This is a tough one for me, but important. Having spent the last 15 years or so trying to get progressives to master the skills of pushing for change through the electoral system -- something we'd largely neglected for decades -- it's quite a shift to begin to imagine that the cutting edge of progress in the next period will require something else.
But it is worth imagining, because it might be true. With the improbable election of Obama, the marginalization and regionalization of the Republican Party, and nominal Democratic control of the elected federal government, any more gains in those arenas will be relatively small increments. So those of us who think what we need is more than incremental change need to figure out how to even get traction for our demands.
Chris Bowers of Open Left, who is a smart elections wonk among other talents, spelled some of this out the other day:
I like his notion of "culturally progressive feedback loops." And I can think of two more that are worth cultivating.
For one, we need to do everything in our power to enable young people to get college educations and to experience some efficacy through the practice of collective action while in the diploma game. It's not impossible. The Obama era is going to primetime for what's known as "service learning" for college students. Let's get ourselves into those courses.
When Bowers refers to "shifting religious identification" I think he's referring to the growth of the religiously unaffiliated category in the population. But I think (and the recent Pew study agrees) that what is happening is not so much people leaving religion as people moving around between different loci of spiritual search and practice. In particular, younger folks are rejecting what they think of as censorious narrow-mindedness and bigotry, especially against gays. Progressive religious people should be a welcomed part of the wider progressive groundswell. Their activism within their own religious communities, especially on such issues as peace, anti-torture, environment and sustainability, creates links to folks who are too often untouched by overtly "political" activism. At the very least, religious progressives deprive the rightwing of its uncontested claim to have "God on their side." That's worth something while religion continues to hold some claim to moral authority.