Thursday, March 06, 2008

What is a Political Movement?

In college, one of the more interesting classes I took was a political science seminar on civil rights and how movements advanced. As my final paper for the class, I wrote a 20 page thesis on the netroots and how it's the new frontier in expanding civil rights. In my paper, I talked about how the internet and technology helped fend off marriage equality foes in Massachusetts and how progressive politicians, who are now advocating for and advancing civil rights, have been elected across the country in no small part to netroots activism. Yet, recent events have made me think my paper could be unfinished: Some people think the netroots is an ever-expanding movement that will continue to grow and grow until we knock down the proverbial doors. However, recent trends suggest - at least in Ryan's Take - that perhaps the opposite is true: the netroots is at best a sleeping giant and at worst not sleeping at all, insofar as being a movement that will be an effective force for change.

It's an unfortunate side effect of being human that part of what interests us isn't exactly something that fosters progress at the aggregate level. We, as a species, are often more interested in the petty, small-minded stuff than the things that could actually impact all of our lives for the better. After all, we can't always be about progress and change, sometimes we have to be about baseball and hot chicks. Of course, that generally isn't a problem, except of course when the differences between baseball and politics begin to blur.

Is the end of the progressive/netroots movement in sight, at least as a force for change? Have we lost track of what's important? Were we just yesterday's big news and now just a part of the establishment? Are our 15 minutes up? All of these questions are important and valid criticisms, and things we must consider if we're to make the netroots into something that can be a part of the bigger picture.

The netroots, of course, started as a movement with lofty, noble goals - including the attempt to stand on higher ground than typical political discourse across the country. That isn't to say we weren't willing to get dirty - in fact, it's quite the opposite. The important part, though, is that our grass stains, bumps and bruises were supposed to be representative of success, or even a hard-fought failure, not becoming another branch of the status quo. And isn't that what the netroots has really become - the main stream on political steroids? The movement sought to be a new media that gave people alternatives to the failing status quo, but if anyone either turns on CNN or clicks a link to Dailykos, they're just as likely to see a Hillary hatchet job and a poll that doesn't really tell us anything. Where's the progress? Where's the effective and potent political force for change?

The pervasion of the horse race issues that so often kill candidacies and solutions to our common problems before they even have a chance, has festered for so long that it's spewing right onto the very homes of our progressive block - websites and institutions that progressives need to be successful if there's any chance for winning the ultimate battle - the battle of ideas - against our Republican and DINO foes. Who's winning and by what margin is of course interesting, and there's some place for that, but it can only be a small piece of the puzzle: the piece that tells us where our might must go. We need to solve that puzzle and finish this true whopper of a project that will make my 20 page paper seem like a few short phrases.

We, as a movement, need to finish my paper by creating a new movement that can truly foster change. Every day we wait and every day we allow ourselves to be distracted represents one day that we can never get back. Every day we can't get back represents thousands of people - people who are being suppressed, disenfranchised, left for sick and without help, and it represents days in which our society has ignored our melting icecaps and growing deficits. Can we afford to wait any longer?

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