas in a more formal framework, in the hopes that more might find it useful and worthy of discussion. But I'll leave that up to you. I may be way off track here, I know I don't have all the answers. What I do know is we need to begin having this conversation.
Strategic Goals of Netroots Antiwar Activism
End the US military occupation of Iraq.
- Develop a strategic sound, tactically active and creative, clearly-focused mass grassroots anti-Iraq war movement.
- Build the organized power and influence of grassroots progressives. Build new alliances for progressive activism.
- Expand the range of voices and political perspectives in the national political discourse of parties and media/weaken the hegemony of reactionary politics.
- Give momentum to efforts to reorient the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction.
- Provide means of meaningful political interaction between progressives and the half of America that is politically disengaged/disenchanted/disempowered.
- More fully develop the potential of internet activism to make a direct and tangible difference in practical politics.
- Bushco. Strengths: Retains control of all branches of federal government. Supported by an enormous infrastructure of political operatives, think tanks, highly organized interest and constituency groups, money bags and hundreds of trained seals in the media. Has an unreduceable core of ideological and political support among approximately one third of the population. Weaknesses: Inflexibility, unwillingness to reconsider courses of action and to admit prior error. Increasingly evidence of failure of Iraq War policy magnifies the problem of inflexibility. Credibility. The endless stream of lies and spin and changing stories on Iraq is becoming clearer to the public. The War itself: They own it, they created it--and it's going to hell in a handbasket. At such time as accountability can be reinserted into the American political equation it is they who will be held accountable. In their political base, libertarian and traditional "Main Street" conservatives are growing ever less enthralled with the neoconservative agenda.
- The Democrats. As a party they remain directionless. There are powerful currents, both among the reform Democrats and the establishment energized in its own counterreformation. My assessment is that as of the moment, those forces are roughly evenly balanced, and as a consequence the drift of the past two decades remains dominant by inertia alone. In terms of Iraq, the party has no leverage, as it has no, and with the current balance of forces, can have no, prevailing consensus, never mind critique. Note: here I am speaking of the party as a party--not criticizing the several individual party leaders who are being bold and forthright, from Russ Feingold to Rocky Anderson.
- The antiwar movement. From "shock and awe" until Camp Casey, it dwindled to the tiniest few, with the exception of a couple well-attended marches. Those marches were of little effectiveness because there was almost no context of ongoing local and national operations. On the national level, the only groups steadily and consistantly maintaining an antiwar push were the veterans and families groups. On the local level, just about all there was were a scattered handful of sad little vigils in campus towns. With Camp Casey, that core of families and veterans groups achieved a breakthrough, one that has led swiftly to remarkable manifestations like the 1600+ nationally coordinated local vigils and the 1000-2000 member antiBush antiwar rally in Salt Lake City. Such growth doesn't come without its pitfalls. I believe we're on a sounder basis on the national level than on the local level. As I pointed out, our national leadership is coming largely from the veterans and families groups. They'll simply have to become more media savvy and politically savvy as they draw greater coverage. I believe this will happen, we saw how quickly the lesson of staying on message was learned by Cindy Sheehan and her co-workers.
- The general public. There can be little doubt that Camp Casey cracked the ice that held public attitudes in place. While approval of Bush's War had continued to drift lower in the polls before that, there was little outward manifestation. There was mostly silence, so all that continued to be heard was the relentless drumbeat from the right. Since Camp Casey, Bush's approvals have tanked. Those who had previously questioned the war have moved to actively demanding answers. Those who had quietly held doubts are now asking questions. Some of those who had actively supported the war have fallen silent with doubts. The movement is all in one direction and it is accelerating. Of course this opening remains yet tenuous. Political failure to provide an outlet and a comfort zone for those rising questions and doubts, failure to begin with people where they are and not where we'd like them to be can easily cause this new manifestation to lapse back into silence. There needs to be a welcoming and inclusive structure that connects directly with people at the local level. Big steps toward empowerment, like recognizing that the government has been lying to you, or that change requires one's personal participation are difficult for anyone first making them. Positive reinforcement is imperative; the best leaderhsip is by example.
- Netroots activists. As is obvious, the Democratic/progressive netroots are hardly in unity on the war. But this barely matters; there is a sufficint critical mass, more than enough, for netroots antiwar activists to make a decisive contribution; we've already seen this potential manifested in the support for Camp Casey and participation in the vigil which have been so heavily coordinated through the various internets. Additionally, netroots activists often come with their own developed skills and experience from participation in both partisan and issue campaigns. The great weakness of the netroots in this sort of activism is that our collective attention span often reaches gnat-proportions, much energy always being expended pursuing the latest hullaballoo in the Corporate Controlled Conservative Press. Effective and constructive participation requires some sustained period of organized involvement.
