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Progressive Christians - Let's Get Organized

In 2005, the American left finds itself in disarray. The loss in the 2004 elections resulting in continued conservative dominance of the federal government seared the political souls of progressives Americans. The progressive movement once again finds itself adrift in a malaise of irrelevance within the halls of power and perhaps more importantly, amongst the average American citizen.

This irrelevance is not a result of any tactical error in an electoral or activist campaign. Its certainly not a result of our ability to express our views articulately or fight passionately for what we believe. Indeed, the progressive movement has fought hard against conducting an unjust war, reducing taxes for the rich while we cut needed programs for the poor, and the appointing of those activist conservative judges. The irrelevance is a direct result of an inability to articulate an overarching progressive vision and its accompanying ideology and specific policy recommendations. With continued insistence on simply providing a contrarian view to conservatives, progressives can only hope to continue with a clouded vision, and thereby a minority position in American politics.

I propose that the American Left need to get its house in order by doing the following:

  • Establish an Agenda - We need new ideas.  We know what we're against, but we have such difficulty articulating what we're for!  Let's starting thinking big again.  Let's believe that we can provide health insurance to everyone. Let's believe we can build better schools. There's so much opportunity to for good.   Let's get our best minds together and develop a positive agenda for change.
  • Organize the unorganized - So many people have dropped out politically.  Let's not give up on them.  Let's speak to them.  This is especially true among young people.  If disaffected young people like hip hop and video games, let's find a way to speak through those forms.  Also, let's not undervalue the power of leadership.  Strong leadership brings the disaffected back into the fold.  John Kennedy inspired a generation of young people to public service. All people hear from conservatives is how bad government is and then promptly govern extremely poorly (deficits, disaster response, corruption).  The government can not solve all problems but we should embrace a vision of the noble democracy where each citizen participates providing the true consent of the governed.  Technology can open up vehicles for greater participation and involvement.
  • Use media and technology better - Stop complaining about Fox News.  If we don't their mousetrap because its unfair or untruthful, then let's build our own mousetrap!  Progressives have adopted new technologies quicker and are using them more effectively (ex. Dean campaign).  We at CrossLeft are blogging and podcasting and hope to move into aggregating content from progressive Christians around the country.  We must continue to innovate and get out in front of trends in political technology.
  • Rebuild the notion of class - the economic elites in this country have completely undermined the notion of class on economic terms.  conservative decry academia and hollywood as being against the values and sensibilities of the average family.  The real issue is that disparity is ever growing between the rich and the poor.  The middle class is shrinking and many families are one layoff away from economic disaster.  (Read Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas?" for more on this)
  • Get real on race and racism - Clinton's national conversation went no where and did little to change the plight of folk in New Orleans or any other ghetto community in this country.  We need to have dialogue to deal with interpersonal prejudice, but we desperately need systemic solutions to the grinding poverty of the ghetto or the barrio or the reservation. 

These are just starting points and there's a lot of work to do.  Progressive Christians can allow their religion to inform new ideas, new contexts for discussion, and new organizing techniques.  Progressive Christians can also work with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Budhists, agnositics, atheists, and others embracing a truly multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith movement for progressive social change.

Posted by stephenrockwell on November 28, 2005 at 07:46 PM | Permalink

Comments

Forgive me friends.

I just found out about this blog and may not be able to attend. However for the discussion of Progressive Christianity, I would like to offer a Christmas Story that I wrote at Ground Zero in 1994.

Simply click for the mp3. (Approx 7 min)

May the Love that knows no Comprehension find refuge in your hearts and in your homes forever.

Happy Holidays,

David Teller

Posted by: Subway Serenade | Nov 28, 2005 8:00:39 PM

David,

Thanks for sharing the podcast story with us. I'll be sure to listen after the interactive blog here. Have a great holiday!

steve

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:04:10 PM

Thank you for posting Stephen. I need to go read the post before commenting.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 28, 2005 8:04:37 PM

David,

I just listened to your story and I thought it was excellent. The of war amongst countries can be a reality if we make it so.

Please feel free to share more here or on CrossLeft later.

take care,
steve

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:11:13 PM

Txs for this call to action, Steve. Have just arrived & skimmed so far- Like Jessica, need to go read the post before commenting.

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:11:48 PM

Question- Have you checked out the Backbone campaign? They're also very vocal about not being reactive but proactive. Not responding to something but rather envisioning how we will lead.

Come to think of it I don't think they've spoken to progressive Christianity at all... it might be an opportunity for those in the progressive Christian movement to connect with them.

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:19:48 PM

Kety,

I haven't spoken to the backbone campaign, but it sounds great, just based on the branding itself.

I do believe we need leaders that lead. Leaders shouldn't just follow poll and public opinion, but should also help shape public opinion. Say what you want to about Bush, but he states his position and doesn't care much about who agrees with him. They'll also lie to try convince you, but you have to acknowledge that conservatives don't govern by polls but rather by conviction.

We need that conviction on our side.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:24:10 PM

In so far as establishing an agenda- I agree w. you 100%.

That's precisely why we're looking to launch a think tank as a part of CrossLeft.org in the next few months!

As you know, I'm a little unconventional on this front. =-) Since I believe that the "best minds" will come from a bottom-up, town-down approach. In other words, we need the leadership of key intellectuals, but we also need the vision and the words of those in the grassroots to help us establish this agenda.

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:24:52 PM

Sorry, Got sidetracked by a local Dem fiasco. Really going to read the post now...

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 28, 2005 8:27:53 PM

Speaking of Grassroots, I posted about this blog on CrossLeft.org earlier today, hoping people would stop by & chat but I know that things are rather hectic today since we're just getting back into the swing of things after the holidays...

