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Last Straws Howling in the Wind

Tony Wikrent's picture

The bitterness runs broad and deep at BigOrange tonight, and there is a strong whiff of despair in the air. The times they are a'changing.

I am 31 years old. I now expect to live much of my adult life during the era in which people will be recovering from their shattered hopes they invested in Barack Obama. But I also firmly believe that my generation or the next generation will learn from this bitter lesson and create a progressive movement far stronger and far greater than what could have been accomplished by one man in the White House, even if Obama had been perfect.

It's time for us to be more welcoming. There will be many visitors in the dark, dark night that descends upon us all. Many will be mere babes, staring wide eyed in astonishment at open talk of The Village gone mad, of Versailles' treachery and self-debasement, and of a global corporatist oligarchy raging unchecked. But these are our future warriors. We must be gentle at the same time we toughen them up for the long fight ahead.

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Submitted by Aaron Em on

We must be gentle at the same time we toughen them up for the long fight ahead.

I could just shit.

I mean, do you really think that what presently dignifies itself by the name of the American progressive movement could teach anything to anyone about any kind of fighting? If there is a new progressive movement forming as a result of this latest series of outrages, do you honestly think they're going to regard us as wiser, older heads, that they're going to sit at our knee to learn all the self-evident shining wisdom that's led us to success piled upon victory over the last thirty years -- or do you think they're going to sneer at all but a scant, courageous few of us as the last rump of the old left, the left that forgot how to fight and wouldn't stand up for itself no matter what happened, and whose sheer and utter cowardice was what necessitated the new movement's being brought into existence in the first place?

Well, I know which result I find more likely, and I know which one would make me sound like a pompous damned fool if I were presumptuous enough to espouse it -- and if a new movement does form, I hope to God they have sense enough not to listen too hard to those who failed so often and learned so little from it before.

Submitted by lambert on

What do you mean, "could"?

Submitted by Aaron Em on

Let me hasten to point out, too, your arrogance in assuming that the people who look to form a new movement will need to be taught a single damn thing about, for example, global oligarchy; if we ever do see a new movement form, it'll be composed of people who understand that sort of thing in their very bones, who are coming together in solidarity because they understand it in their bones and they're ready to fight for better hopes for themselves and their families and children.

Maybe, if that ever does happen, there really will be a few of us old-Left types in there, if there's still anyone left among us by then who hasn't completely forgotten -- or who ever knew in the first place -- how to get up on their hind legs and stand for what matters in a way that genuinely means something, a way that scares the hell out of the capitalist bastards at whose hands we've seen the untrammeled and ongoing exploitation of the last three decades. Maybe, if there's still anyone left worth listening to, some few of those old-guard leftists will come to be something like the wise old heads you're thinking of. But attitudes like the one on display here, that of course we'll end up teaching the new kids to put one foot in front of the other because, of course, We Are the Left, self-evidently the only ones who know how to Do It Right?

That stuff comes straight out a horse's ass, and if you try it with the new movement you're hoping to see, and you'll get laughed right out of town -- I damn well guarantee it, or at least I do if the new movement is one that has any hope of turning out better than the current "movement" has. If they're there, and if they're worth anything at all, it'll be because they already know a hell of a lot more than you and I do.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

Aren't you all fiesty and cute?!

I mean, do you really think that what presently dignifies itself by the name of the American progressive movement could teach anything to anyone about any kind of fighting?

Um, really? How about you take yourself on a little tour of this blog and educate yourself? Otherwise you would know that most (all?) of us have been fighting against the so-called "progressives" for a rather long time now, in real-life and online. When people here talk about a new progressive movement, we're talking about one we've been working to build in our own backyards and here in cyberspace.

I think Tony meant (and please, Tony, correct me if I'm wrong) was that we should recognize that we've been dealing with, following, bemoaning, and fighting for years, and maybe we should take it easy on those just arriving from the wastes of progressiveObamamessiahland.

We (meaning Corrente, but certainly others) have our own abbreviations and lingo that newbies won't understand at first. Some of those who will seek us out will be new to the disillusionment -- they'll still be trying to rationalize and justify, they might confuse progressive and "progressive," and they may not understand the scope of the problem in the same way we do or might repeat solutions we've been talking about and working on for a long time. They might use different language to talk about something we already know by a different name, or they might talk about things we don't know yet. It falls on us to respond respectfully (as deserved), not rant and rave.

In other words: Don't be rude, self-righteous pricks.

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Submitted by twig on

If anything's going to change, we'll have to work with a lot of different people, including some we may have fundamental differences with in other areas. Arrogant, rude and condescending attitudes aren't going to accomplish anything.

And Aaron, re: your comments -- here's a question for you: criticizing is easy. What's your solution?

Submitted by Aaron Em on

My solution? How the hell do I know? I'm just a dipshit with a big mouth and a desire to do something worthwhile; in the 'leader/follower' dichotomy I am emphatically a follower.

