A profile of the New York mayor says he is working on a progressive Contract With America. Looking forward to that.
A profile of the New York mayor says he is working on a progressive Contract With America. Looking forward to that.
Every now and then somebody sees the face of Jesus on a pancake, or a sandwich, or refrigerator mold, and people get all excited about it. I’ve seen photographs of some of these wonders, and usually they don’t look that much like Jesus to me — Willie Nelson, maybe — but then, I’m not all that keen about seeing the face of Jesus on things.
I suspect that people who actually see Jesus on pancakes are people who deeply, deeply crave some kind of whoop-dee-doo mystical experience that will give them Hope, or Peace, or at least some cash from an eBay sale. They want to see Jesus on that pancake so badly that their senses arrange for them to see it. Senses tend to be more susceptible to suggestion/desire than most of us realize. You can see just about anything if you are raving desperate enough to see it.
This John Fund column titled “Liberals in Retreat” strikes me as the political equivalent of seeing Jesus on a pancake. He’s seized upon three unrelated elections in Colorado, Australia, and Norway, as evidence of Conservatism triumphant. All around the globe, he thinks, liberals have panicked and are scampering for the exits. Only conservatism speaks for the people now.
Sorry, Fund. I am not scampering. I don’t see anyone else scampering.
First off, the words “liberal” and “conservative,” when applied to politics outside the U.S., don’t mean quite the same thing as they do here. Although there might be general and fuzzy resemblances, the political dynamics of Australia and Norway are not the same as the political dynamics in the U.S. Frankly, I think a lot of what we’re experiencing here — in which a large portion of our government has been taken over by people who are stark raving bonkers and refuse to actually govern — is unprecedented in world history. Or, at least, unprecedented in an alleged first-world democracy.
Second, the Colorado recall election may be a blow to the gun control issue nationwide, or it may be significant in some regions but not in others. But gun control has been a back-burner issue for Dems for way more than a decade. We keep hoping its hour will come round, but until it does we are mostly unwilling to sacrifice progress on other issues to fight for it.
I see the Colorado recall, and the various batty secession schemes cropping up in rural America, not as harbingers but as last hurrahs. These actions are mostly coming from clusters of insulated, rural whites who are out of touch with where the rest of America is heading.
John Fund is so desperate to see Jesus on the pancake that he called forth Grover Norquist to back him up. Norquist is a man who can see just about anything on a pancake. But Norquist is a walking last hurrah if there ever was one.
It’s too early to know if Bill De Blasio’s big win in New York City is a harbinger or a freak lightning strike. The wingnuts are in denial about this, but I say it was de Blasio’s unabashed liberalism that made him stand out. The position of Mayor of New York has been filled by Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, a.k.a. Rudy Giuliani Lite, for more than two decades. And my sense of things is that New Yorkers are really, really done with that, and want something different. No more squishy, friends-of-business moderates. We’ll see.
In the meantime, expect conservative pundits to keep seeing liberals in retreat — “Jesus on the pancake,” if you will — because they are raving desperate to see it. But I’m not seeing it.
Political commentary that makes me wonder if anyone at WaPo has a measurable IQ (from about five days ago, but I’m just now noticing it) — Zachary A. Goldfarb writes,
If there was one word that was used most often to describe President Obama’s second inaugural address Monday, it was “liberal.” Obama supposedly tossed away the post-partisan efforts of his first term and embraced big government, fully committing himself to the cause of gay rights and showing a Gore-like dedication to the climate-change fight.
Yet the next day, the White House expressed surprise at the notion that the president’s speech amounted to an affirmation of liberalism. Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that he rejected “the idea that this was an ‘ism’ speech.” He added, “It’s on behalf of ideas that represent who we are as Americans.”
In a narrow sense, Carney was right. Opinion polls show that on almost all of the major positions Obama espoused in his speech — entitlements, immigration, climate change and same-sex marriage — a majority of Americans agree with him.
By that measure, Obama did not advance a liberal agenda.
