The Composition of a Movement

Excellent point made by Kaitlyn Dowling at Medium:

Though it doesn’t make for good gossipy blog posts, we should be less concerned with the leader of a left-wing movement within the Democratic Party and more concerned with the composition of that group. In the long run, the core of the movement will matter much more than a single figurehead. While Sen. Warren can easily rally around Wall Street corruption and crony capitalism run amok, those who wish to establish the left’s answer to the Tea Party must think more broadly about their strategy and consider who can contribute to the long-term health and influence of a left-wing movement and who has shown the ability to organize effectively online. These individuals bring an insightful, smart, powerful voice to social issues, and they could be the voice of a new American left.

Whatever left party exists in America, it should not merely be for historically marginalized communities, but of them. Dowling makes the good point that the internet has allowed for far more diverse voices to reach into political debates and discussions. I’d hazard offline movements like #BlackLivesMatter, Moral Mondays, Occupy Wall Street, and the Walmart and fast food worker organizing campaigns have done this incredibly well, too.

An additional challenge is making sure that people who primarily consume political life online learn about offline movements and connect to them. There is a wealth of young leaders – people of color, women, LGBT activists – who do their work directly in the impacted communities of which they are a part. Online thought leaders and influencers can’t pretend these folks don’t exist. Doing so diminishes the movements and speaks to a problem of privilege in the American online left. We need to expect of ourselves to seek out these leaders, be aware of them and raise up their voices. That is our responsibility, not the responsibility of the people doing inspiring work in the trenches.

A Millenial loses faith in the Boomer generation

This piece by Thomas Day in the Washington Post about how the Penn State child sex cover-up is the final straw for one Millenial in terms of his loss of faith in his parents’ generation. It’s incredibly damning, going beyond the failure to protect children to the failure to grow the economy, build our infrastructure, and create promise and hope for the Millenial generation.

Think of the world our parents’ generation inherited. They inherited a country of boundless economic prosperity and the highest admiration overseas, produced by the hands of their mothers and fathers. They were safe. For most, they were endowed opportunities to succeed, to prosper, and build on their parents’ work.

For those of us in our 20s and early 30s, this is not the world we are inheriting.

We looked to Washington to lead us after September 11th. I remember telling my college roommates, in a spate of emotion, that I was thinking of enlisting in the military in the days after the attacks. I expected legions of us — at the orders of our leader — to do the same. But nobody asked us. Instead we were told to go shopping.

The times following September 11th called for leadership, not reckless, gluttonous tax cuts. But our leaders then, as now, seemed more concerned with flattery. Then -House Majority Leader and now-convicted felon Tom Delay told us, “nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” Not exactly Churchillian stuff.

Those of us who did enlist were ordered into Iraq on the promise of being “greeted as liberators,” in the words of our then-vice president. Several thousand of us are dead from that false promise.

The indictment goes on, but the point is clear. Now is the time for Millenial leadership. In fact, I think we’re seeing an attempt of that through the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is seeking to throw out the power structures created by elites, for elites alone.

The world that emerges as my generation takes the reins could be radically different from the one created by our parents’ generation. It has to be, for as Day notes, the great things built by our grandparents have been neglected or deliberately torn down. If we are to ever have the strength, the hope, and the possibilities of generations past, we have to change course and it’s going to have to be the Millenial generation which stewards this change.

Understanding the epidemic of Tibetan self-immolations

Nana Rolland has a piece in the Wall Street Journal which does a good job of contextualizing the political hopelessness Tibetans inside of Tibet are feeling, as evidenced by the nine self-immolations committed by young Tibetans since this spring.

Self-immolations can be seen as the tragic and desperate acts of people who do not know how to go on living. And indeed, the area around Kirti monastery, home to most of the Buddhist monks who have recently set themselves on fire, has been turned into a virtual prison. Its residents are deprived of all freedoms, including the right for the monks to be taught religion.

