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Repairing The Progressive Tapestry
By: George John Jacobs | Our Voice Contributor
Since Election Day 2016, there has been great momentum by the Progressive community to create and forward a realistic agenda which reflects the needs and goals of the 99%. Although there is much debate on the role and intentions of Bernie Sanders from this point forward, most Progressives can agree that his historic ’16 campaign inspired the majority of Americans to wake up and become politically active again, after decades of relative sociopolitical slumber.
It also made the veil drop on the Corporate Duopoly which controls Washington DC and public policy. While some might argue the latter was hardly ‘breaking news’, there can be little doubt that the scale of Americans who were ‘awoken’ by Election 2016 was unprecedented.
In the wake of the election of Trump, the Progressive community has been trying mightily to define itself and coalesce. A natural product of this struggle has been the interpretation of all of the events and revelations of the recent past. An equal struggle has been formulating a path forward. Some of the subjects of contention are very basic, and clearly defined by now:
Does this movement proceed with Bernie, or without Bernie?
Is the existing Democratic Party a feasible path for bringing about the sort of change the majority of citizens are now demanding?
These have been the biggest questions since Election ’16, and almost a year later there remains no consensus,nor should we necessarily expect one between now and the midterm elections. Despite where one may fall in regards to these questions, it is fair to say that the first few months of ’17 appeared to show promise in re-invigorating a Progressive, citizen-oriented agenda, along with the tangible possibility of a Populist coalescence under some common goals.
But history illustrates quite clearly that past attempts at Progressive ‘ascension’ have been successfully put down with countermeasures by the Corporate Political Establishment. Co-opting of nascent organizations or movements, dilution or consumption of message and momentum, infiltration, and the fomenting of discord or friction within and among groups have all resulted in the splintering of like-minded people who would otherwise likely join together.
In the past few months, the initial promise of a coalescing of a People’s Movement has given way to Progressive infighting which has cast doubts both on how to proceed from here, and whether or not people who we considered allies are in fact even trustworthy any longer. It seems in the first half of ’17, the drawing of battle lines within the Progressive community has been coming somewhat rapid-fire.
The first bone of contention actually appeared in the Summer of ’16, when the TYT network took a proclaimed ‘pragmatic ‘ turn to support the Clinton candidacy. Regardless of where an individual may fall on that, admittedly it has been a significant issue within the Progressive community ever since.
Heavy criticism of TYT has been renewed more recently, predicated upon their position and treatment of issues such as the escalating Syrian intervention, the Russian Hack Narrative, and their blackout (then subsequent misrepresentation) of the DNC lawsuit.
It is this writer’s position that such criticism or skepticism of the network is completely warranted; nevertheless, for the purposes of this piece we shall not wade into those waters beyond identifying their actions as significant.
The ensuing backlash by other Progressive media personalities over the lawsuit quickly turned into an all-out conflagration. A very unfortunate, rushed, and highly subjective video posted by Jordan Chariton in defense of TYT was rapidly countered by equally uncomfortable (albeit arguably necessary) video replies by Tim Black and HA Goodman. This is not to say these replies were unjustified or unwarranted — they certainly were; but the entire back-forth which transpired over those few days at times became very personal in nature, and on full public display…at a time when cool heads and a calmer debate would have been more welcome (and less jolting) to viewership.
In regards to this, it is only fair to note that attorney Jared Beck’s social media attacks on many Progressive outlets for their failure to cover the suit — while valid in point and purpose — also oftentimes exhibited inappropriate personal attacks and extended bickering which were counterproductive to the goals of Mr. Beck. These at times were no fun to spectate.
Not long after there came a detente between Black and Chariton particularly; which may well have brought a collective sigh of relief from followers. However , at about this time Fox News broke the Seth Rich story based upon PI Ted Wheeler’s statements; and within a day columnist Mike Tracey released a painfully unfortunate video in an attempt to debunk the report — where he both brazenly misrepresented the statements of Wheeler and used as his sole supporting document…a lone CNN article.
There followed a rapid, well-executed YouTube take-down of the Tracey and CNN position by Goodman, and once again battle lines were drawn on social media and the fur began to fly. This time over another ‘litmus test’ topic: the murder of Mr. Rich.
While such spats happen, and indeed followers of Progressive media personalities could probably have absorbed this, it was impossible not to observe that formerly aligned outlets or personalities were beginning to grate significantly on each other.
The Fox report and subsequent drama brought to the forefront the work of George Webb and Truthleaks and Co.; admittedly producing some compelling ‘investigative reports’ and theories, albeit with questionable execution, presentation and analysis.
Within the Progressive community, there seemed no middle ground, here. You were either with Webb and Co., or any rational criticism of their methods or conclusions was deemed a betrayal of the cause.