Or maybe, dimwit, by that measure we see that Americans are coming back around to embracing liberalism, the way they used to. Let us consider the words of President John F. Kennedy —
President John F. Kennedy on being a liberal (via)…
“I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas. It is, I believe, the faith in our fellow citizens as individuals and as people that lies at the heart of the liberal faith. For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man’s ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves
I believe also in the United States of America, in the promise that it contains and has contained throughout our history of producing a society so abundant and creative and so free and responsible that it cannot only fulfill the aspirations of its citizens, but serve equally well as a beacon for all mankind. I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned. I abhor the waste and incompetence of large-scale federal bureaucracies in this administration as well as in others. I do not favor state compulsion when voluntary individual effort can do the job and do it well. But I believe in a government which acts, which exercises its full powers and full responsibilities. Government is an art and a precious obligation; and when it has a job to do, I believe it should do it. And this requires not only great ends but that we propose concrete means of achieving them.
Our responsibility is not discharged by announcement of virtuous ends. Our responsibility is to achieve these objectives with social invention, with political skill, and executive vigor. I believe for these reasons that liberalism is our best and only hope in the world today. For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society. Its strength is drawn from the will of free people committed to great ends and peacefully striving to meet them. Only liberalism, in short, can repair our national power, restore our national purpose, and liberate our national energies.
What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”
Deal with it, Goldfarb.
BTW, here’s my new roomie, Sadie, courtesy of Bill Bush. Someday maybe I’ll get a photo of her when one of us is no t moving.
There’s a must-read post by Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money called “Ralph Nader and the Structure of Progressive Change.” It’s not actually about Ralph Nader, but rather, Ralph Nader here is emblematic of why progressives never seem to get a movement going.
What we might call “Goldwater” conservatives, he said, began organizing at a local level in the 1960s. Eventually they took over the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, progressives have responded to the country’s rightward shift by running vanity candidates like Ralph Nader for president every four years. In 2008, progressives changed strategies when Barack Obama seemed to capture their dreams and then were shocked when he turned out to be the centrist he always was. But even in 2008, it was still a simplistic analysis of progressive change offered by his supporters that hadn’t learned much in the previous 8 years.
I oversimplify, sure. But the trajectory of the conservative movement should be teaching us many lessons. Not that we should be crazy extremists. But that party structures are actually not that hard to take over if you really want to do it. Yet progressives seem to almost NEVER talk about localized politics. We complain about education reform but don’t organize to take over school boards. Conservatives outflank us in part because they seem to understand that the presidency is not all-powerful. Perhaps local offices like county clerk and elected judges are as or even more important than the presidency, at least from a long-term perspective. Too many progressives believe in Green Lantern presidencies. Elect Obama in ’08 and he can force through all the changes we want.
No. That’s not how it works.
What Loomis is calling “Green Lantern presidencies” I’ve called the “magic candidate,” which is the syndrome that makes people believe all we have to do to counteract 50 years of relentless wingnut organizing is elect the right guy to be president.
Right now, the Dems appear to have embraced progressive populism more than I’ve seen them do since the 1960s. I don’t think progressive activists can take much credit for this, though. And we won’t know if the Dems really mean it until we get a real majority in both houses, instead of a majority that includes a mess of Blue Dogs. Still, the fact that so many are running on progressive populist themes is heartening. A strong populist progressive movement would reinforce this, if we had one.
But this takes us back to Why Progressives Can’t Organize. I can think of several reasons.
First, we look bad in comparison to the Right because the Right has always had deep-pocket sponsors installing astroturf wherever the grass roots weren’t sprouting. The media-think tank infrastructure, now decades old, that supports movement conservatism is all funded by a relatively small number of family trusts, for the purpose of manipulating public opinion to support whatever will make more money for the trustees. What George Soros has contributed to the Left is not even a drop in the bucket in comparison; more like a drop in Lake Erie.
Second, in spite of the fact that we’re supposed to be the “collectivists” and conservatives the “individualists,” when it comes to organizing it’s the other way around. If you were to tell one hundred conservative citizen-activists to show up on Fifth and Main Street at 9 am Tuesday wearing red, white and blue T-shirts to rally for X, I’d bet you’d get about 8o percent compliance. Do the same thing with progressives, and maybe 20 people would actually follow directions. You’d get at least 30 other people showing up (early or late) with signs and fliers promoting an entirely unrelated cause. And Code Pink members would organize a separate rally two blocks away to grab all the attention.
My irritation with the Occupy “movement” that was never a movement stemmed from my long frustration with leftie vocational demonstrators. Occupy seemed to be the ultimate in vanity demonstrating; truly, rebels without a cause. It was people showing up to vent personal frustration at the system, but with no clue about how to fix the system. And, sorry, standing outside a police station with a megaphone, yelling “F— the police” over and over again, is not “activism.” It’s a tantrum.
