Quo Vadis is Latin for "Where are you going?" It is worthwhile to look at where we have been before proceeding. Sondra Miller and Anthony Noel are long time volunteers for the New Progressive Alliance. Here is an email conversation we had.
-We just did our 100th Public Comment (alone or with others) since 2012. It is good to both continuously document and have an example of the Unified Platform in action.
-For the UN as an NGO I have been able to give two comments to two meetings. In addition one volunteer and his girlfriend have volunteered to attend a meeting for the status of women. If he attends and gives a report then it will be nice.
-Recently a federal court overturned a Georgia requirement making third party participation very difficult in that state. It may lead to easier access in other states as well. See Good News for the Georgia Green Party.
We can learn from the tactics if not the substance of the NRA. While I do not disagree with the strategy, without passion and the willingness to work nothing will happen. See What Liberals Can Learn From the N.R.A.
Unfortunately, state and local politics isn’t the purview of the left. Liberals, progressives and lefties in general prefer the grandiose national politics of the Presidency and grandiose discussions about national and international affairs, rather than state and local politics.
The left assigns needs to people without interacting with them, and the right cultivates needs in people through constant interaction. The left is frequently out of touch with the very people they claim to be championing. The left is telling people they need housing, healthcare and education and the right is telling them they need guns, God and control of other people’s gonads. And the right is winning because they have a network of local preachers and churches reinforcing these needs. The left, on the other hand, has no such local networks, nor are they willing to recognize and analyze the successful right wing networks that exist.
Articles such as the one about the successful NRA strategy may help some left wingers recognize the importance of state politics and of analyzing the successful strategies of the opposition.
The piece on the NRA is interesting, and recalls for me some very early posts I made at the now-defunct FireDogLake, essentially to the effect that the Left can learn from the Right's tactics. That point of view referred more to the absolutist tone of the Right, specifically that there are certain lines one cannot cross and still have any hope advancing beyond a certain point within the GOP: supporting abortion rights and supporting gun control are two of the most obvious. I routinely took the Left to task for being more inclined to hold hands and sing Kumbaya (i.e., to compromise) than to stand up to starkly oppose the Right on core issues. As we've all said ad nauseam, the GOP organizes the people around issues; the Democrats insist, as Barack Obama (in)famously said shortly after his election, that the people raise the issues and "force me [meaning the Party] to act."
I was born, raised and lived the first 45 years of my life in Pennsylvania. That state is everything it has been characterized to be and more: a battleground state; a miniature version of the whole country, with large liberal voting blocs on its "coasts" (Pittsburgh and Philly), while pretty much everywhere in between is conservative. Pennsylvania now has a legislature that is as gridlocked as anything you'll see in Washington. It is currently in the eighth month of a budget stalemate that has crippled public services. The sticking point? The new governor is determined to fully fund public education. What a concept!
But in all the years I lived there, I never felt we had a "bad" guv in PA. From Democrats Milton Shapp and Bob Casey to Republicans Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge, we elected moderates who truly seemed to put the people first.
PA has a Democratic U.S. Senator who supports overturning Roe v. Wade (Bob Casey Jr., a devout Catholic and the former guv's son). It for years had a well-known Republican one who supported Roe v. Wade: Arlen Specter. Indeed, Specter switched parties shortly before his death.
My point with all of this is that, while absolutism has its place, so does moderation, for it is moderation which sows the seeds of change in individuals' minds
A combative tone like that works very well in editorial writing and column writing, where the goal is to wake people up and piss them off enough about the state of things that they sit up, take notice, and (hopefully) act.
The thing about politics, however - and this is true at every level - is that the people coming in are ready to engage. They are already pissed off (maybe the read an editorial!). People get involved in politics because they believe it is an engine for change. I think each of us certainly believed that, and - despite our downright disillusionment with the inaction of so many people who call themselves "activists" - that on some level, we still do.
So maybe what I've learned is that the trick to successful political movements is seizing and channeling the energy of the people who are ready to engage--instead of turning that energy off by preaching to them. They don't need preaching to; they've just joined the choir! What they need now is gentle, positive encouragement which is every so lightly salted with bits of evidence - caringly, rather than angrily, presented - that while politics may be the art of compromise, those who start from a compromised position tend to lose more often than those who maintain a hard line on the issue(s) which most define them--their core issues.
I've come to realize that effectively organizing people for political action requires acknowledging and honoring the fact that there's a fine line between (1) keeping them engaged and encouraged to work toward specific changes, and (2) pissing them off to the point of disengagement, by harping on how broken things are, and that absolutism is the only way to fix them.
Maybe the most important things to remember about trying to change the world are (1) people have to feel ownership and direct involvement, and (2) that Margaret Mead got it right: It is a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens that changes the world.
