Is a Progressive Tea Party a Good Idea?

New Orleans   The other day I was warning that progressives speaking out and organizing against some policies and programs of the new administration were already being lectured by the mainstream media, as some call it, about how boycotts should be conducted and whether or not anarchists attaching themselves to demonstrations could be disciplined. Today’s story conflates some of what is happening around the country with the Tea Party. Some seem to embrace the comparison and there’s never any harm in organizers adopting tactics and strategy that work, but is this a good idea or just reductionism to the lowest denominator that will sow confusion in the future?

First, it is worth remembering that the Tea Party and its moment have passed. No one really pretends that anything other than a sentiment and a diffuse base exists from its effort some years ago, regardless of how skillfully Trump seized the opportunity. At the least we need to differentiate anything we might be trying to do now as something more than a flash in the pan that can be endured while it lasts and then ignored. Secondly, please recall the recent history when the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader for the Republicans essentially slammed the door on the Tea-people and their elected representatives and stonewalled and marginalized them. Tactics and strategy without organization are always going to end up walled into a box canyon.

Some former Tea organizers are kind about it all in some ways, referring to efforts in various communities around the country as nothing more than good “civics.” They are particularly talking about efforts to rally around Congressional offices and participate in town hall meetings organized when the local representatives come home during the upcoming recess. Reportedly, one clever group responded to its representative’s claim that no meeting space was available by booking space in each of the four counties he represented to call his bluff. Needless to say, be careful what you ask for, since such public forums could turn out to be proxy fights and shout outs between the right and left, which will be hard to count as a tactical advance. If it’s working, run with it, but this could be a flickering flame without something more substantial.

There’s energy and fire in the country now that would seem to demand something new, not something derivative. The grassroots is grabbing the straws that they have seen available, so in absence of something better, that’s good news. We’ll have to take a longer look at these self-described “indivisible” chapters and their playbook. The base is moving faster than the wannabe leaders and strategists meeting in their conference rooms and think tanks.

If something new and stronger is going to be built from this unique opportunity, now is the time. The tail is wagging, but the head is lagging. The progressive body has to be put together quickly for the long race, not just the current dash.

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Report from Behind the Bunker, that What We’re Doing is Working

New Orleans   There’s no reason to get the big head. It’ll be a long four years. Or longer. Eventually, they’ll get this right or at least righter. Nonetheless, there’s some evidence that we, the big WE, the collective we of all progressive Americans and maybe more, including those who are not progressive but at least aren’t haters, anti-immigrants, anti-women, anti-Muslim, are having some real impact, and that Trump is even semi-getting it, as well as others.

An article, obviously fueled by leaks from the White House, to Wall Street Journal reporters Carol Lee and Peter Nicholas, quotes the President telling his top aides last weekend, while protests were blossoming like wild flowers at airports all over the country, that, “This has to go better.” Supposedly he tried to straighten out his chaotic staff structure where chaos has prevailed for most of the last two weeks. The always wacky, wild-eyed editorial writers for the Journal were even quoted in a story in their competitor, The New York Times, calling the travel ban rollout “incompetent,” though that seems a kindness. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s Rasputin, writing in the op-ed page of the Journal spared no words in his criticism and included a grade-school level primer in his column on how quasi-normal governments would have gotten away with such an order.

And then in the most interesting bonbon to come our way, here’s former Reagan speechwriter and hardcore Republican stalwart, Peggy Noonan, calling out a very clear warning that allows us to count coup even while a long way from winning the battle or the war. Here she goes:

The handling of the order allowed the organized left to show its might, igniting big demonstrations throughout major cities. And not only downtown – they had to make it out to the airport to give the media the pictures, and they did. In Washington I witnessed a demonstration of many thousands of people carrying individualized, hand-letter signs.

If all this was spontaneous, the left is strong indeed. If was a matter of superior organization, that’s impressive too.

You should never let your enemy know its own strength. They discovered it in the Women’s March, know it more deeply now, and demonstrated it to Democrats on the Hill. It was after the demonstrations that Democratic senators started boycotting the confirmation hearings. They now have their own tea party to push them around.

The handling of the order further legitimized the desire of many congressional Republicans to distance themselves from the president, something they feel they’ll eventually have to do anyway because they know how to evaluate political horse flesh, and when they look at them they see Chief Crazy Horse.

Sorry about Noonan’s Crazy Horse reference, she went cheap there, but she’s going deep the rest of the way. There is no Facebook fawning here. No Twitter triumphalism. She’s a veteran, and she knows effective political organization when she sees it, and says so.

Can we be our own “tea party?” That might be something to be proud of right now, but we have to be careful. Our strength is showing, but it can’t dissolve into arrogance and can be frittered away without tactical and strategic care. We also have the Times poking us about “black” teams and anarchist growth that no one controls, but they will try to make us own. A Times columnist even tried to lecture all of its readers, and all of us, about the proper way to target and conduct a boycott, while whitewashing Uber. Both of good reminders of how quickly the worm will turn.

