I sure got attention. The kind of attention someone gets when he puts on a red T-shirt and strolls up a Pamplona alley just when a herd of bulls is released at the other end. After about 15 minutes of virtual mauling, I took the advice of the more friendly replies and removed the diary in order to re-post it during the weekend.
So there, I've done my penance. I'm sorry for using `BREAKING' - won't do it again unless it's real. But the claims I made are well-backed by facts and history - especially if one observes the Iraq war as a test case. More below...
I'm relatively new to this community as a regular writer (though have been reading it occasionally since 2004). Perhaps I'm missing some cues and not seeing the obvious. Perhaps DailyKos has long ago decided to become the online wing of the Democratic party, meaning that party matters - elections first and foremost - take precedence over working on the issues. If so, this diary is redundant.
My impression is that such a decision has been sub-consciously made, but would be vigorously denied on the conscious level (one angry reply to the previous post said "I'm preaching to the choir"). If so, airing the issue out in the open should be a service.
To remove any doubt, I also thought these elections were important. That's why I, too, spent time volunteering and a disproportionate amount of time following the polls etc.
And to remove another doubt lest I be dismissed as `too radical' for DailyKos: I do not think that Al Gore and Howard Dean are fascists. Both of them are pretty good - as far as politicians go, that is.
The magical lure of elections
Let's admit it: elections are intoxicating. Like the other form of symbolic warfare - spectator sports - they distil the complicated, ongoing slog of reality into a single point in time. There are heroes - our candidates - and bad guys - theirs. The words "victory" and "mission accomplished" have a clear meaning. And always, after the elections "a new era is born."
In summer 1992 I celebrated on the Mediterranean beach all night, following Yitzhak Rabin's landslide victory. A new era started - Israeli progressives will not be outcasts anymore; we got our country back. The era lasted 3 years, until Rabin was murdered and suddenly we were outcasts again. A new era of an Orthodox-Mizrahi-Russian alliance was born. It lasted 3 years, until 1999 when Barak won and we took our country back again! This time I volunteered all day as deputy precinct chairman, and returned to my wife and kids at night to watch the masses party in Rabin square till the sun came out. A new era was born, of transcending factional differences and becoming a normal country. That era lasted barely a year.
So forgive me if I am a bit skeptical about election-born new eras. You may argue that the US is more stable. Well, rewind to the 2004 elections: after them, there was a whole genre of lengthy articles, even books, explaining why we are destined to live under GOP dominance for the foreseeable future. "What's the matter with Kansas?" Well, nothing. Kansas just kicked out one of its Republicans; not to mention what neighboring Missouri did. Just as quickly, the tide may turn again and the "Blue Era" may be over.
Some elections are more important that they initially seem. 2000 is the supreme example, of course. But even though America has managed to extend campaign seasons longer than any culture on Earth - almost half the time here is election time (can you imagine? In the UK it only lasts a month) - most of life still happens between elections, not at elections. Most events and processes that shape our lives are not affected by elections as much as we believe.
This is not an academic issue. Politicians need us at election time. Afterwards, we are pests; they'd rather wield their power without being bothered (I'm generalizing, of course, but this is the nature of the game). Power corrupts and D.C. especially corrupts - progressive activists are bound to be disappointed by some of the good people they helped put there.
I'm writing this diary because there is a way to limit this disappointment. The way is to work year-round on the issues, rather than mostly on election organizing.
The Iraq War Test Case
Maybe I'm `preaching to the choir' or barging into an open door. After all, even Kos wrote a day before the elections:
...nothing gets decided tomorrow. Whether we make gains or not, we have a long, hard battle against us. We're fighting a multiple-front battle against the Republicans, against the media elite, against the Democratic establishment -- and none of that will be resolved tomorrow.
If all goes well, we'll take a step forward, but that's it. So put it all in the proper perspective.
So let us check progressives' recent track record using the signature issue, the one American voters cared about the most - the Iraq War.
Reminder: it was the effort to prevent this war that brought over a million Americans out to the street (together with 15 million globally), and turned MoveOn into a major player in American politics. After the invasion progressives, especially MoveOn, made a conscious decision, that the way to change events is to kick Bush out in 2004. DailyKos itself was created to help in that effort.