On the other hand, I understand some of the Occupy groups that formed around the country last year have morphed into community activist groups focusing on local situations, such as foreclosures, which is great.
This takes us to a complaint about organizing locally. Conservatives get elected to school boards to block teaching evolution, for example, whereas progressives are more focused on national issues. Beginning with takeovers of local Republican party structures, wingnuts eventually owned the entire Party. However, I don’t know what would keep liberals from running for school boards to keep evolution in science class.
It may make a difference that we’ve been playing defense and they’ve been playing offense lo these many years. We’ve been working to preserve Roe v. Wade and other civil rights gains; they’ve been working to strike them down. We’ve been working to preserve the New Deal; they’ve been chipping away at it. But the Right has chipped away so much stuff that we’re going back on offense now. For example, they’ve chipped away at reproductive rights enough that women finally are getting riled up about it. Go, team.
Maybe because they are better at trusting leaders, rightie issues organizations all these years have been better at long games. Even after they don’t get everything they want — and they don’t always, even though it seems otherwise sometimes — they come back in the next election cycle supporting the same candidates and hoping to build on whatever they did get.
Too many progressives don’t do long games. No public option? Kill the bill! Dump Obama!
Finally, there’s been a vacuum in leadership. Too many of the icons of progressivism have been more about grandstanding for the glorious cause than about making realistic progress toward achieving that cause. Ralph Nader is one such person; so is Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich served nine terms in the House with no substantive legislative accomplishments, but he was good at sound bites and introduced a lot of no-chance resolutions to impeach Dick Cheney, and progressives swooned. Why are so many of us so easily distracted by shiny objects?
Who are the real national leaders of progressivism? The only name coming to mind is Barney Frank.
Well, that’ today’s rant. What am I missing?
Hey all you wild cats, do-gooders and steadfast rebels out there,
Our movement is living through a painful rebirth… “There has been a unfortunate consolidation of power in #OWS,” writes one founding Zuccotti. “This translates into ideological dominance and recurring lines of thought. We are facing a nauseating poverty of ideas.” Burned out, out of money, out of ideas… seduced by salaries, comfy offices, book deals, old lefty cash and minor celebrity status, some of the most prominent early heroes of our leaderless uprising are losing the edge that catalyzed last year’s one thousand encampments. Bit by bit, Occupy’s first generation is succumbing to an insidious institutionalization and ossification that could be fatal to our young spiritual insurrection unless we leap over it right now. Putting our movement back on track will take nothing short of a revolution within Occupy.
The article goes on to say that various groups around the country are engaged in local, community-based actions under the banner of Occupy. So the spirit of Occupy itself is not dead, even though the original Zuccotti Park crew has broken up. Adbusters also is promoting “a global cascade of flash encampments” this summer as the next phase of global Occupy.
I want to go back to the bits about consolidation of power, ideological dominance, lack of ideas, and the corruption of old lefty cash, whatever that is.
The idea that a large, amorphous, leaderless movement that refused to be boxed into an ideological or partisan nook could maintain some kind of uncorrupted state always was a childish fantasy. Human nature doesn’t work that way. Group dynamics don’t work that way. And especially when the group is challenging entrenched money and power and is fueled more by zeal than central planning, it’s going to be put under enormous pressure, and it’s going to be a mess.
But let me address the idea of maintaining purity. We snark at the Right for favoring ideological purity over reality, but you see something similar on the Left as well. There’s an ongoing fantasy that we must be pure of partisan attachments to the parties, or else we are selling out. Or maybe we can find the magic candidate(s) who will be absolutely pure of the corrupting influence of money and power, and will not compromise progressive ideals just to get bills passed, and we can send him/her/them to Washington, and then everything will be fixed.
Anyway — it seems to me you can take one of two roads. You can stay out of the mud and engage in symbolic actions that may affect public opinion, which can be a valuable thing over the long haul. But you will have absolutely no influence over the powerful people in charge of things, so you’re not going to see anything actually change except at pre-global-warming glacial pace. This is assuming your symbolic actions do not involve an armed takeover of government, of course.
If instead you try to push for real change and force the movers and shakers to bend to your will, you’re going to have to get in the mud with them and make deals with people who are a lot less pure than you’d like. One pure person standing alone can’t do beans. That’s the truth of it. The system is what it is, and you can’t change it without dealing with it as it is.
There’s plenty of room for both approaches, of course. But mutual respect is in order. If the purer-than-thou symbolic action-takers disparage the work of inside-the-system activists, and vice versa, then everyone loses.
OWS always was a lot more like the old New Left than they were willing to admit. Back in the 1960s and 1970s the New Left worked outside the system against the New Deal coalition that used to support the Democratic Party, and helped break it up. Labor unions were a huge target, for the understandable reasons that they tended to have racist and sexist policies at the time, not to mention the mob connections.
But now we’re all looking around and saying, geez, isn’t it a shame about unions dying off? And how did the Democratic Party get so dependent on corporate money? And the New Left has to take a lot of the blame for that. And the moral is that if you have a revolution to break up the old system, you’d better have something ready to replace it with. Just being pure of heart isn’t enough.
Today’s conservative is someone who confuses freedom with feudalism. Or, put another way, he is someone who wears a “liberty or death” T-shirt while marching in support of oligarchy.
Michael Lind points out in “Why Do Conservatives Hate Freedom?” that historically conservatives have always opposed individual liberty and supported authority. Yet today’s conservatives have adopted the conceit that they are the ones who favor “freedom” while liberals — historically, the champions of individual liberty — are cast as quasi-totalitarian “statists.” The meanings of words are turned on their heads.
If you look deeper, though, you see that the iconic imagery and language of the American Revolution represents something profoundly reactionary to today’s conservatives. These icons speak to the mythic origins of American national identity, developed in 19th century textbooks and handed down in popular fiction and Disney movies. That the myths bear only superficial resemblance to what actually happened doesn’t register with them.
American mythos congeals into a kind of tribal identity in the rightie mind. It is this tribal identity that prevents them from seeing anyone who doesn’t look and think like them as “real Americans.” The protection and preservation of the tribe is the beating heart of today’s American right.
To a wingnut, “freedom” doesn’t mean “slavery,” exactly. But it does represent a kind of unquestioning allegiance to the 21st-century version of feudal lords — the Koch Brothers, Christian institutions, corporations and the wealthy generally. These are their tribal elders, after all.
The reactionary Right has not only claimed exclusive rights to patriotic icons like the flag and tri-corner hats; they also have adopted the language of the Left about rights. But “rights” to a rightie are not about standard civil liberties, but about their childish desires not to be made to do anything they don’t want to do. So they call for the “right” to discriminate as they see fit.
Righties also favor the rights of institutions and authorities over those of individuals. For example, they champion the “rights” of pharmacists to not fill birth control prescriptions. They want employers to have the right to deny birth control coverage to employees. All in the name of liberty.
This takes us to the libertarian fallacy. Libertarians have been allied with conservatives for decades now. On the surface, this makes no sense. However, modern libertarianism began mostly as a backlash against Brown v. Board of Education and court-imposed school desegregation orders. So, again, it comes back to a “right” to not be compelled to do anything you don’t want to do, including respecting the individual liberties of others.
Libertarianism actually is anti-democratic, because government of the people, by the people, and for the people can become coercive. We, the People, can use government to make coal mine owners install expensive ventilation systems to protect the miners, for example. That’s coercive. Nine times out of ten, libertarians will take the side of ruthless mine owners over miners. After all, if a mine is unsafe, the miners can just quit, right?
So, while libertarians and liberals do converge on some issues — warrant-less surveillance, mass arrests, etc. — any liberal who assumes libertarians care about civil rights is a fool.
Michael Lind writes,
What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half-century? Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay third-world wages to Americans working seven days a week, 12 hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.
But to a rightie, that’s what “freedom” looks like.
Last week I wrote a post called “Remembering Our History” that recalls the way young liberal activists of the 1960s and 1970s — the New Left — kicked apart the New Deal Coalition and thereby helped make the Democratic Party the lame and spineless thing it has been in recent years. I don’t want to repeat that entire argument, so if you want to disagree with that premise, please read the earlier post first.
Today some west coast OWSers are planning to shut down some ports, temporarily blocking commerce to punish some of the 1 percent. But other OWSers, and unions that have been supportive of OWS, are saying this would punish a lot of working people, too. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
And some occupation activists are labeling it as too confrontational, with the protest’s potential for violence detracting from Occupy’s stated intention of narrowing the chasm between rich and poor.
