Sunday, June 24, 2007

Maybe it is time to get with it.

During the campaign against Pombo, I happened to exchange commentary with Kid Oakland, a blogger (dailyKos, SayNoToPombo, others) who has done considerable thinking about the relationship between political activism and the internet. He also thinks seriously about politics in general and what is happening with political activists.

Kid Oakland's most recent commentary has been posted at The Progressive Connection. It is worth your time to read the entire piece. I will, however, intersperse some of my comments about Green Organizing with his.

To begin with, Kid Oakland focuses on demographic he calls the Millenials. This is in sharp contrast with the GPCA where too many of the activists are aging hippies, baby boomers who never lost their belief in a better future and a sense of anarchic rebellion against all manifestations of authority, a preference for disorder from which a new order does not need to rise.
Millennials, those Americans born between 1977 and 1998, are, indeed, a demographic gold mine for the Democratic party. I would caution, however, viewing millennials simply as a source of votes. In fact, the reality is that in many ways this young generation is the embodiment of what I wrote about in the Spirit of '06: these young Democratic activists understand the task at hand and the tools needed to master the challenge of winning lasting majorities. Millennials are idealistic and engaged, and critically, they are networked like no generation before them. When millenials get organized, they stay organized.

The future of the Democratic party, in many ways, belongs to them.
Yes, Kid Oakland is first and foremost a Democrat.

He believes that Progressive Democrats, through their mastery of the tasks and tools will reform Democratic Politics. In this, I must respectively disagree. I would agree, however, that his "millenials" are "networked like no generation before them." That, in itself, is worth a book and Joe Trippi may think that he has written it.

While the internet opens up the possibilities for discourse, the most common effect is to trivialize that discourse. In the manner that Gresham's law works for the monetary system, McLuhan's perception that the medium is the message works in politics. In both cases, the results are not uplifting.

The key characteristic of the internet is that it has been an enabler for the balkanization of society. The seeds of this were already there with identity politics. Now, as the levels of frustration grow with the institutions of American political governance, the internet makes it very easy for all of those who hold a particular view to retreat into their own little space and dream of being the seed of the revolution to come. We have even accepted these mental geographic divions in the naming of internet sites, such as "my space."

It is even more obvious when you examine the culture of a site such as dailyKos, where the "enemy" is the "Repuglican" party and they are the personification of evil. This, of course, makes the Democrats into the guys in white hats and the possessors of all virtue. And, if you really want to understand the mentality, just post a comment at dailyKos using the words "green" or "Nader" in a positive manner.

That view does not match with the 14% approval rating of the current Democratic Party controlled congress. Most of the public does not live on the internet. Those that do are probably doing something else than being political activists.

Still, here is where I find both the failures and the promise of the Green Party. I say failures, because we have become an aging party that does not reach out to the young voters, those millenials that Kid Oakland is trying to organize for the Democrats. I say promise, because, if Kid Oakland is correct, many of those same individuals are motivated by the issues rather than by party loyalty and are bound to suffer disillusionment when those issues are not dealt with by a corporation dominated Centrist appearing Democratic party.

The choices are ours, but we had better "get jiggy with it." If the GPCA is going to be successful, we need to do all of the following.
  • An aging party must pull in an increasing number of young activists. It is not enough to rely on Campus Greens to do the for us nor to rely on college student to self-organize. No union ever came into existence without someone taking the steps to ensure that organizational effort happens.
  • The best thing for Greens would be for the Democratic Party Primary system to deadlock over Clinton and Obama. The negative campaigning will sour many and a strong positive Green campaign would look attractive. We need to be prepared for that eventuality.
  • We need to carry forward the message that the Democrats are failing the public and the number of places where this can be done are legion. You could start with the Farm Bill, bought and paid for by Big Ag just as surely as Health Care Reform will be bought and paid for by Big Pharma.
Grassroots organization is essentially a networked structure. It consists of many small groups working together. The internet media are the best hope for those groups causing major changes. We had better start learning how to live in these times and those new spaces.

Kid Oakland concludes that this is all positive for Democrats.
Young people don't just make good arguments for change when we are debating our nation's future; young people are our best argument for change. Young Americans embody, in their activism and ideals, the fact that this nation faces challenges that decades of work on public policy and civil service will be required to address. When millennials get active, their activism is itself is a powerful argument for change and reform. You could say about Democratic politics in 2008 and not be far off the mark: the millennials are the message.
I hope that he is being overly optimistic.

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