Friday, July 11, 2008


FISA, Obama, and sloppy "liberal" activism.

By Woodrow Jarvis Hill

Let me be absolutely blunt here. FISA is a farce. Compared to the stuff already in place (see ECHELON), we're already in a Police State (if you'd care to use such a loaded term). This isn't stupid conspiracy talk, this is the reality of having something like the NSA floating around. This is the reality of having a government that, decades ago, in my Mom and Pop's lifetime, decided to wiretap Martin Luther King, among others, in ways that could never go to court, just for leverage.

So, wanna change it? Then you need to change the damned system, not yell at the people having to play their best in the current, highly broken one. Because the reason the Republicans can do what they do isn't just because of a well-ordered leadership. The GOP takeover wasn't just about Rovan tactics, or even Atwater tactics. It was about them building a long-term plan to change the discourse in America, and to provide lots of firepower for the people pushing their goals.
That's the big trick, the one no one talks about because it's not "sexy". The development of organizations like the Heritage Foundation, and the fusion and creation of groups like the Moral Majority, built an infrastructure for Conservatism that was able to work it's way into many aspects of life. And Reagan won based on that structure, as well as his native talents, not just the latter alone. Again, look at how the media covers it -- they go for the "sexy" story, not the deep analysis that's closer to the truth.
These groups were willing to get hands dirty - and I don't just mean in the illegal way. They were, and are, willing to be as active as possible in the political process. Even better, they do so on all levels of government , realizing that the local school board is a distinctly unglamorous job, but it's also one few people want to run fo. Therefore, not only does it possess considerable power, but it's easy to control -- perfect for initial strikes to "Think globally, act locally".
In this wise, the GOP support system is proactive, with deep-laid plans.

Compare that to the so-called netroots, the people loudly whining about FISA and Obama today. They are, without question, highly reactive -- you hardly can get them to move unless they're busy being pissed off at someone. Mind you, there's something to their approach which is good, and I'll address that some other time. What's bad is that they really play "hands-off" with regards to the actual political game. Their lobbying is at a distance, their fund-raising is too specific, and their long-term strategy is as crappy as the average fast-growing high-tech company, with about as much potential for failure.
Where's the planning for structures that'll help Progressives to win local elections -- the elections that serve as stepping stones to high office? Where's the planning to build Progressive majorities in new areas that aren't ones, now? Kos has brilliant ideas about high elective office, but blinders about how day-to-day politicking works. He wants it to be clean, and happy, and ideologically pure. Real politics is never, indeed cannot, be any of that. In fact, much of our current problems stem from the fact that opposing sides aren't even supposed to be friends outside of "the office", these days. Polarization is killing the political system.

Now, compare that to Obama and Howard Dean (and his 50 State Strategy). The reason to support Obama isn't just because he's the Democratic Candidate. It's because, in his wake, he's pushing like mad for people to actually get involved, directly, with their Democracy. How many times do I have to write, in this blog, that this is the marvel, the true power, of his campaign? They both see that the Democratic Party is almost depressingly disorganized, and although I'm used to it, in the face of a determined and organized (if currently demoralized) enemy, you must update tactics and planning to accommodate the new reality. You cannot build a Democratic, or even a Progressive, majority, simply by typing on the Internet.

What few commentators really get is that it's so obvious that Obama is building out parts of a long-term Democratic structure, so obvious that even Karl Rove admits to it. And it's one that will aid the GOP, as well, in smaller doses. TheObama Fellows aren't likely to just go away, after all, nor are people like me who helped in the campaign. For the first time, literally millions of Americans have been active on the Democratic side -- including not a few GOP supporters of Obama. This is how you start the long, laborious process of shifting the internal discussion in America.

But it is long. And it is imperfect. And the FISA vote was imperfection made real. He needs to know we're not happy; I made the calls, like many of you. And I support the FISA group on It's important that diverse voices be part of this discussion, and it's an important one. But it's also important that we learn how to support the people who are supposed to be supporting us.

Democracy is a two-way street. It's never been enough, and is certainly not enough today, to simply vote for the right guy, and then play armchair quarterback. The GOP can get away with much because they know they have multiple, redundant fallback systems of support. Democrats don't. Therein lies so much of the so-called "spineless" attitude we pin on them. It's true, it true. But if you really want change, want to see things move in the direction you support, you've got to play in the game.

And the simple fact is there's a a guy running who's offering to deal you in. Who's offering, in exchange for your support, to give you access, training, support, and people in similar situations, and doing so in ways that the GOP hasn't done. Who even offers his official space to create dissent against his stances, just so we'll have a vibrant, actual ecology of supporters of all points.

And you have a choice. You can continue to stand on your holy high ground, flinging feces at our best chance in years to elevate the discourse of American Politics, just so you can scream "I told you so!", and covering yourself with "But I'll vote for him, no matter how much I scream and yell at him!"

Or you can get dealt in, with Obama or with someone else or even with some organization diametrically opposed. You can figure out how to disagree without being disagreeable, without giving the opposition ammo. You can see what it's like to work this crap day-to-day, and maybe gain an understanding of what Al G means when his "been there done that" ass trashes you even harder than I have:
So, the FISA bill passed. And today began just as any other day. The sun came up. We drank a cup of coffee. Some of us lit a cigarette - or did any number of things that others do not approve of - and we were not locked up for it. To note the obvious, that the sky did not fall, is not akin to saying that a bill inoculating telecommunications companies against civil lawsuits (and retroactively so) for following invasive government orders, was a good thing. It's just to say that it is what it is, and life goes on, and so does the daily struggle to defend our personal and collective freedom on so many fronts.

Only in America do a significant number of people equate expressions of outrage and indignation du jouras somehow being akin to the hard work of political activism or participation. And I hate to say it, but this delusion is worse, much worse, on the left side of the dial where reaction is the standard operating procedure in place of authentic action. I speak, therefore I act is the great American illusion of politics. Sorry, but no. Only when our speech effectively causes others to act does it rise to the level of poetry (which, as Vaneigem wrote, "seldom exists in poems"). Have you ever had to sit through a poetry reading by a particularly bad poet? That's what I feel like when I find myself to trying to listen to what too many people consider activism. They're blathering on and my eyes are drooping as I'm eyeing the wall clock and the exit sign, twirling my cigarette lighter as if a rosary bead necklace.
And if you're struggling with that, take some time off the 'net, go find, say, some good books and online reading on MLK, and study how activism works, and how to pick one's battles against a sea of troubles.
Trust me, there'll be battles aplenty for you to fight when you get back.

No comments: