Posts Tagged ‘parties’

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It’s Not Impossible, It’s Just Texas

2013.January.25

WHAT

Last week, I reached out for something vague with a flurry of spontaneous tweets. I tried to make it poetic, and thoughtful, and concise, but the failed purpose was to articulate something missing in my activist/ish life and hope my friends and allies could point me in the right direction. Responses were mostly negative on the helpful scale, to the extent that responses like “I don’t know what you’re talking about” and simple cyber-hugs were graded at the high end of an sharp curve.

There were five posts in quick succession, plus an epilogue and a disgruntled follow-up, all posted to my Twitter (where my smattering of activist followers seemed to be inactive that day). The tweets then cross-posted to my private Facebook, where I had hoped to reach the several dozen friends who currently or have previously worked for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, and other professional realms of activism (or at least the dozens more who advocate as volunteers, organizers, and educators on their own time) with one simple query:

“Where my idealists at?”

This was not the first time I had attempted the approach of, “Ask the Internet and it will come.” Except I wasn’t asking the whole Internet; I wasn’t even asking all 500 of my Facebook friends. Even omitting the various filters for me and Twitter, my posts could still only reach whatever friends happened to check their Facebook feeds around the time I posted. Activists or not, few of my friends (or anyone on Facebook) optimize Facebook’s feed options (subjecting them to a lot of irrelevant noise and shortening attention spans further), so even if they wanted to see it, who knows if they would have? If someone was busy at work that day, or sick, or forgot the phone they use to log in, or just needed a break from digital socializing on THAT DAY, there was little chance they would see it.

My approach was essentially aiming a shotgun at a hummingbird. Through a wall. And the hummingbird may or may not have been there in the first place.

It should surprise no one, then, that the tweets were ignored and the Facebook posts received the following array of responses: 7 “Likes”, 5 vaguely cynical comments, 4 vaguely sympathetic comments, 2 playful threats about my artistic license with grammar, 2 admissions that someone didn’t understand what I was after, 1 vaguely relevant joke, and 1 itemized derailment of the entire series (which helped trigger my disgruntled follow-up, 4 sympathetic comments, and conversations with both the grammarian and the derailer). Of these, the “I don’t understand” comments were actually the most helpful, because I realized that I couldn’t explain my posts any better — and that was the problem.

The posts failed to reach anyone who could recognize and answer the question I was trying to ask. Even I didn’t know what I sought, so how could I know if I was going about it the right way? Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), even the most upsetting of these comments led to productive discussion and reconsideration, to the extent that I’m finally able to articulate what it is I seek and why it has been so difficult. From the angst of failure, a better question came to me: not “Where are the idealists?” but “Why am I so desperate to find them?”

WHERE

When I left my “First Real Job” in D.C., it was to return home. Texas is decidedly conservative, in politics and in culture — and these days pretty in-your-face about it (part of why I left in the first place). Yet there’s a camaraderie that comes easily here as outcasts band together in a hostile environment; it facilitates a simpler acceptance of other people, and I’d found myself missing that. While my time in D.C. had been professionally rewarding, it had also been incredibly lonely. Living closer to the mainstream, I somehow felt further away from finding community or chosen family (outside of working hours) than I’d felt in Texas. As my life drifted closer to “normal”, I came to feel ever-more conspicuous about the differences that remained; back home, outcasts had always been outcasts, whatever differences they carried.

So I came back. The politics is still just as bad (probably worse), but I’ve found my community and my chosen family amid the outliers. The more uniform the culture here becomes, the easier it gets to identify, support, and ally with others who defy convention (and it doesn’t matter whether they defy it a little or a lot). It may be compared to a spirit of revolution, but I find it much subtler: for revolution, the first priority is to subvert the power system in place using any help you can get; you’re not yet worried about what power structure might replace it and therefor you don’t really screen your camarades (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that). Here, we’re just banding together and doing what we can to survive, all the while educating ourselves and others on how the dominant narrative is not our only option.

In a relatively free society (and whine as we might, we participate in one of the free-est societies ever, even in Texas), if you can be diplomatic with folks who perpetuate the dominant culture but also successful at convening with those who don’t, you can sustain a pretty nice little desert oasis. I can pick my battles according to what I want to do (because it can’t all get done); I can take a break whenever I need (because victory is never as close as burnout); I can even be rebellious and popular at the same time!

The choice to remain a(n ideological) minority does carry drawbacks, of course. The political bell curve places my most “hippie-ish” peers somewhere in the neighborhood of California Republicans. Bias and scorn seep out from most every news source; outside of Austin, there’s hardly such a thing as a secondary political narrative (and Sam Houston forbid you should ever try to find a middle ground on any issue other than the two conveniently polarized “sides”.) Eventually, you lose the ability to keep political and social culture out of any conversation with your friend-allies, and then you have little else to draw from for civil discourse amid family and neighbors who do support the dominant narrative. When you  find sympathetic stories, any anecdote from Texas is far more likely to anger or depress you than to give you strength or hope. It’s enough to make anyone jaded, really.

Or, increasingly I fear, it’s enough to make EVERYONE jaded.

WHO

There are a lot of us fighting the good fights down here in our own little ways: computer programmers who raise LGBT awareness by living out and proud, single moms whose households incorporate deep environmental awareness, elder-care-givers who network casual activists to one another and wax philosophic about underlying truths discovered along the way. OK, you got me, that last one is me.

I’ve been keeping my eye on a certain elder in my life for the majority of the seven years I’ve been back here, but it’s only been a full-time arrangement for about 14 months. At this point in his progression, I spend a scattered couple of hours a day helping him with food, doctor appointments, medications, tech support, and socializing, and 20+ hours a day keeping myself occupied while listening for one of those needs to arise (you can find out more at #badideacare, though #occupyFree could also be clever). I spend a lot of time at or near my computer, and the tone of my day is often set by fellow Texans; our communal strength and reliance upon one another is sustained largely online because we are pretty spread out by geography, logistics, and focus. When Texas liberals and/or nonconformists have a bad day (which is often), there’s a good chance I hear about it early and often. My mood can, and does, often suffer. (Because I care, dammit! :P )

Most of this circumstance is not really new. What I have learned over the past fourteen months is that when I reach out, when I ask for something positive from my network of amateur activists, the vast majority of responses I get will be cynical, snarky, pedantic, derailing — in a word, counterproductive. I probably spend as much attention on how we work as on what we’re working toward, so every time an ally approaches an issue with sarcasm, aggressiveness, smugness, or general misanthropy, my bright optimism clouds just a little more.

I can’t call out a single incident or a single person for this, because it is more subtle and erosive than that. The hardest part of running this treadmill isn’t the lost political battles, it’s the lost rhetorical battles. Most of the negative comments I get — from my own allies, remember — don’t stop at foiling my grasps at positivity, they often imply that I am foolish for even asking. The brand of idealism I hold is not only so much rejected as a personal choice, it is regarded as downright impossible.

WHY

I might share their bleak outlook if I had not seen otherwise in D.C. The organization where I worked shut its doors in 2006 due to unrelated — but equally painful — realities, yet even during lean times that small org was a hub of positivity whose network stretched nationwide and beyond.

Before I was care-giving full time, I could still travel a couple times a year and (re-)connect with folks in Austin, Colorado, California, or D.C., drawing strength from the great works and great attitudes I found. Activists in more liberal regions (even those who are no more professional activists than the elder for whom I care) get stronger support from their communities, maintain larger professional networks, have more educational resources available, and are more likely operate with the luxury of designated workspaces that (however difficult it may be) can be left at work once in a while. These opportunities bring with them a greater capacity for all things positive and effective, which can then be shared with organizations and individuals who are less centrally located — if they can manage to connect. This was, in fact, a mission of the D.C. project where I dedicated most of my time. We would identify, celebrate, and support effective community leaders, then gather them to foster collaboration while a group of academics attempted to glean big lessons on leadership from their efforts. Along the way, smaller networks became connected to one another, and a larger movement toward social justice became feasible.

The org where I worked encouraged straightforward values for advocacy organizations via an acronym, THE RAMP: Transparency, Hope, Exchange, Respect, Affirmation, Modeling, Pragmatism. We talked about our values, we swapped insights with others, and we made sure positivity was part of our movement. All around us were other organizations — other networks — who were just as positive, just as supportive, whose lights shone just as bright. They spent more time talking about what they could do than what they couldn’t. They spent more time building each other up than tearing anyone down for being imperfect allies (or even opponents). They never let one another feel isolated.

Those networks demonstrated many things beyond the plausibility of an affirming approach, but the most important to me were these:

  • The power inherent in language and art rests in a clear message to a clear audience, not grammatical perfection. (See also.)
  • There is an ongoing exodus of non-conservatives to the U.S. coasts and it is reinforcing the red-state/blue-state polarization we decry.
  • In order to make a difference to a place, one must be grounded there.
  • No changemaker works alone.

These are, in fact, the other reasons I came back to Texas seven years ago. I cannot be cynical because I’ve seen positive activism done well, and I believe it can be done here (and not just in Austin).

HOW

My old org is gone, and that old network has changed over time, but I have come to believe that successful relationships depend on impact rather than longevity. About half of my colleagues from that time have left activism but continue to live out their values and positivity in new careers; the other half are still at it, building and connecting and shining away with awesome projects in liberal hubs and conscious, supportive families at home. Alas, those same careers and families usually keep them away from Facebook, and since they still maintain their local support networks, they have less at stake in maintaining strong ties with me than I do with them. I’ve been looking for positive connections to augment or replace them.

I haven’t been calling for all the idealists, I’ve been calling for my idealists: those whose work to become more inclusive and more positive never quite ends. I need to bring conscious positivity back into my life, and I’d like to acquire the skills to help others do the same. I need the positive news and clever toolkits and erudite inspiration — not just some cat meme or Mary Engelbreit aphorism, but accurate insights from people who know it because they’ve done it. I’m not looking to swing the pendulum to another extreme; I just want to connect with folks who find hope in their activism as often as not. (I’d surely settle for a third of the time… maybe a quarter.) And for now, just because I’m difficult (and nearly quixotic), I need to be able to do this pretty much entirely online (yes, the same realm that brought you trolling and such sentimental acronyms as “DIAF”).

I could use any help that’s available. I want to connect with part-time activists who believe in affirmative approaches, especially in Texas and especially online, even if you’re no more sure how to do it than I am. I also welcome recommendations for positive outlets on Twitter or Facebook (I have a couple of groups there myself), educational resources on community building, amateur-friendly activists networks, and anyone who might know something about fostering a positive workspace for non-professionals. What else is out there?

I’d like to think I’ve continued to practice the values of THE RAMP in my efforts here, but Affirmation is by far the most elusive and the hardest to pay forward: I simply do not know how. I just need some reassurance that my values (both political and rhetorical) have a place in this state — that I have a place in this state — before the illusions of isolation and hopelessness become too strong.

Addendum: I swear I didn’t plan this, but as I’m posting this, two notable sex-positive conferences are scheduled for this weekend in my two backyards (online and off). Some of my favorite activists are gathering in Atlanta for Creating Change, an annual conference of queer activism; my participation in CC10 was the most affirming weekend I’ve had since returning to Texas. Then on Monday, some of my favorite people have arranged a day off for me so I can attend a Brown Symposium on sex-positivity (near Austin, of course). I can’t think of a better moment to ask again, “Where my idealists at?”. Both events should be thoroughly tweeted, so follow the conversations at #CC13, #creatingchange, #BrownSym2013, and #sextalkinTX. If sex-positivity isn’t your thing, watch this space and I’ll let you know what else I find as I find it.

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Ranty McRantenstein

2010.August.23

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

Politics has been particularly upsetting lately. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t really want to write about it. Well, nothing particularly useful, anyway. So, in that vein…

I’ve had it with social conservatives. If they don’t appreciate what freedom of religion in this country gives them and they can’t share with everyone else, the motherfuckers can all try and practice their religion in Iran. It’ll be cheaper for the rest of us to evict them and pay for their relocation than it will be to continue to fight their senseless wars. And Hell, even the Supreme Court of MEXICO has upheld same-sex marriage as a right. Fucking MEXICO, people! One of the most Catholic nations on the planet understands separation of church and state better than Americans do.

I’m sick of Libertarians, too. The Market is not some magical force that can fix everything. In fact, left to their own devices, markets have been responsible for and/or supported some of the worst things that people do to one another (let’s start with slavery and go from there). Also, you stupid motherfucking twats, just because you were born with enough privilege to pull yourselves up from nothing (And your idea of “nothing”? Not even close.) doesn’t mean that everyone else in this country is. On paper the opportunities may be equal, but it’s far past time to take off your blinders and see what things look like in practice.

I’m sick of the Republican party pandering to the social conservatives and other various nutjobs (yes, I’m looking at you, Teabaggers). How the fuck hard is it for you to grasp the idea that you’re supposed to be helping the country, not wanking over bikini/rifle pictures of Sarah Palin?  Keep trying to hold back progress and progress is going to squash you like the insects you are.

I’m sick of the Democrats and other liberals being such cowards. Why is the US (supposedly the greatest nation on Earth) always the last to take care of its own people? Where’s our version of universal health care? Where are you on getting all of us equal rights and privileges? Quit cock-gobbling the lobbyists and do what’s right for the people for a change. Oh. That’s right. That won’t get you re-elected. I just have to ask, “If it’s the right thing, who the FUCK cares?” If you can’t grasp the gravity of that, go simper somewhere else. Like Nevada. Prostitution is legal there, so you should have no trouble at all earning a living.

Oh, and all this illegal immigration crap is beyond disgusting. It’s a bunch of white people trying to protect their privileged status as the majority. You know what? Every last person who thinks that illegal immigration is the problem should be doused in napalm and set on fire.  It’s not the problem, you puss-dripping cocks, it’s a symptom. It’s a symptom of the economy in Mexico (and other places) being even  shittier than ours. It’s a symptom of businesses who think they’re above minimum wage and worker safety law.  It’s also a symptom of a legal immigration path that can take in excess of 20 years to process a simple application. We could build Fortress America, and people would still figure out how to get in if the problems that lead to the symptom of illegal immigration aren’t fixed.

You know what else pisses me off? Our schools. Yeah. Exactly what this country needs is more mindless automatons. This is one of the many things that’s led to our economy being crap, our government being dysfunctional (at best), and has supported the gradual loss of individual liberty. But they’re doing their job right now, I’ll give ‘em that. We’ve got a huge workforce of complacent and compliant workers.  So many we don’t know what the fuck to do with them all.  It’s our just deserts for not encouraging innovation and imagination and for allowing politics to determine curriculum.

But wait! There’s more!

The whole WTC/Mosque flap is another great big steaming pile of racism. Something like 84% [editor's note: Gallup polled 68% nationwide] of the population oppose the location. Well, you shining nuggets of shit, the site is a full two NYC-sized blocks from the (16-square-block) WTC complex. It’s being built on private property with private funds. It’s not just a Mosque, but also a community center. Some of the higher-ups involved with the project have even openly cooperated with the FBI’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yep. Let’s demonize and dehumanize the enemy and then pretend we didn’t know better when average people start taking matters into their own hands.

Then again, maybe we should just start rounding up all the Muslims and Mexicans and putting them into camps like we did with the Japanese immigrants in WWII. Oh. Wait. We already tried that (with the Muslims, anyway). Shrub/Chimpy (the guy who spent 8 years with Cheney’s arm up his ass running him like a puppet) didn’t get all that far on that one, did he? Maybe there’s still some hope for the masses, after all…

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Texts from the Edge (Well, the Shore…)

2010.June.26

These are excerpts from text conversations I had through my first day at the Texas Democratic Convention. While I have a Twitter, I do not post to it from my phone. Parentheses () indicate someone else’s response. Brackets [] indicate a note I’ve added here. If anything isn’t clear let me know.

[I left Austin before ten and arrived in Corpus Christi at 12:30. I should have eaten before going in...]

Safe, sound, and parked for free on the… um, wet! shores of corpus! Here I go, wish me luck…
Aside from NARAL giving out lube, the booths are very disappointing this year…
Proof the Dems don’t have their shit together: this venue has two eateries, both of which have been sold down to nachos since I got here.

[Local Caucusing]

We’re already getting into pissing contests for party officers. Oh shit, someone just brought up the Texas Two-Step
(That’s today’s headlines…)
Is it? I’ll have to look for it. I abstained because none of the candidates seemed objective.
I never noticed before how many people are disabled here.
Wendy Davis sounds a lot more like a politician than she did two years ago. Very inspiring and vague.
And it was pretty clear that the party insiders had a group pre-selected. Ho hum.
“We will elect someone who is [...] an independent thinker and listens to the people.” [I forget who this was, either one of our caucus leads or our local Bill White organizer, but the contradiction made me chuckle.]
Having walked to the nearest Burger King, I can see how the convention center gets away with charging $5 for small nachos…

[Calling the convention at 6]

Music provided by the POW/MIA band. Blink. Blink.
It’s actually quite awkward for people to walk into the band playing, the conductor talking, and an unofficial rendition of ‘God Bless America’ being sung with one unknown voice coming from on high.
The Black Eyed Peas are officially past their prime when old white politicians come onstage to them.
Invocation awkward, preferential…
Also a mariachi band playing on cue for one speaker. They sound more skillful than the Vet Band, but refused to stop playing until the song was over.
“This is the year!” This is ALWAYS the year… [cf. 2008]
“We are the little people!”
I think the current speaker’s lobbying us to focus on recruiting Hispanics. And she doesn’t appear to know that bluebonnets are violet in color…
Wonder if anyone’s ever researched party strength against general polarized thinking…
The media is better than last time. Mission impossible video is well-made and engaging… if cheesy.
The vote for permanent convention chair didn’t even wait for the nays before calling it. ["All those opposedtheayeshaveit."]
I’m sweaty from my walk earlier… Possibly stinky. :/
Wow, they’re really hammering Perry over the mansion.
Oh, we’re getting a montage of videos. Some are really good. One is rather questionable/hypocritical though…
Made it 45 minutes before they started asking for $…
They showed a Kay Bailey Hutchison ad! Hmmm… [the one that bothered me above was one of hers, also, which explains that]
Lone Star Project touting how they are “Fighting Back with Facts” but their whole ad was a dig on Perry’s hair
Wonder what happens to all the Rubbermaid buckets they use to collect donations…

[Bill White Introduction and Speech]

“$18 billion deficit not good enough!”
Bill White gets like 8 intro speeches… [actually 3]
I wish the people who reference Perry’s sympathies would learn to pronounce “secede” more distinctly from “succeed”.
White’s daughter seems very political…
White comes out to “Start Me Up“. It’s been done. He should have come out to Black Eyed Peas instead.
He says the Democrats are the oldest political party in the world. Hmmm…
(That might need fact checking.)
My thoughts exactly. I know it’s the oldest in the U.S. [Looks like he may have been right.]
Ah, the awkward moment when a chant is started and people have to listen to figure it out before they can join in.
White: Perry only schedules 7 hours of state business a week. Taking record federal money but writing a book about states rights.
Dems are so excited about White they’re running 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
He got in a dig at the Republican scheme to help the Green Party.
He’s a great speaker: lots of info, not just rhetoric.

[Aftermath]

I like the Dems and all but damn the energy is repressed here. Where is the kinky caucus???
What’s with the people who raise their hands like calisthenics during benediction?
Watching the aftermath as people leave… Nary a visible tattoo or mischievous smirk to be found…
Only protesters I’ve seen are working a small table outside. They think Obama isn’t liberal enough and root for someone named Kesha Rogers.
I just helped a guy who lost his keys… by leaving them on top of his car. ;) [I also have a knitting bag I grabbed from the seat ahead of me... I'm pretty sure I'll spot the woman tomorrow to return it.]
I’m all done! Leaving downtown and looking for halfway decent food…
When am I not a work in progress? ;) Besides, first rule of event-planning: the agenda isn’t final until the event is over!
My spring rolls AND my tom yum had unexpected and un-extractable onions. Corpus hates me. Wendy’s here I come…
Much to my surprise, the Texas Democrats do not yet have a platform item for bringing JJ and Prentiss back to Criminal Minds, but I’m doing what I can to raise awareness.

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Into the Beast of the Belly (Can I Get a Whataburger with That?)

2010.June.24

I love a road trip. It gives me an excuse to tidy up my living space, sleep even more erratically than usual, spend hours at a time alone with the open road, and indulge in some serious primal sing therapy. If I had my druthers, my book would be written entirely from the road, via dispatches on research, conversations, and sights from across the South.

It’s been over a year since I had a decent excuse for a road trip, so I gladly signed on when invited to attend the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi (home of Texas’ own Whataburger–their burgers are nominal, but their breakfasts are excellent).

