movementbuilding

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17 Aug 20 - 28 Aug 20
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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 

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It is Election Day!  Since the day Trump was swept into office with Republicans in control of all three branches of government, the majority of the country that voted for Trump's opponent has wanted to have their say.  Thousands of protests of Trump and GOP policies have occurred including record-breaking protests like the Women's March and the March for Our Lives.  Mass movements like the Poor People's Campaign and have launched.  New tools and organizations like Swing Left, resistbot, and Indivisible have sprung up around the country.  Hundred of smaller organizations and efforts have sprouted up in every town in the country.   There is so much positive activity from folks seeking justice and to save our democracy from descent into fascism.  All of this will continue, but today is a singularly important day: Election Day.

In the last few weeks, a number of social justice activists noted that voting is only part of the change is necessary.  They are correct as can be seen by so much organizing and activism happening.  Others have taken this point to an extreme claiming that voting is ineffectual.  They are wrong.  In a democratic republic, the primary influence that any citizen has on the political process is their vote. Political parties organizing principle is gaining the most votes for their party in order to win because winning means power, power to affect changes in policy and in the composition of the courts.

Is There Any Difference Between Parties?

Let's state a truth about the Democratic Party.  Democrats have long taken the votes of African Americans and others for granted and there has too often been too little return to black communities and others for the investment.  This morning, I voted for moderate Democrats on my Philadelphia ballot with Tom Wolf and Bob Casey at the top of the ticket.  Am I assured that they will enact the type of progressive change I'm seeking?  Not really.  But I know that both is heads and shoulders better in terms of policy and temperament than their opponents.  Scott Wagner, Republican candidate for Governor, mansplained climate change to a young activist claiming that we don't really know what is happening and blaming human body heat for at least part of the issue.  I just can't...

In my city of Philadelphia, there are certain parts of the city that have not gotten any better despite decades of Democratic rule.  This is unacceptable, and its changing.    Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney has instituted universal pre-k with money from the soda tax and Democratic DA Larry Krasner has taken affirmative steps to end mass incarceration and hold police accountable.  Real stuff is happening here.  Real differences are being made.  And activists are organizing to hold elected officials accountable and to lay the groundwork for more progressive candidates.  

There is stark difference nationally in public policy delivered by the parties.  Obamacare dropped the number of uninsured African Americans by a third.  I still think we need universal healthcare, but nonetheless that’s a real difference that Republicans have insisted on eliminating and Democrats have fought like hell for.  There are lots of other examples including GOP attempts to dismantle any sense of the social safety net including universal programs like social security and Medicare.  One side wants to spend more money on war.  The other one wants free college, universal health care, and expanded voting rights and protections.  The differences are stark and real, especially with younger Dems coming up in this election in House races all over the country.  

Why are we even asking "Do Elections Matter?" in the Age of Trump?

Blatant voter suppression against African American voters is happening in places like Georgia and Native Americans in North Dakota.  In Georgia, there is an African American woman gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Adams, who is clear about addressing issues of mass incarceration and a progressive agenda in general.  Is the advice to Georgians don’t even try to vote?  John Lewis is on the stump this week talking about how he bled and went to jail for folk to be able to vote.  Such admonishments seem out of tune with his plea to the community.

They also seem completely out of touch with what we've witnessed under Trump.  Almost every week, there has been a need for mass protest to confront some evil from the Trump administration and his Congressional enablers.  I don't want to see more tax cuts to rich people, immigrant families being separated from their parents, immigrant in the migrant caravan threatened with being gunned down, racist and anti-semitic attacks that go virtually unanswered by the nations's leadership.  I want to protect Obamacare, voting rights, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other social safety net measures that make our country a more perfect union.  I want to push for a higher minimum wage, free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, rich people paying their fair share, and many other policies that progressive Democrats are running on.  

In this election in particular, we have a party that is using pre-civil rights era blatant racism and voter suppression in attempt to hold on to power.  Changing party control of one or both houses is vital to stem the tide of the licensure that Trump has given to his base of largely older white voters to act upon their racism.  The midterm elections is one of the few ways we have to start pushing back with a Congress that can investigate corruption and voter suppression and enact changes in law.  

Voting and Organizing Go Hand in Hand to Bring About Change

The Democratic Party should be held accountable but not voting is not the way to do so.   Also, voting is no substitute for organizing and movement building.  Voting and organizing go hand in hand to hold elected officials accountable.  Voting is only one part of dismantling systems of oppression, but it is a vital part.  I encourage all to take that responsibility seriously today, to hold it sacred because of the blood spilled and courageous activism that it took to gain and maintain the franchise.   Vote, and then let's get right back to the organizing and movement building in order to bring about a more just country and world. 

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What are we trying to achieve? "We deeply that happens when individuals with the of their conviction step into the to initiate . We believe that this action is most effective when happening in a context of network and in which these committed individuals and organizations together." Stephen Rockwell

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begins in earnest today: , , of threatened communities, those who would roll back ,

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"We Ready, We Comin'" is a line from the protest song of the year from @rshgmusic. We will & like never before to build a more world and .

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