Especially at Daily Kos, the Netroots is stellar at fundraising. As Casual Wednesday points out, "The Netroots Rock!"
We do an amazing job of raising funds. Remember what we did for Rob Miller in South Carolina. And how about Alan Grayson? Don't forget, there are 433 other races going on just for the House. How much can you give?
However, for some reason that money does not translate into the change we all desire so much. I mean, whether you're a huge fan of Obama and glossy photo diaries or you check Glenn Greenwald's and Matt Taibbi's blogs like I do, you're here and there's a very good chance you desire significant social and political change in this country. And for all of our yelling louder and all of our fundraising, that change seems to be eluding us. I cannot deny that improvements are being made by this Congress and Obama. However, we are getting piecemeal change instead of fundamental change.
Perhaps the more telling piece of Casual Wednesday's diary is the next paragraph:
On the other hand, all of your yelling on the blogs will not necessarily translate to votes. If you really care about building solid Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and in your towns and cities, then go out and volunteer for campaigns. Make calls. Canvass. Use your talents and write letters to the editor. GOTV. Most campaigns would be happy to have the help.
Blogging is great - I'm here doing it right now, after all! But it is not the end all, be all of politics, even in this modern age. We need to start translating our online enthusiasm into offline action a lot more effectively, or we will continue to be frustrated. If nothing else, it can be a very cathartic experience to go out and shout on the street (or talk quietly in a board room or whatever other form your action takes) for what you believe in.
In fact, I believe that part of the reason the stress levels are running so high in the progressive blogosphere is related to this lack of tangible action. In an explanation of why there has not been any kind of large social movement recently, psychologist Bruce E. Levine says (this is a bit of pop psychology, but is an interesting point nonetheless):
The U.S. population is increasingly broken by the social isolation created by corporate-governmental policies. A 2006 American Sociological Review study ("Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades") reported that, in 2004, 25 percent of Americans did not have a single confidant. (In 1985, 10 percent of Americans reported not having a single confidant.) Sociologist Robert Putnam, in his 2000 book, Bowling Alone, describes how social connectedness is disappearing in virtually every aspect of U.S. life. For example, there has been a significant decrease in face-to-face contact with neighbors and friends due to suburbanization, commuting, electronic entertainment, time and money pressures and other variables created by governmental-corporate policies. And union activities and other formal or informal ways that people give each other the support necessary to resist oppression have also decreased.
Don't get me wrong, I know that plenty of bloggers go out and canvass and phone bank and do plenty of other wonderful things. But I'm not talking about taking your own initiative and getting involved with an existing campaign. The Netroots needs to adjust its overarching approach to politics. Instead of propping up existing political organizations, we must become our own - we must become able to take ourselves from the computer to the streets without anyone's help. Groups like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have done well to create a kind of independent progressive political structure in electoral politics. But we still need to rely less on online petitions and online fundraising.
As kos himself mentioned in his book Taking on the System, Ron Paul's presidential campaign offered a good example of this. From a relatively small base of online supporters, a campaign was created that ended up being competitive in the Republican primary. Paul did not win any states, but he came in second or third in 27 states, got 35 delegates to the Republican convention (which means he came in fourth - ahead of both Fred Thompson and Rudy Guiliani), raised almost $35 million, and got over one million votes total. On the presidential level, this doesn't translate into victory, but 99% of this came from the grassroots level, which is what makes it impressive. The Paulites were able to use online tools like Meetup and Yahoo Groups and forums to create real world activism.
Progressive ideas seem to have a broader appeal than Paul's quasi-libertarian ideology, and progressives seem to have a larger online presence than Paul's supporters. Yet during the 2008 campaign Paulites were more successful in organizing independently in order to turn online support into offline activism. Granted, the Obama campaign was an incredible example of this type of organizing, but this goes back to one of the fundamental problems I'm talking about - we as progressives are now forced to rely on Organizing for America instead of having a group of that size and type that is independent of the president and establishment Democrats.
So what's the advantage of being independent? Why not rely on the people with money and titles in Washington to organize nationally?
Something to notice is that Kuttner said "social movements," not "political movements." A lot of change comes not from organizing to be politically effective, but from creating a massive demand for change from outside the political arena.