We’re not winning, but we’re holding our own. At least for now. We live and work in interesting times, and we’re adding our spice to the stew. Nothing but good can come of this.

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Right Wingers Continue to Play “I Spy” to Terrorize Citizen Action

Little Rock   These days it’s pretty clear that if you are going to run an activist nonprofit that might make waves someday and therefore unsettle conservative sailors on their good ship “Lollypop,” you simply have to increase the paranoia training for staff and leaders alike.  The sting and scam model that the scurrilous and unprincipled James O’Keefe and his confederates have practiced (perfected would NOT be the correct word) in trying to attack one progressive institution after another (ACORN, NPR, teachers’ unions, New Hampshire’s election observers, and Planned Parenthood) has still not run its cycle.  The good news perhaps is that the press might finally be getting embarrassed at swallowing the bait and bull, and might be wary of being caught in the scam just like the unsuspecting front liners at nonprofits.

There was another report this week of a conservative trying to walk into a community organizing office in Manhattan and Brooklyn and seeing if he could get advice on how to organize a union and “shake down politicians for more money.”  Such bizarre and fantastic propositions are ludicrous on their face, which makes this kind of ham-handed effort easy to detect, but it does give a pretty good indication of the desperate hunt for publicity and relevance that the conservative second and third stringers feel.  And, despite the fact that all of this has become a parody of politics on the order of a drunken college prank concocted in a late night dormitory room, it means that anyone involved in citizen action or community service is now fair game for these fools, until the cameras are finally turned off and the reporters put down their pins.

The easy part of preparing staff for these ideological idiots is developing the simple BS barometer on these simple scams.  The harder part remains when organizations are involved in constant interaction with the public, particularly in direct service, similar to some of ACORN and Planned Parenthood programs.  Staff are trained to offer assistance and engage in problem solving.  As too many videos have shown, staff can go a long way down the road in trying to be helpful, which even in the most ridiculous circumstances can be easily misconstrued, and stray over the line of good judgment.

The chilling impact of targeting nonprofits with these “I Spy” rightwing tactics is that too many organizations are faced with the dilemma of either providing services from counseling to voter registration or abandoning such critical work in the face of tremendous need, simply because the “optics” might break badly if under attack.

Only standing strong in the face of this bullying will make it stop.  And, realizing finally, an injury to one is an injury to all.  Maybe it’s time for putting all shoulders together so that we can put an end to these high jinks from the right?

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The Cynicism of “Class War” in Presidential Campaign

New Orleans   Nate Silver takes a hard look at the prospects of the Obama campaign this November in the Times magazine section and concludes its good strategy to ramp up the populism.  By his numbers if Obama pushes the pop-buttons hard, the Midwest might fall in line, and then the race is won.

First, none of this has anything to do with so-called “class war.”  All of this is liberal tongue-in-cheek and a wan effort at satirizing the right-wing whacks of the Republicans who are constantly making such charges, including out of the mouths of many of the Republican presidential candidates themselves.  Unfortunately, satire works best when both sides get the joke, and these days, my view is that the Repubs are dead serious in thinking this is the real deal, Class War 3.0 or something.

Secondly, I’m having trouble finding much comfort in this sudden, late stage embrace of populism by Obama.  I worry that in the same way he quickly abandoned “hope” for “compromise” and “concession,” he will even more quickly abandon populist promises, if for no other reason than the fact that there are so few forces out there that will be willing or able to hold his feet to the fire.

Add that to the fact that the control of Congress is still up for grabs, and the Republicans could still comeback and take both houses, and other than a couple of executive orders and the occasional veto or perhaps a Supreme Court appointment, it really gives progressives very little to hold onto as they try to summon up the steam for a hard fight for another four years.

Personally, I’ll be listening not for the promises out of the President’s mouth, but some movement of the lips that seems to sound out that there were actually lessons learned and a real commitment to do different and make a difference.

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Progressive Are Restless

P1010013 Houston Working the Citizen Wealth has been fascinating for me in both New Orleans and Houston for lots of reasons, but especially as a “listening post” when the discussion moves to the question part of the agenda whether at the events or on the radio shows.  One theme has emerged more than any other:  progressives are restless.  They are holding their breath, but there is a real and profound worry that President Obama does not have the kind of backbone that these grizzled warriors in the rough-and-ready politics of Louisiana and Texas know that it takes to win real reform.

They are worried that the compromises are signaled too quickly and the concessions are too broad.  As exhilarated as many of them were at the election results here in dark red country, they are worried that the president may not be able to stand and fight, and most of them are clear that that is the only way to win against the rock ribbed resistance they have seen in these conservative states.

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