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January 19, 2009

Filed under: politics»activism

Because Injustice Is Here

"We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience."

     --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his letter from a Birmingham jail

They called his actions unwise, and untimely. They referred to the marches as "extreme measures." They asked him to observe the principles of law and order. Most of all, they called him an outsider, as if to question why he had come in the first place. And he replied, "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here."

To this day, I sometimes meet people who ask why he couldn't simply shut up and go through the proper channels, as if the problem was just a clerical error that needed to be addressed. It astonishes me. King answered those questions more than forty years ago, and yet there are people still asking. We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

As always for Dr. King, the letter itself is a lovely, powerful piece of writing. If you're lucky enough to have a day off in celebration today, consider taking a few minutes to read through it one more time.

March 19, 2008

Filed under: politics»activism

The Pros

Since my boss knows that I used to work for the Bank, and that I still freelance for them sometimes, she asked whether I missed days like this, when the World Bank is listed as a protest target.

Not really, to be honest. During my time we never really got any good protesters. I've always regretted this. I wanted to go out wearing my Bank ID badge and join the protest, yelling at my employer. I suspect that most staff might have enjoyed the same impulse every now and then. But the groups that I usually saw were not serious--not like the masses that turn out for the big anti-war or immigration marches. I suspect that even today, the Bank won't get real attention. That'll be reserved for higher-profile targets, like the IRS and beltway bandits, or the main marches on the Mall.

My boss drew attention to this event from DCist's coverage:

"March of the Dead": Dozens of activists will roam the city dressed in black representing those killed in the Iraq war. Minimal disruptions are likely.
"Dozens?" That's not much of a representation. If you're going to do this, do it right: get yourself ~4,000 activists in uniform black clothes and some kind of mask. Otherwise, it kind of misses the point, doesn't it?

February 15, 2007

Filed under: politics»activism

Authoritarianism: A Field Guide

Bob Altemeyer, the scholar whose work was heavily referenced in John Dean's Conservatives without Conscience, has put his book The Authoritarians online in .PDF format here. I found Dean's book to be a little troubling in its reliance on Altemeyer's work, while at the same time I found his description of authoritarianism to be convincing and thought-provoking. It's nice now to be able to go to the source, as it were.

January 10, 2007

Filed under: politics»activism

Tribal Wisdom

In a post about the so-called angry left, Digby linked to the worst book a political consultant will ever write, Applebee's America. Although the website is unclear on whether the book will come with poorly-crafted imitations of the TGI Fridays menu, it does have a quiz that's not going to sell any copies. How inaccurate is it? It says I'm a Republican.

But how could it fail to capture political genius with questions like these?

At a picnic with friends, you open a cooler full of soft drinks and reach for the:

* Dr. Pepper
* Sprite or Pepsi

"Well, I would have had the Dr. Pepper, but that's the official drink of those pinko liberals!"

You've won the jackpot on a game show and have a choice between two kinds of vehicles. You select the:

* Audi
* Saab this one of those "lesser of two evils" dilemmas?

You're headed out to buy some groceries. You are most likely to visit:

* A superstore like Wal-Mart or large supermarket such as Kroger
* Whole Foods or similar organic grocer

Ah yes, large supermarkets pitted against organic grocers. We are back on firmer ground now.

You're at a cocktail party, and the only choices are gin, bourbon, scotch and vodka. Which liquor do you choose?

* Bourbon or Scotch
* Gin or vodka

This is the first of two alcohol-related questions. Maybe the authors think you have to be drunk to participate in American politics. They might be right.

If we opened your refrigerator, it is more likely that we would find which brand of bottled water:

* Ozarka or local brand
* Evian or Dannon

I was torn on this one, actually. My neo-hippie impulses wanted to support local water merchants, while my East Coast elitism found Evian irresistable.

You're at happy hour and there is a special on domestic beer. Which do you choose?

* Coors
* Bud

You know, I don't even drink, and even I know that those are both crappy choices.

