Joyce L. Arnold: Liberal, lesbian, Independent, equality activist, writer.

The Left, Dr. Seuss & Glittering

“Why won’t America embrace the left?” is the question put to Michael Kazin in a Salon interview last week. Whatever you think of Kazin’s analysis, one reason the Two Party Front for the Oligarchy remains in control is because the Left has, in significant ways, failed in the “embracing” department.

Of course, there are efforts on the Left “” party and election reforms, new party creation, issue focused efforts. Over this series of articles I’ve highlighted several, and provided links to many others. In this post, I want to think a bit about how the Left does “movement,” with special attention to Kazin’s interview. (emphasis mine throughout) According to the Salon article, American Dreamers,

(the) new book by Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University, … covers nearly 200 years of struggle for civil rights, sexual equality and radical rebellion. His book explores the way the national conversation has been changed by union organizers, gay rights activists and feminists. He also writes about how their techniques have now been adopted by the Tea Party movement. … he argues that, although the left has been successful at transforming American culture, when it comes to practical change, it’s been woefully unsuccessful.

Kazin says:

It’s easier to get people to think about things differently than it is to construct institutions that alter the basic building blocks of society. When leftists talk about having a vision of how things might be different, they attract an audience and create a new way of perceiving things. Its (sic) a different issue altogether to go up against entrenched structures of wealth and political power.

Looking at what the Left has accomplished:

A lot of the major movements for equal rights that we celebrate “” the black freedom movement, the women’s movement, the gay liberation movement “” were all started by people who were considered to be radicals in their time. …

Regarding another characteristic of “leftist activism,” it becoming a “career” for some:

The people who organized the labor movement in the 1930s were often skilled workers, but there were also professionals like lawyers and journalists. The problem, of course, is when the movement is perceived as a movement of the better-educated, wealthy, privileged elite … . That image is a problem the left … continues to have because it has been cut off from a lot of ordinary working people.

In response to a question about how the internet has changed the Left:

The Internet … (is) good for meet-ups more than movements. Even the word “˜movement’ has gotten away from the idea of making change. … As wonderful as the Internet is, it doesn’t obviate the need for some of the old things that movements need to grow “” like face-to-face organizing. …

“˜In order for the left to be successful,’ Kazin says, “˜it needs to build institutions that involve people who are not intellectuals and professionals, and ones that aren’t full of people who only talk to each other.’

Ouch. I think he’s correct that this is a part of the Left’s problem. Of course, echo chamber conversations are not limited to the Left.

Finally, Kazin is asked to identify his “favorite American leftists”:

I have been made fun of recently for saying this, but I think Dr. Seuss has been greatly overlooked as a leftist. He wasn’t a propagandist, but many of his best-selling books … show that he had a leftist political message.

A Seuss Socialist Party? Not likely, but Kazin makes a good point in looking outside the explicitly political arena for ideas and inspiration, even as he also argues that cultural change isn’t necessarily political change. But they are related. He says:

The United Auto Workers was … established in the 1930s with the sit-down strikes in Flint, Mich., … when the workers occupied the factories … . It was a very imaginative event that was organized by members of the Communist Party.

“Imaginative events” have characterized Leftist movements: the sit-in’s and protest marches of the anti-Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement. The more in-your-face measures of Act Up, demanding attention to the devastation of AIDS. Concerts. Vigils. Confronting Electeds “” ways not only of involving the non-career activists and non-privileged, but also ways by which those non-privileged can push and lead movements.

A recent, “imaginative event,” as reported by Thomas Vinceguerra, “Glittering Rage, in the NY Times

There is the former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, signing copies of “˜Rediscovering God in America’ at an event in Minneapolis. Suddenly, an attendee withdraws a Cheez-It box filled with sparkly glitter and dumps it on the authors.
“˜Feel the rainbow, Newt!’ he says as he is hustled out of the room. “˜Stop the hate! Stop the anti-gay politics!’

Welcome to “˜glitter bombing,’ the latest act of political theater … .

The Gingrich glittering, on May 17, was followed by Codepink pouring

“glitter and bunches of long, thin, curly strips of pink paper … on Tim Pawlenty … Two days later, a lawyer, Rachel E. B. Lang, sprinkled Representative Michele Bachmann … . Then, on July 21, a contingent … spread glitter at the headquarters of … a Christian-oriented counseling practice run by Mrs. Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. …

“˜I disagree with Barack Obama on a lot of things,’ Ms. Lang said after her confrontation with Mrs. Bachmann. “˜If he were here, I would glitter him, too.’

Citing Dr. Seuss and engaging in “glittering” aren’t the kind of things that, by themselves, will change the two party duopoly. But such out of the Insider box thinking and actions are a part of how movements are created, and how they change and evolve. Because that’s a fundamental part of what has to happen, too: the movements to change the existing political system have to be willing and able to change and be changed themselves. When they don’t, they become a part of the problematic system.

Below are some links to additional reading (with thanks to those who provided two of them), as well as to the previous posts in this series. I like adding some of what you are reading. And I very much like reading your thoughts.

Articles and Opinions

Billy Bragg: Music Needs to Get Political Again
Government attacks are attacks on selves (Thanks to Art Pronin)
The Democrats’ Rural Rebellions (Thanks to nightrain37)
The Election March of the Trolls
Why I’m not voting for Obama in 2012

Posts in this series:

Grading the Electoral College
Two Parties = Too Few Choices
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part II
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part III
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part IV
Two Parties = Too Few Choices, Part V

( Photo via WatchingFrogsBoil )