“Support is one thing,” Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, wrote to his members last week. “Outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process.”
Not the 1 percent
The Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council’s secretary-treasurer, Andreas Cluver, said many of his union’s workers were recently hired at port building projects after long stretches on unemployment. Given that, a port shutdown aimed at punishing the 1 percent “makes no sense,” he said.
He said no union at the port supports the shutdown.
“We’re extremely supportive of the message of Occupy Oakland, and we did come out to support the Nov. 2 general strike, but we’re not behind this one,” Cluver said. “When working people aren’t involved in the decision on whether to shut down their jobs at the port, that’s problematic. And we weren’t consulted. Losing a day of wages is hard.”
He added: “The port is a public entity. It’s really not the 1 percent. Go shut down a country club – that’s the 1 percent.”
Together, the unions represent more than 1,400 workers at the port. Other unions that have refused to endorse the shutdown, including the California Nurses Association, declined to comment – all apparently not wanting to antagonize protest organizers.
However, at FDL, hotflashcarol is calling bullshit. And she’s doing this by recalling her personal memories of the 1960s counterculture — which is kind of pathetic, considering she was only 8 years old during the Summer of Love, although she did get to Haight Ashbury then while 17-year-old me was stuck in the Ozarks. But to counter the opposition of the unions to the port shutdown, she trots out speeches from the 1960s New Left. This includes speeches by Mario Salvo (1942-1996) who was a key member of the Berkeley Free Speech movement.
Mario Savio included “organized labor” in his list of those running the odious machine, the machine that we must not stop passively, but must stop by putting our bodies upon the gears:
be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone!
After he gave that famous speech, Mario was arrested, along with 800 others, and sentenced to 120 days in Santa Rita Jail – the very same place some of us may find ourselves occupying tomorrow. I have never been arrested and I’d like to keep it that way. But I am willing to march with heroes like Scott Olsen and all the others who have been arrested and brutalized. I am willing to take that risk, especially to support the people who man the front lines and push through the police barricades and refuse to allow the state to have every single ounce of the power. Without them, who among us would have had the guts to be the first one to sit at that lunch counter or stand up on top of that police car and demand our right to free speech?
Historically, labor activists have put their bodies on the line — sometimes at the cost of their lives — a whole lot more than the counterculture ever did, but let’s go on … One of my points in the earlier post was that in the 1960s, the unions were run by a bunch of old white guys who were standing in the way of progress for racial minorities and women, and some among them were pretty corrupt, and there was good reason to stand up to the unions then.
But that was 40 bleeping years ago. The unions today ain’t your granddaddy’s unions, child. Our current state of economic injustice is very much linked to the decline of the unions, and re-empowering workers through union organizing is one of the keys to turning things around.
Hotflashcarol goes on to post a video of Angela Davis ca. 1970 discussing the violence she grew up with as a black child in North Carolina. Hotflashcarol seems to be implying that what Angela Davis and her family went through in the 1950s and 1960s South justifies whatever confrontations OWS wants to mount today.
But what blacks experienced in the South back then is in a different ball park from what the mostly white and mostly middle-class OWSers have faced even on their worst days. Back then, a few wrong words or even a hint of attitude could get a black person killed, and any white could murder any African American with impunity, because no all-white jury would convict him even if the all-white police force arrested him, or the all-white public prosecutors decided to try him. That’s what Angela Davis experienced.
Like I said, what OWS has been through isn’t anywhere in the same ball park. Nay, the same galaxy. Yes, there are free speech and public assembly issues to be addressed, but these need to be taken through the court system before any counter-violence is justified.
Repeat after me: It’s not the sixties any more. Many things have changed.
Oh, and there’s another video at hotflashcarol’s post from about 1968 that’s supposed to make some kind of point, although it’s not clear to me what.
Hotflashcarol strikes me as a relatively privileged person who has romantic fantasies of being a rebel. She refers to herself as a blond at one point, so I assume she is white. Reliving one’s youth can be fun, although I take it my youth was a lot less fun than hers. But the world is a very different place now, and like it or not, activists like Mario Savio helped bring about the rise of Reaganism and the stagnation of the working class we’re seeing today. (Again, if you don’t understand how that happened, read my earlier post.)