Meanwhile, reality in Iraq did not stop. Here's partial list of 2004 events and the progressive response:
- In April, Bremer tried to shut down a `radical Shiite' newspaper, leading to armed rebellion centered around Najaf. Simultaneously, the lynching of 4 Blackwater mercenaries in Fallouja led to massive battles over there as well. Dozens of US soldiers and hundreds of Iraqi civilians died, and the US military could not win either battle. Response by American progressives: none
- Also in April, the Abu Ghraib scandal was exposed. The press immediately adopted the term `abuses' (rather than torture), and collaborated with the White House attempt to depict this as a case of a few hillbillies gone wild. And so the real torture continued in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Response by American progressives: none
- In July, a much-trumpeted `transfer of sovereignty' was carried out, to a hand-picked group of Iraqi politicians that supposedly were now `the Iraqi government'. No one in the American press called this new creature - brought into the world as a transparent trick in the US election campaign - what it really was: a puppet government. Response by American progressives: none
- In October, the Lancet published a survey by US and Iraqi public-health researchers, estimating that nearly 100,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion. More alarmingly, it detailed how difficult it is to even gather a rough estimate, given the collapse of all systems and the deadly risk of traveling the countryside. Somehow, the fact the study was released in election season was suddenly a reason for the press to ignore it. Response by American progressives: none
- In November 2004, shortly after the elections, the US carried out the criminal siege and destruction of Fallouja. Uncounted thousands were killed, wounded were prevented access from the hospital (which was the first part of town the Marines took), the city was levelled and has never recovered. The American progressive base, still regrouping after the electoral defeat, was completely silent.
And so on. If not for one angry bereaved mom, and apart from some wonderful (but very small) groups like CodePink, there would have been zero anti-war activity till this very day.
The Iraq War has generated the world's strangest disappearing act: at one moment, there were masses in the streets (joined by millions worldwide), trying to prevent their government from launching a war. Then, in what Chomsky called an almost unparalleled contempt for democracy, the government ran roughshod over the opposition and started the war anyway. In any other country and point in time, this alone would have fired up these masses so much, as to ensure more protests and even riots - that would surely escalate within a few months, as the war started going bad. But not in America. Here, the masses just disappeared - not because they were shot at, or placed in prison camps, but because they decided that the elections are more important.
I'll revisit this later.
Some Lessons from the Israeli Experience
One can argue that with a politics- (rather than policy-) driven president like Bush, elections are the way to go. Well, I come from Israel, whose political culture in which Bush would swim like a fish in water. Even though Israel was set up by grassroots activists (like my maternal grandparents), the younger generations have been suffering from severe election fixation at least since the 1970's. Most Israelis actually believe that the only form of participation that matters is voting or running for office.
You have no idea how well politicians learn to exploit this fixation. In the 1980's, Israel's major parties fomented cultural polarization (very similar, by the way, to what happens here nowadays with `red' and `blue' Americas), in order to secure votes at the expense of smaller parties. Then when the 1984 elections ended in a draw, these sworn enemies sat together very cozily in a pork-carving, do-nothing government. Since then, rampant corruption and plain election-time con artistry have become the norm.
Rabin was the only Israeli PM in the past generation, who actually tried to do something positive, and initially he had broad support. But this support came from a zero-commitment, election-junkie public. The opposition was a small fanatic minority of committed activists: the settler lobby. They picketed, they marched, they blocked highways and intersections, they whined and wailed and threatened, dominating the national discourse. One of them perpetrated the Hebron massacre, bringing on the first Hamas suicide attacks, which in turn started eroding Rabin's popularity. All this time, the silent majority was... well, silent. Finally, one of the fanatics murdered Rabin.
Rabin's successors learned the lesson: for the following critical 9-10 years, no PM dared mess with the settlers.
This includes Labor's Barak, in whose campaign I volunteered in 1999. Mr. Barak, having vowed in his campaign to continue `the Rabin path', proceeded right after the election to invite into his government fundamentalist Shas and the settler-aligned National Orthodox - whose constituencies campaigned most ferociously against him, and voted for his opponent Netanyahu at a 95%+ rate. Just to explain what that means: it's as if Kerry wins in 2004, then invites Ashcroft and Gale Norton to stay on in their Cabinet posts in order to mollify Congress Republicans. Of course Barak was trampling upon the sensitivities of his activists, most notably progressives - who, you won't be surprised to hear, formed the bulk of his campaign muscle. As if this is not enough, Barak then visits the flagship settlement of Ofra, and declares that in his heart he feels closer to the settlers than to his progressive allies. Words were not enough: he proceeds to continue, not Rabin's way, but Netanyahu's, of stalling the peace process when convenient, expanding settlements, then - rather than gradual trust-building progress as mandated by the process - ambushing the Palestinians into a premature `take it or leave it' final-status ultimatum in Camp David. The rest is (a very sad) history.