Next appeared the NSA, Intercept, and Reality Winner drama, causing much head-scratching and hand-wringing in Progressive circles given that the story — as reported — was so darn strange. One could certainly not have been faulted for expecting trusted Intercept folks such as Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill to quickly chime in and provide some sort of clarification or perspective. Unfortunately their very weak initial responses, disappointing enough, were never followed up or significantly expanded upon.
Thus Progressives were left with two possible conclusions to take away from the whole affair. Either Winner and the Intercept share the 2017 Stupidity Award for a complete botch in proper leaking, or the Intercept knowingly participated in a psy-op. Regardless of which, the last thing Progressives wanted on their plate was the chore of determining whether the veritable Intercept’s reliability was now…past tense.
Then arrived the eagerly awaited Peoples Summit 2017. Unfortunately, along with it came some curious occurrences: the cancellation of Tulsi Gabbard’s appearance, a statement issued by the Green Party that repeated requests for Baraka and/or Stein appearances were stonewalled, verifiable revelations on social media that the funding of the Summit had some questionable elements, and the significant absence of third party speakers (out of 120 speakers, there were two from DSA, and one from the Working Families Party; not a sole speaker from the Greens, nor SDLP, nor Kshama Sawant’s SAP — although some of these parties had informational booths/kiosks). This rightfully motivated some Progressive media personalities to question exactly how much of a “People’s Movement” event this actually was.
Thus launched another social media scuffle, with the likes of Zach Haller and Debbie Lusignan declaring strongly that the Summit was a co-opting and herding of Progressive momentum; while a defense was launched by Ben Dixon, TYT and several others — who insisted the event was significant, unadulterated, and critics of it were actually damaging the Progressive agenda. Once again, while the subject certainly warranted respectful debate, what Progressive followers were treated to instead was more publicly displayed sniping.
So in a six week period, a motivated Progressive community has been seemingly left with ‘choosing sides’ among the likes of TYT, Goodman, Tracey, Black, Lusignan, Chariton, Dore, Greenwald/Intercept, Dixon, Haller, and others. We are also staking positions on Progressive ‘litmus test’ issues …when only a few short months before we all seemed to be (more or less) on the same page. What had been a search for the best way to Coalesce a Movement, has now alarmingly moved towards becoming a question of how we can keep a splintering, bickering Movement together.
Is there a way?
I believe this splintering certainly would have been less pronounced if particular Progressive media personalities had chosen to calm themselves and absorb things a bit before initiating their public and very widely circulated critiques.
While the immediacy of exchange provided by telecom technology and social media has many laudable aspects to it, it is also a double-edged sword. The conduits by which information and opinion are disseminated these days is vastly different from what it was even 15 to 20 years ago. And while many argue this technology and immediacy is an advancement, I half-agree, although I add an asterisk: some traditional elements of reporting, analyzing, production, and presentation have unfortunately been left by the wayside as we transitioned into new media. Immediacy is very attractive, but often results in the absence of methodical preparation, editing, or filtering before issuing/posting/airing.
I consider part of this to be a failure of the Left to produce informational outlets which are superior to the right-wing outlets, which were quicker out of the gate in establishing themselves in our popular culture,(Fox News and Limbaugh for example). Sadly, the Alt-Prog media, or whatever you wanna call it, was initially left with playing ‘catch-up’, and in the process used more or less the same template as the Right.
While the AltProg Media arguably does better in the vetting category, in its presentation this is less so. The apparent failure to consider controls and editing of content often results in inclusion or omission in their ‘information’ or ‘analysis’ which can arguably be just as subjective as the right wing outlets we vilify.
Many Progressive media shows may be preconceived to a degree, in regards to the topic of the day they wish to cover. Oftentimes they still devolve into live or recorded ‘shoot the breeze’ or ‘talk at the camera’ sessions. While some may argue that it is this spontaneity which gives these broadcasts their energy, I would counter that such energy should not come at the cost of a sacrificed tight methodology. The product can be elevated and exciting simultaneously. This is beyond insisting these media personalities just ‘play nice’ with one another. It is, rather, a suggestion that they employ a process of review and revision of their content and intent before presenting publicly. I believe our Progressive media personalities actually owe it to their viewers to do this …as opposed to simply getting their response or counter-argument “out there ASAP”. An agreed-upon list of checks and balances before presenting, if you will.
This would likely result in a more concrete level of debate, as opposed to the now-familiar lightning-rod melees we have been forced to witness on a weekly basis.
In regards to reconnecting with our Progressive brethren, I had the good fortune to converse with Tim Black who, since attending the Summit, has been emphasizing progressive unity quite strongly. In my discussion with him, he hit upon the issue of Trust:
“I attended the People’s Summit, but I did not attend a single panel. I spent my time interacting with attendees and conducting interviews.