If I had any ideas I thought were worth talking about, I'd be proposing them, and if I had yet run across anyone who looked like having even a halfway credible solution to much of anything, I wouldn't be sitting here pissing and moaning like I am.

Submitted by lambert on

Since the "What are you doing?" is a question that we used to get asked a lot by "pragmatists" and "progressives," though that seems to have died down, now that the reality of Barry's conservatism seems to be sinking in among the more reality-based.

On the other hand, before I got banned from all those blogs, I'd be other there pissing and moaning on policy grounds -- for example, single payer. Granted, with vicious snark, but always grounded in policy.

I don't see you doing that here. What value do you think you are adding here?

Submitted by Aaron Em on

Come to think about it, what's your solution? Y'all are supposed to be the ideas people; I'm just a bigmouth who's willing to work for anything I can actually take seriously enough to believe in. I suspect there's more people like that than anyone's bothering to count, so here's my question -- where the hell are the organizers who can lead people like me?

Submitted by lambert on

By whom?

I'm not an organizer, I'm a writer, editor, moderator, and system administrator. Plus, I'm technical, so interaction with humans -- a requirement for organizing, as I understand it -- is not my strength. I think I'm a good enough writer, and prematurely correct enough of the time, to recognize and amplify any emergent process that would include both organizers and structures ("emergent parties"). I'm hoping that Corrente both as a technical platform and an editorial platform ("if you have no place to go, come here") will serve as an attractor for such people.* We'll see!

In the meantime, there are plenty of "slow politics" things you can do. So my suggestion (as a writer and editor) is that you find something you want to do, do it, and then write about it. Any point of leverage that you feel has a prospect of success (as you understand success), no matter how small.

NOTE * As long as they're non-violent (and what serious person would advocate violence in a public forum anyhow? Especially as the first one to do that is always the undercover cop?)

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

And you put it so nice and neatly and concisely in your last line.

But to give one specific example, based on your excellent explanation. I use the word "Versailles" here at Corrente, knowing (or assuming - a mistake on my part, perhaps?) that most people remember the post and link Lambert did on "Versailles" a year or more ago, and the word, as a result, now includes the concepts of the complete dysfunction of elites, leading to environmental and social collapse, as explicated at length by Jared Diamond in his book, Collapse. But when I use the word elsewhere on the tubez, I usually link it to the Paul Rosenberg article on openleft that Lambert first pointed to.

Submitted by Aaron Em on

Fighting for a long time now? That's nice. What have you won? Where are the accomplishments that would make it reasonable to assume and expect, as the original post does, that the newly disillusioned should just automatically take you seriously as the Ascended Bearers of Leftist Wisdom? If you've been fighting all this time and losing, why should they take you seriously at all?

And if Tony meant "let's make it so people new to our ideas don't have to do a lot of research and keep a glossary to hand in order to know what we're talking about", then why not, you know, say that? Had he simply done so, rather than coming out with this "we must train the new warriors with gentle toughness" stuff that makes him sound like he thinks he's the Mr. Miyagi of the left, I would not have been moved to respond as I did, and you wouldn't get to enjoy calling me a rude, self-righteous prick.

(You're two-thirds right about that, by the way; I'm only very rarely ever certain I'm right about anything, but I do tend to find the arrogance of others infuriating, especially when it's justified by nothing at all that I can see. 'Rude' and 'prick', on the other hand, I concede without reservation. If you think that makes it unnecessary to take me seriously, I suggest you consider the possibility that a lot of those newly disillusioned you're counting on may not be inclined to be on their best behavior with you, either.)

Do I have a solution to offer? No, I do not; if I did, I wouldn't be anywhere near as thoroughly embittered as I so evidently am. I'm also not fool enough to imagine that problems like the ones we have are the kind you can just solve, like you do this, do that, and it's over and done with. I'm just a guy who works for a living, and would very much like to put his effort on the line for pretty much anyone with a program that presents a credible possibility -- and by 'credible' I mean something that doesn't look on its face like a complete waste of time -- of counterbalancing the one-party system currently in power, of at least fighting the bastards to a draw often enough that they don't always have it all their own way. That sure doesn't sound like too much to ask, but...

Submitted by lambert on

... so if you want to piss on the rug, feel free, if that's what you consider a value add.

On the other hand, I work out of my house, and I might decide it's not worth the energy of cleaning the rug, you see? And that's before we consider, well, the constant sound of unzipping, which is extremely distracting, followed by the seemingly inevitable consequence.

* * *

I did something in the past couple of days: Tony Wikrent used this platform to propagate some reality: That the banksters take $30 BILLION A DAY out of "the economy" (whose economy?), which is equivalent 600,000 jobs. I haven't seen that said anywhere, and every discussion on public policy going forward should use that frame. Then I got Tony's post linked to by others, and so a lot of people can now broadcast that reality (instead of lying, always a plus).