The process so far required just about the least I could do. The Dems prorate their delegations at each level based on corresponding primary turnout, but unlike 2008 there were nowhere near enough volunteers. I was nominated by my precinct in absentia, and promoted to the state level by virtue of having shown up at the county convention. I don’t even know whether I’m a full-on delegate or an alternate.

This year’s convention should be fascinating like a social worker checking in on a past case. While only a fraction of the enthusiasm of 2008 remains, that year has sculpted much about this convention. In 2008, I cheered on Obama’s campaign for not only rallying his influx of newly passionate voters, but for educating them along the way. I said even then that if Obama lost, the knowledge his organization injected into previously uninvolved voters would sustain a stronger movement among those who needed it the most.

To get through the Texans for Obama process and have a chance as a delegate to anything, you had to learn about your precincts, your senate district, your county, and how all of these institutions exist in conjunction with or separate from one another. You had to get to know your neighbors, your fellow activists (new and old), your Internet organizing resources, and you were invited to frequent training, volunteer, social, and strategy-planning opportunities. Even in Texas, where Obama was trailing and the campaign invested only minimal resources, those of us who participated got to know candidates, rules, and organizations at every level–information that, for the most part, remains relevant and useful long after inauguration.

From what I’ve seen so far, it is working, though perhaps not as thoroughly as I had hoped. Several supporters I met in 2008 have gone on to run for local office, form neighborhood organizations, or take on issues like activists instead of whining like armchair quarterbacks.

Of course 2008 also casts some shadows over the convention…

At any moment of the SD conventions I attended in March, you would think the Tarrant Democrats were a strong, united front with a healthy respect for polite dissent and the communal goals of serving the greater good and strengthening the Democratic presence in Austin…

Well, at any moment but one, and it’s kind of hard to explain.

The proportional delegations I mentioned above are part of a fun little contrivance the Texas Dems call the “Texas Two-Step”, where the state primary is split into both a primary and a caucus. Voters can participate in both. Those who support this system say it defends the interests of party faithful and/or particularly passionate voters who are willing to go to extra lengths to be heard. The caucus system is the source of most of the state Democratic platform, and everything is voted on at every level. But detractors say it essentially allows for some participants to vote twice.

If you heard about the 2008 primary here in Texas, then you probably heard that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each won and lost–Clinton won the primary, Obama the caucus. Because the caucus counted for slightly more votes, Obama ended up with most of the state’s delegates. Clinton supporters statewide, which included much of the party establishment and only a minority of the wave of newcomers to the process, were not exactly happy about the result, and a huge chunk of platform debate at every stage involved whether to keep or toss the Texas Two-Step.

Back to March of this year, when the issue came up again, I got to see that 2008′s animosities were alive and well. As someone who quixotically believes that liberal values and simplification of politics/government can somehow be compatible, I was the only former Obama-supporter to vote in favor of eliminating the Texas Two-Step. Moreover, I was told that this was really just “all about Hillary again”, and those of us who stood were chastised by friends and strangers alike, even booed. So much for unity.

Our delegation narrowly voted against the resolution to eliminate the Texas Two-Step, but I suspect it will come up again in Corpus Christi. Otherwise, all assurances are that this one will be swift, painless, and inspiring. Gubernatorial candidate Bill White lacks the charisma of either Obama or Clinton, but fortunately most of us are just as antipathetic to his opponent as we were to his predecessor, W.

Maybe I’ll actually have time to attend a party or two this year (conventions are rife with affinity-based trainings, happy-hours, and after-parties; the twelve-hour days in 2008 prevented my or anyone else attending most of them). Maybe there’s a reason they call them political parties after all…

Sorry, I was a real ass for saying that one. ;)

[Tomorrow (or, you know, whenever I get around to it): A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing! Or, How Does an Independent Survive Two Days of Non-stop Partisan Rallying?]

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Obama, DADT, and Lobbying the Radical Moderate

2010.May.18

Point of clarification: it’s all a Democrat’s fault.

Bill Clinton himself has admitted that his naive rush to “allow” gays in the military by instituting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a bad decision, resulting in an awkward bit of protocol that no one (including Clinton himself) expected to last this long. For all the anti-gay posturing of Republicans before and since, it was not Reagan or Bush I but Clinton and his bicameral Democratic majority who took a military directive and turned it into federal law.

But we all know it’s up to a Democrat to fix the mess; alas, our big hope is an old school president elected in new school times. Oh sure, Obama’s “diverse” and technologically inclined, but he approaches politics like a man born in another time: he skips the rhetoric and chides his opponents to do the same; then he makes a proposal, expects his opponents to suggest a reasonable compromise… and after a bit of teeth-gritting back-and-forth, a moderate policy is achieved and the greater good is achieved. This is called consensus-building, and it is pretty much antithetical to anything you will find on cable TV opinion programming.

Alas, these are new school times (or at least times from another side of the political cycle), where most of Obama’s opponents (and many of his allies) would just as soon shove rhetoric down America’s throats, stonewall without compromise, and go on cable opinion shows to blame everything on the opposition (even when it was your idea to begin with) than hash out nuanced compromise over a round table discussion.

