Nostalgia

nostalgia

Without much leadership from the Democratic Party a resistance movement has arisen. Liberals and progressives are making daily calls, attending meetings, writing letters, attending marches and rallies — all in defense of “what we once had.” The resistance is encouraging, but social and political movements cannot be based entirely on nostalgia — regardless of the Republican Party’s fleeting success with it. If we are honest, we have to recognize that the world we created is not that rosy. We can do better.

This was at least where my mind wandered after reading Mohsin Hamid’s On the Dangers of Nostalgia.

Hamid is a Pakistani novelist perhaps best known for the book (and film) The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He writes that we seek solace in nostalgia because the world is spinning so fast. We fantasize that the men and women of the past were more confident and secure in their roles and their work than we are today. We understand the technology of the age of toasters. Robotics scares the hell out of us. We watch TV and search the internet, but the fictions and connections we are really looking for are much deeper and older, more primal. Our identities are, in part and in fact, stories. And we are story tellers. Why retreat to the past, then, when we can create new stories for an even better future? Read Hamid’s complete article here.

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And — speaking of reading — people tend to read mainly what fits or confirms their pre-existing views. Democrats and Conservatives literally read different news and hear different opinions. But if you really want to know your political adversary, you need to know what goes on inside his pointy little head. There is some disagreement whether it was Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, or Mario Puzo who came up with the quote, but “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is good advice no matter who said it.

Republicans certainly understand this rule — know what the competition is up to. So even though it hurts, read the conservative press. Bookmark this link to thirty different rightwing news and opinion outlets you should check in with periodically. And tune into the president’s speech tonight at https://www.whitehouse.gov/.

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Finally — speaking of rejecting nostalgia in favor of a better future — Massachusetts Senate Bill S.291 proposes banning “Indian” names as school mascots. This would cost my own town of Dartmouth a couple dollars to change. But it would finally end an insult similar to that of turning Black jockeys into lawn ornaments or reducing Native Americans to wood statuary in front of cigar shops. “Indians” are people, not mascots. If you really can’t think up a new mascot that belongs on your school’s front lawn, try a gnome, smurf, or a pink flamingo.

Some may object to this as “political correctness” — but what does this phrase really mean other than civility? It’s long overdue that this kind of unthinking insensitivity and low-grade racism ended. As the rest of the country plunges deeper into racism and xenophobia, it would be rather sweet if a few oases of sanity and kindness, like our own Bay State, shone a little light into the nation’s heart of darkness.

The Clock is Ticking

ticking

Tom Perez’s election as DNC party chair yesterday was a big disappointment to Progressives who had hoped the Democratic Party would choose not only a new chairman but a new direction. Lost in yesterday’s party proceedings in Atlanta was another vote. This one concerned taking money from superPACs. The DNC voted to continue doing business as usual. Donald Trump tweeted that this was a good day for both Perez and the Republican Party, and he was right. The Democratic Party just seems incapable of helping itself.

After the vote, Perez and runner-up Keith Ellison, who will become vice-chair of the party, swapped campaign buttons. Both are decent men, and both represent a party that — like it or not — is the only serious entity standing between a vulnerable American public and the billionaires salivating over ending regulation and what’s left of the Social Contract and American democracy.

For Progressives now is not the time to succumb to temper-tantrums and despair. The DNC delegates who voted for Perez and for superPACs are the same ones, for the most part, who committed to Clinton and sandbagged Sanders. This election was not a surprise. The terms of these Clinton and Obama holdovers will eventually end but the Democratic Party will remain. Progressives are now beginning to make gains in the DNC in states like Oregon and California, and it is a matter of time before this happens in our own state.

The Democratic Town caucuses are coming. Show up. Run for a slot. You will be given a minute or two to tell your fellow Democrats who you are and what you stand for. Tell them you’re a Berniecrat. Tell them you want and end to Big Money and Superdelegates.

If the party does not reform itself long before the 2018 midterm elections, it will be replaced, and many of us will be changing party affiliation.

Patience only extends so far and the clock is ticking.

Alinsky Revisited

democracy

Regarding my summary of Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” an anonymous reader wrote to correct me on the time period in which the book was written and to do a much better job of explaining Alinsky’s purpose than I did. — Thanks.

Alinsky didn’t write Rules for Radicals during the Reagan years, He published it in 1971 during the Nixon years. 

I worked with Alinsky. Contrary to the likes of Gingrich, Saul was not a Marxist. He was a old-fashioned American patriot who frequently quoted the Founding Fathers.

One of Alinsky’s favorite quotes — mine too — and which he used to introduce an earlier book I also recommend entitled Reveille For Radicals, is from Thomas Paine: “Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern for it, but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul.” 

Saul’s objective was not mere resistance. People tend to focus on Saul’s tactics but his objective — the objective of Alinsky style community organization —  was participatory democracy. No less than to make US style representative democracy work the way the founders intended. Here I would recommend you go back and take a look at [the ending of] Obama’s last State of the Union.

Saul’s tactics, based in life-long experience, close observation and study under everyone from UC sociology professors to John L. Lewis and Frank Nitti — what he called called “applied social science” — were designed to involve — to enfranchise — those who were excluded from civic decision-making that effected their lives. 

Alinsky used confrontation over issues important to peoples’ lives to get them involved. He started off with what he called “fast, easy victories” to give people confidence they could actually get things accomplished and to convince others to join the effort so it would be possible to take on bigger and bigger projects. In addition to political tactics Saul  taught leadership skills, research skills, fund-raising skills, how to prioritize and pursue goals and how to build not only a voluntary neighborhood organization but a coalition of voluntary associations.  

If everyone’s involved, all interests represented — and people are informed about available options and the implications of those options — Saul figured things would turn out at better than they would otherwise. What he called “enlightened self-interest.” An informed, involved citizenry was an article of faith with him as distinct from those who rely on demagoguery and/or ideology for their answers. Saul was a big fan of checks and balances. 

The idea that an educated citizenry is essential to representative democracy is of course also basic to American style democracy as envisioned by people like Jefferson and Franklin. 

Basically, Saul was a teacher — saw himself that way and saw Alinsky-style organizers that way too.  

Saul taught people citizenship — how to become effectively and productively involved.

Saul  believed therein lay the best available answers. The opposite of those who purposefully seek to disenlighten because an enlightened citizenry would never buy what they are trying to sell.