Just in case, I just now posted the substance of this blog to CrossLeft.org, and reminded everyone that you're here blogging- so to pls come on over & say "hi"

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:29:33 PM

100% agree on the grassroots approach. While they're aren't as many progressive think tanks as there needs to be (i'm excited that crossleft is throwing our hat into that ring), more people need to be engaged. More people need to feel again or perhaps for the first time that their efforts can make a difference towards progressive social change.

Our belief at CrossLeft in the agenda being developed and coming alive through the grassroots is fundamental to our Faith In Action Program (http://www.crossleft.org/?q=faithinaction).

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:29:43 PM

hey if you get an error message while posting a comment, scroll to the bottom and plug in the code. i've had a couple reports of folks getting the error message and not posting.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:31:49 PM

Your call to organize the unorganized resonates strongly with me. We used to be able to turn to the unions and turn to the churches and find our audience. Those days are gone. We can not just spend our days talking to those who already hear us. We must innovate our outreach and find the new collectives. Maybe they are currently watching Fox, maybe they are in our churches, maybe they are online, maybe they just lost their jobs, but guaranteed they get together over dinner and wonder who is going to lead them.

Posted by: Dina | Nov 28, 2005 8:34:24 PM

Stephen,

Are you suggesting that the Dem Party so these things, or that the grassroots do it on their own?

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 28, 2005 8:34:58 PM

Jessica,

Excellent question. I certainly think the Democractic Party has a large role to play in all this, especially around organizing and using technology (that's why this site is such a good idea). I do think that most of the new ideas and the agenda will actually come from outside the party from organizations like CrossLeft working to build a positive vision and agenda.

In sum, its a shared responsibility. We certainly shouldn't wait for the Party to do it. I think Dean is doing some good stuff, but there's still a vision thing that they don't have yet.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:38:29 PM

The backbone campaign is great. They've selected a whole "Cabinet" of leaders who lead. You should check it out. Maybe I'll post something on CrossLeft to bring it to the attention of other progressive Christians. I had the honor of doing an interview with Dolores Huerta for them, as a collboration between them, My Vote is My Voice and Latinos for America a few weeks ago. They're great! We really should make the connection between CrossLeft & them... & see how we might be able to partner..

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:40:33 PM

We certainly shouldn't wait for the Party to do it.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:38:29 PM

LMAO. We'd be waiting a very long time.

Unfortunatly, the Dem Party isn't exactly open to all these idears. It's almost like we have to fight 2 battles. Developing the idears and convincing the Dem Party to use them.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 28, 2005 8:41:15 PM

Dina,

Couldn't agree more about organizing. The labor movement (despite the success of the organizing drive highlighted in the NYTimes today) needs to adopt some of these same strategies. The nature of work has changed. People don't want to stay at the same job for 30 years. Work can be done remotely with the use of technology. Labor, if it is to survive will need to move away from workplace organizing and towards organizing industry-wide globally with a heavy reliance on technology.

I don't want to single out just labor. I agree about the churches as well and that was part of the impetus of starting CrossLeft.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:41:23 PM

Kety, Agreed on backbone partnership! CrossLeft should continue to partner with good organizations to build this agenda and vision and to better organize our communities.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:43:04 PM

Dina,

Under Steve's leaderhip, CrossLeft has launched a Faith In Action Program.

(http://www.crossleft.org/?q=faithinaction)

Our objective is to reach out to a minimum of 1,000 communities across the nation in the next year.

Any thoughts or leads you might have on this front would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:44:26 PM

Jessica,

Agreed on 2 pronged strategy. The fact is that the Democractic Party needs significant change and that change will come from the outside. I think the Dean stuff is really on the tip of the iceberg. For as bad as the approval ratings are for the President and the Republican congress, the Dems aren't doing that much better because they're not offering a clear, definitive alternative worldview.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:45:01 PM

Labor, if it is to survive will need to move away from workplace organizing and towards organizing industry-wide globally with a heavy reliance on technology.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:41:23 PM

mmmm...It almost seems like that would move labor organization away from those who need it most. The minimum wage retail and service workers.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 28, 2005 8:46:05 PM

Regarding partnerships- agree 100%. We at CrossLeft are very thankful to our friends here at My Vote is My Voice for experimenting with this Progressive Christian Interactive Guest Blog! Its been a great start. & the potential is tremendous. At the last Demfest there were what seemed to be over 100 people at the faith session. I'm wondering how we reach out to all of them so that they can participate with us here on line throughout the year... Maybe we can tap into their insights during the next Demfest this summer... if there's no way to reach them before that...

Posted by: Kety | Nov 28, 2005 8:48:53 PM

the Dems aren't doing that much better because they're not offering a clear, definitive alternative worldview.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:45:01 PM

I think it's that and more. The Dem Party, especially the local Dem committees are so afraid of change that they'd rather just do more of the same (even if that's not working) than try anything new. It's a very hard mindset to break through.

Posted by: Jessica | Nov 28, 2005 8:49:32 PM

Jessica, good point...i think there will always be a place for organizing those types of workplaces which are non-mobile. For example, there will always be a need for custodial staff as jobs that can't be exported.

However, the overwhelming majority of jobs whether in manufacturing, technology or the service industry are mobile, meaning that companies can and do move work around the world, where they believe they can get the most value. Union membership therefore needs to be global in nature. Global companies must negotiate with global unions.

There's also the very real fact that most people are mobile and move from job to job. It would be great to move from jobs and still retain union membership.

I also don't want to lose the point around labor and technolgy. Their use has been relatively weak.

Posted by: Stephen Rockwell | Nov 28, 2005 8:51:58 PM

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