Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Erickson Report. Page 5: Looking to 2020

The Erickson Report. Page 5: Looking to 2020

Now with Janus’s other face we take a look forward to 2020 and there are some issues that we here believe should be in the forefront for progressives:

- Climate change, obviously.

- Issues of racism and other forms of bigotry should always be within our awareness and we here would include immigration under that heading since so much of the attacks on the undocumented are driven by such racism.

- There's also economic inequality - economic injustice more aptly - which also has ties to racism and sexism but goes beyond them to include all of the 90% and even the 99%.

- And there's gender inequality as the gains for LGBTQ folks are under sustained attack.

That's obviously not a complete list, but there are four more we specifically want to mention precisely because we think they are not getting the attention they should.

First there is our war spending, our military spending, which has become so bloated that the yearly increase in the DOD budget since Obama's last one is more than enough to pay for the free public college for everyone that we keep getting told we "can't afford."

And there are the on-going wars themselves, which occasionally percolate out of the back pages only to fade back into the mist as soon as some shiny penny is waved around rather than being a source of sustained outrage.

Then there is privacy rights, both regarding government databases like the no-fly list and the corporations transforming our personal lives into their profit.

Third is the rest of the freaking world, which we almost as much as Americans as a whole blithely and arrogantly ignore.

And fourth and perhaps most important, voting rights must absolutely be right up at the top of any list of our concerns for the coming year.

That, I'm sure you'll notice, is a relatively broad spectrum of concerns. And that very fact bring up something I talked about in August but I want to end up for this time by going over again.

The thing is, I see around me today multiple campaigns for change but I don't see a Movement, I don't see any evidence that the people involved in these various efforts conceive of themselves as part of a bigger whole.

Do those who identify with #MeToo feel a kinship with Black Lives Matter or the discussions over reparations? Do those who focus on global warming see themselves as part of the same cultural or political whole as the fight to raise the minimum wage or protect voting rights? I don't think they do, to the loss of each and every one of them.

When I talked about this is August, I had been struck by something that had happened recently: Bernie Sanders gave a speech which covered a number of topics. Afterwards, there was a commentator who slammed the speech and Sanders because he didn't mention race or gender until 23 minutes in and yes, she said she clocked it. Actually, she was wrong; he first mentioned the topic less than five minutes in, but that's not really the point. Be clear here: She didn't attack him for what he said about race and gender, which apparently was to her at the very least unobjectionable, she was attacking him because he didn't say it early enough in the speech; he didn't give her focus privilege of place.

Bluntly, in the dreaded '60s the response to that criticism would have been along the lines of "What the hell difference does that make? This was a speech, not a Top 10 list ranked according to importance." When the order in which topics are addressed in a speech becomes a basis for criticism, when people are actually clocking how long it takes their issue to come up, we do not have a Movement, we have a collection of atomized, isolated efforts incapable of drawing strength from each other.

Worse, it seems to me that there has developed a basic divide between two fundamental types of activism, which I call "inside" and "outside."

"Inside" activism focuses on political campaigns, elections, and lobbying to the exclusion of other means. "Outside" means favoring street action, pickets, rallies, mass demonstrations and marches, civil disobedience, and the like.

"Inside" activism in the long run will fail you because change doesn't start from inside, it starts from outside. As Margaret Mead is supposed to have said, "never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

But "outside" also usually comes up short because our demands and proposals will remain unfulfilled demands and proposals unless there are those working the inside route in order to be there to act on them.

These sides of activism, inside and outside, should be mutually reinforcing, should be, if I can use a cliche, two sides of the same coin, but now it seems like they are different worlds with each observing the other warily from a distance. And every bit of lobbying and campaigning, every rally-driven demand, is weaker for it.

Yes, there have been victories, have been successes, and don't think for even an instant that I am denigrating the efforts of oh so many people or any of what has been achieved. But I can't help but be distressed by how many of those efforts have been aimed at preventing losses of what has been gained in years past by movements of years past rather than on going further, gaining more. We need to do better. We can do better.

I will leave you with this: I am hardly the first to raise the idea of the lack of an over-arching message among progressives, which simply means that others have noted the same atomized nature of our efforts that I am critiquing here, except that I see it as a lack of a feeling of connection, a lack of a feeling that despite our particular focuses, we are family, we are of the same tribe, even if the connection lies more in convictions than any outward sign.

So for your consideration I offer my over-arching message for progressives: Justice, compassion, and community. That’s what we - all of us - are about, that is what we - all of us - believe in. Every political action you take or for that matter anyone takes, whether inside or outside, is a reflection of one or more of those principles. Realize how as you are in one particular effort, you are a single strand, one of multiple strands that very much need to be woven together to make a capital M movement far stronger than the sum of its parts.

One more very important piece of advice: Do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I'm sure you won't repeat my generation's mistakes of overconfidence, but don't repeat the mistakes of other generations. Don't slice away your friends and supporters in a foolish attempt to avoid criticism or look "more mainstream" - or, for that matter, more progressive or radical. It will not help you; it never has and it never will, it merely narrows the field of fire for the forces of reaction. And don't divide yourselves into sectarian camps where people are dissed and dismissed for not using quite the preferred language or for having a different focus from you. That way lies madness and the death of dreams.

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