Forward to next post: Movie rules governing Aboriginal Persons and their Ancestral Mystic Stuff
How these things work: This past weekend, I was visiting my friends Nancy and Elric in Auburn, NH. Along with all the political solicitation phonecalls, they got a call from their local Democratic organization, asking whether they needed a ride to the polls on election day. They didn’t, as it happened; they’re both mobile and their house is very close to their polling place. But if the election had happened when Nancy was ill and Elric had a dislocated shoulder, the offer of a ride could have been good for two votes.
(Note: Either side will give you a ride if you ask for it. There’s no obligation. But local Democratic organizers phone likely Democrats, and Republicans phone theirs.)
This is real political action. And if you’ll excuse me for saying so, if even a fraction of the effort some lefties put into personally gratifying but politically low-yield activities like petitions and street theatre were to instead go into voter registration drives, door-to-door canvassing, and get-out-the-vote operations, their causes would be in much better shape right now.
Real political action is always social. The primary interaction isn’t between you and your political ideals; it’s between you and other people. If you don’t engage with your fellow citizens, you might just as well have stayed home, or joined a community theatre group.
And I don’t mean confrontations, or hectoring and lecturing them. You have to talk with people—real talking, the kind where you make eye contact, take turns, and respond interactively.
On the altered role of the news media:
There was a long period when semi-theatrical symbolic political street action was more effective than it is now, because the national news media would pick up the story and transmit your message for you. You may have noticed that they’ve stopped doing that.
In fact, these days they’re doing the opposite. If you turn out hundreds or thousands of demonstrators, they’ll underreport your numbers and ignore or distort your core message. What gets on the evening news won’t be the march’s organizers’ well-thought-out speeches and banners; it’ll be the scruffiest fringe sociopaths who’ll turn out for anybody if it means they can throw bricks through windows and trash cars.
We got into the habit of thinking of the news as a public utility: Turn on the tap, and out flows relatively fair, impartial reportage. But that’s not the case. News organizations are businesses. And for some time now, those businesses have been passing into the hands of Very Large Corporate Arrays, while the news itself has been concentrated into fewer and fewer channels.
As I’ve said before, the goal of the wealthy and powerful is to achieve a happy state of all profit and no risk. If you don’t support people and policies that favor that outcome, you must not expect the mainstream news media to be your friend.
Deal with it. Stop wasting brain cells wondering why the blunders, lies, and acts contrary to the public good of Reagan and the Georges Bush have gotten so little play, and how they can get away with gross libels and the public flayings and disembowellings of politicians like Clinton, Gore, and McCain. The way the world works is not a secret.
The good news is that if you do get organized and start generating real power, the media will start coming round again. Big money may run the news, but big money follows power, not ideology.
Voting as though it mattered:
Get real, vote real. If you want to make changes happen, you have to get your guys elected. Deciding the whole system is corrupt so why bother, and/or casting symbolic votes and protest votes for non-starter candidates, is like wasting your ammunition on symbolic volleys that don’t hit anything. The other side won’t be impressed, and they’ll still be aiming their own shots at you.
Vote for real candidates even if you know they aren’t going to win this particular race. It lets them know you’re there, and encourages your side to try harder next time in your district. It also lets the guy who did get elected know you’re there. He also cares how you vote. It may affect his actions in office.
All races matter. In the 2000 election, Nader’s vandals claimed there was no difference between the two major parties’ candidates, so a vote for one or the other didn’t matter. And that was a huge lie; but it’s never true of any candidates in any race. If identical twins with identical platforms ran for the same office, they’d still be supported by different organizations, funded by different contributors, have different sets of political friends and allies, and be attached to exceedingly different national-level organizations and networks.
Attitudes, ideologies, allies, and language:
Power is good; purity’s a trap. Our political system is based on compromises and coalitions. Sacrificing effectiveness in the cause of perfect ideological purity is for wankers and dilettantes. If you want to do good, you need the power to do good things. That means you have to get into the game and play it right alongside everyone else, even if it means you have to come into contact with people who don’t think exactly the same way you do. After all, if you’re not coming into contact with people who don’t believe the same way you do, who are you preaching to?
Activists who pretend to disdain the compromises of power politics are just complaining that they can’t get as much power as they want via their preferred means.
Before you put the boot into your own candidate for insufficient adherence to some point of orthodoxy, ask yourself whether you like the other candidate better.
Cultivate all your potential allies. Above all, stop telling people they aren’t on your side. They may never figure it out on their own, in which case they’ll be indistinguishable from people who are on your side.
Be polite. Most especially, be polite to people who don’t have a perfect understanding of all the fine points of your political analyses. Explain how you think this point here, which they do agree with, hooks up to that point over there. They may thereupon decide they agree with that one too; whereas if you denounce them for not understanding that second point, they may decide they don’t agree with any of your points, so there!, and will undoubtedly decide that you’re a jerk.
Nobody will ever think you’re a genius because you’re berating them.
Use normal human language and stick to concretes. It’s the real thing, and it works. One reason the Wobblies got stomped so hard was that they put their case in plain, strong, vivid language that everyone could understand. That made them a real threat. Marxists who talk like English is their second language, and their first language is not from this planet, are no threat to anyone.
The bad guys (I’m not talking here about the Marxists) have to speak in abstract terms and weird twice-removed symbolic phrases because what they’re proposing would sound too awful if they said it in clear. Don’t copy them. They may sound slick, but the real human voice is what gets through.
Splitters and spoilers:
Thuggery is never okay, unless your personal goal is to wind up governed by thugs. What I have in mind are the Green factions that deliberately act as spoilers in elections where liberal Democrats are defending a seat. What those Greens are saying is that the only good they recognize is their own good. If your good happens to get in their way, they’ll sacrifice it without thinking twice. You and the rest of the country aren’t as important as them getting into power.
If they do get into power, don’t kid yourself that they’re suddenly going to turn into lambs. In fact, their natural allies will be the thugs on the opposing team.
Democracy isn’t something we have; it’s something we do. Giving an equal shake to the little guy is important because we’re all little guys.
This is so frustrating. If the government had proposed to take as much money away from people with 401(k) plans via taxation as has been lost by the market going into freefall, there’d have been white collar riots in the streets. But just mutter “No new taxes,” and they’ll all stand there, hypnotized, while the bad guys rifle their pockets and clean out the till.
You hurting? Go volunteer.