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FDL Book Salon: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Fight the Right

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[This afternboon’s guest poster is Matt Browner Hamlin.  Matt blogs at Emboldened and Bring it On, and was a key part of the delivery of a copy of Crashing the Gate to every Democrat in Congress.  Back then he posted under his former pseudonym, "Philo," and he tells me he’s cut his hair since his prime time appearance in this video.  More recently, he’s been helping Tim Tagaris with the netroots operation of the Ned Lamont campaign.  Matt’s also been a key architect of the continuing development of the Roots Project.  We’re delighted to have him guide our conversation about this excellent book today. — Pachacutec]

A common thread running through analyses of the current American politics is that progressive change will only come when the barriers preventing regular people from participating in the democratic process are lowered. Bloggers are proving that self-published commentary can influence political discourse in Washington and capture the zeitgeist outside of Washington. The blogosphere has increased its capacity to drive traditional media coverage by out-working and out-thinking journalists. Vloggers like Spazeboy, CT Bob, and CTBlogger are pioneering a new dimension of People-Powered Media by using YouTube to publicize interactions between citizens and candidates.

But not everyone is a blogger and it would be profoundly short-sighted to look at recent blogospheric successes and declare the tactical manual for progressive change complete. Efforts like the Roots Project are striving to turn online organizing capacities into offline actions, but the need for change is systemic. We must work for change not just in Washington or our state houses, but on our school boards, PTAs, church groups, and zoning commissions.

50 Simple Things You Can Do to Fight the Right provides progressives with an extensive handbook of tactics, techniques, and strategies to incorporate movement activism into your daily, offline life. Less a polemic than a catalogue of ways to promote change, John Javna breaks down the book into simple actions and vignettes about why we fight for progressive values. Though I read 50 Simple Things in normal sequence like any other book, it lends itself well to browsing and should be kept ready-to-hand for easy use.

Each action is prefaced by a quote or statistic that frames the discussion. Background information and a series of simple things you can do and resources to use when doing them are provided for all fifty actions. Action #25, "Just Show Up," is prefaced by a quote that should be tattooed into blog tag-lines by the thousands:

"The world is run by those who show up." —Ron Nehring, Vice-Chairman of the Califronia Republican Party

SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO

Show up! You have the power at public meetings–all you have to do is stand up and speak. In fact, just being there makes a difference. "Without oversight," one activist says, "things slip by; the government can make important decisions without citizens knowing it. But if there’s just one person or reporter there, officials have to be careful about what they’re doing." The flip side: By not showing up, you abdicate your power as a citizen.

Javna’s message of participation is important for the blogosphere to hear. If you’re reading this you’re probably already politically activated. But reading and writing online won’t stop right wing activists from putting intelligent design textbooks into high school curricula or passing ordinances the restrict public protests. We need to be willing to get off the computer and participate in all aspects of the American democratic project (think of Chris Bowers running for a spot on the Pennsylvania State Democratic Committee as an example, not an exception).

While the actions Javna puts forward are interesting and useful, the most compelling passages in 50 Simple Things are from the "Why We Fight" sections. These sections discuss the underlying progressive values that give us reason to find new ways to fight against the Right. Here’s Javna’s number one reason why progressives fight; I’m quoting it in full because it sets the tone for his entire project:

1. We need to stand up for what we believe in. Progressive values are under attack…and if we don’t fight for them, who will? In this case "fighting" means committed action, not necessarily conflict–a willingness to sacrifice and a determination to overcome obstacles.

Of course, "fight the Right" does imply we’re fighting against something rather than for it. But under the circumstances, it’s hard to separate the two. Like it or not, if we want to achieve our vision of a progressive America, we have to take on the Radical Right.

The Right is open about the fact that they’d like to make liberals and liberal ideas a thing of the past. "I tell people don’t kill all the liberals," Rush Limbaugh once said to his audience. "Leave enough around so we can have two on every campus–living fossils–so we will never forget what these people stood for."

That’s the kind of thinking we’re up against.

