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The Weight of Inaction is Inactivating

You may notice that over the last few days, I haven’t been really been posting substantively. Big changes are afoot in the worlds of surveillance and campaign finance. American hunger is set to grow as food stamp cuts kick in without an expansion of jobs for the hungry to fill. Faced with these changes, I’m experiencing a new emotion: I’m stymied. I can’t bear to write about these subjects any longer. I’m retreating to articles about bowling bag spam and paid placement and inconsistencies in web hosting terms of service. This is meaningless. I’m retreating into meaninglessness. I’m taking refuge in meaninglessness.

I came back home on Sunday from a national march in Washington, DC against massive surveillance. I was not buoyed by the experience. I was cowed. It’s not polite to mention, but I’ll mention it because someone has to say it: the turnout to the march was absolutely dismal. At its peak, the march had attracted somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 participants. It wasn’t hard to count the crowd; it wasn’t that kind of an overwhelming march. I stood on the monument to Christopher Columbus outside Union Station and could see everyone within my field of vision. My daughter and I alone were able to add one tenth of 1% to the crowd. This does not make the march or its subject matter insignificant — but it does make the amount of inaction in this country in the face of bold-face bad news very depressing. Consider that supposedly, over 100 national organizations were behind this march. If that is really true, then each organization only attracted 10-20 participants at a maximum. That’s national staff plus a boyfriend or two. The alternative is that the march never had that kind of organizational support, not really, and that individual Americans’ desire to spread the news of the march on their own wasn’t sufficient to make a difference.

Headed home on Sunday, I passed a footrace sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps. Participants clogged the DC Metro to the gills, and the side of the road was clotted with supporters, bringing signs declaring how much they cared about those running the course. The contrast was glaring.

Usually, this kind of silence gears me up. Usually I’m motivated by others’ quiescence. This week, I’m struck dumb. In the face of others’ silence I can’t speak any more, and I can’t seem to find my way out.

How can I find my voice again?

How can the nation?

4 comments to The Weight of Inaction is Inactivating

  • J Clifford

    I’m not sure that it can. Both the Republican and the Democratic parties are up to their ears in the abuses, and so they can’t emerge as a partisan issue. That’s why the rank and file are staying away, and why elected political leaders are doing as little as possible.

    Americans seem to care about their political teams more than they care about political ideals. Heck, they care more about sports teams.

    Our country is going down into cyberauthoritarianism, and there doesn’t seem to be much interest in stopping it. The spying is all taking place invisibly, in a technical world few people understand. We’ve been trying to bring it out into the open, but people these days are mostly restricting their online activism to clicking “like” on Facebook.

    I’m feeling much of the same sense of dispiritedness as you are. I don’t really have the belief that a protest or petition will make a difference. We have too much evidence now of activist efforts we’ve participated in falling flat.

    Activism, if it is to be effective, will have to take on a very different form from what we see now. Hey hey, ho ho, has got to go… but I’m not really sure that there’s the energy to summon up an alternative.

  • Bill

    It’s not just you, Jim…it’s all of us. Let’s face it, progressives are notorious for burning out and throwing in the towel just as we start to actually get some traction (in our Elite Brand bowling shoes, of course!).

    The Republican party is in tatters and faced with a looming mid-term disaster of historic proportions. Its teabagger base is now nearly universally reviled and regarded as radioactive, even by its creators and plutocrat funders. Democrats have begun to realize that their own ever-growing base wants a more progressive turn from the party, and have miraculously discovered that party unity works better than fracture. Slowly but surely the country is climbing out of Dubya’s economic crater. Even more slowly, but surely, our nation is taking the first historic baby steps toward universal health coverage, something unimaginable a decade ago. Without firing a shot we’re in the process of successfully disarming a rogue state of its massive stockpiles of illegal chemical weapons. The most secretive, powerful and despotic of government ‘black’ agencies, the NSA, has had its pants pulled down in public…has had its privacy violated…is now running for its life, and is likely soon to be neutered (provided we don’t give up the fight). Keystone XL, which only a decade ago would have been approved out of hand with nary a headline, is pretty much DOA.

    I’m not saying all is now rainbows and unicorns, or course. We’ve had plenty of recent losses, too, and some of the highest priority critical issues such as climate change, the social safety net, and voting rights have dangerously stalled, or even lost ground.