As I said earlier, I have no doubt that the we are four of the smartest people I know. Being smart isn't enough, and I think this article explains why just beautifully: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140528-the-problem-with-smart-people
Ed: It is certainly good to ask what people are smart about. Being smart about one thing does not mean you are smart about another. On the other hand, there is a glorification of ignorance and an acceptance that a feeling is just as valid as a verified fact.
As Isaac Asimov said, “And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
The United States population is a huge, messy, diffuse, diverse mass held together tenuously by the Constitution, the military and the framework of elected representative government, which most citizens don’t understand the details of. I didn’t know a lot about representative government until I met up with Tony and one of his first suggestions was for me to determine Kentucky's requirements for independent candidates and third parties. Until that time, I had never given any thought to these requirements or even knew they existed.
Since the framework of representative government is the common denominator in the country, I felt populating this framework with progressive candidates was the most expedient way to achieve progressive government. However, when I attempted personal involvement in the local political party, I discovered it was run by a small group of self-serving people not wanting to include others in the inner circle. Further research showed this to be a problem nationwide, thus bearing out Tony’s and Margaret Mead’s truism that a small group of people can influence the masses. However, this influence isn’t always positive.
I have no doubt that a small group of dedicated progressives in each Congressional District could counteract this and bring about progressive change. But I wasn’t able to assemble such a group in my District prior to joining the NPA and the NPA wasn’t able to assemble this nationwide.
In reflecting on this, I feel that instead of inviting people to join a group, which they aren’t prone to do, the most influential thing would be for two or three people of a like mind to start a newspaper in their Congressional District that would educate the electorate and recruit and support progressive candidates to Congress. But I couldn’t find two or three progressive people in my District interested in this. And with Ed on the west coast and Tony on the east coast and me in the mid-west, there is no way we could even help each other to produce and distribute a local publication focusing on local politics and local Representatives to Congress.
I still watch the Presidential election. The Republican voters are in a highly publicized war with the Republican Party hierarchy and to a less publicized degree so are the Democrats. Large numbers of voters are realizing their Party hierarchy doesn’t represent them. What will come of this I don’t know. Both Trump and Sanders are well positioned to start third Parties but both have said they won’t. And there’s no viable electoral organization on the left to start one or to organize Independents in lieu of a Party. The left-wing third parties that exist, by-pass Congressional District organizing and run Presidential candidates without having a national microphone and without a presence in the majority of Congressional Districts. And this hasn't worked for them.
What surprises me is the large number of common people who come out to the Sanders and Trump rallies. All of these people on both the Democratic and Republican sides are discovering their Party establishment doesn't represent them.
I believe this election, more than any other I’ve seen, is moving people away from both of their Party establishments. However, what I don’t see is a powerful progressive third force to give them an alternative. Both Sanders and Trump are well positioned to lead movements away from both Parties and change the ballot access requirements that discourage independent candidates. But then so are the common people in all Congressional Districts. I don’t subscribe to the idea that only the big and powerful with a national microphone can change things. The big and powerful definitely have the advantage in influencing people on a national scale over a short period of time; however, dedicated small groups in all Congressional Districts can change things in their District, one District at a time. In small Districts, they have the same ability to reach the general public as the opposition does. But in the absence of this, there is no doubt the current Presidential follies are the major influence.
I’ve read both “What’s The Matter With Kansas” and the “Wrecking Crew” and have both in my library, along with Chris Hedges books. I read the Hunter Thompson book from the local library. However, I don’t believe the majority of people in any Congressional District read full length political books. And with the miniaturization of Internet access hardware, I don’t believe Internet essays have much of a chance of being read by the multitudes either. All of these books and essays and intellectual discussions are very valuable of course, because they might provide the inspiration for some people to become the bridge between the intellectual ideals and the general public. But discussion on how to create the bridge between the intellectual ideals and the people all around us in our locality is needed. Influencing major authors to write more books about the shortcomings and complicity of the Democratic Party is worthwhile, but some bridge is needed to get this information to the general population. I don't think the majority of people in my community read full length political books.
At one time, I thought an organization with meetings was the way to engage the public, but now I believe meetings and organizations may not appeal to the majority of busy people and that providing them with information relative to their concerns is the way to influence elections. This would require a small publishing group to publish progressive solutions to their concerns and a progressive Congressional candidate for people to vote for. And to date nothing like this has happened in the Districts I've lived in.
But at my age and stage of exhaustion, I no longer have the desire to originate anything like this. I do well to keep up with my small house and my small existence. I can appreciate Tony’s retirement to his own vocational pursuits outside of politics, and I appreciate Ed’s efforts to sustain the NPA website. Other than that, I think we’ve all three contributed our fair share to politics and the common good.
(Ed's Note: I have noticed in the states of both Georgia and Washington that environmental and change movements increasingly are composed of the social security generation. We will contribute what we can as long as we can, but we need the younger generation to start taking over. Things are becoming more desperate and we are less powerful as we get older.)