The juxtaposition makes Obama’s slow-even-for-old-school approach to ending DADT stand out all the more. When the political atmosphere is overly charged, overly vitriolic, and overly partisan, being moderate seems radical; I contend that this is why Obama was elected–it’s certainly why I voted for him. However, many of those voting for a radically moderate policy may not have been expecting that it would be accompanied by radically moderate action, and some of Obama’s strongest supporters are getting tired of waiting for that “radical” part to kick in. DADT would seem like the perfect opportunity to implement major cultural progress that would reduce costs, require little Congressional crossfire, and avoid overhauling any further cornerstones to our economy.

Yet, Obama waited, and with good reason from his perspective. Ending two wars, averting financial collapse, and planting the roots of systemic change in healthcare seemed more important because they affected everyone. While social justice ideals may tell us that “an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere”, the fact of the matter is that most Americans (even the majority who support some advancement of LGBT rights) would have seen gay rights as a need of the few in the face of the needs of the many. Sadly, politics is perception, and jumping into such a decision could have endangered every other dream placed in Obama, radical or moderate.

Keep in mind, the nation is so primed right now that if Obama can reach the end of a single term without being assassinated or converting our nation over to rampant socialism, without rewriting the constitution to praise Allah or seizing property from Whites to give it to Blacks, without abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan or invading small town America, it will be a great victory for radical moderation over the dangerous forces of overblown rhetoric (though, without a separate figurehead, one unlikely to be claimed and, therefor, noticed).

There were small opportunities; perhaps Obama’s first weeks in office, or that dizzying week after health insurance reform passed: points in time when Obama was riding on high waves and an executive order suspending DADT could easily have been buried amid a thousand other headlines. But Obama’s approach of moderate action prevented such a stealthy move; what on a national level seems to be a simple transition will still have a direct impact on soldiers who are already psychologically stretched and physically drained. So he has called for a year-long analysis (such a study panel is the kind of moment when even I will mutter “liberal” under my breath with a snarl) to research how best to end DADT.

Will it take a full year to strategize the implementation of a DADT repeal? I seriously doubt it. Could measures further than those recently put in place have been taken to slow the impact of DADT? Of course. However, during that time, soldiers and officers who oppose the repeal will have a lot more time to consider their opinion and prepare for the change (Hell, we may even be out of Iraq by then, which should make anything easier for our military). Knowing it is coming should, I hope, make it easier to accept when the time has come. Even once it is legally possible for LGBT soldiers to serve openly, it will not be easy, and some soldiers will remain closeted for years, if not decades; the social adjustment could easily take a generation, but a gradual implementation (or period of warning) will go a long way into smoothing the rough waters of change.

There are more cynical advantages for Obama to delay, of course. He is keeping his options open, for one; should the November election see the Dems blown out of the water (which I doubt, but six months is an eternity in politics), he will move toward 2012 with one fewer bulletpoint against him from social conservatives. Or make that three, because while Obama supports gay adoption and “civil unions”, the sooner DADT passes, the sooner activists on both side will move on to fighting over even more controversial steps toward equality. And while few of the Black American voters who supported Obama 19-to-1 in 2008 have noticed how little his agenda has thus far helped non-whites and poor communities, you can expect that some of the 64% who find “homosexual behavior” to be “morally wrong” would notice if they saw LGBT equality placed as a higher priority.

(None of these items is as straightforward as presented here, though it is perceived to be by many. Sadly, this comparison–which is not original to me–is just another symptom of us-and-them thinking, where even constituents of progressive values focus on their own communities and do not recognize the commonality with other maligned groups.)

But drawing action from a radical moderate will not come from thinking cynically. LGBT activists have been exasperated with Obama’s inaction since the day after inauguration, and they have only experienced one major victory during his 16 months in office. There has been organization and marching and blogging and activism galore–and this is as it should be. In a way, maybe the DADT delay has been good for the LGBT community, too. Not for the individuals, sadly (rates have slowed since Obama’s inauguration, but hundreds have still been booted through his delay), but for the organizations and the LGBT community at large. As a repeal of DADT has approached… well, become imminent… well, seemed likely… eventually… the LGBT community has had less public attention on same-sex marriage (and even activists were running the risk of outrage fatigue after Prop 8). Perhaps with this little detour toward DADT (and ENDA, which will hopefully come next), the disparate opinions within the community will have a chance to breathe and remember what they have in common.

While the goal of every activist organization should be to render itself obsolete, a motivated and unified community is easier to solicit for donations and volunteers, and I suspect there’s still a huge well of untapped hetero allies out there who haven’t given since they got that HRC sticker on their back windows. At the same time, the broader American culture continues to inch closer toward tacit, even open, acceptance of that community and the notion that, hey, gays are people too! Demonstrations help that and arrests help that, so long as they remain clear, focused, and non-violent. Signs about same-sex marriage and adoption will do well alongside those on DADT and ENDA, but don’t try to also protest the wars, corporate media corruption, and the closing down of your local library (at least not at the same event). Activists must treat every opportunity as a discussion on one specific topic and resist the urge to yell at the hetero-normative public instead of talking with them. While some minds are not likely to ever change, others will be preparing for change who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Don’t misunderstand me; Obama is a busy man with a full agenda. Reneging will come all-too-easily if LGBT activists do not keep up the pressure. Politics being the antithesis of humanization, you cannot expect any politician to treat you like a human being instead of just a vote; you must demand it. It is the right and responsibility of every supporter of LGBT equality (whoever you sleep with) to keep up the protests, keep up the letters, keep up the conversation so the President does not–cannot–forget his promise. Unless the Dems keep a strong majority in mid-term elections (which is possible, but hardly likely at this point), I doubt we will see national progress beyond DADT and ENDA during Obama’s first term; then, it will again fall to LGBT activists to help him win a second term so he can make bigger promises toward equality and we can work tirelessly another four years to hold him to them.

