The main meme I’m seeing…

The main meme I'm seeing on progressive blogs/journals right now is a sense of frustration with the current state of affairs -- and uncertainty about how we should most effectively work for change. Probably that's in part because I'm mostly reading my contemporaries -- 30-somethings who are getting engaged with politics for the first time in their lives. We have energy, we have enthusiasm, we have no idea what we're supposed to do with it. Help?

I know there are a lot of more experienced activists out there. I'd love to see a discussion of how progressive-minded Americans can best work for political change in the next four years. I want a to-do list.

I'm currently involved with a South Asian progressive action group in Chicago; I go to the monthly meetings, I volunteered to help get South Asian immigrants to the polls on election days, I attend periodic progressive events. Assuming that I don't want to give my life over to politics, and that I don't yet have lots of cash to spare, but I do want to contribute -- what else do you recommend I and others like me do, right now, towards the next election?

I should note that I'm leaning towards what Ben said in comments: "I don't want the Democrats to fragment now. I want us to come up with another Bill Clinton -- a white male centrist Southern Democrat with political experience and charisma -- for our next presidential foray. Barack Obama can wait for 2016; for the moment, I'd just like to stop the slide into plutocratic, kleptocratic millenial militarist empire." Apologies to Nick and Shannon, but I don't think a third party is the answer for the next election. So, personally, I'm looking for ways to strengthen the Democratic party and, if possible, work towards bringing it more in line with what I actually believe.

8 thoughts on “The main meme I’m seeing…”

  1. Changing the way you talk about important issues is probably the simplest, most powerful, and immediate thing one can do.

    I’ve been reading Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant!” which demonstrates that the language itself progressive use to critique conservative viewpoints is self-defeating. Since so much of the progressive movement is in a textual environment on the web and blogs, I think this book can be a valuable guide.

    Short book, easy read, nerdy linguistic talk about “frames”. Lakoff has his critics, of course, but I found the book very inspiring.

  2. I think what we need to do is start takiing this energy and channeling it in to building a political base at the local and state levels, getting good liberal progressive candidates all through the foundational levels of government. That means that we’ll have a stock of candidates to draw from for the bigger elections, and that we’ll have our electioneering and vote-turnout processes active all the time. I admit to being a little inspired by a friend of mine who got very involved in a state senate campaign in Massachusetts this year–a big outpouring of energy, work, and enthusiasm, mostly from people 35 and under, managed to unseat the old-school non-helpful state senator and put in his place a progressive candidate. It’s not as glamorous as national elections, but it’s where it all starts, with local politics.

  3. The unfortunate part of progressive activism is that it is only viable in the blue states. Being a bit older than you, I’ve watched the transistion to a more conservative culture over the last 20 years. I fear the tyranny of the new majority. It may take 2 or 3 generations when whites are no longer the majority to see change.

  4. There are various different axes of activism. Susan’s idea of local government electoral activism is very important and well taken; and it isn’t really just the blue states where its practical, but also blue areas of red states — check this out — if, instead of dividing four states, the Mississipi delta was a state, Kerry would have won it. Looks like progressive politics in Jackson Mississipi or Little Rock Arkansas is quite viable. And she’s right that a network of local government candidates is a breeding ground for national ones.

    Another kind of politics that is very effective is centrist, issue-centric, nonpartisan politics. You win bigtime if an issue goes from being a partisan football, to being a truism that everybody knows. We briefly achieved this, for instance, with balancing the budget. We’ve achieved it with many of the indendiary civil rights issues of the 60s. If you could turn, say, universal health care into a nonpartisan issue, that would be a huge victory.

    There is also intraparty maneuvering. In Virginia we can vote in both party’s primaries. Next time, I will be voting in the Democratic primary for electability (Vilsack?), and (especially now that Karl Rove’s strategy of “screw the swing voters, energize the base” has proved itself) in the Republican primary for tolerability (McCain?). I repeat, national electoral politics is not about finding a candidate who perfectly mirrors your ideas, but about stopping the slide into hell.

    The way to get a truly progressive President is to do enough grassroots work that the center of the country is what we today consider progressive. (Of course, if this happens, we’ll no longer consider that progressive, and then we can bitch about how conservative the President is… :-> )

    Plus, even in Red states or with a Red administration (isn’t it amazing how that color now means conservative? what a difference a few decades makes…) there are some pratical, down-to-earth areas where common agreement and useful work of governance are possible. Bush may be hopeless, but that doesn’t mean all Republicans at the local and state levels are hopeless on all issues.

  5. Oh, and on nonpartisan action, there is totally room right now for an alliance with the fiscal conservative/Libertarian wing of the Republican party on the budget, on the Patriot Act, maybe on election reform (Diebold machines), possibly a large number are convertable on gay civil unions, etc.

    Divide and conquer. Many of the folks who voted for Bush out of fear of gay marriage are potential allies against a prolonged war of empire in Iraq. Many of the folks who voted for Bush because they thought only he was hawkish and resolute enough about the war on terror/rogue states/Islamic fundamentalism/etc, are potential allies on balancing the budget and gay marriage and abortion. Schwarzenegger wants stem cell research. Warren Buffet hates the idea of lowering the inheritance tax. Their coalition is not as seamlessly integrated as it seems, and specific, practical, decisive issue politics can create progressive majorities on specific issues even in the face of a generally conservative political landscape. (Indeed, a surprising of the things we might — or might not, because our coalition is fragmentable too — think of as progressive, some conservatives think of as conservative).

    Above all, don’t demonize anyone. AP reported — I don’t have the exact figure — something like 78% of white evangelical Christians who voted, voted for Bush. A commanding majority. But it also means that 22% of *white evangelical Christians* voted for Kerry! (Can anyone verify this stat?) Hello. These people are very important to us. Around 40% of voters who go to church every week voted for Kerry. Let us be vigilant about not driving these people away in our anger about “those damn theocratic hicks” or whatever. We win only if we actually embrace real diversity; the moment we are hypocrites, we lose.

    Also, energize the base.

    More George Soroses.

    More P. Diddys.


  6. The don’t hate things works well. Listen to people who voted the other way to find out why and see if there is any agreement to be had.

    Start local if you want 3rd parties and run off voting. I believe at this point doing is more effective than Money giving.

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