But of course there's more that differentiates us than our blogging model. As we watch the poutragers heat up over the current negotiations on the deficit deal, many of us pragmatists are responding with "been there...done that." We've seen it all before.
So today I went back to read something Al Giordano wrote over 2 years ago. Its fascinating for many reasons. One is that it was so predictive of what was to come. Secondly, he wrote it during the very first negotiations process of the Obama administration - over the stimulus bill. Its interesting to see the deja vu all over again. Finally, he went a bit deeper than many have gone in understanding where the differences lie.
With that, I'm going to quote a large bit of Giordano's post.
I am not an activist.
I don't believe in activism.
I think activism, as it is generally practiced in the United States, is more often than not a cop out and an excuse by some to avoid doing the heavy lifting of organizing.
What is the difference, you might ask, between activism and organizing?
To me, it's this:
Activism is the practice of preaching to the choir, rallying the already converted, and trying to convince other "activists" to do your work for you (say, call your Congressman, or write your Senator for or against a piece of legislation). Activists like to make declaratory "statements," hold "meetings," invite other activists (usually fairly hegemonic of the same socio-economic demographics as them), engage in group "process," make "decisions," veto (or attempt to do so) others from taking initiative outside of the groupthink that too often happens in activist projects, declare "party lines," enforce them, and claim that one is part of a "movement" even when there is no evidence that one really is.
Activism seeks media attention through protests and other means, errantly thinking it will draw others to its cause by doing so. This dominant tendency in "activism" becomes a circular, self-reinforcing, self-marginalizing, chest-thumping, bureaucratic and anally-retentive activity and a big waste of time with little impact on the issues or policies it seeks to change or defend.
Organizing is something completely different: It is based on attainable and quantifiable goals (be they small, as in, "put a stop sign in the neighborhood," or be they large, as occurred last year: elect an underdog as president of the United States). Here's a simple yardstick by which to measure: If it doesn't involve knocking on doors, making phone calls or otherwise proactively communicating with people demographically different than you, it's not organizing. If it doesn't involve face-to-face building of relationships, teams, chains of command, and, day-by-day, clear goals to measure its progress and effectiveness, it's not organizing. If it happens only on the Internet, that's not organizing either...
What's happening now is that, with the ringing in of 2009, the Community Organizing Renaissance is so clearly established that many dogmatic activists are in a kind of panic and some are even lashing out at the organizers (including the Community Organizer in Chief) to lecture us that we must do things their way. Some even go so far as to condescend to us, imply that we're Kool Aid drinkers, blind fanatics, or lockstep brownshirts, because we are calmer and more optimistic - although not less busy - than they are at this point in history. To which I can only say: Fuck them.
On some level, they must notice, if even unconsciously, that the organizers won, in 2008, so many of the battles that the activists paid lip service to for 30 years but had failed to achieve: constructing a multi-racial and multi-generational progressive movement in the United States, attracting millions of generally apolitical or apathetic people - regular folks that had rejected and shunned the activists and their ways for so many years - to take part in it, organizing neighborhoods and towns down to the precinct level, and changing American history in the process.
The current manifestation of this tension is, for activists, as always, the current "big conflict" in the media. Today it's the Stimulus Bill. Tomorrow it will be something else. Activists generally take the queues from the mass media and its conflicts-du-jour. Some seem to have grown addicted, in a way, to the adrenaline rush of the daily poutrage: the tantrum as aerobic exercise. They then go through the same routines over and over again: Insist that "this is the most important thing," that everybody else must recognize that and drop everything else to protest with them, and often with a recommendation for "action." Today it's to call members of Congress over a hodgepodge of concerns regarding the Stimulus Bill: Throw out the tax cuts! Keep this or that worthy program in it! Don't compromise not one inch with Republicans!
I just yawn...
On a certain level, they must be at least subconsciously aware of their own incompetence, which is why they call on Obama or others to do their work for them, often with macho posturing to infer that if he doesn't do as he's told he somehow lacks backbone. (Actually, the opposite is more true: backing down to pressure is precisely what reveals lack of a backbone!) And if we don't jump on their makeshift bandwagons, we're portrayed as somehow afraid to challenge the man, too. Well, fuck them twice, then...
I think there's a realignment of forces going on right now in the progressive blogosphere and I think the differences will likely grow greater and clearer, and reasonably should. The organizer and the activist tendencies on the Netroots are increasingly oil and water. Any suggestion that some of its B-Listers and I, for example, would be able to collaborate on anything at present do not seem reality based to me, because we don't share even basic concepts of how things get done. And I'm not quite convinced that many of them care that much about winning anyway. It's easier to pout, to be perpetually hysterical and indignant, and to hook up the mass media adrenaline IV to their veins for one more fix...
For those who want to organize, I'm always ready to collaborate.
For those who want to merely do "activism" but somehow call it organizing... Nah.
This is exactly the distinction Van Jones was making when he talked about his own personal journey.
And as the years went on, I learned that angry rhetoric might feel good to people like me, but it didn't make a difference in the neighborhoods I was trying to move forward. I learned that education and real opportunity is what makes a real difference. Protest signs are important - they can't stop a bullet. Nothing stops a bullet like a job. That's what I learned working in the toughest communities in our country.
Its also why my own involvement in my local community is so important to me - it grounds me in understanding how real change happens (although, to be true to Giordano, I should have titled that piece "Local Organizing" instead of "Local Activism." Oh well, LOL)
It's the roots of the tree that allow the branches to grow to the heights that create an expansive vision. When we forget that (or never knew it in the first place) - we loose our way.