Rolland incorrectly states that the self-immolations have happened outside of Tibet. While they are outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the TAR represents a small portion of Tibet. The Chinese government sliced other parts into majority Han Chinese provinces to diminish Tibetan political power and cultural identity.

But Rolland is right that these are political acts. Rolland writes, “it’s notable that before setting themselves ablaze, all of the nine Tibetan victims called for freedom, independence and the return to Lhasa of the Dalai Lama, regarded as the sovereign ruler of an independent Tibet.”

It’s hard to have any meaningful conception of the depths of hopelessness felt by these nine young Tibetans. Six were teenagers, three were in their twenties. There was undoubtedly a belief that the only way to achieve political change was through suicide. But even while it’s possible to write this, it’s cripplingly difficult to wrap my mind around what that actually meant for these martyrs.

To this point, the Chinese government’s response has been, as usual, to accuse the Dalai Lama of terrorism. A more sensible and serious response would be to loosen restrictions on Tibetans in Ngaba, especially those targeting monasteries and nunneries. Do I expect this to happen? No, of course not. Do I expect there to be more self-immolations? Sadly, at this point, I can’t imagine this epidemic suddenly coming to a halt.

“Sufficiently Vague”

Glenn Greenwald writes:

In one important sense, the “tea party” movement is similar to the Obama campaign for “change”:  it stays sufficiently vague and unspecific to enable everyone to read into what they want, so that people with fundamentally irreconcilable views believe they’re part of the same movement.

I think this is pretty spot on and Greenwald’s full piece goes into greater detail as to how the teabaggers are made up of very diverse subsets whose largest commonality is “Obama is bad.”

I watch Glenn Beck’s show almost every day. I just read his book, The Real America, and I’m probably going to pick up Common Sense later today. Beck is tapping into something powerful and it has the potential to derail any hope for progressive policy change during the Obama administration. Understanding the dynamics at play are key to diminishing their political effectiveness.

What makes the tea party movement tough to pigeon hole and Beck even tougher is that any charge of partisanship or being connected to the Republican Party is met by a “What? Who? Me?” response along the lines of “Republicans are corrupt and they should get the boot, too.” Beck routinely repositions his highly specific political and policy attacks around a common refrain of taking back Washington from corrupt elected officials and political agents.

Now I’m not so confident that Beck is doing anything other than being smart. He’s incredible adept at shifting between vague generalities, hair-brained conspiracy theories, and succinct political commentary that reveals him as an incredibly conservative individual. Most importantly, he’s spent about three decades working professionally in radio and has learned how to mobilize people to do what he wants them to do, most recently in the realm of politics, but for years as a shill for his corporate sponsors.

Obviously Beck wouldn’t be garnering the success he currently is if the vague arguments he’s making weren’t looping in large numbers of people that are ready to engage on some issue or another. What should be clear, though, is that while Beck’s charges are manifold, the impact they and the people who agree with some set of them have is fairly limited: to undermine the Obama administration and the Democratic Party at the benefit of the Republican Party. Greenwald is right that it is not accurate to describe the tea party movement as a Republican one; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a movement that, at least at this point in time, almost exclusively benefits the GOP.

Obey the NYT

Today’s New York Times has a piece about how young voters are getting news online, sharing it socially, and avoiding traditional outlets like the six o’clock news in favor of internet outlets for similar information. The Times ties metrics speaking to the voracious consumption of news online by young people to the massive rise of turnout by youth voters in the presidential primary campaign. In short, it’s an article that should serve as a combined validation for the work internet technologists on political campaigns and people like Mike Connery, Jane Fleming Kleeb, Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg, and Fred Gooltz who have all been evangelicals when it comes to the rise of youth vote.

It’s great to see the media finally recognize that young people care about politics and are finding new ways to learn and share information about politics online – and then taking that information and voting on it. That said, I wonder what the reasoning for having the art for this article included a photo of youths at an Obama rally holding a poster designed by Shephard Fairey. It’s a nice picture and all, but while the article uses a couple Obama references for how youth enthusiasm is manifesting itself in the presidential campaign, the article isn’t about Obama’s support from young voters.