Maintaining Our Resolve To Fight
by Chris Bowers, Wed Jan 03, 2007 at 09:47:44 AM EST
I of course went back and finished my studies, but that day was a turning point in my life. I may have felt a twinge of political activism back then, but my heart generally agreed with my brother: forget politics--it's hopeless--and turn your attention to other matters. However, the 1994 "Republican Revolution" was the just the first of many stinging losses suffered by progressives over the next ten years, a painful run that eventually agitated many people such Andy and I to stop turning away from politics. After 1994, there was the insane and illegitimate attempt to impeach President Clinton. In 2000, there was the Florida recount fiasco. Then came the build-up to war in Iraq, the 2002 elections, actual war in Iraq, and an ever escalating series of right-right power grabs including mid-term Texas redistricting, the California recall election, an infinitely powerful executive branch, the 2004 election, and on and on. With each successive progressive defeat and conservative power grab, my resolve to become more active grew stronger. After years of slowly becoming more engaged, by early 2004, I had transformed my life to such a degree that I was a full-time political activist. No more, I vowed to myself, would I stand by and watch while the conservative movement slowly re-engineered American society to its own radical specifications. The other voice in my head, the one that wanted to stand and fight, completely won the day.
I think my reaction to 1994, and the slow but ultimately drastic transformative effect it had on my life, was mirrored in the rise of the contemporary progressive movement itself. As I wrote several months ago, much of our new infrastructure was built in reaction to one or more of the many defeats we suffered from 1994-2004:The netroots were basically formed out of a long series of losses by progressives: the Clinton impeachment (MoveOn.org), the 2000 Florida recount (Talking Points Memo, the first major progressive blog), the conservative exploitation of the charged atmosphere following 9/11 (I know that was the case for me), the war in Iraq (the rise of Dailykos and of Howard Dean's campaign), Howard Dean's campaign (DFA and a huge percentage of the netroots and new internet consultants, not to mention the Silent Revolution). Losses have consistently built and solidified the netroots. Even beyond the netroots, another key element of emerging progressive infrastructure, the Democracy Alliance, was birthed out of our stinging defeats in the 2002 midterm elections. Our resolve to fight back was strengthened by our losses, and our movement grew in size and gained power because we saw a desperate need for new tactics, new infrastructure, and new personal dedication to the political arena.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate the biggest progressive victory since at least 1992. Instead of watching the swearing in on television, I will actually be in D.C. to celebrate the event. It will be a new moment for the movement, where we will be celebrating a great victory instead of another painful defeat. At fantastic as this moment will be, I am also worried that because our movement was constructed largely in response to progressive defeats, that finally achieving a big victory could actually be something of a setback for the movement over the long term. Will we maintain out willingness to innovate? Will we have the same resolve to dedicate ourselves to affecting change? Will our unity collapse if our leaders fail to deliver on various issues or promises? Will we revert back to our older urges of tuning out, exemplified by my brother's understandable frustration twelve years ago, if this victory does not quickly translate into a series of victories?
One of the main problems facing any people-powered reform movement is that it is generally composed of volunteers who could easily shift their focus to other matters in their lives. By way of contrast, these reform movements are challenging entrenched, political machines composed of people who owe their careers and livelihoods to the machine. This is true on both the micro-level in cities such as Philadelphia and in macro-situations such as the political-media complex of Washington, D.C. While we may face a long-standing internal struggle between opposing urges to turn to other matters and urges to stand and fight, most of our opponents face no such dilemma.
Given that George Bush still occupies the White House, my worries about decreased progressive movement motivation may be overblown in the short term. However, in order to maintain the long-term viability of the progressive movement, I think they must be addressed. At what point can we start expecting progressive activist motivation to die down, thereby weakening great reform efforts such as the fifty-state strategy, the silent revolution, the small donor explosion, and the rise of progressive media? What can be down to combat decreased motivation? Do we define some sort of endgame scenario where our goals have been met, or do we instead seek to build some kind of "permanent revolution" such as the "great backlash narrative" that will keeps the troops motivated over the long-term?
Basically, this is an open thread to muse about the future motivation level of progressive movement activists. I have to take care of some errands before heading down to D.C. Hearing your thoughts on this subject will give me a lot to think about over the next couple of days.