But since Israelis have been conditioned not to pay attention and to trust their election heroes, it comes as no surprise that Barak's betrayal has precipitated a steep slide to the right and away from any semblance of democracy. By now, mainstream Israelis have become so apathetic and disempowered, that they have even stopped voting - or vote for fringe parties with no chance of entering parliament.
Look, I am certainly NOT advocating violent action like the settlers'. But they have won the day in Israel not because of their violence, but because they've been committed to act, day in day out, while the rest of the Israeli public was sitting at home, not really paying attention, and letting the politicians fight its battles.
There is one silver lining in this cloud. Since 2000, a new grassroot progressive movement was born in Israel - working mostly against the Occupation, but also on a multitude of other issues. There are many thousands of us. We have little hope of help from elections, but we are sowing the seeds for a different future.
So what to do now?
Progressives have done an amazing job in the 2006 elections. They have learned the job in practically no time, and set up a system that makes a joke out of Rove's machine. But there's a catch-22 here. The more you focus on elections, the more likely you are to be conned by your politicians - and the less likely you are to be trusted by the public. Do you think strangers would respond just as favorably in 2008 when you ask them again to change the direction of the country, if they never see your face during the coming two years?
The upside of the catch is that if you do work on the issues, you collect the bonus in election time. Here are some key issues and what we can do about them:
The Iraq War might have won 2004 for us as well, had we sustained a continuous massive grassroots effort against it (this is without mentioning the potential lives saved). Now everyone talks `exit', but without grassroots progressive involvement this exit will be just as misguided as the entrance was. I won't elaborate here.
The Broader Middle East, esp. Israel/Palestine - by now Americans begin to internalize that nothing good will go forward in the Middle East without resolving Israel/Palestine. What Americans don't fully grasp yet, is how woefully misinformed they are about the conflict and the Occupation, and how far behind the curve Congress is - regardless of party affiliation. Fortunately, there are expatriate progressive Israelis and Arabs willing to serve as a resource and talk about these issues. We will make ourselves available; please use us to educate yourselves and the public.
In the immigration debate there is a huge gap between the racist/'security'/corporate Republican approaches (adopted to a large degree by many Democrat politicians, like our very own Maria Cantwell), and the pain and anger of Latinos - citizens and undocumented - at the injustice and plain ingratitude for their service to American society and economy. Progressives are the natural candidates to fill this gap by building bridges and local coalitions, and make the public discourse more informed and less xenophobic.
The forgotten race: blacks. One huge factor in the 2006 elections goes almost unmentioned: Hurricane Katrina. Bush's nonresponse to the calamity has cost him about 10 points approval, which he never gained back. Part of it was that people realized they've been conned by `terra' talk into not seeing the administration's true quality (or lack thereof). But another part was the ugly face of race relations exposed in New Orleans, relations which are largely the design of a Republican mindset. These elections bring many black lawmakers into important positions, but this should not be left to them. Blacks are too traumatized and dismpowered to come out of it on their own. Currently, 1 in 20 black males (including babies and old people) is in jail. Progressive activists should start making local connections and coalitions to battle race injustice from the ground up - in law enforcement, education, housing and the rest.
War on the Poor - I'll give just one example I'm familiar with. The abomination of Pay-Day loans must be obliterated. This has to be a two-pronged effort: on one hand, legislation barring these loans; on the other hand, making other loan types readily available to Pay-Day target populations.
Health Insurance - here the public discourse focuses on uninsured people. A big problem, but just as big is the problem that millions of the insured have really, really crappy insurance. Mine is, and it's not even considered that bad. The US should not re-invent the wheel here. Progressives are the ones who can bring lessons learned in other countries, and make sure solutions that work for everyone (and not just insurance companies) are on the table.
I'll stop here. Please don't tell me I'm `preaching to the choir'. I know I'm not. The number of people working on all these issues and others is too small. If the masses of `virtual progressives' start engaging the issues like they engaged the 2006 elections, we will all benefit. And then when the next elections come around, we won't be strangers knocking on doors anymore. We'll be familiar and trusted faces.