I’ve long believed that grassroots movements operate most successfully by opening up various fronts: street actions (rallies, marches, NVCD [when and only when the ensuing the publicity is apt to be positive], PR stunts) coupled with traditional political activity: aggressive, targeted lobbying and electoral campaigns (preferably with a carrot in one hand and a stick in the other). Candidate Clinton suggested something similar in ’08 in noting that the civil rights movement of the sixties needed both an MLK and an LBJ.
Advancing this notion has given me no small amount of grief. I don’t see many name-brand Democrats taking to the streets—for the most part, I suspect they’re afraid of being tagged, as Brown did Senator Warren in early ad, as accomplices of the scary bomb throwing anarchist left. I understand their fear, but it would go a long way, were mainstream Democrats, who publicly identity as such, to join in marches and rallies under their own banners.
It would go a long way towards engaging my more radical friends in the climate change (and other) movement[s] in the process, because my attempts in that sector are met with even more resistance. From Occupy to 350.org, in many eyes, the Democratic Party is the enemy. We all know where they’re coming from; most if not all of us share in, if not their analyses and critiques, their disappointment; the difference is, I suspect, that we are unwilling to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good (a recent case-in-point: when I suggested on FB that Congressman Markey was a friend to the climate movement, notably in his opposition to Keystone XL, I was roundly taken to task for promoting a champion of natural gas). I don’t believe you have to forgo your idealism in order to inject at least a modicum of pragmatism into your thinking; and I’d still love to get these folks as interested in occupying the halls of power as they are our public spaces. At the same time, rather than mounting a vigorous defense, I too often find myself using pretzel logic and weasel words to exonerate those for whom I’ve campaigned. “Well, right now, you know, it’s all about the economy.” “What do you expect, what with these damn fools in the House?” “Hey, we have tougher fuel emissions standards!”
Of course, climate activists tends to be more bullheaded than most; they assert, correctly, that there’s no room for negotiation with “nature,” and that the Obama administration can in fact do more than it has without asking the House for permission. I’m REALLY hoping—without much faith—that this spring sees the appointment of an EPA chief at least as tough as was the departing Lisa Jackson, and that the President takes seriously both the very real and potentially disastrous climate effects of Keystone and the opposition to it. There is even talk of a presidential “climate summit,” but I can’t really tell whether the story has any legs.
Which leads to me this: please consider joining us in Portland, Maine, the destination for one end of the “Northeastern Tar Sand Pipeline,” on January 26th. There are five busses leaving Boston, and still plenty of room. More info here. Lots of good people from around the region will be there. Including the kids who made the news in Westborough the other night. There’s going to be lots more of that kind of thing…
And a deal sweetener. Gritty McDuff’s afterwards.