After the election, I fell into a deep funk. How could it be that we had one of the most passionate and activist elections in my lifetime and still lose? And what could we do about it now? Well, I've just finished reading Start Making Sense and I can say that I'm raring to use what I've learned from this book. Here is a book that provides excellent advice about what we can do to make a real difference.
The folk at Alternet.org called on some of the best and most thoughtful progressive thinkers, writers and activists including Howard Dean, Markos Moulitsas, George Lakoff, Jim Hightower, Arianna Huffington, Barbara Ehrenreich and Thomas Frank to give their ideas on what happened and what should we be doing now. As cover says, the goal of the book is to turn the lessons of the 2004 election into winning progressive politics.
Start Making Sense is organized in three sections: what happened in the 2004 election, what should be the focus of progressive politics next, and last, yet certainly the most important, how to get active.
What do they find as some of the problems to address? Why, it's some of the very problems we've been discussing this week. For the Democrats, a big problem is the disconnect between the Washington insiders and the grassroots. And as others have pointed out before, we Democrats and progressives are splintered into a bunch of interest groups and have a hard time articulating a common vision that can fight against the message of the right.
Here's how Howard Dean talked about what needs to be done to make the grass roots effective:
Don Hazen: Let's talk about the Democratic National Committee, and what should happen. Do you think the DNC should control the state parties like they do in the RNC?
Dean: No, I don't. In order to make good on the new empowerment, we have to genuinely give power to the states and grass roots. That's what we did in our campaign. I believe in order to have power, you have to give up power. I know that sounds Zen-like, but it is true. In order to get it back, in order for us to win, we have to empower the grass roots.
There is enormous angst right now in the Democratic Party among those who are running it, whose grip is slipping in the push toward decentralization.
Ultimately outsiders have to take over the party, and that is very painful for the insiders. But insiders can't make this work out. Power needs to come from the grass roots. The current Democratic Party is the old mode. You know, they say people go to see the psychiatrist when the pain of doing the same thing becomes more than the pain of changing. It is time to face the pain of changing.
What about that vision thing? Today it is easy to give the elevator pitch about what the Republican values are. But not what it means to be a Democrat. A number of the interviews and essays in this book touch directly on this subject. Here was part of Adam Werbach's analysis of what was needed:
The progressive vision must be a direct challenge to fundamentalism in all of its forms: political, religious and economic. It must match fundamentalism's power without replicating its authoritarianism. It must appeal to the values of liberty, equality, community, justice, unconditional love, shared prosperity, and ecological restoration, among many others.
How do we define our values? One of the suggestions is to have a house party where people work together to express what are the shared values of the group. Our blogs too should be used to be forums for expressing our values and building communities with a shared vision and shared language to express that vision.
What's obvious, is that for progressive values to have a chance to win elections, we need to build communities that work together more than just when the elections come. As Barbara Ehrenreich noted in her essay:
[P]rogressives should perhaps rethink their own disdain for service-based outreach programs. Once it was the left that provided "alternative services" in the form of free clinics, women's health centers, food co-ops and inner-city multi-service storfronts. Enterprises like these are not substitutes for an adequate public welfare state, but they can become the springboards from which to demand one.
...For the next four years and well beyond, liberals and progressives will need to emulate [the] original Christians, who stood against imperial Rome with their bodies, their hearts and their souls.
This is a genuinely hopeful, practical and insightful book - one that I thoroughly recommend you read.