If you think propagating ideas and changing the discourse isn't work, think again.

What did you do? As I said on another thread, look for some success, no matter how small. Happiness, too.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

This IS an uphill battle; we know that. Being taken "seriously" -- I think that's been a challenge for all of us. Not to get all "Mr. Miyagi" but sometimes the wins are very small things.

Myself, for example. I live in the Marcellus Shale region. When the natural gas drilling first came into my rural, economically-disadvantaged county, I was one of maybe a dozen people who asked what the potential impacts could be. We asked our state and local legislators to demand accountability by the gas companies. We asked DEP to do its job and protect our environment. The attacks were pretty brutal. Two years later, my hometown is the center of the gas boom, my county has the most wells drilled and the most drilling permits issued in PA. (Self-reference: my series on the impacts.)

Over the past year, I've been building a coalition of people who support increased regulation of the gas industry and a severance tax. I've got "good ol' boys" and soccer moms, college students and business owners, farmers and retirees. Every week new people are joining. Three weeks ago, we were finally successful in getting a showing of the movie GasLand at the local theater. (And surprisingly, the turnout was such that we had to turn about 40 people away.) Tonight, the local theater is hosting Scranton's WVIA (PBS) and its "State of Pennsylvania" program to talk about the impacts. Since the majority of the speakers are pro-drilling/anti-severance, I'll be there, along with many others, to represent the people who are being hurt.

We AREN'T just bitching and moaning online and demanding other people tell us what to do and only planning to join up if there are notches on the belt. But, if you want to be told: Think locally. Look around your community & see what you want to change. Join a group working toward that goal. Start building coalitions -- talk to your neighbors, your co-workers. LISTEN to your neighbors and coworkers. Don't write anyone off; don't be confrontational. Find common ground. Once you've got that, you can start talking about other things -- healthcare, Social Security, etc. Nearly everyone I talk to is fed up with the current government, fed up with the false dichotomy of Dem vs. Rep. They, like you, want things to change and they know HOW they want things to change. The key is getting them to stop buying into the frame, and you can't do that unless you can effectively counter the prevailing narrative. Oh, and grow edible things, in a garden or a windowbox. Not only a great stress reliever, but it's that much less you're paying at the grocery store.

Actually, I only half-meant it as an insult to you. When I wrote it, I was just paraphrasing all that I'd said before. Later, I realized it worked both ways. (:

I do expect that some of those newly-disillusioned will be confrontational. They, like you, are going to demand some kind of evidence that we (and those we support) aren't shoveling another load of BS at them. So, I do take you seriously -- you're asking the same questions, demanding a lot of the same answers we did when we first arrived. And, as a sign of how seriously -- I'm typing this treatise despite the broken index finger. (: Eventually, you'll acclimate.

Submitted by lambert on

I couldn't agree more, and I'm grateful you're here. If we had PA_lady's from 10 more states....

* * *

I agree on the local, and I do invest time in a similar effort locally, but not being confrontational is extremely difficult for me. Organizing is just not my skill. I tend to react out of anger, not compassion, and whenever I react that way, I go wrong. Of course, I can learn, am learning, but that takes time. So I do what I can do, and [lambert blushes modestly] what only I can do, locally and here.

Submitted by PA_Lady on

Almost everything I said was what I learned here, lambert. I don't comment much, but I'm reading everything and learning something each day that I can share with my little groups. Like the old shampoo commercial: you tell two friends and they tell two friends....

I should rephrase to say, "Don't be confrontational with your potential allies." Honey/vinegar, etc. There are times when being confrontational is an asset -- like when you have to stand up in front of 400 people, half of whom oppose your position, and ask a county commissioner why he cares more about the gas companies than the residents of his county.

Submitted by lambert on

Well, if we're helping out on the Marcellus shale, that's a good thing. But I think you must have known a lot before you came here.

On the confrontation, yes, I'm fine in front of an auditorium. It's the one-to-one and small group stuff I need to work on. But locally, especially in a small town, that's the most important.

Submitted by hipparchia on

you really should make this comment into its own post - having real-life examples to look at of how people got their start in organizing is invaluable.

Submitted by lambert on

It is invaluable, and part of our problem -- Aaron is right to be frustrated, but not to stay frustrated, because there is always something you can do -- is that there's no knowledge transfer at all between local activists; everything has to be routed through the hub, Versailles, and of course many messages we'd like to send are blocked or dropped. My metaphor for that awhile back was rhizomic growth, and I still think it's a good one.

Submitted by Hugh on

There is a lot of bandying of "progressive" these days and a lot of it negative. This is just buying into the frames of our critics. For me, a progressive is somebody who is interested in solutions that work. It is someone who uses those solutions to build a fairer society: solid jobs, good homes, education, healthcare, and retirement so that people can live their lives without fear and with a modicum of grace.

