Monday, May 29, 2017

What Are We Doing Wrong?

There's a lot of stuff on the intertubes this week about how Our Revolution and the current progressive movement make lots of noise that does not translate into votes. There's this about the failures in important races (vs. relatively unimportant ones like the LI state assembly race), and there's this about the failure of the Democratic message or lack thereof. And there are attempts to rebrand the left, and equal and opposite attempts to insist that rebranding is stupid. Lots of sound and fury, signifying very little in the face of a world knocked off its axis, a nation without a sense of its own history, and a Congress that makes House of Cards look like the height of rectitude and solidarity.

The notion that we can swim like a school of fish to the next special election that needs us, knock on doors, and win the day is simply ludicrous and belies what we know about politics and people:

1) You need a candidate worth voting for. If having Bernie on stage with you makes you a true progressive, then I guess Andy Cuomo is the real deal. Rob Quist was in a band. He once served as student body president. He employed 15 people. What did he know about running for Congress?
2) Getting people out to a rally means nothing. Chris Brown can get 20,000 people to show up at Rockefeller Center, but I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher—nor would most of his fans. Producing something people like to hear and leading or legislating are not the same thing.
3) Developing a candidacy takes time. If you could parachute in with a good message and win, we'd currently have Teachout instead of Faso in the Hudson Valley. If you've spent any time working local campaigns, you know how important it is to make a name for yourself at ground level, as a volunteer with the fire district or school, as a deacon in a local church, as a coach or employer, as a board or committee member. People want to see your name in the paper as part of the community, not just because you have suddenly erupted like a mushroom to run for office.
4) Know what you're for, not just what you're against. Everyone says this, but not everyone can articulate it in a way that resonates with the people who will vote. It's invigorating to be an anti-; I've spent most of my adult life arguing against one thing or another, and it keeps me going. But it doesn't convince anyone that you offer anything other than anger, disdain, or negativity, and those aren't attractive (or winning) qualities.

So, yeah, we need a new message. We need to remember why we are who we are, what we stand for, and why it's important. That means digging into our history and taking a hard look at our economic, social, and political values. It means being able to tell everyone we see why being on our side will make their lives better—and then living up to that promise. It's not an overnight thing, no matter how bad the other side looks.

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