I originally planned for this week to be an interview with Norman Mailer in Provincetown, but at the last minute, he called to reschedule. When I asked why, he simply grumbled angrily. The only word I actually understood was Capote and it was said with clear hostility.
Then I understood why he was fucking with me. I had interviewed Truman before him. Damn lucky I haven’t yet done Gore Vidal or Norman would have refused my call. Okay, I get it, though I really won’t be pleased if he bails on me again. Hell, I have a DEAD PEOPLE INTERVIEW series to write.
So I was at loss for this week’s post until I began thinking about how many progressive petitions, donation requests, and single issue emails had flooded my inbox—this week, last week, doubtless next week and forever.. I’ve posted about this before in 2011,(http://zacharykleinonline.com/personal-experience/love-me-im-a-liberal/), but after re-reading the column, I’ve come to a less humorous conclusion.
Fact is, I am bombarded by many decent organizations that care deeply about their particular cause. And,rightly so. But now I’ve got some serious questions—and complaints—about this “single issue” notion of change.
I hang with enough progressives in both my real and virtual life to realize there’s a great deal of antipathy about talking to people who disagree with our progressive programs and ideas. Personally, I think this is foolish. Of course, I’d love to change some hearts and minds, although I’m not optimistic about it. I do, however, think I can better understand how conservatives think about the society and world in which we live. And make no mistake, there’s a huge difference between honest conservatives and the right-wing jihadists who populate Congress and the Supreme Court. True conservatives aren’t about hating government per se. Though they do dislike much of the way our government functions.
Sound familiar, progressives? We dislike much of the way government functions.
Another group that progressives often shun is the 30 to 40 percent of the population that doesn’t bother to vote. This significant percentage includes many blue collar workers, working poor, and poor people—people who are alienated, apathetic, and flat out wary of a government whose programs seemed designed to aid everyone but them. (More about this later.)
And finally, if the emails I receive (DemandProgress.Org, Organic Consumers Organization, Ourfuture.org, ProgressivesUnited, Environmental Working Group, UsAction/TrueMajority, ActBlue, Democracy for America, 350.org etc, etc., etc.) are accurate, progressives aren’t even talking to each other! The problem isn’t the organizations’ causes—most are fighting for real and positive change—but rather their apparent willingness to go it alone. Maybe it’s because they fear that the amount of contributors and resources are too small to share. Or, perhaps the attitude is akin to the myth of individualism I wrote about in last week’s column on detective fiction (http://zacharykleinonline.com/writing/detective-fiction-an-american-myth/).
Most of my progressive friends laugh out loud when I bring up Jesse Jackson. They call him a self-aggrandizing publicity hound willing to go anywhere to garner television appearances or newspaper coverage. I don’t think Jackson is funny at all. Never did. Does he have an ego? Yes. Who doesn’t? His willingness to work with any progressive action, be it unrelenting opposition to racist behavior, unswerving commitment to striking workers, or belief in economic justice, gay rights, and a healthy environment is unquestionable—whatever one thinks of the person.
What makes Jesse Jackson even more important to me was his efforts to build the Rainbow Coalition. While that attempt fizzled, I believe it was the road-map for creating a true progressive political party.
I know. At best the most lasting effect that third parties made in American politics was to have their ideas and issues co-opted by a majority party in diluted form. Yes, there was Robert M. La Follette, Eugene Victor “Gene” Debs, and Norman Thomas all third party candidates, but never a lasting legacy of a national progressive party.
That was then, this is now. Never in my lifetime have I seen dysfunction equal to our present political system. Never have seen the money spent on buying an election as I do now. And never imagined I’d be living in a country that has one right-of-center party and one that’s even further in that direction. Truth is, our political choices have boiled down to ugly or uglier.
Jackson’s road-map is an incredible opportunity to actually create a progressive party with national staying power. But—and there’s always a but—we have to begin by talking to each other to find the common causes that will bind us into an honest coalition. Whether it’s Save the Wolves or Occupy Wall Street, we must find ways to form alliances and commitments where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
If we can do that, we might begin engaging those with whom we share some values (e.g., civil libertarian conservatives), and the alienated, apathetic folks who have simply given up on government. The prospect of reaching out with policies and programs that can truly mean something to those who have lost faith in politics is in our hands. These people are our constituency and, unless we make a concerted effort to create a party that speaks to them—we might as well kiss our political asses goodbye. Because if we’ve learned anything over the past fifty years it’s that Republicans and Democrats are only going to work for the rich and powerful.
“As individual fingers we can easily be broken, but all together we make a mighty fist.” Sitting Bull