The absolutely last thing any lefty activist ought to be doing TODAY is dissing unions and causing working people to lose a day’s pay so that the activist can have lots of fun playing at being a revolutionary and maybe getting on YouTube. If OWS is not actively trying to gain the sympathy and support of working people, on behalf of working people, then what is its purpose?
If you are a Boomer itching to relive your youth, go light some patchouli incense and listen to Jimi Hendrix for awhile. And then get over the past and ask yourself what you can do TODAY for the working people being screwed by the system TODAY. The 1960s are OVER, people.
But union workers were largely expected to stay on the job, and were contractually barred from joining such a strike. The protest will focus in part on truck drivers who earn low wages and cannot join unions because they are classified as independent truck drivers, and must provide their own trucks.
“It’s a group that encapsulates basically everything that is wrong with society,” [Mike King, a graduate student who acts as a media liaison for Occupy Oakland] said.
So, part of the stated purpose of the port shut-down is to support low-wage workers who can’t unionize. Somebody needs to explain that to hotflashcarol. The problem with a lot of big, messy, unfocused demonstrating is that while their original purpose may have been perfectly righteous, once the vocational protesters show up everybody forgets what that was.
Update: See also Laura Clawson for Daily Kos —
It’s true that there are some terribly exploitative conditions at ports, especially for short haul truckers. But doing something in the name of workers without consulting the workers involved, and despite opposition even from a very militant union, is disrespectful of workers at best.
Two weeks after the debunking of the rumor that the Department of Homeland Security co-ordinated the attacks on OWS encampments, Naomi Wolf publishes an article at The Guardian claiming that DHS was behind the attacks on OWS encampments. And no, she has no new evidence. She’s just pretending the old evidence wasn’t fabricated.
Basically, Karoli documents that elements of the Left have gotten just as bad as most of the Right at taking hearsay, unsourced claims, quotes taken out of context, etc. etc., and spinning them into some reason why the Obama Administration Has Betrayed Us. And once these rumors are accepted on the Left as Revealed Truth, there’s not a dadblamed thing you can say or document to change people’s minds.
And this matters, Karoli says, because it the end, when people like Naomi Wolf, Jane Hamsher, Michael Moore (as much as I like him, he’s very fast and loose with facts sometimes), etc. etc., push this nonsense, the only people who benefit are the dreaded 1 percent.
We tend to exalt people who say things we want to hear, or who we know have been right about some things in the past, or who share our general outlook, so when such a person with a big public megaphone makes claims contrary to any provable fact we may overlook the lack of sourcing and accept what we’re told. But we’ve got to resist doing that, folks, because it’s hurting us more than helping us.
A consensus is growing in many quarters that Mayor Bloomberg et al. may have done OWS a favor, in the long run, by evicting OWSers from camps. But of course, a lot depends on what the OWSers choose to do next. A few reflections.
I know many of them wouldn’t agree with this, but at first OWS got remarkably positive media coverage from the centrist press, far better than what I would have thought possible. Fox News and the New York Post were crusading against it from the get-go, of course, but many voices speaking from other media, including the New York Times and even the Washington Post, were mostly casting it in a favorable light.
Of course, the Right got nastier and more hysterical and eventually overcame the favorable voices, and in the past few days polls have showed a sharp decline in public approval of OWS. Again, I’m not sure how many of the OWSers realize this, but public support is their only possible power source. Broad approval brings with it broad leverage. If they’ve lost that, then it’s time to do something else, anyway.
Steve M writes that OWSers seem to suffer the same media tone-deafness of many Democrats —
Yes, there are differences: Insider Democrats think the centrist press is far more influential than it actually is. These Democrats also believe that, in terms of influence, MSNBC cancels out Fox and talk radio. The average OWSer, by contrast, seems to believe that the media is reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way, but that vivid, in-your-face protests can go over the heads of the media and speak directly to the people.
The reality is that the media still decides what we think, and the far-right media works much, much harder at driving that consensus than the centrist press does. The centrist press keeps the coverage bland, and then the Murdoch/talk radio axis declares its fatwas, and those decide what we think.
The Occupy movement, like the Democratic Party, doesn’t grasp that it needs to do everything it can to minimize the damage from right-wing-media demonization. Both groups think they can just be heard above the noise from the right-wing noise machine — neither group realizes the utter necessity of throwing sand in the gears of that machine.
