Stuff We Don’t Need: Yet Another “Progressive” Vanity Organization

progressive-groupsSo, there’s this guy Van Jones who has been saying a lot of good things, for a while, and this week he announced the start of a new campaign called the #LoveArmy, a new initiative of his Dream Corps organization.

Sadly though, for quite some time, I have been VERY suspicious of how much ego is behind seemingly well-intentioned people like Mr. Jones.

I see it play out something like this, time and time and again:

Super smart, charismatic, articulate progressive takes a firm stance on something and gets regional and/or nationwide attention; said person gathers a team of collaborators and followers and starts their own new organization, with a spiffy new logo and website, like Van Jones’ Dream Corps; meanwhile there are already dozens, hundreds, even thousands of existing progressive organizations all over the country, many doing similar work, many of which overlap and compete with each another for donations or attention or nitpicky differences in their platform or approach.

The left/progressive wing in this country is utterly fractured, totally susceptible to and thwarted by the divide-and-conquer tactics from the masterfully manipulative right wing, but all I see is this parade of emerging leaders starting up their own vanity projects rather than building a movement that unites the existing progressive organizations.

One could argue that many if not most politicians running for office resemble this formula. Once they are in office, they are quickly assimilated into business-as-usual, without the time and/or will to build on the movement that got them elected, to make it bigger and stronger and capable of supporting an unwavering agenda of real change.

Now, to be fair, every once in a while I see a glimmer of the right idea, and here are three examples.

1. Bernie Sanders certainly met the “super smart, charismatic, articulate progressive” criteria I mention above, but in VERY different ways.

Smart as hell, for sure, but his unlikely charisma resided in his unpolished, scruffy, gesticulating appearance and demeanor, and his articulateness was not about flowery oratory or wonky policyspeak, but rather, it was his dogged consistency of message, a message of a need for a political revolution that united millions and millions of Americans around common causes, an articulation that powerfully wielded a “we” rather than “me” orientation.

The Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Revolution group says they are about continuing Bernie’s work of building this national grassroots movement, and I’m eager to see if they will reach out to all of the progressive organizations already out there, to unite them and coordinate efforts.

2. Back in June, shortly after the mainstream media declared that Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic Party nomination, 3,000 activists attended The People’s Summit in Chicago, a hastily thrown-together event, also aimed at taking up Bernie’s torch. Notable was the extensive list of “partners” posted on the event’s website, seen here in this post as a collection of logos that both highlights what I said above about how progressives love to start new organizations, but also seems to represent at least an attempt to bring these groups together.

3. Just today I read of a brand new effort to fight the Trump-elect proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Protect Our Care Coalition pulls together representatives from 20 different existing organizations to “pool resources and work together to ensure people in America understand the damage of repealing the ACA.”

Now THAT is stuff we need!

My Post-Election Trumpism-Opposition Begins: Taking It To The Streets

So, in my last post I dusted off Fish & Bicycles and declared my intention to resist the impulse to despair over the barely believable, gulp, election of Donald Trump, and rather, to get to work on being part of a solution.

After an initial round of research, I identified several local social justice groups, as well as a chapter of Our Revolution, the organization that the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign morphed into, and I’ll be looking into these further and attending meetings soon.

But, my first offline action, this past Friday, was to attend a protest loosely organized around a demonstration that has been taking place on the same street corner here in Bellingham, Washington, save a few gaps here and there, since 1966, the longest running event of its kind in the U.S.

This weekly peace vigil, held every Friday, was the most natural place to find an organized group of people guaranteed to be equally shaken by the election and opposed to the agenda of the man elected. But, rather than the usual relative handful of protesters on just one street corner at Cornwall & Magnolia, as seen in the photo included in this post, this week all four street corners were packed.

fullsizerender7I’d made my own “Love Trumps Hate” sign, and when I arrived I took my place at the street’s edge, where passing cars and my fellow protesters across the street could see me, and with the very first smile from these lovely people and honks from supportive vehicles zooming by, I felt better than I had, by far, since election day.

The signs held by those assembled ran the gamut: peace/anti-war, environmental, reproductive rights, pleas for black, brown, LGBTQ lives, etc. While I had been wondering how or if we could ever really come together and stay together, there we were, with good intentions and shared purpose, a mutual desire to keep hope alive, hope for a more peaceful world in the face of an unimaginable national nightmare.

And yet, standing there with my sign in hand, I experienced some conflicting thoughts and feelings.

As I looked around at the staunch peace vigil veterans who have shown up weekly for years, not just when there’s a headline-grabbing crisis, I felt humbled, ashamed even, inadequate, for not having done much more than preach peace and love casually to friends and family, to write about it on my blog occasionally, a protest here and there, volunteering as a Bernie Sanders delegate, but only at the County Convention, and all those stupid online petitions.

But then, I observed a group, young and old, singing We Shall Overcome, and every single derisive stereotype of hippies and 1960s/70s counterculture came to mind, along with thoughts of how it all seemed for naught, as we have slid so dramatically backward as a country. We shall overcome, my ass!

But then…the music reached my heart, and cynicism and skepticism melted away, and I joined my voice with theirs.

The next song, the hauntingly beautiful Singing For Our Lives, by Holly Near, with the refrain, “We are a gentle, angry people”, sealed the deal.

I was right where I belonged and past inadequacies no longer mattered.

Only action remains important.