To Jerome: On Obama and the Movement
by Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, Sat Jun 23, 2007 at 07:08:07 PM EDT
No, it's the fake self-proclaimed "movement" that exhausts me of Obama. I say fake, not because "movement for change" and "building a movement" are such vacuous slogans, but because the continual touting of having such a movement in the Obama campaign email slog is a sure-as-heck signal that there really isn' a substantive movement behind the numbers.
There was a response diary and thread posted, but it's clear to me that this is a conversation we need to keep having. Specifically, I want to address the dismissing of Obama's supporters as not "part of the movement," or the assertion that he is certainly not "a movement candidate."
When I think about "the movement" that Jerome refers to in his post, the defining characteristic for me is involvement in grass-roots politics for progressive change. Those of us who came of political age during the Dean campaign loved that experience because, for the first time, we wanted to be more involved directly in politics than we had. We feel we are now part of the movement. The same was true for the folks who got engaged through Jesse Jackson in the '80s.
A movement, on its most basic level, it is about people who are bound together in a desire for change to the status quo.
There were some comments on both of the threads at MyDD and Kos led mostly by Paul Rosenberg, that addressed the issue of defining a movement. Paul argued that movements are about taking a strong stand on issues, citing the Civil Rights, Abolition and Women's movements as examples.
But here's the thing. All of the movements Paul mentioned also involved large numbers of people deciding that the status quo wasn't going to happen any more. And in fact the large numbers of people were critical to the success of those movements.
A movement candidate in 2008 is one who is both saying the status quo isn't going to happen anymore, and has the largest number of people involved. Right now, it's Barack Obama.
As members of the current progressive movement, our job is to organize to make it bigger. Because the bigger we are, the better the chances are of us having real impact, especially in this far-right-dominated political climate we are fighting against. In organizing, the first step to asking things of people is to get them from the point of not caring to the point of being invested.
When 20,000 people come to a rally, that's 20,000 people who are willing to do something -- albeit small -- for politics. When they get there -- to those of you who insist on likening Obama to a music star -- they are not listening to Barack Obama sing '70s soul covers. They are listening to his ideas about politics. It's helping to change their own thinking about politics in way that makes them want to get more involved, and they like it. So much so that they come back to rallies, they bring their friends, they go online and create groups and have meetings and organize in their community.
And you want to know what's politically and strategically significant, for those of us who care about long-term movement-building, about the people who are drawn to Obama?
They are young: The Millennial Generation is as big as the Baby Boomers. They are decidedly more progressive than older generations, and the most diverse. They are the future of this movement.
They are diverse: America is growing more and more diverse, and this part of the electorate is the progressive voting base. We cannot win, in the short-term or the long, without engaging these populations in movement politics. In 2006, Latinos voted Democratic by 69%, and the immigration debate will only increase their Democratic affiliation. African Americans vote Democratic very reliably, at 89%. Asian Americans are an emerging part of the electorate that we need to pay attention to, and Obama does have appeal in that community right now.
Many commenters in these recent discussions are saying things like, you can't be a movement candidate unless you talk directly about netroots issues. Or that it's all about about Obama's personality, and these people who are out there working in politics, many for the first time ever, are simply "fans" or worse, "Coke consumers."
A lot of the arguments from bloggers around staying out of the Obama phenomenon come back to, "he's not really progressive." But let's be real here, and forget for a second trying to parse the word "progressive." Barack Obama is a Democrat who has roots in working on racial justice and social justice and whose broad-brush message is about fundamental change. Oh and bonus, he's an incredible speaker who can literally light a fire in a room. If people want to get involved in politics to support that, how can that possibly be a bad thing? And if something's not bad, I don't understand how anyone could argue those people are or should be separate from any progressive movement-building that is going on. In this context, I don't see how anyone can argue that Obama is not a movement candidate, whether they agree with his campaign's approach or not.
But it's this line of reasoning that kills me the most, from one commenter:
"I just hope that those who are getting involved in politics because of him will grow more mature without growing stale, cynical and calculating... like Obama's advisors seem to be."
You don't have to "just hope" that these people become long-term movement activists. You can actually go out and support them and work alongside them, and make sure that they do.
That's what I'm doing. And I can tell you, it sure feels like building the movement from where I sit.