Tag Archives: Activism

Seeing politics literally vs seriously

I recall some debate about whether to take Trump literally or seriously, particularly early in his presidency. I think this concept got kicked around enough that it was even the subject of mockery on Twitter at one point.

Lately I feel like my evolving attitude toward politics, generally, might be described as taking it seriously but not literally.

The terminology isn’t ideally precise. By “seriously” I mean that I’m certain that policy matters, and so therefore does political activity which influences it. By “literally,” I mean taking politics at face value, or on its own terms, of which I have recently become much more skeptical.

I think most people are in practice generally the opposite: they take politics literally but not seriously. The average person pays little heed to politics, but when they do, I think they readily swallow most of the concepts offered to them with minimal questioning. The average activist usually pays attention, but still takes a lot of “how things are done” for granted.

I pay attention, but doing so has of late made it harder and harder to take politicians and political narratives entirely on their own terms. I still think that policy matters, and that politics influences policy, but that process only loosely resembles official narratives about what the rituals mean. There’s a lot of pushing on a rope. There’s a lot of noise.

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Reality and self amid the maelstrom

Thinking lately about what’s real and what’s important—neither of which overlaps completely with the other—and how to hold onto them amid all the dysfunction, real dangers and misleading indicators.

I have been writing plenty about the false and misleading, this year. Every day seems to be a downpour of dishonesty, delusion, wrong directions and la la land pretending. I can see this, and while it’s a struggle to go against the grain when hardly anyone else seems like they’re going to, I think I can make it that far.

But where am I going to, and where can I go to; what revised expectations of real and important should replace the old?

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Vaccines and HyperNormalisation

Personally, things are going okay at this moment. On Wednesday I got the second half of my two-part “$2,000 check,” and the first half of my two-part COVID-19 vaccination. I’m doing some work for clients. Cleaning up around the apartment.

I can’t deny a feeling of emergence, especially because of a personal feeling of emerging from something like a five-year fugue state. I have written a number of times about a similar feeling, after recent elections, as though I had somehow been absent from my own life during extended preoccupation with campaigns, then one day came back to find months had gone by. This feels something like that except for years instead of months.

The end of the 2020 election and its long overtime, plus winter, plus social distancing, plus perhaps the slow start to 2021 campaigns, kind of put me in a place to slow down and reflect for more than in years. But browsing some blog posts from 2015 (like this or this) really made me realize that in terms of thinking about my life, the place I’m in lately is a lot like one I reached five or six years ago. Then activism and related activities began to mushroom, pushing me out of that place for five years. For all the ways that transformed my life, and probably my self, it is now like I’m back confronting very similar deep questions.

Also shit is still just on fire around me which does complicate things.

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#TheResistance 2016-21

For my personal purposes, a public protest on Nov. 18, 2016 is probably the clearest beginning of “The Resistance,” out of various arbitrary options. It was a strange evening, within which the strangest moment was the inclusion among more expected chants of the phrase “I am my brother’s keeper.”

That has stuck in the back of my mind, ever since, and I’ll come back to it.

As the Trump nightmare bubble ends in anticlimactic deflation, time has come to look back on the whole four-years-and-change of The Resistance, for the movement and for myself.

Of The Resistance writ large, it seems more than anything else like a big missed opportunity.

Here was a momentary disruption of the steady slippage toward dystopian oligarchy. Here was a wake-up call, not only sounded but heard. Millions got off their butts in more than 500 cities for the first Women’s March. People were ready to take action. What followed?

What followed was mostly a vast demonstration that in a crisis, institutions do the same things as usual, just more—and that this observation of Robert Cringely applies to large informal blobs as well as to discrete formal institutions.

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Stages of political activism

Throughout “#TheResistance” I have perceived many similarities between it and my own initiation into political activism at a local level, commenced about two years before a nationwide counterpart.

It seems worth examining the possibility of some broad patterns.

A Crisis moment probably launches many political activist careers, unfortunately. Most people, from what I can tell, seem in fact to spend their entire lives largely disconnected from politics and government, not perceiving any compelling reason to get involved. But sometimes, something happens to alarm some minority of a community with the realization that “this can not be right!” An activist is conceived.

The reliance on crisis to spur political activism is depressing, given how much it tends to mean that one only begins playing after falling way behind. One may pick up on it immediately, or only a bit later, but eventually one realizes that during one’s years of political somnolence, bad people consolidated a lot of formal power and laid plans which are probably quite advanced by the time one tries to stop them.

I suppose that the birth of an activist is when some of these people find one another and begin to organize for some form of political activity.

Protest is usually the first stop for organized opposition. In the short term there is little else for most people to do in the kind of crisis situation described above. So: signs, banners, public demonstrations, chants; voicing objections at public meetings, as well as on every other open channel; trying to engage more of the public with leaflets, letters to the editor, social media, etc. Petitions of one sort or another often circulate in this stage, often to little effect.

As a whole, vigorous protest does seem to worry people in power, at least when it’s new. Some times an idea is even withdrawn, more or less completely, in response to protest. More often protest just slows things down, at most.

Meanwhile, organizing usually proceeds along familiar lines. Activists  formalize their pop-up association to some extent, with a name, meetings, leadership, some sort of record-keeping, e-mails and other communication.

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Fifth-graders ask for, demonstrate, leadership

Tonight I heard three students step in front of a city council meeting to talk about school shootings, their own activism, and recommended policy responses.

Fifth-grade students.

I heard a child of I suppose 10 or 11 say “Since I’ve been in kindergarten I’ve been hearing about the slaughter of children in our schools.”

“We care,” one said. “We care that we are safe.” This statement that no one should need explained nonetheless, obviously, feeling necessary for them to point out because “we have a problem and our elected officials are afraid to admit it.”

These were serious, hardened ambassadors.

They recounted three months of effort to organize a walk-out protest at their school, including two attempts that failed. These fifth-grade students were not deterred by that.

Nor were they present simply to call for grown-ups to do something, to show leadership. They seemed entirely cognizant of the well established failure of this to happen, and focused not even so much upon changing the world as on basic survival.

They wanted bulletproof entrances, and they wanted full participation in active-shooter drills, not just for their teachers but for themselves.

Fifth-graders.

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Activism and Organizing

People ask me if I’m working on another book. I suppose that this is natural enough, after I have written three within barely five years.

It’s nice also, certainly, that these seem to be inquiries of real interest, which presumably means that people enjoyed one or more of my books.

At the moment, though, I’m afraid that Book Four isn’t even on my long-version to-do list.

Our society being, in my estimate, in the midst of an ongoing emergency, I’m focusing a lot of my time and energy on activism and organizing. After last fall’s election, many people said “organize!” After the Women’s March, people said “take the next step and organize.” Well, I’m working on that.

I’m co-chairing communications for Lakewood’s Democrats, performing  various advisory and communications roles for a city council campaign, and playing smaller roles in a handful of other groups and campaigns. Plus trying to do my bit to support local citizen journalism. Ongoing phone calls, letter-writing, demonstrations and other activities fill in most of whatever gaps might be left.

I feel like I can manage this, but it’s definitely a life rather than some kind of sideline at this point. I don’t have any specific ideas for a next book pulling at me anyway, so far, but I have no idea when I might pursue one should it occur to me.

So, thanks everyone who asks.