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Four Things for Activists to Let Go of in 2015


800px-Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone_552015 has the potential to be a year of solidarity. Increasing numbers of people are turning to solution-based, rather than party-based politics. The ever-present irresponsible behavior of those in positions of power makes those hierarchies seem arbitrary. Although many see the mid-term election results of November 2014 as a rebuke of the Democrats, it wasn’t a rebuke of sincere activists’ struggles for justice: From minimum wage increases to an explosion in public banking advocacy and worker-owned cooperatives, and characterized by people beginning to realize the need to stop the irresponsible excesses of both governmental and corporate power, 2014 has set the stage for the continuing emergence of a constructive, practical politics of change.

Here, then, are four things I think we ought to let go of in order to move from immature partisan politics to building transpartisan political networks dedicated to meaningful change that helps just about everyone:

1. Emotive rage–flaming, blaming, and shaming (particularly through social media)

It’s time for us to stop feeding the trolls (and to stop being the trolls if that’s a problem). Stop dehumanizing political opponents. Stop ridiculing statements and proposals we disagree with. Stop the visceral, emotive, “I can’t believe so-and-so said something so stupid–can you?” It’s time to start bypassing bad systems and replacing them with good ones, not blaming individuals. The maxim “What we resist persists” applies most of all to individuals who are on the receiving end of our insults and ridicule (regardless of what they’ve done to get there; even if they’ve insulted and ridiculed our side). So flame off, stop the angry posting on social media, take about ten deep breaths before you respond to anything anyone says, and ask yourself what your end goal is when engaging oppositional discourse.  I’ve been as guilty of failure on this as anyone, and I’m making public my commitment to let it go.

(I’m not talking about the righteous anger of resistance to oppression. But even that anger should ideally be channeled into helpful production, whether aesthetic, philosophical, or political.)

2. The assumption that “people are stupid”

I’ve written about this before, and I’m not going to beat a dead horse: If we want to change things for the better, we need to believe in people’s capacity for understanding and improvement. We need to admit that we are all susceptible to misinformation. We need to understand that when working people are beat down by demoralizing jobs, the threat of poverty, and an endless barrage of misanthropic ideology, it’s tough to mentally push past that. And we need to be hopeful that improving our collective material well-being and the democratic process will improve our collective and individual thinking skills. Otherwise, as I worried last year, it’s a dangerously short walk from thinking people are too stupid to understand justice, to thinking they’re too stupid to deserve it.

3. The war between believers and nonbelievers

There are some really good, busy, brilliant, active activists who are not religious. There are some really solid, hard-working, brilliant activists who are religious (and in some cases, their activism is motivated by their spirituality). There are also millions of people who, while they may lean one direction or another, are uncomfortable labeling themselves religious or irreligious, and would prefer not to be subjected to endless, regressive debates where atheists call believers stupid, and believers call atheists dogmatic and mean.

Every moment you spend reading or watching those ridiculous arguments (which will not convince anyone to switch sides) is a moment you will not spend marching and rallying, researching and drafting ordinances, speaking to broad layers of people about much-needed reforms, or resting up so you can do it again the next day. The “atheism versus religion” debate is a black hole of apoliticality. Fight for religious freedom, or freedom from dominant religiosity, all you want. But let’s stop making the “new atheists” rich. There are better uses of our time and money. In the meantime, let’s build a world whose inhabitants, our children, can work out their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) in more secure and prosperous surroundings.

4. Party politics and the obsession with “left,” “right,” and “center.”

This may be the hardest thing to give up. I’m not going to tell you that your political party is worthless. I’m not going to tell you to register as an independent. I’m certainly not going to tell you not to spend time building up “third” parties to challenge the hegemony of the duopoly. But ultimately, we need to be fighting for policies rather than parties. When Green Party members on city council seats succeed in passing local ordinances or making their communities more economically or environmentally sustainable, they do so by emphasizing pragmatic policies and by working with other leaders and activists regardless of affiliation. And in the end, that’s what we’ll have to do to bypass Wall Street and create new economic and political realities.
This new political reality is transpartisan. In the words of my friend Sam Husseini:

The establishment keeps the left and right populist factions at bay by demonizing them to each other — “let’s you and him fight” is the mindset — which is why MSNBC so often feeds hate of conservatives and Fox feeds hate of progressives. If they were to pay more attention to issues, they might break them down and it might become clear that there’s quite a bit the principled left and right agree on. Meanwhile, establishment Democrats and Republicans collude on war, Wall Street and much else, effectively reducing principled progressives and conscientious conservatives into pawns of the Democratic and Republican party establishments.

Although I’m as suspicious as anyone of “left-right alliances,” I’m completely convinced we need to build transpartisan policy-oriented networks dedicated to realizing the goals of economic justice and human autonomy. Let’s never forget that the only public bank in the nation is in “conservative” North Dakota. Let’s remember that both major parties back the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is opposed by a huge percentage of the entire electoral base. Let’s remember that the movement to audit the Federal Reserve is transpartisan.

We don’t need to fight against these tendencies. We simply need to let them go. No more political-posturing-by-anger. No more calling the American people stupid. Not one more moment or dime spent on the metaphysical debate between atheists and believers. No more rejecting political alliances or policy ideas for purely partisan reasons.

Let’s give that crap up, and go out and win the world.

Photo credit: David Shankbone, from Zuccotti Park, September 30, 2011

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.