"One lesson about democracy stands out above all others," comments one thoughtful progressive. "Bullies…cannot be appeased. They have to be opposed with a stubbornness that matches their own." And that’s why, at least for now, standing up for what we believe in means fighting the Right.

I think Javna includes the Why We Fight sections because too often our reactive campaigns against regressive Republican policies and politicians don’t take the time to say why we’re doing what we do. Our beliefs are part of a tradition that grows from the ideals that compelled our founding fathers to fight for America. Explicitly recognizing what we care about helps ground our efforts to promote change in a history of successful progressive activism, one that is responsible for equal rights for women and minorities, social security, and the weekend.. I agree with Javna, though, that part of our dedication to progressive change comes from a recognition of the threat the Right poses to the survival of things like workers rights, environmental rights, free speech, and reproductive rights. We wouldn’t have to fight now if the Right wasn’t working night and day to undo the progress our predecessors made over the last 150 years.

A largely unspoken message in 50 Simple Things is that all progressives are in this fight together. The book references hundreds of organizations and websites that can be used in the fight against the Right. Beyond their discrete usefulness for a particular action, giving recognition to the people who working on each particular issue reveals an ethic of supporting allies in the progressive movement whenever possible. Many people are committed to keeping America great; we can increase our collective strength by acknowledging the work others are doing. The more people working together for change support each other, the further their efforts can go.

I want to steer the discussion of 50 Simple Things in two general directions. The book includes fifty ways to fight the right (duh), but this is by no means an exhaustive list. What tricks do you use to counteract right wing propaganda? What guerilla tactics do you use to push progressive change? What do you do to leave your mark on American democracy? This discussion can provide a space for adding to our repertoire of actions beyond what Javna provides.

I also want to hear about why you’re involved in this movement from progressive change and against the radically regressive agenda of today’s Republican Party. Why do you fight? Why are you an activist? I look at this community and see thousands of concerned citizens who are dedicated to protecting a very particular vision of America. I want to know why the course of American politics matters to you. Most importantly, how does what you value give you strength to continue to work for change around America?

Book SalonCommunity

FDL Book Salon: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Fight the Right

50-simple-things.jpg

[This afternboon’s guest poster is Matt Browner Hamlin.  Matt blogs at Emboldened and Bring it On, and was a key part of the delivery of a copy of Crashing the Gate to every Democrat in Congress.  Back then he posted under his former pseudonym, "Philo," and he tells me he’s cut his hair since his prime time appearance in this video.  More recently, he’s been helping Tim Tagaris with the netroots operation of the Ned Lamont campaign.  Matt’s also been a key architect of the continuing development of the Roots Project.  We’re delighted to have him guide our conversation about this excellent book today. — Pachacutec]

A common thread running through analyses of the current American politics is that progressive change will only come when the barriers preventing regular people from participating in the democratic process are lowered. Bloggers are proving that self-published commentary can influence political discourse in Washington and capture the zeitgeist outside of Washington. The blogosphere has increased its capacity to drive traditional media coverage by out-working and out-thinking journalists. Vloggers like Spazeboy, CT Bob, and CTBlogger are pioneering a new dimension of People-Powered Media by using YouTube to publicize interactions between citizens and candidates.

But not everyone is a blogger and it would be profoundly short-sighted to look at recent blogospheric successes and declare the tactical manual for progressive change complete. Efforts like the Roots Project are striving to turn online organizing capacities into offline actions, but the need for change is systemic. We must work for change not just in Washington or our state houses, but on our school boards, PTAs, church groups, and zoning commissions.

50 Simple Things You Can Do to Fight the Right provides progressives with an extensive handbook of tactics, techniques, and strategies to incorporate movement activism into your daily, offline life. Less a polemic than a catalogue of ways to promote change, John Javna breaks down the book into simple actions and vignettes about why we fight for progressive values. Though I read 50 Simple Things in normal sequence like any other book, it lends itself well to browsing and should be kept ready-to-hand for easy use. (more…)

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