Meteor Blades has had a new sig line up relative recently, which I'm now going to embed in the amber of a diary:
Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.
Four years ago, when I started on this site, I had money but not time. Two years ago, when I switched accounts, I had time but no money (at least beyond savings.) This past half year I've had some (but not overwhelming amounts) of both, so I've had a chance in the past half-decade to view progressive activism from three vantage points. I'll tell you -- you can do be an activist in many ways. You can apply yourself -- unpack that phrase: apply ... your ... self -- to a cause reasonably well with your time or your money, or both. Both of them are "you."
Tell me what you do ...
Your opinion is not "you." It's something you excrete. It mixes with other opinions to form a kind of fog, wispy or dense, coloring it and heating it and moving it in various directions. But while it may be what you value, what it may be where you vest your pride, It is not You.
You are what you do, with your time or your money.
Now I have been accused on occasion of having a high self-regard for my opinions, and the times when I'm not accused of it I can fairly assume that people are either just being polite or just not paying attention. We all have our foibles, and I know that this is one of mine, and the words I've written above can be said with as great force to me as to anyone.
And so I have said them to myself, and while I'm still well below where I should be, I've convinced myself fairly well that I should be taxed for the expression of opinion and the social and intellectual interchange that I so enjoy. So -- and try this yourself if it works for you -- I've established "user's fees" for myself as a blogger. For every few hours I spend loving life online, I have to do something.
I'll admit to my frailties right up front: I don't always follow through with such pledges. Words can be easily spoken; deeds don't always follow. (In fact, that's pretty much the point.) But, frankly, if one imposes a blogging tax on oneself and pays only part of it, one is probably ahead of the curve.
I guess that I should have warned you up front: this diary is an attempt to build an ethos, a shared norm that there are ways that activists ought to behave -- one of those ways being that activists ought to behave rather than just banter.
Are there exceptions to this? Sure: my buddy Jill Richardson isn't just running off her mouth when she writes about the food industry and sustainable agriculture. Jerome Guillet (pardon the lack of diacritics, mon frere) writing on energy and the economy, Adam Siegel writing on energy and the environment, dengre on political corruption -- these are the bread and butter of the blogosphere. I don't much care how much money or time these people give away; the time they put in to researching and conveying what they do is contribution enough to the commonweal.
But not all of us can (or at least do) produce work like that -- and while I love talking about meta as much as ten average Kosters locked in a rumpus room, I generally don't. So I have to pay my dues elsewhere.
This year and last, I've spent more time than money on politics, in part having the adventure of calling people in districts all over the country -- and finally, most recently, my own. I ran for and won a position as one of my assembly district's delegates to our state contention; that's sort of a bloggy thing to do. I also did something that not long ago I would have considered beneath my aspirations: volunteering to write, edit and publish the monthly newsletter for my local Democratic Club.
Do you even have a local Democratic Club in your area? Have you considered starting one?
Dealing with people face to face, the tribulations and triumphs of online interaction fall by the wayside. Most people are less sophisticated than you find here, but while they can't tell you exactly why they do or don't favor a particular provision of health care reform, they have gut feelings about the direction of change. That's become enough for me, to a great extent: even if we can't all agree on the destination, we can agree on the direction. From democratic socialists to those who merely have been repulsed by Republican excesses, we may argue about the size and shape and stroke frequency of the oars, but by and large we are pulling in the same direction.
When you are doing, what it is you have to say becomes less material. Doing should be the entree, saying should be the side dish and dessert. Disagreement becomes less the point.
Why, though, am I so crass as to equate giving money (boooooo!) with devoting time (yaaaaay!) as expressions of true self? Don't I know that money is filthy and physical effort is holy? Yeah, well -- I don't.
If you want to talk about the importance of money to social causes, or in political campaigns, ask someone who is involved in one. Yes, giving money is too easy for some (and of course is an incredible sacrifice for others), but it is the grease that allows the machine of social justice to flow. There's no shame in simply declaring that you will have retroactively given a portion of the time you spent working to the good cause of helping others use their own time as activists more effectively. If it seems too easy, too unfair that some can give more than others -- well, it's usually more useful than just words.