It isn’t fair–and promises have already been broken–but it is the way of politics. You have to fight a lot to win a little, and deserving it means you just have to work twice as hard.

Questions to ask while we wait:

How is recruitment?
Why no temporary moratorium?
What about those already discharged?
Will DADT impact mid-term elections?

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Who Else Is Blogging?

2009.January.2

I don’t have a lot of blogs linked to the side there, but I have a long list of political blogs to check out… you know, when I have time.

But blogging is an artform of outliers. There are very few people out there who can blog about one sphere of life without it getting rabid, wonkish, repetetive, boring, self-righteous, or repetitive. Even the good ones have their ups and their downs (a few years back, I would read Tom Tomorrow’s blog on a daily basis, but lately even his comic fails to offer much amusement).

Sometimes you find the rarest gems in unlikely (web)spaces. So rather than try to throw together some half-thought-out entry about my ambivalence toward Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (reaching out to Dem opponents and Iraq War supporters is good, but their foreign policy differences are significant), or the distinct differences in which Republicans and Democrats deal with political and sex scandals within their own parties (the Democrats can’t shun their members fast enough, while the Republicans will profess “innocent until proven guilty” as long as possibleunless your sex crime was same-sex, of course), or the sizable gamble of symbolism Obama took on by inviting Rich Warren to deliver his inaugural invocation… rather than discuss any of those topics, I thought I’d toss you a few gems from off the blogosphere radar:

The Sanctity of the Commercial Holiday Season” by Kadair: In this entry, a non-Christian presents a different take on what Bill O’Reilly (and few others) might call “The War on Christmas”. Too bad she wrote it before she learned that these days, you, too, can purchase your very own aluminum (well, wire and plastic) reproduction of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree.

Untitled” by J: A rebuttal to Bush’s recent statement on KWANZAA and, more importantly, the knee-jerk reactions of commentators to online media articles. Apparently all those snot-nosed kids from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back have grown up and gotten real jobs where they have to bum around the Internet on professionally appropriate sites.

DTMFA-a-Thon” from Savage Love: Sex columnist Dan Savage cleared space on his popular and irreverent weekly to digress directly into political commentary. He cross references two studies on teen sexuality to show how ass-backwards (dare I say, literally?) abstinence-only sex education has made your children. Added bonus: it’s hilarious.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

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What’s Your Stake?

2008.November.13

All other things equal, would you rather have an insider or an outsider representing you on policy matters?

John Steele Gordon, a commentator on NPR’s Marketplace, today contended that for Treasury Secretary, President-Elect Obama should select “a fox who knows the weak spots in the hen house”… someone like Henry Paulson. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows a security from an exchange. (Gordon’s delivery was so dry it sounded like satire until he cited founding SEC Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy as an example of someone whose success came because he “knew where the bodies were buried” and “what reforms were needed”.)

Meanwhile in Texas, we have a member of the Texas State Board of Education who has taken it upon herself to warn America that the president-elect is not an American and will institute martial law. A little out of her jurisdiction, yes, but not much more than her position on the board – where she helps develop the public school curriculum – considering her side work developing a curriculum for “church study groups, home schools and private school classrooms” that her own children have only attended home school and private school.

Is it too much to ask that officials elected or nominated to serve a specific sector (such as education, FEMA, energy, international relations…) have some direct experience in that sector? Even if you believe in changing a system as it exists, you can’t (well, shouldn’t) just make an immediate and unmitigated 180 turn away from established policy. You probably don’t want to turn your car around on the highway without slowing down and exiting. You probably don’t want to put a communist in charge of trade (despite some of Obama’s frothier detractors’ certainty that very thing will happen). You probably don’t want a vegan as your butcher, a Mormon in your porn, or a misanthrope as your spokesperson.

Look for someone who has at least some vested stake in the work ahead. Even if they aren’t a member of your political wing. The party operatives might do more harm than good. Sometimes intentionally.

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What Is Fair Tax?

2008.November.9

If there was any battle that was doomed from the start in 2008, it was Mike Gravel‘s bid for the presidency. He stole attention in the Democratic debates by raising questions that Democrats aren’t supposed to ask, but showed less than 1% in every poll and primary that bothered to include him. Then he said that was just a springboard for his big goal: the nomination of the Libertarian Party, where Gravel came in fourth in a field of eight. The Libs ended up with Republican Bob Barr; apparently even Libertarians have to side with name recognition once in a while.

I don’t know enough about Gravel to say whether he would have been a good candidate, but he definitely had some interesting ideas. How many Libertarians do you know who want single-payer healthcare? One that has gotten my attention is FairTax, an initiative that would eliminate the IRS and address funding needs with a simple sales tax on new goods and services. It is largely supported by Republicans, but Gravel saw it as an important piece of his larger interest in direct democracy – returning government to the people.

