Ask Auntie Pinko
February 2, 2006
By Auntie Pinko
I am an activist currently working to build the progressive
movement in this country. I look at how Bush's poll numbers are
again rising - despite the failure of leadership following Katrina,
despite the obvious lies that led us into the mistake that is Iraq,
despite the scandals, despite the spying, despite all of it. I am
starting to wonder what the use is in trying to fix a system for
people who obviously don't care and/or don't understand. Is "America"
a myth? Is it fixable?
Thank you, on behalf of both myself and the young people I care
about, for your work to build a progressive movement in America.
Never, ever doubt that it is important. And never doubt that you
are having an effect! There is, indeed, a broad progressive movement
re-coalescing in America, a movement of immense significance for
What we tend to forget, I think, is that in real life things like
"movements" don't happen overnight, and their effects don't come
all at once. Indeed, sometimes some of the most important changes
result from actions that receive little, if any, public attention.
The Revolution is NEVER televised. In fact, if you see it on television,
it's not the Revolution. By the time it hits television, the Revolution
is already over, and a new Revolution is a-brewing.
It is too easy for Americans, who have been conditioned to expect
instant gratification and full media coverage, to forget that real
change doesn't happen in the newspapers or on television, it doesn't
happen in Presidential races, it doesn't happen on the Senate floor
or even in the Supreme Court. Real change happens around kitchen
tables, in little-noticed newsletters (or the modern equivalent,
personal blogs - and not the big, famous 'cultural phenomenon' kind)
on college campuses and in public library meeting rooms. It happens
in offices and shops, in living rooms and on front porches, and
the media is rarely, if ever, there to tell the story.
It takes decades for the effects of change to permeate a society
as vast and complex as America. It took nearly fifty years
for the last progressive revolution to come to fruition, and another
fifty years for the reactionary revolution to reach the point it
has reached now.
And just as the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and Head Start seemed
to be powerful signs that America was committed to progressive ideals,
but were actually the last acts of the old progressive order, I
believe we are seeing the same phenomenon now. We may be in for
another ten to fifteen years of deep, wrenching struggle, but there
are signs that the tide has indeed turned, and the era of regressive
reaction has begun its inevitable decline.
One encouraging sign: when Mr. Bush demanded Congress cede its
Constitutional power to declare war, the progressive movement mobilized
enormous protests that startled many of our elected representatives.
Yet the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate acceded to Mr.
Bush's demands and voted to relinquish their authority to him, and
29 of 50 Democrats agreed. Last week, in another massive effort,
progressives jammed the phone and fax lines to oppose the confirmation
of Judge Alito. And the result was very different-not only did all
but four Democrats vote against confirmation, but the Party leadership
itself embraced a public repudiation of the Mr. Bush's choice in
a highly visible filibuster attempt.
Yes, you can say "it doesn't matter, since we lost," but the point
is that when something important was at stake (the war in Iraq)
and the Democrats had the power to stop it, they didn't. Yet the
"assured" confirmation of a man committed to dismantling Constitutional
checks and balances was challenged by the leadership. And the rest
of the Party, with remarkable unity, felt free to express their
disapproval of Judge Alito even if many lacked the additional measure
of certainty to join in that challenge. It's a sign, however small
and insignificant, of a larger change happening under the surface.
Remember, John, that except for a small minority, human beings
- even those whose natural inclinations are progressive in nature
- regard change itself as unpleasant, threatening, something to
be avoided. The power of inertia is enormous, and we are struggling
against nearly fifty years of regressive effort and three decades
of regressive power's diligent work to establish and institutionalize
itself as "normality." It shouldn't be surprising how many people
are remaining silent and compliant in the face of the current Administration's
highly demonstrable incompetence and malfeasance.
Rather, we should take encouragement from the number of people
who are starting, ever so timidly, ever so reluctantly, to ask awkward
questions. We should be paying attention to the number of people
who are now openly acknowledging their discomfort with the status
quo, even if they're not ready to embrace change. If you're in the
revolution business to win over "the people," get out and go into
television! Get yourself a gig on "American Idol." Revolutionaries
never win over the people, the best they can manage is a reluctant
acquiescence to non-violent change, or a passive, ineffectual dislike
of violent change.
By the time the progressive revolution becomes "normality," ten,
fifteen - even twenty or twenty-five years down the road, the revolution
itself will be long over, the revolutionaries gone home or entrenched
in power as part of the status quo, and the change momentum will
have passed back to the regressives. Then we progressives will be
resisting change, just as we did in the 1970s and 1980s,
and most of the 1990s. A rather ironic position for us, and not
our most effective mode.
So take heart. Building the progressive movement is an effort
that is succeeding, even if you can't see it from the trenches.
Change that lasts doesn't happen overnight, and the fastest changes
are rarely the most effective or permanent ones. Don't expect "the
people" to love or trust change, no matter how bad the status quo
may be. Keep applying the steady, strong pressure and we will
rescue our environment from some of the worst risks, restore some
of the world's trust in our foreign policies, solve a few of our
most critical social policy dilemmas, and rebalance our economy
to preserve our children from financial collapse and unending debt.
Of course, we will then have to start defending those modest gains
and resisting the resurgence of regressive revolution, but sufficient
unto the day, as they say... And thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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