1.17.2005

toward a vision for a progressive populist movement

We're still hammering out what sort of vision ought to guide this nine-day-old group blog. My bias is that we keep it (the process as well as whatever vision statement we will presumably come up with) as simple as possible. So while I certainly don't want to ride roughshod over any careful consideration of language and details we need to attend to as a group, I would like to just cut to the chase about what I want this to be. One of the great things about blogs is that we can get away with being obnoxiously bold. (And WTF, I'm from Texas.) Nobody especially likes bloviation, but the blogosphere is no place for shrinking violets.

Most of my own views are pretty far to the left. None is so radical though as my belief that the world's poor ought to have a disproportionate share of political power. That is not to say that I'm advocating a simple inversion of the way things are now. My reasoning is based more on logistics than ideology. That is, if I were to imagine a base of support able to produce leadership that would have the greatest likelihood of overcoming the corruption currently running amok in the world right now, it would be a sort of a vast pear-shaped demographic group (larger at the bottom of the economic scale due to a greater proportion of the population in that strata being included). So the reason I say the poor would be disproportionately represented is simply because they would be overrepresented in the voting bloc that would put leaders in office throughout the world. You and I and anyone else could have just as much power as they, but only if we participated in a political process that was specifically designed to include everybody.

I'm not idealistic enough to believe this will ever happen, but I don't think there is anything more worth pushing toward. It's not like we have to achieve it perfectly. I believe that any progress that we make in that direction is an unqualified good. Even if I am a member of the middle class in the richest country in the world and don't really give a damn about the poor, I still stand to gain from this solution for two reasons. First, it's my only chance to be a part of sufficient critical mass to overcome the monopoly on power held now by wealth. And second, greater economic and political participation is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

So everything for me is subordinated to a simple abstraction of my ideal for participatory politics. I am less concerned with forcing a particular agenda upon the greater political corpus than I am in pushing for a reformed political culture that would lead to greater participation. Frankly, I don't want to take on the responsibility of worrying about what is happening to the impoverished and the powerless. I want to work to ensure that participation is at a level whereby a robust culture of social justice has a chance to emerge, and governments and other institutions are forced by active constituencies to be more accountable and responsive. As I've already said, I don't expect perfection, but I do believe in the value of simplicity and clarity when it comes to goals.

This may seem to leave some things out that tend to be pretty important to leftists, like environmentalism and human rights. When I say I subordinate other issues, I don't mean that issues like sustainability and equality aren't important on a primary level. What I'm saying is that the vehicle that is going to get us where we need to be is democracy. We won't even have a chance to address any of the very most important issues without full participation in the process.

And while some may be tempted to take shortcuts and put together coalitions by means of demagoguery and scapegoating, they can't hold a candle to a boldly progressive populism. That means that tolerance is not just a middle class affectation. It is something we have to work very hard to build into the movement because intolerance is probably the single greatest culprit in our common pattern of fragmentation.

I would sum all this up by saying that I have very little interest in batting around the usual liberal themes. The only thing I'm interested in here is further expanding the basis for organizing toward that pear-shaped global coalition I alluded to above. This is the essence of what "progressive populism" means to me. I don't find this singular focus to be confining. It is the animating principle that brings together everything I want to accomplish in this space (and as well in my own blogs).

Some of the themes that I think are particularly relevant are:

solidarity with the poor

sustainable economic development

governance models

grassroots organizing

redefining progressive politics to give greater priority to economic justice

the actual logistics of teaching tolerance and breaking down the cultural barriers that get in the way of a unified progressive movement (especially in counterdistinction to knee jerk bashing of rednecks and Christians)

labor organizing (and not just in traditional industrial settings)