Mark Schmitt, a brainy progressive policy analyst whose Decembrist blog is one of the best on the web, has a pair of posts up on the Death Stuff. The first is a fairly extensive analysis that ends by enthusiastically agreeing with the central point.
That’s where I find the best argument for blowing up the whole “movement,” along with the others. We can’t possibly find ways to move society forward as long as everything is put neatly into boxes labeled “environment,” “health care,” “campaign finance reform,” “low-income programs,” “pro-choice,” etc., and the coalitions that exist are made up of representatives from those movements. Trying to force environmentalists to think about health care doesn’t solve the problem either. We need a whole new structure, built around a convincing narrative about society and the economy, and a new way to fit these pieces together.
Matt Yglesias chimes in, coming at the same conclusion from a different starting point (national security):
As Mark says, what’s needed here is something beyond “meetings or traditional coalitions around particular shared interests,” which we do already have. What’s needed, in short, is a real ideology that, as such, has adherents. The adherents would, of course, specialize to some extent as people always do. But what we have right now is really a coalition of lots of micro-ideologies and micro-interests that happen to collaborate with one another from time to time on this or that.
I agree. What’s needed is more than procedural coalitions, more than other mechanisms to interact and collaborate. What’s needed is is a uniting vision of the kind of country and world we want.
Schmitt’s second post is also interesting.It addresses this Zephyr Teachout post, which argues that the way to revive progressive unity is more human interaction: “There’s pretty good evidence that humans actively enjoy belonging to ritualized, secular societies that meet pretty regularly, weekly and monthly.”
Schmitt questions this.
My own view is that membership in the modern world is defined by giving people things to do. One of those things might be going to local meetings, but while that worked for the young and single people who populated the Dean campaign, it’s not as likely to work for those of us who have a little more going on in our lives. I shouldn’t use myself as an example, because I get more than enough political stimulation during the work day, but it would take a lot of loyalty for me to join anything that meets “weekly and monthly.” That’s not something my cohort, made up of very likely voters, is going to jump into.
I don’t accept, or see any evidence for, the proposition that people are just dying to join some organization such as the ACLU if only they could attend a lot of meetings. I think that the ACLU should instead dramatically lower the bar to someone considering themselves a “member,” and encourage much more micro-transactions (signing a petition, seeking out information on an issue, looking up candidate endorsements) that will slowly draw individuals into the organization.
This is something environmentalists need to think hard about, since the movement has traditionally relied heavily on the large membership lists of the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, etc. Teachout and Schmitt seem to be offering two roads forward here — one that would increase the depth, connection, and commitment of membership, one that would acknowledge the distributed, multi-tasking nature of modern life and push for less depth but more breadth, more choices, more one-off transactions.
I’m up in the air about this, and suspect the answer is probably “both,” but it’s something to ponder as we try to, uh, escape Death.