Opportunities for Discourse

I had to take a class once.  "Basics of Effective Writing" was the name, or something close to that.  I remember very little of the class except the professor's penchant for huge, gaudy broaches that screamed "look at me!" with more authority than her lecture voice could muster.  One simple thing she discussed did work its way into my permanent memory though, and I still think of it every time I speak or write to a group or express an idea:

Before you begin, she said, answer for yourself three questions:

1.  Who am I writing to?
 2.  What do I plan to say?
 3.  What effect do I hope my words will have?

I have been watching and participating in national politics, to varying degrees, for nearly 15 years now, and until my discovery of online forums (beginning with Dailykos and MyDD of course) I had not experienced such inspiration and (forgive my sappiness) hope, and a realization of participation I had never been a part of before.  What I read amazed me in its diversity and it's thoroughness of topic.  Discourse and debate, within any party, group, movement, or club can be motivating, and almost always serves to better the direction and understanding of members, leaders, and activists alike, and the these two blogs embodied what I always felt was lacking: sincerity and a more level playing field for expression of ideas.

Today's GOP is a glowing example of what happens to a group who loses focus on honest debate and instead attacks any perceived challenge to conceived notions and ideology.  Obstructionist reactions have become commonplace to any conservative movement that may have once existed, like gangrene in a limb they must now sever to retain relevance or place. It is a lesson we all must take to heart.  We are all human.  And the word "progressive" does not make us immune to the same disease that has eaten the conservative movement.  Stagnation and status quo (now more than ever) are common enemies to all of us, but we have a weapon in our online opportunities for meaningful debate.

While these online communities cannot exist as truly "open forums" with no rules or guidelines of discussion (they, in fact, belong to, and are the result of personal work and dedication from creators and chosen contributors), the very idea of the progressive blogosphere gives us an opportunity to communicate with each other inside an active, ever evolving, and eclectic campaign that through the participation of hundreds of thousands has redefined political discourse and the very future of America.

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Ill Communication: Progressive Youth and the Netroots

At Open Left, Matt Stoller is picking a fight with the Young Democrats.  At issue is a letter sent by YDA to its membership, thanking the Democratic Congress for achieving progress on many issues of concern to young voters (as cataloged in a report by Speaker Pelosi).   Stoller's issue is that the letter was sent at the same time that the Democratic Senate was Sista-Soujaing MoveOn (and by proxy, the anti-war movement) for an ad it published leading up to testimony by General Petraeus.  

Stoller's beef is that this demonstrates a lack of coherent strategy on the part of YDA, and that their "letter to congress" represents an unhealthily sycophantic allegiance to the Democratic Party.  In a pretty over-the-top move, he's calling for their funding to get cut.  That's a huge overreaction and Stoller's argument is narrow in that it is limited to this one event and misses the fact that, while many YDA members are against the war, YDA as an organization has different goals and objectives that only partially overlap with those of MoveOn.

The Young Democrats main objective is not to carry water for MoveOn, but rather to engage young people in Democratic politics, keep those members excited and engaged, and to push the Democratic Party to pay attention to young people.  This has been unphill battle for YDA, and for many youth institutions.  It's hip and popular to talk about the power of Millennials and the civic engagement of young voters these days, but even a year ago most Democratic Party insiders were extremely skeptical as to the value and reliability of the youth vote.  Despite our contributions and gains in 2006, that is still the case in some areas where YDA chapters fight with the local parties.  

Earlier today, I spoke with Tony Cani, the Political Director for the Young Democrats about the issue.  

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YearlyKos: We're all having the same conversation

Over the last few days, I've had a chance to have some really interesting conversations with several different people about movement-building in three separate contexts: the progressive movement; the labor movement, and the liberal religious movement.  These are really smart people, and it's been an extraordinarily educational experience for that reason.

What is most interesting to me is the way that similar kinds of things keep popping up in each conversation.  Indeed, there are many problems shared by these different movements.  For example...

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Supporting liberal entrepreneurs

A couple of weeks ago, Blogpac announced a progressive entrepreneur contest; 5 proposals for projects that will build progressive infrastructures will be awarded grants of up to $5,000.  The contest deadline is Tuesday night, so if you haven't submitted your proposal yet, get to it!

The contest is an important first step in a larger effort to support liberal entrepreneurs.  From what I can tell, the contest has a long-term goal of building a class of liberal entrepreneurs, capable of building progressive infrastructure and creating good careers for progressives.  Unfortunately, this kind of thinking and planning is virtually unknown elsewhere in the progressive movement.

For a little while now, I have been arguing that liberal entrepreneurship is an important way to strengthen the progressive movement.  I'll be sharing some of my thoughts on this topic during a panel at YearlyKos.  Tonight, I'll focus on a variety of ways in which the progressive movement can support liberal entrepreneurship.  This post is a sampling of what I'll be talking about in Chicago; I hope to see many of you there, and to hear some of your thoughts in the comments!

As background, liberal entrepreneurship is the notion that the progressive movement can be strengthened by entrepreneurs seeking to make a profit while solving problems facing the movement - both internal problems which hamper our effectiveness (like lack of goood jobs for young people), and external cultural problems which make the larger political environment more hostile to us (like the rise of Fox News, or the deterioration of the labor movement.)  In late March, I wrote a bit about the kinds of problems facing the progressive movement (and hence, potential business opportunities for liberal entrepreneurs) in How liberal entrepreneurship can help solve the progressive money problem; in early April, I followed up with some thoughts about the kind of revenue streams which liberal entrepreneurs can use to make money in Revenue streams for liberal entrepreneurs.  (Actually, this post was supposed to be the third in that series, and was supposed to have appeared in mid-April or so.  It got delayed a bit.)

While liberal entrepreneurship has been phenomenally successful in the past few years - bringing us ActBlue, Drinking Liberally, and a pretty good chunk of the most highly-trafficked progressive blogs - the progressive movement does very little to support the practice of liberal entrepreneurship.  I think the movement can do more, and I don't think that cost will be a big problem.  Over the flip, I'll discuss a few ways in which the progressive movement can support liberal entrepreneurs: by helping them generate ideas, by providing start-up funds, and through mentorship and resources.

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Finding strategy for the progressive movement

Late last year, the Progressive Strategy Studies Project (PSSP) published a report called Finding Strategy: A Survey of Contemporary Contributions to Progressive Strategy (PDF).  The survey looks at the state of progressive strategic discourse, segments and evaluates a number of progressive strategies; it doesn't draw any conclusions about the relative merits of one strategy as opposed to the other, but it is still a very instructive look at the structure and status of discussion about progressive strategy.  Anyone who's interested in making the progressive movement as a whole more effective should give it a read.

Full disclosure: one of the authors, Wolfgang Brauner, is a personal friend.

I'm going to spend some time in this post looking at the report in greater detail; in the next few weeks, I hope to use it as a jumping-off point for more detailed discussion of progressive strategy in a variety of areas.

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