We Are the Infrastructure
by Matt Stoller, Wed Oct 11, 2006 at 08:05:27 AM EDT
Yesterday I spent pretty much all day traveling to Connecticut, which meant that it was kind of tough to blog until the late afternoon. The leaves are changing up here, and it's gorgeous and soothing. On all day train days, I'm glad to see that my blogging is totally unnecessary, because it would only distract from some really important work by Chris Bowers about movement building. You need to bookmark these three pieces:
I've been meaning to circle back to this piece in The Nation by Ari Berman on the Democracy Alliance, the group of wealthy donors who have put themselves into a sort of club that is designed to give long-term financial stability to the movement to fight the right. It's a piece very much worth reading, because it shows just how much work we have to do. DA has serious structural problems, as Ari points out. My sense is that the group is struggling with a strategic paradox; there are inside actors that want to copy the right rather than embracing progressive values, and there are inside actors that want to do the opposite. This latent debate is actually taking place all over the progressive movement and within the Democratic Party, and as usual, each side is claiming history as their guide.
There's a myth that the emergence of the conservative movement came because of a small group of scheming billionaires who funded think tanks and publications that created policy and a culture of political activism on the right. One of my pet peeves is how much the left has internalized this myth, and you can see this in discussions of Pete Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife, or Karl Rove. It's particularly annoying when it comes to Karl Rove, who is a skilled and amoral political operator, but not one who's supernaturally good. Rove learned his turnout game from labor, after all. And think tanks on the right can't hold a candle to academia.
This myth is pernicious because it encourages us to think about infrastructure in terms of a top-down group of think tanks and publications, all of which have official seals of approval from Clinton-era operatives. It encourages us to copy the right. The problem is, we are not the right. They built their infrastructure around a core set of values, and they did it with people who had conviction and passion for those values. The big funders came later, as did the alliance and ultimate subjugation and corruption of the business lobby. The small dollar donor base of the right-wing was the first large scale funding for political activism on the right, filling in for Goldwater's campaign when traditional squishy Eastern Republicans wouldn't.
So it is with us. Whereas they built their model upon top-down atomized media outlets meant for a suburban America, our model is built on community media for a participatory media. Whereas they outsourced the formation of policy from government to think tanks, we are outsourcing policy from think tanks to the public at large. Whereas they are authoritarian and allow only the authorized to speak, we are pluralists and allow everyone to speak. They have a model for governance that emphasizes authoritarian devotion to a charismatic leader, we have a model for governance that emphasizes individual achievement using community-developped tools. They choose leadership through corrupt insider dealings, we choose leadership through open debate and accomplishment.
Our infrastructure reflects our values, their infrastructure reflects theirs. Actually, I wish we could start using some other word rather than 'infrastructure', because that's such a bloodless way to describe interlocking networks of passionate progressives. Every time you act, every time you donate, every time you volunteer or register a voter, you are part of the new progressive movement. That's how it works.