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Civic Direct
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Civic Direct
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The internecine conflict within progressive and lefty social movements is nothing new.  Ideological infighting and political jockeying has always been a feature of movements and campaigns.  In many ways, such rivalry casting is part of the human condition, but perhaps is more acutely experienced amongst those with a strongly committed to either an ideological position or to a particular political personality. Indeed, as we noted in Tribal Political Discourse Part 1 the most strident debates often happen within an ideological or religious faction as opposed to between factions. The Left is not immune from this phenomenon.

The Left Saves Their Sharpest Knives for Themselves

If you have been part of progressive movement building or political organizing, you likely have witnessed this factionalization, if not participated in it.  In the middle of such moments, I often observe that the left saves its sharpest knives for themselves.  Despite the overwhelming odds against making last progressive change against monied and powerful interests, despite all the evils that are confronted, the toughest battles often are within progressive movements. Often these conflicts can be beneficial in eliminating blind spots on such issues as institutional oppression where the organization or movement may be mimicking the very practices and behavior that we are seeking to defeat.   In other cases though, the stridency of the conflict and the personalization of the attacks can lead to weaker movements, networks and organizations and even bring to an unfortunate end that which is necessary in the world. 

When we lose perspective and turn on each other, we forget what's at stake in making sure we have a seat at the table to enact progressive policy change.

As we struggle with the tensions and conflicts, we should be asking ourselves, do we have processes and norms that facilitate productive conflict?  How do we hold ourselves accountable?  When we slip into unproductive conflict, how do right the ship and set our sights to win-win problem solving?  How do we keep perspective that the biggest issues we face are out there as opposed to within our network or organization?

The Forms of Conflict

Often these conflicts take on a few typical forms:

  • Purists vs. pragmatists - Ideological purity is often a natural outgrowth of feeling passionately about an issue or a framework.  Converts to a way of thinking passionately advocate for a set of positions based on this ideology.  There is often a degree of absolutism that finds itself in conflict with those who fancy themselves as pragmatists willing to compromise and cede ground.  When to make a more political compromise and when to stand your ground on principle even if you will lose are the types of conversations that can be helpful to have.  However, to what degree the movement cedes ground or makes compromise is often the basis for faction formation.  Such divisions can stop movement building and coalitions in their tracks.  
  • Decision making, power, and authority can be nebulous in movements and coalitions that are more ad hoc by their nature.  Well-established organizations can also have these types of disagreements between boards, staff, and other constituencies,   Often the community connectedness versus some other power center is the root of the conflict. Those who find processes for decision making that are viewed as trusted by all parties (often because they are representative or democratic) can channel conflict productively.   Opaque decision making processes can lead to power struggles that can bring down movements through infighting or decision-making that grinds to a halt in an outside world that often requires rapid decision making about rapidly changing circumstances.
  • Old Guard vs. New Energy -  New energy is often welcome in progressive movements or within organizations until the demands for change come.  New ways of thinking can challenge norms and traditions, even those norms which are broadly perceived to be functioning well.  The maintainers of tradition and continuity find themselves holding onto what they know and using established relationships to hold onto the power and authority that often comes with those traditions.  Generating a balance between the old and the new can take movements, organizations and networks to incredibly power places.  Over-valuing one at the expense of the other can lead to stagnation if too much old and a lack of wisdom if the baby is thrown out with the bath water.

Let's Start with the Presidential Campaign

The Presidential campaign is in full swing, unfortunately earlier this cycle than ever.  We should recognize these conflicts when we see them.  I'm already seeing social media spats amongst the fans of various candidates.  To be sure, a primary is a vetting process that should allow for tough questioning and debating amongst the candidates and their supporters.   However, many of these conflicts are folks already dug into a set of positions often along purity-pragmatism and new energy/old guard conflict spectrums.  Let's undig ourselves and look at the 2020 Presidential campaign with a fresh set of eyes.  Let's value and respect what so many good candidates are bringing to the table.  Let's be clear where there is disagreement on policy and why.  And let's not get so caught up in the internecine primary battles that we take our eyes off the fundamental need to defeat a President who has ushered in one of the most tragic political epochs in American history.

