Thursday, July 12, 2007

How to build a lasting progressive movement?

Originally posted at Open Left

Over the past year or so, I have thought about this issue quite a bit. And I know that this is something that Chris Bowers has also talked much about (hence, my posting of this here). There are a number of things at play here - the enormous gap between the infrastructure that the right has built up (message machine, think tanks, College Republicans, etc.) and where the progressive netroots is now being one of the most obvious.

Granted, the rise of the conservative movement started after the 1964 defeat of Goldwater and is 50 years in the making. That being said, it is fairly safe to say that in the past couple of years, we have come much further than the conservative movement had in their first decade.

I'll start with a blurb from an excellent article in the upcoming The Nation, titled, Will the Progressive Majority Emerge? (hat tip to David Mizner for linking it). After a three paragraph listing of issues and breakdown of how Americans perceive themselves with respect to them (such as Roe v. Wade, helping the poor, "abstinence only" programs, immigration, rehabilitation for youth offenders, etc.), the article gets to the heart of the matter, as far as the Democratic Party goes (emphasis mine):

You suspected it all along. Now it just might be true: Most Americans think like you. Nearly two-thirds think corporate profits are too high (30 percent, Pew notes, "completely agree with this statement...the highest percentage expressing complete agreement with this statement in 20 years"). Almost three-quarters think "it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer," eight points more than thought so in 2002.

If only there was an American political party that unwaveringly reflected these views, as a matter of bone-deep identity. You might think it would do pretty well. Which leads to the aspect of the Pew study that got the most ink: "Political Landscape More Favorable to Democrats," as the subtitle put it. When you compare Americans who either identify themselves as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democrats with Republicans and Republican leaners, our side wins by fifteen points, 50 percent to 35, the most by far in twenty years. As recently as 2002 it was a tie, 43 to 43.

Plunge below the surface, however, and this stirring tale becomes disconcerting. Yes, again and again, the views of independents track the views of Democrats--more so, in fact, with every passing year.


Pew says independents are thinking like Democrats, and that fewer and fewer want much to do with the Republican Party.


But these people are not signing up as Democrats. The proportion of those who call themselves Democrats has held steady, in the lower 30s.

Here's a riddle: What's an "independent"? More and more, it's an American who holds positions we associate with Democrats but who refuses to call himself by the name. Why? Part of the reason is that people say to themselves, "If only there was a party that thought like me--that was for harnessing the power of government to help the needy and protect the middle class; for reining in business excess; for fighting overseas threats through soft power instead of reckless force." But they don't find today's Democrats answering to the description.

And that leads to the most basic of questions. What does the progressive "majority" stand for, what do we want to accomplish (since we are some of the more invested of people in trying to build this movement), what are the hurdles and how do we get there?

The first question is really one that sets the tone for pretty much everything else. What is the goal of the "movement"? Certainly, communities like Daily Kos come to mind - and the main stated goal is "to help get Democrats elected". Now, that will help further the movement, but is more of a goal to me than a movement. And one of the drawbacks of an overly targeted focus on electoral matters is that it doesn't speak to the larger cause of what we as progressives want to promote.

Obviously, this is why the republican party moved in the direction that it has since the Reagan years. They (the conservative wing) defined what they wanted to accomplish, figured out how to get there, and moved the party in that direction over the next two plus decades. This is a big challenge, but the payoff could be huge - given the demographics in the polls cited in The Nation article, and the amount of independent voters that agree with many of the same positions that we have.

Back in January, I wrote a diary titled "We are staring at a tremendous opportunity", and it touched on the next part of this - the infrastructure and the hurdles. Both of these go hand in hand to me. Blogs and blog communities serve as the largest part (to date) of the infrastructure, but even they are limited, and in my mind, have come close to reaching their maximum effectiveness. Sure, they can sway officials or serve as a message machine, but even if readership were to triple, it isn't even coming close to reaching the amount of people that it needs to. Even if everyone repeats every "frame" or position or issue that is posted on these communities to two or three people, it isn't nearly enough.

But it is a good start. How to develop a message. How to pressure those in Congress (at least on Daily Kos and some others). How to provide some level of journalism (like TPM and ePM) that isn't currently being provided. How to network.