Come on, Occupy. You have to do better than Democrats, dammit.
Steve M has numbers from Public Policy Polling showing that OWS has lost significant support, especially among independents. It is now less popular than the Tea Party. The controversies and hysterical news coverage have completely swamped the message.
And yes, it was all very unfair. If the country were “fair,” we wouldn’t need OWS, would we?
And I take no pleasure in saying this, but … toldja so. Listen to me next time.
So, what’s next? Todd Gitlin advises that “Liberty Park can be anywhere,” and says that the activist functions of the OWS movement do not have to depend on urban tent cities. He suggests maintaining some token encampment somewhere in lower Manhattan, but says the real problems OWS is trying to address will not be solved by occupying turf. Indeed, it appeared that the day-to-day problems of maintaining the tent communities were eating a lot of time and energy and becoming something of a fetish.
And, you know, there’s that Internet thing that wasn’t around when Gitlin was organizing protests against the Vietnam War. You could do a lot with that, I bet.
Naomi Wolf suggests that OWS get more involved in electoral politics.
I have argued that the organizers need to become a major electoral block and make the case that they will get out the vote for leaders who support citizens’ rights to First Amendment expression (especially during those critical congressional elections) and will call for the defeat of city leaders who brutalize and suppress citizens. They could even lead a recall drive for abusive mayors. Dozens of city and state leaders, like California’s Gray Davis, have been successfully recalled by voters since 1911. New York State does not have a legislative recall mechanism, but Occupy can put it on the ballot through a referendum. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo can recall Bloomberg by presenting charges. So Occupy Wall Street has to put pressure on Cuomo by showing that it will organize to get out the vote for or against him based on thousands of registered voters.
Occupy has an ill-advised resistance in some quarters to engaging with the voter-registration process, but that may be changing. They are terribly vulnerable now without electoral organization and can expect only further violence and aggression. But if they register voters in recall drives and start to field their own candidates, they will send a powerful message to cities’ leaders across the country that suppressing constitutional rights is a political death knell. The next place to Occupy? The voting booth.
Hmm, I disagree. Right now OWS doesn’t have the popular support to swing elections. They’d just be another Green Party, some political fringe everyone ignores. I’d say they’d be more effective by focusing like a laser beam on economic injustice issues, trying to bring these issues to public attention to change the public dialogue. They’ve made a good start on this.
But they also absolutely have to learn how to finesse the media. The media are not “reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way.” Some parts of it will be an intractable enemy, but other parts of it can be worked with to get a message out. The OWSers must get more sophisticated about this. I should hope some of them have, already.
Update: See Angry Black Lady about the rumors that the DHS coordinated the clean-outs of OWS encampments. She traced all the sourcing for this back to one article in the Examiner. It looks like there is more sourcing because people all over the Web are citing each other, but if you trace all the links and all the citations back to the beginning, she says, that’s it. One article in the Examiner.
In the dead of night the NYPD came, evicting everyone in Zuccotti Park and destroying what infrastructure had been cobbled together there.
Juan Cole has written an eloquent argument about First Amendment rights; worth reading.
The obvious question — what’s next? This development could be an opportunity, not a defeat, for OWS. It was probably about time to move on to a new phase, anyway. Earlier this week the founder of Adbusters — the magazine/organization that originally called for the occupation — had suggested it might be time to declare victory and scale back the occupations.
The founder of Adbusters, Kalle Lasn, raised the idea that it might be time for a tactical retreat earlier this month, telling CBC Radio, ”Now that winter is approaching, I can see this first wild, messy, crazy occupation phase kind of slowly winding down.”
Last week, Mr. Lasn added, in an interview with The Guardian, that he was concerned that “The other side is owning the narrative right now. People are talking about drugs and criminals at OWS.” To change that, Mr. Lasn said, it might be time for “a grand gesture.”
Lasn’s idea was a weekend of big global demonstrations followed by cleanup and evacuation of the encampments. I’m thinking that frequent, smart, coordinated, and nonviolent “guerrilla” demonstrations — something like raves — could serve to keep OWS alive.
Update: See the Maddow Blog for photographs and links to videos.
Update: Mayor Bloomberg is served with a temporary restraining order requiring the park to be re-opened to protesters. I understand there is to be a hearing. Whether BLoomberg is abiding by the order, I do not know.