I was in touch recently with Ellinorianne, who wrote a lovely diary yesterday that too few people saw. As some of you know, a soup kitchen in Santa Ana burned up a little while ago. (Click that link above for photos.) Ellinorianne has been involved with trying to help them get back on track. My wife and one daughter went to help them with their Christmas Party; yesterday my wife and another daughter went to help out with clean-up. It turns out that there were plenty of volunteers. People had donated plenty of food. What they're lacking is money, donations. Yes, the most antiseptic and most impersonal gift is actually the most useful.
So -- especially those of you you itemize charitable contributions and have about a day left to make them -- do you want the link to donate? Here you go:
Donations are being accepted at Orange County's United Way. Follow the link, and enter "SMEDA Fire" into the PROMO box.
When we personalize a crisis, people here come through. I saw that first-hand in the response earlier this year to the Philippine Flooding that threatened my wife's family. Times are hard, but the reserve of goodwill is strong.
And then there is politics.
Oh, how we resent being used as a piggy bank for politicians. It gets you on so many e-mail lists! "They want our money, but not our advice!" Well, yeah, often that's true. And yet, consider this:
What if I told you that someone was truly working to create a better world, was well-organized, and simply needed to show financial support to be able to have a shot at winning. Would that interest you?
I can think of several people from right around my area that fit that bill. First, there's Bill Hedrick, who in 2008 came close to knocking off the bloated ethical cesspool Ken Calvert in the economically ravaged Inland Empire's CA-44. There's Russ Warner, hoping that the third time is the charm against David Dreier] in CA-26. One of our best chances to take a seat in the State House -- and to get closer to the 2/3 supermajority we need to fix the state -- is Melissa Fox, running for caveman Chuck DeVore's seat in Irvine. We have one of the best state executive officers in the country in our Secretary of State Debra Bowen, and raising money for her makes it more likely that she will be our Governor or Senator one day. (Or maybe both, two days.) She could use your giving her of yourself.
How does the idea of helping people like that appeal to you? Does it make you feel good?
I can also think of several people not in my area who fit the bill. Jennifer Brunner in Ohio. Alan Grayson, in Florida. Some guy named Franken in Minnesota, who I understand still has a little bit of debt to retire. Another guy named Sanders in Vermont, for whom I have been raising money without a lick of effort through my "Defeat Lieberman 2012" page at ActBlue, not because giving to Bernie defeats JoeLie directly, but because Bernie seems like the kind of guy who might be honest and willing enough to give over some scratch to JoeLie's challenger.
And yes, it so happens that we are at the end of the fourth quarter of the year, and that donations right now will go a long way to determining how seriously candidacies like Hedrick's and Brunner's get taken. So, if you want to have an impact, the next day or so is a great time to do it.
Giving to these people, people you like -- and people in local offices, city councils and water districts and school boards, from whom future legislators and state executives come -- all throughout the country is giving a part of yourself. It's going beyond words. Again, I love the debating society aspect of DKos as much as anyone, but I am trying to train myself to feel that I have to earn the fun I have here. I feel better the less I feel like a free rider.
Here's what I propose in this diary: I'd like to know to what candidate or what cause you're thinking of giving money to -- or time to, if you prefer -- in the next 24 hours or so. Feel free to make a case for them. Maybe you'll convince someone else to do the same.
Does giving to worthy progressives and candidates make us into "piggy banks"? Yes, in a way, I suppose it does. But as a stepfather of five, much of what I do for my kids could also be taken as making me into a "piggy bank" -- and yet I find that it's part of what gives my life meaning.
And my youngest, swept away with the desire to give, asked us to make one of her Christmas presents this year a donation of about $25 to send toys to needy children. We told her that it really did mean that we'd get her one fewer gift, and she said that that was OK with her. See? Sometimes those little investments pay off.