I understand the anger but I think it's misplaced. There is an overlap between Democrats and progressives that we have discussed ever since I joined the blogosphere. A site like kos is primarily Democratic with some progressives overtones. One like FDL is more progressive but still primarily Democratic. A site like this one is further along the spectrum, more progressive less Democratic. Those of us out here have tended to be what lambert calls prematurely correct. There is shifting and movement going on at the other end of the spectrum. Our end may have a better track record about being right on the issues and the solutions but sites like kos and fdl have far greater and more important tools for organizing.

If past history is any guide, they aren't going to welcome us or thank us for being right where they were wrong. We need to look past that. Right now, they are becoming increasingly disenchanted with Obama. That's a first step, but what we need to encourage them to do is to take a look at the Democrats more generally. It's hasn't just been Obama but the Democrats, including the "progressive" Democrats who have brought us to where we are now.

This is an opportunity, an opening. There is likely to be more casting about. We are certainly not the only alternative. There are people like Dean a fairly mainline Democrat who could exploit this situation too. But what we are seeing are the first great cracks in the left's joined at the hip union with the Democrats, and potentially that could be a very good thing for all of us.

Submitted by lambert on

For some people, I'd be quite late to the party -- being part of the class of 2008 would make me a n00b.

Aaron Em, for all I know, was prematurely correct a long time ago, which would account for his vehemence. Then again, I'm not seeing an evidence of that in his commentary. So...

Submitted by Aaron Em on

I never trusted Obama, if that's what you're talking about, but what accounts for my vehemence is just that there doesn't seem to be anywhere I can put my effort where it looks like it'll actually end up mattering. I want to be in the fight; the ruling class has rigged the game so people like me can't possibly get into it in any way that matters except as a Tea Party dupe, which is worse by far than sitting idle; from the left I hear a lot of rhetoric about getting into the fight for real, but nobody seems to have much of a clue about actually doing so -- a lot of big talking and nothing much to back it up.

So I'm angry, frustrated, and bitter, and when I see somebody going on about training warriors as though he were part of a movement that was in the fight, I go off and call him an arrogant horse's ass and whatever else comes to mind, because it flicks me right on the raw to see somebody who, as far as I can tell, has no better idea of how to fight for serious than anyone else, and yet seems to believe that he and his have got some kind of secret wisdom to be dispensed to the ignorant masses disillusioned by Obama's inescapably obvious betrayal of everyone who ever put the slightest shred of faith in him.

Now maybe that's not what Tony was trying to get across, but it is in effect what he did say, and so I don't feel too terribly bad about responding to it as such. But if there is some secret wisdom, if what y'all have been doing has been in some way working, then how come the left's lost just about every fight it's managed to get into at all for the last thirty years?

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Submitted by Valhalla on

When I hear the word "progressive" these days, I automatically think "misogyny," thanks the relentless perpetuation of same of the last couple of years. By no means was it limited to Kos and a few Democratic sites with slightly "progressive" flavors. It was a full-court press that few sites are clean on.

It's an entirely Pavlovian reaction based on repeated (ad nauseum) exposure to relentless triggering incidents. Yes, there may be arguments that I would accept, intellectually, that sexism is not an inherent part of progressives. I know, intellectually, there are even some people who refer to themselves as "progressives" who don't forget entirely about women's equality for months on end, only to pick up a coat hanger and wave it about menacingly when they'd like my support, my vote, or my money. There may have even been some "progressives" who spoke out against the misogyny levied at Clinton and Palin and their supporters (and others, but those were the two most prominent). But I couldn't hear them for the howling.

It's not just the wilding attack dogs of misogyny that were let loose during 2008; it's really the persistent and consistent failure to take issues important to women's equality seriously, as an integral part of a guiding political vision, that's the problem, and I'm beyond sick of it.

"Progressives" poisoned their own well. There are lots of other reasons to reject the label -- again, for instance, it wasn't only Kos shouting "racist" at every criticism of Obama the past two years either, or creating increasingly byzantine logic to defend his every action. Really, lots of different types of poison going into that well.

As far as I'm concerned, call yourself whatever you want, whatever you think best for you. Define yourself as you wish, don't let others do it for you. I'm all for that. (truly, I am). Just don't expect me to play a part in the bullsh*t after all that's gone before.

Submitted by lambert on

Getting the quotes right:

"progressive" == misogyny

Look at the language, look at the process, look at the outcomes.

I think the Progressive brand is irretrievably contaminated by the actions of those who identify as Progressives, and as Atrios argues somewhere (too lazy to find the link right now) the rebranding was never that great an idea to begin with. In addition, "progress" in what direction was never defined. Now we know, of course.

So, I would encourage anybody here, including Hugh, to drop the branding. It's Box Office poison.