Achievement of the primary strategic goal of ending the US military occupation of Iraq requires the accomplish of most or all of the secondary or intermediate goals. There is one that is directly within our control, that is "6) More fully develop the potential of internet activism to make a direct and tangible difference in practical politics." This is something we can do ourselves, and in truth, we're off to a very good start in that direction. With Camp Casey, we demonstrated that the blogosphere provides an effective real-time communications forum for ongoing activism, and some hints of the ability of the netroots to provide human, material and moral support for those in action. With the vigil, we saw that local events coordinated through organized national netroots means can serve to give local activism national reverberation.
What I'll point out is that so far netroots antiwar activism has been reactive in nature. That's no criticism, everything's happened so fast from the time CIndy Sheehan left the Veterans for Peace convention and headed to Crawford through the rally in Salt Lake City that there simply hasn't been the time for us to develop the conditions to be proactive. The risk is that the effectiveness of our efforts to date, combined with the natural tendency toward inertia, will cause us to remain in that passive or reactive mode. The problem is that you don't have much of a movement where inertia prevails, and this tendency could be exacerbated if activity on the national scene continues to heat up and we find ourselves constantly responding to events. It takes an act of will to get out ahead of the curve, to the point where we are of sufficient strategic agreement and organization where we can begin to initiate action ourselves.
Clearly a good deal of such action would take the form of coordination of local events. One of the great values of the national vigil that I believe has been generally overlooked is that it provided us with a means to reach directly to hundreds of local newspapers, TV and radio stations, providing them a local angle while we advanced the national message. Coordinated local events to get out our "message of the week" or whatever can use the local media angles created as a means of evading the barriers that the national media may present.
To be able to effectively coordinate local events, it follows that we need to be directly involved in organizing those local efforts ourselves. This is where I see another vast potential among netroots antiwar activists. There are tens of thousands of us. In many local peace groups, the activist core is no more than 3-5 people. They need help. And we can help them by streaming into our local peace groups around the country. There are local groups, thousands of them. all over the country, even in places like Alabama and Idaho. United for Peace and Justice has an index of well over a thousand such groups, which you can use to find your local peace group. If you are in a local group that isn't in the index, or you are creating your own local organizing, you can put your group on the list, it is open-source, as is UFPJ Local Events Calendar.
By participating in our local groups, we can also effect the quality of the activism in the new antiwar movement. We've heard all the scornful scoffing about how antiwar activists get off message, "alienate mainstream Americans," etc. What better way to correct any such deficiencies than a large influx of new activists with a heightened awareness of such issues? This too we can coordinate through the net, finding and disseminating the best practices for sharpening the focus and the tactics of local organizing. We can do the same in providing information about best practices for those starting local activity.
There's a further area in which I believe there is much potential for development of internet activism, and that's in finding tactical actions that can be carried out in a "distributed" manner. Can we come up with tactics that thousands of us scattered around the country, each acting as individuals, can work together on that come together as a single effective action? One example of this sort of action was something that was suggested at dKos last December. When Rummy was busted for using an autopen to sign the death letters to the families of killed GIs, Kosmonaut Sheba suggested sending Rummy a pen. It immediately crossed my mind, what if thousands of us each sent a pen to the Rummy. 1000, 2000, 5000, maybe 10,000 pens streaming into the Pentagon mailroom? Saul Alinsky's first rule of tactics is this: Power is not only what you have, but what your opponent thinks you have. 10,000 pens in the Pentagon mailroom would be an awful lot of "thinks we have" in DC. That's one example of the kid of tactics that could be a new form of "distributed activism." On edit: I realized we have successfully carried out one example of this kind of distributed direct action. It didn't come to mind right away, because we used the principle in the positive sense. Roses to Barbara Boxer. The same idea of distributed activism underlay that effort.
Thus I see a range of means for netroots antiwar activists to play an effective pro-active role in building the new antiwar movement: national coordination and communication, local involvement, and distributed activism. If we are able to sufficiently organize ourselves to pursue these operational means effectively, we will have almost certainly accomplished the Secondary/Intermediate goal that is directly in our power.
End of Part I
If this post receives sufficient interest, I will continue and prepare a Part II, examining how by taking this operational strategy, we can at least indirectly, and surprisingly often directly, impact on Secondary/Intermediate goals 1-5.