Part 3: https://wethepeople.care/page/view-post?id=255 

Last week, I spoke of how the Democratic establishment has not fully comprehended the shifting political landscape leading to dismissing necessary public policy like the Green New Deal and billionaire candidates thinking they are well-suited to run for President.  The Democratic Party must fully acknowledge that the Era of the the Third Way of Clinton/Blair-like centrism is over.  The Era of co-opting and softening conservative positions has been over for quite some time, but the timidity of Democratic leaders and the candidacy of Hillary Clinton kept such centrism wrapped within the feminist package of the goal of a woman President.  The truth is pro-Wall Street economic policy will not fly in today's Democratic Party.  Why has this shift happened so rapidly?

The Groundswell of Organizing and Activism Creating a New Woke Generation

The amount of activism in the Trump Era is astounding.  I don't have data to support that there has been an increase, but we have the level of protest activity increase dramatically. This activity was heightened by Trump, but certainly didn't start there.  Movement after movement has arisen to address the increase in inequality and the decline of progress on racial justice and other under-addressed oppression issues.  The Occupy Movement, the gun control movement, and the Movement for Black Lives  were some of the major Pre-Trump groundswells.  Trump era organizing built off those successes and growing consciousness to further mobilize the body politic.   The Women's March, March for Our Lives, Indivisible, Movement, the Sunrise Movement, Democratic Socialists of America, created a political environment awash in heightened political consciousness building a citizenry engaged and active.    

We see these changes throughout the culture.  From the pulpits, long-staid churches have ministers declaring themselves as woke.  As a long-time nonprofit professional, the sector has made a heartening move to address more root cause upstream problems and engage on public policy fights.  Even the NFL uses the term "social justice" in its Super Bowl branding of player engagement with community as opposed to the safe volunteerism of yesteryear.  The polling is also demonstrating shifts in support for gun control, universal health care, and climate action towards a significantly more progressive electorate.  

Unabashedly Progressive Political Leadership

True progressive leadership has countered Democrats reluctance to step into this new space, led by the newly elected Congresswomen such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Deb Haaland, Sharice Davids, and Ayana Pressley.  These leaders are both a reflection of our shifting politics and leading the charge in demanding that the political institutions represent the will of a woke electorate.  The mid-term election of these leaders was preceeded by a Democratic primary in which democratic socialist Bernie Sanders nearly beat the establishment.  The campaign demonstrated not the divide in the Democratic Party, but the growing strength of the progressive movement writ-large. 

When Nancy Pelosi dismisses a Green New Deal in 2019, she is representing an incrementalism and political safe path that was defeated in 2016 and a past that no longer exists.  If the Democratic establishment continues to hold to such positions it will eventually find itself on the outside looking in, as opposed to the core of the party.  Indeed, progressive positions on universal health care, gun control, and climate already represent the majority position of Americans (not just the Democratic Party).  Activists are rightfully concerned as to why the establishment has been so slow to adopt these majoritarian positions.  The new leaders and voices in the party are making cogent and passionate arguments that further reinforce progressive policy positions and inspire the continued shift towards a growing progressive majority. 

Dissatisfaction with Trump as the Logical End To Greedy, Racist Conservatism

In many ways, the growing progressive tide is a response to the greedy, racist conservatism magnified by the Tea Party movement and Donald Trump.  The Republican Party combined a pro-rich elites, pro-life Evangelicals and hateful citizens who support oppression against people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQIA community, etc. 

Indeed, the GOP is no longer pro-business, but pro-rich as we have seen in the GOP tax scam that is raising taxes on working families while corporations like Amazon pay zero taxes despite billions in profits.  Few believe this squares with any sense of fairness.  Trump's racism, misogyny, and xenophobia is much more a reflection of a core group of Republicans than some new Trump-led movement.  

And...if we are honest, "centrist" DLC Democrats frequently coopted some of these positions in the last 30 years.  President Clinton's tough on crime approaches furthered mass incarceration.   Third-way consensus banking system deregulation allowed the greedy to increase their wealth while crashing the global economic system all the while exacerbating income inequality in developed countries. Trump can point to video clip after sound-byte of establishment Democrats making over the top cases for border security.  The reluctance of the establishment to embrace progressive positions like Medicare for All or Green New Deal hearken back to the these past transgressions that lacked courage at best and at worst perpetrated systems of oppression.  

 

The tide is turning quite dramatically and it is up to all of us to stay active and hold leaders accountable to build the progressive majority and policy frameworks that will ensure a more just and equitable future.  The establishment is catching up and will continue to be pushed to doing the right thing as we head into the 2020 Campaign.  

