Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Headless Donkey

Posted in activism, Barack Obama, class divide by allisonkilkenny on January 25, 2008

“I think we’re not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently. Things do not start with governments.”

-Grace Lee Boggs

When something horrifically awful happens, our first instinct as human beings is to create a narrative of what happened. Great disasters and sudden death beg a framework: what happened, who did it involve, when did it occur? How do we fix it? After September 11th, people were desperate for a story, which is probably why most of us bought a shoddy tale of WMDs, Saddam, and a little place called Iraq.

Now, liberals are trying to create a story for the death of the Democratic party. We’re standing in front of the rubble, slack-jawed and eying each other as we sporadically sputter, “W-what happened?” And there are lots of theories about spoiled youth, special interest groups, and the apathetic attitude that resonates from people who will always have enough bread in their bellies and clean water pouring from their faucets.

But the cause may be as simple as basic biology: without the head, the body dies.

The liberal movements of the 1960s brought us some of the brightest and most charismatic leaders of the 20th century: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy were all men, who inspired a movement wherever they went. All of them were gunned down in their prime, and whether or not we agree with their particular breed of politics, their influence on ideologies and ability to persuade and masterfully cajole are undeniable.

However, once the head was severed, the body died, and where it did not completely die (as was the case in the Civil Rights department,) it morphed into a monochromatic movement. Whites abandoned unions and causes for economic equality and moved into the suburbs. They started to see MLK’s legacy as a black legacy rather than a victory for humankind.

The bridge between Kennedy and King was a shaky, precarious link, one built with the purpose of increasing black voter loyalty to the Democratic party. However, when the men were alive and connected, there was magical potential in the Democratic party.

Bogg sees promising spirit in Barack Obama’s campaign. Unlike the movements of the 1960s, she sees Barack as the body, and his supporters as the head. If he was gone tomorrow, the movement around him would continue, which speaks to its power. An essential limb to Barack’s momentum is Moveon.org, which came to power during Howard Dean’s run for the presidency.

Joan Blades and Wes Boyd started Moveon.org in 1998 after they gathered signatures for a Congressional petition. It was the apex of a time when we cared about our president getting a blow job, and Blades and Boyd wanted Congress to “censure President Clinton and move on”.

Well, Congress didn’t listen, and Dean screamed, but Moveon.org is still around. Indeed, it’s bigger and more organized and focused than ever. As opposed to the customary clot of disheveled, disorganized liberals, Moveon.org is extremely efficient in getting things done, unlike the Democratically controlled Congress.

Ever since Reagan stampeded through the country like some kind of folksy Godzilla, Democrats have been scattered and cowering like scared Japanese. We were divided into so many subsets of special interest groups that it was hard to imagine a time when blue-collar, white workers from rural Alabama sort of had A LOT in common with poor black folk.

In the 1990s, we stood before the rubble of the Democratic movement, whimpering. That is, until Moveon.org, and other grassroots movements rose from the ashes. Rather than assuming liberals are apathetic, Blades and Boyd understood how to use new technology to reach a party that still cares, but had felt increasingly powerless and isolated.

Barack Obama makes progressives feel powerful and connected to each other. He is a surge that actually works, and he has propelled Moveon.org into a new sphere of influence. But this is key: Moveon.org doesn’t need Barack Obama to live.

With or without Obama, Moveon.org will continue to push the Democratic party left, which is what we so desperately need. Clintonism cost us everything. Through the sin of triangulation, Democrats sacrificed and compromised until we didn’t know up from down, and couldn’t tell the difference between a donkey and an elephant.

In 2006, Moveon.org helped secure the wins of many candidates they saw as “progressive” rather than just “Democratic.” Their candidates’ decisive wins shook up the Democratic party that realized it wasn’t enough just to wear the color blue. They had to fight for the votes of the progressives.

Any time Hillary or John, or even Barack talk about Universal Health coverage or the class divide, they’re not parroting some greater Democratic dogma that lays chiseled in stone somewhere in the Smithsonian. They’ve been carefully watching the polls, and grassroots groups like Moveon.org as a kind of collective weather vane. They watch which way the wind blows, and then they respond.

This year’s message is Populist. People want to feel healed and empowered, and there’s no movement capturing that spirit more than the progressives at Moveon.org. Truly, when a movement reaches the level where each agent feels like he, or she, could potentially become its next leader, then Martin Luther King’s vision has surely come to life.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

-MLK, 1968

Our strength is our ability to move on, with or without a head.

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