Monday, August 30, 2010

I was wrong

There's a meme going around among bloggers in which they are enumerating what they have gotten wrong -- because the exercise might help us get more right in the future. See DeLong, Drezner , etc.

I like it. Here's my contribution: I figured that the level of popular mobilization against dumb wars and economic inequality that pushed the Dems into control of the House of Representatives in 2006 and made Obama the President in 2008 would have a spill over effect. It has had some, but turning the progressive infrastructure on to go beyond electing passable centrists has proved both easier and harder than I anticipated.

In late 2008, I thought the problem leftists would face would be that people who had worked to elect Obama wouldn't be willing to criticize him in office. I was wrong. Obama insured that early on by inviting Rick Warren (an enemy of LGBT people) to give the invocation at the inauguration -- a reassuringly large fraction of progressives started pushing back immediately and that chorus has only grown as Dems in power have failed one base constituency after another.

But folks have discovered what none of us really had time to pay attention to when we were building a progressive electoral apparatus between the Kerry debacle and the Obama mobilization: the non-electoral components of a progressive infrastructure -- unions, community organizations, advocacy outfits -- are in a pathetic condition, needing near complete rebuilding.

In the 1960s and 70s, most leftists learned that doing elections was a waste of time and built outsider structures of various sorts. We won some fights and lost others. We pushed the envelope on women's empowerment, gay rights, Central America solidarity, anti-apartheid activism -- and struggled against the conservative backlash against the civil rights and anti-militarism of the 60s that was at the core of the Reagan "revolution." Progressives also adopted non-profit status, dependent on foundation (rich people's) funding, and barred by law from doing elections. So getting progressives back into trying to influence who occupied the seats of power was a big and necessary job during the 00s. It required people learning new tricks.

But having done that job, we find we don't have the outsider forces that could hold the insiders to our agenda, especially this ever-so-cautious President. As one of the most enduring activists I know wrote recently:

We do not get progressive legislation because we have progressives in Congress. We get progressive legislation because we have a progressive climate in the country. If we can create a progressive moment, many people in Congress who are not currently progressives will suddenly become more progressive.

When I help people organize election campaigns, often for candidates or on issues when we know we can't win but nonetheless must fight, I always explain that what the left gets out of the campaign is the increased capacity and consciousness of the people who work on it, far more than whatever transitory gain we may get in the election. And I still think that is true.

But all these once mobilized people, including the ones from the Obama campaign, need somewhere to go with their newfound skills and interests. The Dems aren't holding them; that's what this "enthusiasm gap" says. I don't mean they won't vote for Dems. Mostly they will. But they are not being absorbed and engaged by organizations and groups that could help them agitate for MORE. What are we doing to provide those possibilities?

It seems time for a pendulum swing again. Time to shore up the outside so as to put pressure on the inside. Sure, times are tough but there really is nothing else to do.

I like figuring out where I've been wrong. Think I'll keep coming back to this for awhile.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I can't even remember all the things I've been wrong about in my life but I bet if I called my kids or ex-husband, I bet they would have a lonnngggg list. LOL

I do like your list here. It makes sense in a world that doesn't make sense.