On Saturday gjohnsit had a wonderful diary about such a movement, called "The Army of the Amazons." The wives of miners rose up in 1921 in Kansas and, since the legislature wouldn't meet the demands of the people, changed the law without the help of the government:
A few small marches were held in the coming days, but the Army of the Amazons was mostly over. The marchers had reached 63 mines during that week, most of the mines were shut down for at least a day.
Howat, from jail, said the sending of troops was a "final and conclusive admission of Governor Allen and his industrial court, that the industrial court law, passed for the purpose of bringing about industrial peace by holding the threat of jail over labor, has miserably failed."
These women, rather than relying on politicians, knew how to create change through their own actions. In my very humble opinion, the progressive movement must embrace social movements like this in order to be more effective. Not that we don't already do this, to a certain extent, but it must become more widespread. In short, instead of supporting politicians, we must support policies. I went to a protest of the Afghanistan war escalation a few weeks ago and there were probably only about fifty people there. That would be fine if I was a small town, but it was downtown Philadelphia!
For those of you who are skeptical of what I'm saying because I'm not a huge fan of Obama's and I was protesting the escalation and now I'm saying we need more push back against Washington, hear me out. I am not saying this so that we can have some kind of continual opposition to the president, that would be ridiculous. Like Robert Kuttner said, social movements need to kind of "dance" with the president. Martin Luther King met with Lyndon Johnson and supported him when it made sense for civil rights, but he also organized people against government policies and made it possible for Congress and Johnson to create the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
We cannot be afraid to get our hands dirty and, yes, possibly piss some people off. Perhaps RLMiller said this better than I can:
I'm slowly coming to appreciate the virtue of clarity of people that I might have previously labeled extremists, and been frustrated with their extremism. When the extremism springs from a profound, immoveable, and true principle, it gains moral authority. The best historical example of this is the abolitionism movement.
The healthcare movement lost 90% of that authority when it lost the insistence on single payer, and the rest of it with the public option. What's left of the bill now may be a good thing, as some famous names tell me, or it may be a bad thing, as some other famous names tell me, but it's no longer about Right and Wrong.
I'm not saying we need to be "extremists" or completely uncompromising in everything we do, yet at some point we must recognize that what we are currently doing is not working. We do not have as much power as we rightfully should, given our numbers and the huge amount of Americans that don't necessarily identify as progressive but still agree with us on many issues. Again, I'm emphasizing the point that we need to be both well organized and independent from existing political structures that have their own interests.
And do not confuse what I am saying with calls for a third party. I am saying that we must organize independent of any political party or existing political structures. With respect to health care, maybe this means a real movement for single payer (and not just signing Dennis Kucinich's petitions...) after the national health care bill is passed. With respect to climate change, this can already be seen to a certain extent through ongoing civil disobedience, political organizations, and other parts of the movement. I am saying that I would like this mindset of loyalty to a set of policies rather than a party or politician to take hold, and I would like the progressive movement to act on that mindset.
A friend of mine named Hugh, who is a union organizer, is fond of saying that the only real way to build support for any kind of campaign is going out onto the street and knocking on people's doors and getting to know people and going to church with them and just generally going out into the community. I believe that there is a lack of this, at least in an organized way, from the progressive Netroots.
And, according to Robert Kuttner, this is a reason to worry.
ROBERT KUTTNER: One way or another, there is going to be a social movement. Because so many people are hurting, and so many people are feeling correctly that Wall Street is getting too much and Main Street is getting too little. And if it's not a progressive social movement that articulates the frustration and the reform program, you know that the right wing is going to do it. And that, I think, is what ought to be scaring us silly.
Even if many in the tea party movement are bigots, that movement is harnessing a political frustration in this country. It is emerging across the ideological board, and we as progressives would be wise to take note of it - ideally through the kind of independent social and political movement I described. In the words of Cassiodorus,
The teabaggers understand the power of obstruction better than the progressives -- if anyone in this era is going to take to heart Mario Savio's famous incantation about how "There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part," it will probably be some reactionary fool.
We cannot let that happen. It is time for progressives and our ilk to really get our hands dirty. We must go out into our communities and win people over and change things for ourselves. We can no longer entrust politicians and other leaders to do this for us; we must lead ourselves.
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