More On Vast Left Wing Conspiracy Process Stories
by Chris Bowers, Mon Jul 17, 2006 at 10:49:52 AM EDT
A year after its founding, Democracy Alliance has followed up on its pledge to become a major power in the liberal movement. It has lavished millions on groups that have been willing to submit to its extensive screening process and its demands for secrecy.(...)
Judy Wade, managing director of the alliance, said fewer than 10 percent of its initial donors have left, a figure she called lower than would be expected for a new venture. And she said the group's funding priorities are a work in progress, as organizers try to determine what will have the most influence in revitalizing what she called the "center-left" movement.
"Everything we invest in should have not just short-term impact but long-term impact and sustainability," she said. The group requires nondisclosure agreements because many donors prefer anonymity, Wade added. Some donors expressed concern about being attacked on the Web or elsewhere for their political stance; others did not want to be targeted by fundraisers.
"Like a lot of elite groups, we fly beneath the radar," said Guy Saperstein, an Oakland lawyer and alliance donor. But "we are not so stupid though," he said, to think "we can deny our existence."
This article is based on interviews with more than two dozen Democrats who are members of the alliance, recipients of their money or familiar with the group's operations. None would speak on the record about financial details, but all such details were confirmed by multiple sources.
Democracy Alliance works essentially as a cooperative for donors, allowing them to coordinate their giving so that it has more influence. The article does not really report anything all that interesting about the group. It contains two typical aspects of any process story about Democrats: that we are supposedly in turmoil / disarray and that we are too left-wing. It says that some people are irritated about who has gotten he funding and who hasn't, but when we are talking about this amount of money, is that surprising in the least? There would simply be no way to distributed money in this amount without some people being unhappy with how it was distributed.
The article also lists a few organizations that have received funding, and mentions that some people are concerned that the complete list of members of the Alliance is not public. Considering that some people in the new progressive movement think that it is wrong for me to join an email listserv without notifying the entire planet that I have done so, and that it is further wrong for me to not make the contents of every email I have ever received public, obviously people are going to want to know who the members of the Democracy Alliance are. Progressive demand a transparent and accountable government, although sometimes there are people who fail to see the point where transparency becomes both an invasion of privacy and an impediment to political organizing. (For example, I'd really like to see how well union organizing campaigns would go if organizers told management exactly what they were going to do, and if all conversations held by those involved in the campaign were emailed directly the CEO of the company).
Behind all of these process stories, the truth is that since the 2002 elections the progressive political ecosystem in America has undergone a dramatic transformation. Several new power centers have formed, such as the netroots, The Democracy Alliance, and Change To Win. These new power centers have new ideas on how progressive should do battle with the conservative movement, and new institutions, new leaders, and new communities have been formed in their wake. No matter their differences, all of the major new players share a common belief: that the Democratic and progressive response to the conservative movement has been inadequate since at least 1978. From 1978-2002, the progressive and Democratic establishment continued to act as though they would govern forever, that nothing had to change, and that the conservative movement either did not exist, or was not a major problem to worry about. The major Democratic and "progressive" response over the last two decades has been primarily one of self-destructive compromise in the mold of "third way" politics that only hasten the rise of the conservative movement to power. Since late 2002, a different style of retaliation has begun, and it has taken on forms such as the netroots, The Democracy Alliance, and Change to Win.
I am not saying that it isn't worth writing about, because I believe it most definitely is. What I am saying is that most of these process stories miss the point of the emerging new progressive politics. Here are the points, as I see them:
- 1. We are not changing just for the hell of it. We are changing because our old ways led to nothing but defeat. If we don't change the progressive political ecosystem in America, the right-wing will only continue to rise in power. It is not going to happen on its own, and the right-wing is not going to stand still. There is no natural pendulum swing where things will just magically get better in due time (a belief that Simon Rosenberg accurately calls "the Harry Potter school of organizing). There is no spontaneous grassroots action decided upon in a realm of pure democracy. In the netroots, we are a people-powered movement, and we believe that our bottom-up nature gives us strength the right-wing can never match in the long term. However, as much as we try to be open, there will always be flaws, there will always be exclusions, and there will always be cliques. The important thing is to not become disheartened by these problems, and to recognize that they are an inevitable side-effect of the organizing process. We have to take the initiative in order to succeed, and sometimes we have to talk in private in order to be effective. If told the right-wing everything we were doing, there was now ay we could catch up to them, much less surpass them.
- 2. We are not simply replicating the conservative movement through mirror institutions. Instead, we are crating new institutions with fundamentally different operating principles than currently exist int eh conservative movement. This a good thing. Quite frankly, I think the Democracy Alliance is not only a counter to the right-wing think tank funding apparatus, but that it is both a more effective and a more progressive (it is a co-operative, for crying out loud!) means of funding a political movement than what exists on the right. I think it compares very well to totalitarian operations such as the K Street Project or the generally disorganized right-wing funding apparatus of the so-called Six Angels (or whatever term is used these days). This can also be seen in the progressive netroots. Our new power comes form institutions created whole-cloth, and has no accurate right-wing analogue. Further, despite whatever protests come about, the netroots remains populist, people-powered, and extremely bottom-up. You won't see that on the right.
- 3. We wont' fail because we are too "left-wing." For starters, I'm not really sure how left-wing many of the leaders of the movement actually are. I am pretty far left, but I speak for myself alone when it comes to that. Second, the country isn't really that ideological. While about half of the country is willing to identify as either conservative or liberal, if you really push people, it is entirely possible that less than 10% of the country is truly ideological (at least that is what my political scientist friends tell me). Most importantly, the entire "move to the center" response of third-way politics from 1985-2005 was a complete failure that actually validated the rise of the conservative movement (if we have to move to meet them, we are implicitly stating that the conservative movement is moving in the correct direction). If we are going to improve the progressive response to the conservative movement, we cannot simply replicate our past failures. This isn't about saying we were wrong, and trying to compromise with the right by meeting them halfway. This is about defeating the conservative movement altogether, and governing with an entirely different vision for an extended period of time.