Which special event would you be more inclined to attend?

* Monster Truck Show
* Pro Wrestling Match, seriously. I can't even answer that. In the spirit of bipartisanship, I'll write in option C, "An opera about homosexuals."

If we checked your Internet history, it would more likely show that you had visited:

* An auction site, like eBay
* A dating site, like

Of course! Because only thrifty conservatives buy used crap online, while liberals use dating sites to pursue their many sex partners and procure abortions!

I suppose that if books about the differences between Americans are selling, you could do worse than to replace the "red state/blue state" dichotomy with something a bit less (what's the word? ah, yes) false. I'm partial to the urban/rural divide myself, but this "tribes" thing isn't bad. Or at least it would be, if they weren't just new names for Republicans and Democrats. Because I didn't really need a book to figure that one out.

October 20, 2006

Filed under: politics»activism

And Ponies for Everyone

Chris P, an old friend in a new suit, asked in comments what I thought of Robert Greene's strategy for electoral success in the upcoming election. But really, why go half measures? Why only comment on the grand, pretentious strategizing of others, when I could offer my own grand, pretentious strategy?

So here goes: with the upcoming congressional election admittedly looking like even hysterical gay-bashing can't rescue a pedophile-protecting Republican majority, there's still a chance that Democrats will maintain their current sad-sack status. My solution is as follows:

Move farther to the left.

Seriously. And hear me out on this, because I can already feel the comments of "we're too far left already" even before it's posted. Obviously, I would want the Democratic party to become more liberal even in a perfect world, because I'm a radical myself. But frankly, I think the reason that most people believe that Democrats are at an extreme is because they've been told that's the case. The Republican strategists have made a point of painting us as commies and godless babykillers anyway. I don't see why we shouldn't get as much out of it as possible.

Besides, despite the fact that they call us extremists, the Democratic party line is really pretty tame. If we're extremists, then where's my universal health care? Where's my government regulation of private industry? My pro-environment energy policy? My aggressive withdrawal from Iraq? If we're going to be castigated simply for being liberals, then let's not screw around. Besides, most of America supports a lot of these proposals, if someone would just try to advocate them without undue knee-knocking and quivering.

When you hear supposed "independents" like Lewis Black joke about politics, a common line is "Remember when we had an opposition party?" That's the second advantage of really taking up a real liberal agenda: it gives us an actual spine. Forget the idea that extremism is driving people away: Republicans have run on increasingly extreme political positions for the last 12 years. The answer to that extremism is not to meet it halfway--how do you meet someone halfway on torture or gay marriage anyway? We're only going to brutally sacrifice our values if we flip heads? Give me a break. Show Americans that Democrats actually stand for something, and the independents will whine and complain--but eventually, they're going to vote for the people they were going to elect anyway, and the base will be reenergized. Again, we've seen this work on the other side.

Speaking of the other side, there's the argument that Democrats should compromise to lure people away. Rabinowitz puts paid to that argument, and I tend to agree: you're not going to pull people away from the Republican party by becoming Diet Republicans, because they've already got a party filling that role. Why would they vote for Diet R when the original formula is still there, and still so fanatically delicious?

Not to mention the part of the Republican base that liberals continually imagine they could seduce: the Christian Right. I love this idea in a sick way, because it presumes rationality. But the Christian Right is not rational--indeed, by choosing a fundamentalist, anti-science faith, they are explicitly irrational and proud of it. They will also never vote for a Democrat, because they're convinced that Jesus wasn't about the poor as much as he was about keeping women pregnant and killing fags. We can't win them, and we can't compromise with them. All we can do is fight them.

This is a country that's split and polarized, and I'm not going to argue that. Eventually, it does need to be dragged back together. But I don't want our goal to be unity under a racist, homophobic, Christian compromise. We might get there eventually, but until that day is unavoidable I don't see any advantages to caving. I see a lot of advantages to a radical agenda and then (possibly) meeting in the middle from there.

Future - Present - Past