The political class just doesn't get it.  Over the last few weeks, I've realized that the political grounds are fundamentally shifting in a manner that embraces a progressive political agenda like we haven't seen since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.  I want to take this in two parts: 1) A few indicators that the political class doesn't get it.  2) Reasons why the ground is shifting so rapidly.  

Indicators That The Political Class Isn't Getting It

  1. Howard Schultz's campaign - The Republican never-Trumpers like Steve Schmidt and David Frum are jumping on the possibility of a third party candidate that could hand the 2020 Election to Trump.  Over the last couple of years, we took pleasure in cheering on these voices as they challenged Trump and his supporters from within the conservative tent.  We forgot though, that these folks are very much of the pro-business, pro-gross inequality camp that used to be the base of the Republican party before it went full Trump xenophobe.  Any billionaire candidate inevitably holds these same values as the primary beneficiaries of the inequality of the system.  Schultz's running as a "centrist" who takes conservative economic policy positions that interestingly don't enjoy the support of the majority of Americans like many progressive positions (including universal health care, climate action, and raising taxes on the wealthy).  If this futile effort keeps up, I hope we all decide to stop giving Starbuck $6 per day and redirect that spend to the local coffee shop selling fair trade goods.  Schultz and his ilk are tone-deaf as to where the country is politically, so we may need to speak to him in a language he will understand.  Hit him in his very large pocketbook to say, No More Billionaire Presidents.  
  2. Nancy Pelosi poo-poos the Green New Deal, not even able to say it by name.  Speaker Pelosi did a great job asserting herself with body language and her clapping during the State of the Union this week, but she was also dismissive of the Green New Deal, even as momentum and support builds.  I have not heard an agenda from Congressional Democrats other than the solid anti-corruption, pro-democracy bill as their first legislation.  It is not just the base that is looking for inspired, principled leadership on issues.  Why is Pelosi being so dismissive out the outset?  What else does she think Democrats are bringing to the table in terms of ideas and legislation?  I'm worried that she is misreading the political moment in which we find ourselves.  Most Americans, and certainly most Democrats, get the urgency for climate action.  We want to move past Obamacare to universal health insurance.  We tire of the gross inequality of our system and demand a set of macro-economic policies that ensure a more economically just system.  The Green New Deal addresses all of these concerns and Speak Pelosi needs to take these ideas a lot more seriously.  
  3. Everyone Thinks They Can Run for President Ignoring the Significant Blemishes on Their Record.   Almost every announced candidate has taken actions completely counter to where progressives have stood.  Sen. Kamala Harris time as a DA and Attorney General supporting mass incarceration policies is out of step in a time where even some Republican voices are calling for an end to mass incarceration.  Sen. Gillibrand took absolutely ridiculous positions on immigration and guns to placate her upstate NY constituents.  To her credit, she admitted embarrassment on her past positions, but they are so out of line and speak to her willingness to put opportunism ahead of values.  Sen. Booker is getting hit for support of charter schools and privatization of public education.  Vice-President Biden thought it was good idea to support Republicans in Michigan ahead of the 2018 election.  The list goes on...While we should not expect perfect candidates that agree with all our positions, the fact that so many folks think they can run with past positions so far outside the progressive mainstream without taking accountability and rectifying their past is troubling indeed.  It indicates an arrogance or at least a misperception of what the electorate will demand of them.  
  4. Black-faced Politicians Think They Can Hang On Governor Ralph Northam really thinks he can and should hang onto his governorship after pictures reveal he thought being racist while wearing blackface was entertaining in college.  While this may have worked in previous generations, this is not the case now.  While there is an openly racist President, there is zero tolerance in blue states for racist public officials.  Governor Northam's suggestion that he would focus on racial reconciliation projects an arrogance that he is well-positioned to lead such an effort, when in fact, he's lost all moral authority on this issue and to lead his commonwealth.  

Clearly, the political class is having difficulty keeping up with the political moment.  A rising tide of a woke generation is creating expectations of meaningful policy change that hearkens back to the economic policies of the Democratic Party of the New Deal and Great Society while demanding true inclusivity that dismantles systems of oppression such as white supremacy.  The ground is shifting and the political class needs to keep up. 

Next Time: Why Is the Ground Shifting So Rapidly

 

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