Thursday, September 15, 2011

After the blogging...then what?

I just love it when smart people respond to each other on the internet. That's what happened recently with a particularly powerful post by Matt Ygelsias.

If you’re a progressive and you feel that the political system isn’t doing what you want, it’s misguided to look at this as a personal failure of elected officials. It’s, if anything, a personal failure of you and people like you. Justice and equality doesn’t just happen because it’s nice, people need to make it happen. If it’s not happening, then its advocates are failing. And I do think there’s a lot of wisdom to the old Le Tigre song “Get Off The Internet.” Reading and talking to like-minded people about how powerful people are failing can seem like action, but it really isn’t.

This is something that many people I talk to online and in real life have noticed. Its not true always in the particulars, but there is a general reality that those who are the quickest to poutrage are often the least likely to actually get involved in DOING anything about it.

I also hear shades of the distinction Al Giordano made between activists and organizers.

Steve Benen responded in support. But he also wanted to make one clarification.

I agree with nearly all of this, though I’d probably take an ever-so-slightly different approach. Getting informed and engaging in political discourse is, to my mind, a form of action — action that the vast majority of Americans never bother to take....

But it’s not the last step. I don’t want folks to get off the Internet and/or turn off their televisions — at least not at first — but I certainly wouldn’t mind if folks got informed and then get off the Internet and turn off their televisions.

And then what?

He goes on to give a bit of an answer to the "and then what?" question. But before we go there, I want to take a look at a really powerful response to Yglesias from Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The other day Tavis Smiley made the point that president's job plan didn't go far enough. I'd bet a lot of progressives concur and I think pushing the point is healthy, legitimate, essential and fair. But it's also healthy, legitimate, essential and fair to then ask, "What would make more progressive legislation possible?"...

One of the reasons why I've harped on the "flying while brownish" series is because I think liberals are much more comfortable attacking whoever seems to hold the most power, and much less comfortable examining the power of the "weak," as well as the power that they, themselves, wield. Power confers responsibility. In evading the notion that citizenship in a democracy confers power, you also evade the notion that it confers responsibility. It's comforting to believe in a narrative of liberal "betrayal," to argue that the game is rigged in such a way that the Hippie-punchers always win.

It's also pretty cynical.

...being taken seriously involves actual work. It means a poverty tour that doesn't just bark (Obama the black mascot) but bites (voter registration in swing districts.) If you don't like the current iteration of America, you need to remember that you are America. The failure to build a more progressive America isn't merely a testimony to dastardly evil, it's a testimony to the failure of progressives...

Somehow we got in our head that the Civil Rights movement happened because Martin Luther King was a really nice guy. We don't really talk about the movement as an actual force, as applying force. We don't think about what SNCC was really trying to do when they were risking their lives to register voters in the delta. When we think about people trying to kill them we think about evil, but we should think about power and fear.
(Emphasis mine)

Yes! Lets think about power and fear. To me, those who see themselves as powerless have embraced being a victim. If there's any truth to that - then we have lost democracy. We may not have much power alone. But what every progressive movement in our country's history has told us is that we have power through partnership and coalition. That's why SNCC was out there risking their lives to register voters. It was about getting people to stand up TOGETHER to bring about change...not simply assuming the power was all in the hands of elected officials in DC.

So if progressives feel like victims in our democracy, Ygelsias is right...its on us, not President Obama. If we're not using what we learn on the blogs to act in some fashion or form to build a progressive coalition, then of course we're going to feel frustrated and sink into poutrage.

Always remember, as the saying goes, "democracy is not a spectator sport."

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