    Now is the time for consolidating and expanding upon a pretty good start. Progressivism, under the better name “common decency and common sense,” is gaining mind-share. Irregular Times can (and does) help. So cowboy-up and figger out how it can help even more. It seems to me that IT is at its least effective when it plays echo-chamber…we have much better outlets there, such as Daily Kos, and anyway echo chambers are tedious and pointless. In the couple of years now that I’ve been a steady reader, IT has seemed to me to be most effective when it was engaging in what I guess I would call “investigative blogging”…as in the Americans Elect era.

    Life is a wheel. Be of good cheer.

    • J Clifford

      Of course, Bill, the Republican Party agenda is not at all in tatters. It’s flying high, with the help of the Democrats.

      Who are these Democratic politicians that are newly embracing a progressive agenda?

      On rhetoric, I have to point out that your optimism stretches credulity when it refers to us taking “baby steps” toward making health care “universal”. Baby steps and universality are kind of opposite. It’s like me earning a dollar, and bragging that I’ve taken the first baby steps toward being the richest person in the whole wide world.

      The NSA’s nasty spying network was created with the help of Barack Obama and other Democrats, and they’ve kept it in action, even expanding it, and have successfully avoided ANY reforms to the Big Brother system in the five months since Edward Snowden began his whistleblowing, with the majority of Democrats in elected office and the media blasting Snowden as if he is the problem. The NSA is not running for its life. It’s hunkering down, knowing that there’s not likely to be any real reform of its powers, much less the repeal of the FISA Amendments Act and Patriot Act that ought to take place.

      I don’t want to say that the Democrats are all bad all the time, but your praise for them, and for the state of progressive politics, doesn’t seem plausible.

      When I started writing for Irregular Times, I was on my state’s Democratic Party committee. Every election cycle has brought me more disillusionment with the Democrats – not less. I really don’t see the Democratic Party turning around. I see Democratic voters expecting less and less of their leaders. The Republican Party institution is in a mess, but the Democratic Party institution isn’t far behind.

      Check out this recent poll, and put it in the “pox on both your houses” pile: http://pos.org/documents/wsjlateoct2013.pdf

      The poll notes, as you do, that the Tea Party has a positive rating of only 23 percent… but then, the Democratic Party isn’t doing very well either, with a positive rating of just 37 percent. Mitch McConnell has a positive rating of only 11 percent, but Harry Reid has a positive rating of only 19 percent. That’s the kind of lead that’s nobody should be proud of.

      I believe that you’re sincere in praising the Democrats, Bill. I don’t want to transform you into a Tom, who doesn’t believe that there’s any way to make things better, and that we can only be witnesses on an inevitable train wreck of humanity. I don’t want to go that way myself, but I feel those kind of thoughts rising in my mind recently.

      I would like to believe that the Democratic Party can be a genuine, useful voice for progressive politics. It’s just that I’ve heard Democratic politicians lie, over and over again, to their progressive base, expecting us to applaud. It’s like when Obama insists that the NSA has not been spying on Americans, right before we get evidence to the contrary, and keeps on promising to have a “review” with “transparency”, while offering nothing of the sort. I can’t really get on board with the Air America alumni as they clap and defend his outrageous behavior.

      It gets very difficult, after years of this Democratic doublespeak, to get enthusiastic even about a Democratic candidate who appears to be a real liberal. For all we know, it’s just an act. The Democratic Party has trained us very well to be suspicious of everything that they say.

      I agree with you that the echo chamber material is not very useful any more, if it ever was. I’m done even with forwarding on the talking points of the Green Party, a very poor alternative to the Democrats.

      I suppose that the answer is for us to focus, as you suggest, on those opportunities for independent work that isn’t being done elsewhere. Without expecting strongly positive results, at least we can do our bit to staunch the flow… or document the flow, perhaps.

  • Dave

    “I’m taking refuge in meaninglessness.” No, you’re not. It’s called keeping a sense of humour, and I rather enjoy your forays into these diversions at times. The excesses of corporate shenanigans that masquerade as true capitalist exploits are funny, so have fun pointing them out. Sometimes that is all one can do.

    Also, one thought concerning timing. The news is full of stories re: the beginning of the nationalisation of a large chunk of the U.S. worker’s payroll and benefits and the blowback it is bound to engender. That is the big story of the moment, and it’s not a good time to compete for attention regardless of the importance of the cause. Though one would not necessarily want to admit it, perhaps one reason for the success of Occupy Wall Street in gaining media attention was that, rather than being deemed truly “newsworthy” by news organisations, it simply might have served to fill a slow news month or two. That’s OK, it worked. As important as rebuking mass surveillance is, somtimes you just have to wait until you have the microphone.

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