Fair Tax also rebutts the shared Democrat and Republican mythos: Democrats tax more! Repulicans spend less! There’s this notion that if you might ever need government assistance for anything, you should support Dems because they’ll pay for it, but if you ever wanted to be rich (and who hasn’t at some point?), you should support Republicans because they’ll let you keep more of it. Americans for Fair Taxation mention the contradiction on their website: “Indeed, the tax code is manipulated by both parties in Congress alike with reckless abandon to punish enemies and reward supporters…”

The Fair Tax would tie taxation directly to consumption, holding more of us accountable to our own spending habits and making sure that wealthy Americans pay their share (but are not saddled with more). Visitors to our country would also pay the consumption tax, so one’s visitation or immigration status would no longer exempt them from paying taxes.

There are drawbacks, mostly tied to any transition from the existing system. There would appear to be a price hike of 30%, since proponents insist that the sales tax should be included in all quoted prices, but the bigger concern would be the entire segment of industry that would be completely eliminated. Accounting as we know it would be decimated, and an entire skill set that applies to every single sector would become obsolete. No small issues, these.

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What Happened in California?

2008.November.7

In the midst of celebration of our next president, a lot of folks feel like they got a mixed bag because California voters passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state. The opposition to Prop 8 is refusing to concede and, with several lawsuits pending, there is a possibility the issue is not dead, but many supporters (in California, across the U.S., and even across the Atlantic) are stunned by the outcome. I’m sure even a few opponents were surprised, given the reputation California has for being a liberal bastion,  but it’s never that simple.

Ironically, my best guess is that Tuesday’s biggest victory is tied to Tuesday’s biggest defeat. The biggest reason Prop 8 succeeded was…

the victory of Barack Obama.

And while I hate to say the answer lies in demographics… the answer lies in demographics.

A lot of liberal voters (and I want to distinguish Democratic voters here from the Democratic Party, who I think should have been less surprised and to my knowledge were not directly involved in the ballot initiative) overlook the differences within their own party, especially during an upswing like 2006 and 2008. If Dems are going to win big, they think, surely the policies they like are going to pass as well. If a Democrat is elected president by a significant margin (and Obama won California with 59% of the vote), surely all of the ballot initiatives will go their way also!

But ballot initiatives aren’t part of straight-ticket voting, and they are an opportunity for wedge issues to be culled and highlight the differences between members of a party. That voters in red-turned-blue Colorado and red-as-ever South Dakota turned down initiatives targeting abortion reminds us that wedge issues wield a double-edged sword. Anyway, I’m rambling again. My point is that Democrats take some of their own for granted.

Obama triggered record voter turnout, with many lapsed voters registering for the first time specifically to vote for (or occasionally against) him. Among the block of new voters (and of dutiful ballot-casters as well), there was a huge turnout of voters who are Black and Latino, and they strongly favored of Obama. But those communities (which the Dems so often claim to be looking out for), are actually rather socially conservative, especially among older voters, who are most likely to vote. On this very issue, huge wars of words have occurred under the radar of most media between surviving Civil Rights leaders as to whether Gay Rights were the new civil rights or an abomination to the Civil Rights Movement’s church-value foundation. That question is not realistically answerable. “It is imperative to discuss rights issues without comparing the suffering of one group against that of others.”

So while pundits pontificate on the emerging split in the Republican Party, don’t forget that the Dems have been there before, and will one day be there again.

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I’m Your Biggest Fan – Don’t Fuck this Up!

2008.October.23

One of the themes I hope to develop with this blog is holding one’s own heroes accountable. Most voters will expect immediate and swift change after a new president is inaugurated, and they will expect it to happen with little-to-no attention on their part.

But that’s now how democracy works.

I want Obama to win, and I think he will. But I don’t want the millions of fervent supporters who got him into the White House to beam at him and slap each other on the back for a job well done. Our responsibilities as citizens do not end with the election of our candidate.

Obama won many of us over by saying the right things. Once he’s in office, we must make sure that he follows up by doing the right things.

The third debate would be a good example of a moment when we should expect more.

“I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.” [except that this was in response to a question about negative campaigning; Obama used the issue itself to avoid the question]

“The notion, though, that because we’re not doing town hall meetings that justifies some of the ads that have been going up, not just from your own campaign directly, John, but 527s and other organizations that make some pretty tough accusations, well, I don’t mind being attacked for the next three weeks.” [The fact is, Obama has renegged on a couple of promises to McCain once they became politically inconvenient, and I haven't quite forgiven him for one in particular.]

Where was that classic “disagree without being disagreeable” line Obama has been saying for months, maybe years?

“… what is important is making sure that we disagree without being disagreeable. And it means that we can have tough, vigorous debates around issues. What we can’t do, I think, is try to characterize each other as bad people. And that has been a culture in Washington that has been taking place for too long.” [At last! Only 10 minutes into a 15-minute topic...]

That debate was painful for me. If it hadn’t been for further slips by McCain only minutes later, I might have conceded this debate to McCain. I was quite sure that both had lost it, and was surprised to hear the positive reactions Obama received. I guess we should be grateful that Obama’s worst performance was still better than McCain’s best, but that’s the same kind of pervasive us-and-them mentality that gets our politics so messy in the first place. Most of the time, as long as voters feel like their candidate is saying what they want to hear, they think that person is winning. Few allow for the possibility that someone could be lousy at debate, but a good candidate, or vice versa.

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