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We are not politicians, but citizens.

a little night musing's picture

When a social movement adopts the compromises of its legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them. The mantra "the best that we can get" is a recipe for corruption. We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences.

- Howard Zinn (1922-2010)
writing in The Progressive, May 2007

Quoted in the March 2010 issue among many other quotes throughout the years from Zinn's writing for The Progressive. I found this today and just had to return briefly from my break from blogging to share it.

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Submitted by libbyliberal on

There has been a struggle growing within the progressive movement for some time. Pragmatists vs. purists... I'll use those words since they are not popular with each attributee to be fair.

I am with the purists. I think there has got to be a moral compass for the social movement which I don't see in Barack and in the Dem leadership and incredibly so many of my peers.

What a rich passage that is, as I reread it again. "We have no office to hold onto, only our conscience." How true and stirring.

Today while protesting on the sidewalk I found myself getting angriest at a man who was angry at us, in a way, for being messengers and he was telling us he was tired and had done a lot and was now disgusted and had lost his fight. And maybe my ego hurt since he handed me back my flyer and refused to read it. Or maybe he made me angry because he was echoing much of my own despair lately, too.

With the politicians. I wonder if it is learned helplessness with them, or is it ego mania and wilfuness and narcissism. Maybe a combo or one for some and the other for others.

When 300 Congresspeople sign together in a spirit of bi-partisanship to mollify Netanyahu it really spooks me btw but that is for another blog post. $30 billion for Israel and it, Israel, has universal health care btw, but we are giving them huge funding. And their war crimes ... as well as our war crimes in collusion with them leave me heart sick and dumbfounded over this dark codependency. Anyway...

Bush defied the law, made up his own anti-law rules, and Obama is stunningly following suit. Meanwhile a bunch of really angry people are stridently calling Obama out for things that are made up and for things I wish were true... like if he were more of a socialist..., and yet what he is doing defies our constitution ... and there is little protest concerning it. None from the fourth estate. None from our reps, supposedly progressives... and from could it be half though they make it seem more, but maybe half of the progressives, they really are in the stupor vastleft cartoons so well.

A young woman last week advised me to stop being negative, and that Obama had to move incrementally, could I not see that. I see him forcing on an emergency brake at every opportunity to stifle progreas.

Obama, another cheerleader ... for change then ... for not change. For international dialogue... for militarism... Another cheerleader. Not a leader, but a helluva cheerleader ... for anything ... for what someone said today, opportunistic things.

But your post is not about the pols, it is about us as citizens. I think of the serenity prayer suddenly. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can. We purists are calling for more courage and saying yes we can to change things and we believe we all can. And the prags are maybe claiming they have the wisdom to know when things can't be changed and to accept where we are. And it doesn't ring true for us purists. It seems like authoritarian following. They are enthralled for some reason. Why are some enthralled and not others. What is key to this?

The Repub Congressmen were gonna be obstructionists. The wingnuts were gonna throw hissy fits. And the Dems if they had integrity and a moral compass did not have to ostensibly but they did covertly water down and sabotage health care for the citizenry. What a charade. They get to triangulate the mean old Republicans. Meanwhile, they blew their integrity and credibility with us and any other voters, independents or disgusted Republicans, in the next election. We had to be amoral cuz they were immoral they claim. And by comparison we will present ourselves as superior, the lesser of the two proverbial evils.. the realists. . Oh, I see.

In a codependent relationship, the co-addict is locked into REACTING to the addict, the addict is the addiction for the co-addict, and can not be proactive.

Obama and Dems reactive ... stuck only in that mode, without moral imagination and will. Then again, this is kabuki, too, and they want the appearance of "look how hard we're trying" ... too bad we had to compromise so much but we did the best we could. Bull shit bull shit bull shit. It is a racket for them.

But the prags are buying it. Zinn's words to their ears.

Zinn was great at reframing and calling out denial. Thanks for the wise words, speaking of wisdom.

Sorry to go on so long.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I wish I could have been there also yesterday. But I was with you in spirit, and remember: two is a conspiracy, three is a movement!

Today while protesting on the sidewalk I found myself getting angriest at a man who was angry at us, in a way, for being messengers and he was telling us he was tired and had done a lot and was now disgusted and had lost his fight. And maybe my ego hurt since he handed me back my flyer and refused to read it.

I understand how you felt. But you know what, also? He wasn't really angry at you. He was just angry, and you happened to be there. Hopefully when he got home this incident would percolate in his mind and seeing you would end up restoring a bit of his fight.

This is something we'll have to keep reminding ourselves a lot as we fight for a better world. People's anger may be directed at us, but it is not about us.


Incidentally, while googling "mass movement" recently I came across this and I think we may be able to make use of the metaphor:

What are three kinds of mass movement?


The three kinds of mass movement is [sic] landslide, mudslide, and creep.


Thanks for all you do, libby! and thanks to Madamab for keeping on keeping on!

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Thanks for your words.

I love the mass movement def!

Yes, my angry guy yesterday. I suspect he protested rings around me long ago. I hit him with that old adage, "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." Maybe that was low of me, but it used to rally me. I had that poster on my wall in the late 60s.

This other guy started to pop off at me for not being in red states demonstrating. I looked at him dismayed, and then I pointed to corrente address on flyer and said, "We are everywhere and we are going to be heard!" That seemed like a hopeful answer for him! It made me appreciate it, too.

Submitted by Lex on

You know, for as much as i disagree with the wacko Right they deserve some credit. They get the essence of the Zinn quote, and they've gotten a political response from both parties.

Maybe there's a problem with liberal/progressive movement types insomuch as they/we value openness and conciliatory behavior for its own sake. There's nothing wrong with those facets, they're positive. But Zinn hits the nail on the head when he says that compromise is for the politicians. I know that he didn't mean that progressives should become reactionary and pointlessly unyielding.

If the goal is to push politicians to do the right thing, then they have to be pushed. My growing feeling is that Obama is brewing a crisis moment on what's left of the American Left. And so instead of a sort of counter Tea Party movement he's leaving the base to be either demoralized and apathetic or fawning and worthless. This, of course, cedes the political momentum to the Right which already went through the same process and is now controlled by the most fervent and demented elements of its base.

Submitted by Lex on

I didn't. And, yeah, the quote was too obscure for me to get without checking the source...sometimes i think i should watch more movies.

My bad on the misunderstanding...

Submitted by lambert on

If I tell somebody to STFU there will be no uncertainty about it ;-)

But I love that quote since it's so totally creepy:

bluestorm's picture
Submitted by bluestorm on

Thanks for this. Thanks for standing out there.

Thoughtful perspective in this post HCR moment. Tbaggers seem to be activists, but we read may also be astroturf-- but at least they put their bodies on the line.

The hypocrisy is unfolding, left and right. Carry it forward.

Submitted by Lex on

Ames and Levine called them out immediately. But even given that, look at the political effectiveness. The puppeteers behind them (who will lose control of them) used them to affect and push the political debate. One might wonder why the Democratic Party works so hard to keep a tight lid on its own activists...or cuts them off at the knees?

Submitted by lambert on


But we're certainly not serving enlightenment by spreading yet more gray-vampire "realism": more hopeless, resigned, take-what-crumbs-you-can-get defeatism. That just amounts to apologetics for the Dembo Judas goats who lead us every day a little farther into the abattoir. Its only effect is to drain away people's indignation and whatever impulse they might have to resist.

And that -- our steady progress deeper into the slaughterhouse -- brings me back to the short-term/long-term argument. It's too kind to the Kuciniches, even, I now think -- too kind even to the people who do have some responsibility for outcomes. They ought to be able to see where all this is going. They're not simply in the position of people who have to weigh a conjectural near-term good against a conjectural long-term harm, in a world characterized by stationary probabilistic processes. Rather, they are in the position of people who can see a blatantly obvious project being carried out before their eyes, step by step, and who must choose whether to facilitate it or monkeywrench it, to the best of their ability.

Dennis chose to facilitate it, as far as I can see. So if MInos drops me an email asking for advice about Dennis, I'll tell him, Send the little fuck straight to the hottest patch of burning brimstone you've got.