The biggest hurdle is being taken seriously - or a lack of funding. Really, they are one and the same as without money, things can't get funded and off the ground, and without things being "off the ground" they aren't taken seriously. Take the following example: many people who have posted on the front page at RedState or other right wing blogs have been snatched up by think tanks, conservative publications or other places where they can continue to do what they were doing - and get paid for it. And frankly, I have read many of these people, and they don't hold a candle to many of us on the left.

So why do they get noticed and we don't? One big reason to me is that the right wing movement and message machine has made the investment to bring these people along and incorporate them into the already established infrastructure. YearlyKos may provide a very good opportunity to take this to the next level - as there could be some of the very people there who can help with the infrastructure in some way or another. At least I hope so and will be seeking them out.

In my diary back in January, I said the following:

here are many of us here that use Daily Kos for many different reasons. Some for support, some for sense of community, some to advance a cause, some to make a difference, some to reach out, some to educate, some to learn and so on.

For me? Somewhat all of the above. But most of all, I use it as a means to an end - a much bigger end with a much bigger and long term goal in mind. I love posting here. I love doing the research, getting involved and thinking that I can sway opinion or keep the conversation going, even to a small degree. I would love nothing more than to do this until someone notices and I can take it to the next level, whatever and wherever that next level may be.

As thereisnospoon, dday and I were saying the other night, there are so many things that need to be put into place in order for us to take it to the next level and be taken seriously enough to be able to make that difference. Some prominent Democrats already see it and use it to their benefit. Some are intrigued but keep their distance. And some don't really give a shit about us. At least not yet.

Personally, I think that the biggest issue with reaching others (and the area I have been the most interested in) is the whole "message machine" area. With television and traditional radio waning in influence, there is a whole new medium available - podcasts, YouTube, Facebook, blogtalkradio and others which would allow millions of people to be reached on demand and allow many more people to reach the general public. We don't need to replicate a FoxNews (at least think of a legitimate one) or the right wing hate radio (as traditional fingerpointing lack of substance punditry is also on the decline). But we do need to have that outlet - especially before those on the right beat us to it.

This is something that thereisnospoon and I (and a few others) are trying to do with Political Nexus, which has live interactive netroots radio shows, shows that deal with framing of issues (and for those who will be at Yearly Kos, we are also doing a workshop on the Overton Window and progressive strategies. And I am sure that there are many other similar projects that are all working independently from each other (including MyDD radio, and BlueJersey Radio, to mention two).

Taking these examples, a centralized, high quality infrastructure - even just with talk radio - that can be promoted through Facebook, Daily Kos, the progressive blogs, and wherever/however else - could go a long way to at least getting the message out, talking about the issues, educating the public, and even get some of us to not have to do this as a hobby. And that is only one area of the "message machine".

As far as the how do we get there part, well, there are some things that can be done. Chris Bowers and a few others have talked at great length about funding ourselves (see the above 5 for under $5K as an example). With all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have already been spent on the primaries, what could a mere 1% of that fund? Hell, what could ½ of 1% fund?

I have been thinking of something that would be able to serve as a progressive movement fundraiser - I don't have many ideas of the "how" yet, but it would seem to me that until someone wins the lottery or we find our own "sugar daddies", it is on us to do this. I'd be open to any ideas as to the "how", but it would seem as though we could do some fundraising drives that could fund specific initiatives. If people are already giving $20 or $30 to a candidate who already has $20,000,000 in the bank, why not give it to developing a movement that is longer term, more permanent and could set the tone for decades? And I didn't even begin to talk about running progressive candidates from the netroots as another example.

Hell, I don't have the answers. I have more questions than answers as more ideas pop into my head. And it gets real frustrating, because the Democratic Party stands to gain so much from having such an infrastructure - let alone us as progressives in moving the Democratic Party in the direction we want to. There is a lot that we have to accomplish - but the payoff (even if not in terms of dollars) is tremendous. The demographics are there, the republican party is imploding, and we have the energy.

The question is how we harness what we have and keep what we have going after Bush leaves office, the republicans are in the minority and "railing against the right" doesn't serve a purpose more than to blow off steam.

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