The idea that anyone who attended a 3-day event could spontaneously become DemEnter who wasn’t already DemEnter is farfetched to me…, after being bombarded with Left Corporate MSM for over 7 months, if you’re not already comatose — I doubt strongly you will become comatose by a speaker in a 30 minute session. I’m not saying Van Jones didn’t give a good speech; let’s just say I have more faith in the intelligence level and the B.S. detection of my friends…”
In a sense, Tim’s reply can be concentrated into something simple: if others share your goals, do not necessarily be over-concerned that they may be easily hoodwinked or led astray. If the goals and beliefs are concrete and common, it is likely they can provide the necessary anchor.
Regarding the subject of Commonality, he continued:
“There are several issues that will cross connect with many others. Let’s get together around the things we agree need our attention, and the rest we can leave up for debate…
The problem I see is when the dialogue shuts off the moment we disagree.
This is bad policy. This is bad logic. This is bad strategy”
In a discussion with Niko House, he echoed similar sentiments:
“Right now, there is an air of uncertainty circling the Progressive movement. I think it has caused a little panic, and there are many out there who are trying to take advantage of that …. This is causing a division, but I think it is a division that will be repaired when we start having forums where politicians and advocates start speaking about the issues that hit home (I.E. Single payer, anti-war rhetoric, concrete wage policies, etc).”
Very reasonable and astute observations and suggestions; both call for those who have common goals and beliefs to focus on pursuing them, while avoiding the traps of infighting. And a call to maintain focus when you come upon an ally with whom you disagree on a certain issues.
Valid goals which are often easier to agree to in principle than to actually set into practice.
So how do we set that into practice? Because given the urgency and seriousness of issues we must confront in order to proceed together, simply willing ourselves to behave won’t cut it.
I was also fortunate enough to converse with writer Caitlin Johnstone on this subject In regards to determining and building trusting relationships in order to move forward, she noted:
“… all of that comes down to our individual intuition. If you’re operating on old fear programming, then this will be impossible because only those who perfectly line up with your individual perspective will be perceived as safe — which will cut you off from whole segments of the tribe as we rocket from one movement to the next.”
A very astute observation, because part of the answer here may well be an acknowledgment that over the past generation we have, as a society, been wired to function with “pick a side” mentality (what Caitlyn refers to as the ‘old fear programming’). It is this fear programming which both Tim and Niko also identified — the propensity, when confronted with an opposite view, to shut off, dig in, or panic.
Now, re-programming is a true pain; it’s an arduous process to rewire oneself just at the individual level. I, for one, can point to the slew of therapists in my wake as proof of this. Can we do it collectively? What might this look like?
“We’re also trying to evolve from a top-down hierarchy to a naturally democratic one, and that’s just plain confusing for most people.
People are still looking for the Messiah… but it’s the Second Coming, Plural…
I get a lot of people shouting at me to write the things they see as most important, looking to me to be their leader, but I can only write from my perspective. Their perspective is just as true, and just as needed, as mine. It’s their responsibility to write from there. That’s how we collaborate. “
This is a compelling concept. Because indeed, it’s fair to say that the personalities we look up to, who we believe to be leaders of the same agenda, may not necessarily be responsible for addressing all of the issues we feel are of the highest priority at a given time. They may actually not even have the motivation or tools to do so. Or something which might seem of pressing concern to you or I may not really resonate as deeply with your favorite journalist.
Thus, keeping open the notion that a particular outlet’s omission in covering a topic may not necessarily be indicative of any moral or professional flaw seems to be pretty useful advice. Rather than awaiting a ‘larger’ personality to address your concern, there is no reason not to air it yourself (this is, in a sense, the purpose of Our Voice, actually). We need not reserve ourselves to the notion that only the few have the Pulpit . Rather, we can begin to escape the ‘top down hierarchy’ all by ourselves.
If reporting, analyzing, and presenting is instead viewed as a Populist Collaborative effort, this perhaps initiates a change in paradigm -what Debbie Lusignan refers to as the “Shift of the Collective Whole” — that is, a replacing of our old collective compass with a new one. By simply raising one’s own voice, broadcasting one’s own opinion, initiating one’s own conversation …the collective needs no particular media figureheads to introduce the concept into the public sphere.
And unlike the much more challenging task of trying to elevate and support a relatively unknown candidate in a high-profile election race…simply finding the conduit to air their perspective is significantly easier due to the accessibility of the new media.
Is this it, then ? Well, for the sake of what a single writer can posit, it’s a reasonable start, particularly because it does not rely upon old Rx’s of people having to willfully change what they have been culturally wired to do. That can be a herculean task.
However, if already established personalities and outlets initiate a few simple ‘control’ mechanisms; and those voices who have yet to speak out (beyond perhaps 100-something character tweets or Facebook blurbs) take to expanding their thoughts and publishing or distributing we can, by our individual actions, positively affect the collective Progressive whole.
Will we all then ‘just get along’? Probably not. But by having examples we look up to start to lead more by example, and a larger scope of individuals introduce their ideas to the public debate, undoubtedly Progressives can move away from our current fracturing.