Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Be amongst them

Any good community organizer knows that there is a continuum of citizenry views on matters of peace, justice and basic rights. There are those who share all our values--that we are called to nonviolence, that we stand for human rights, and that we believe in freedom. When we who are trying to wage a campaign are communicating to that group of kindreds, we are calling them to action. We beg their involvement.

Then there are the middle-of-the-road folks with generally good values but who know little about our issue and are rarely active. We hope to educate them and to activate a few.

Finally, there are those who push back, who despise our values, who are authoritarian and who see America as exceptional, as the just rulers of a rabble of humanity, as prepared to use any means to crush the unjust opposition to our righteous dominance of Earth. They summon all the rhetoric of the founding of America, stripped of its painful reality of slave-owning and Native genocide and land theft, and scorn all who cannot agree with their one and only and obvious set of values and choices. That constituency deserves none of our time if we are good community organizers because our time is precious and wasting it on them is far less productive than spending it with those whose values are closer to ours.

Still, when we are attacked by these people, it is often helpful to respond for a few good organizing reasons.

One, the more timid amongst them are likely open to conversion. They are sometimes there because they have a hegemonic presence in their lives who have dragged them along, but inside they are looking for better reason. If you can give it to them in a kind way, you can convert some of those folks.

Two, other witnesses are often up for grabs, so your real messaging is to them, even though you are responding to some attack by someone you have zero hope of converting. It becomes not just a debate on content and glib ability to hold the stage, but on reaching hearts and minds with a decent communicating style.

Three, these are the people who will probe for weaknesses in your arguments and engaging them keeps your pencil sharp. It can be wearisome when the same turf, so well trod, is where you must go to respond yet again to the same challenges, but at times that old muddy patch reveals new points of iterative challenge. This is part of how your reasoning grows keener and your answers to objections can be refined.

So, I like to know what those with whom I generally disagree are thinking. What is their leadership telling their followers? How are they reframing issues so that inconvenient truths are obscured and fewer object to them? If I know how they are being informed, I can counter that better and I can learn their language more fluently--and the far right in the US speaks a different tongue, rest assured.

So, in that spirit, I try to listen and learn from them. Here is their latest strategic move, a fundraising push to subscribe to their magazine, with a special August issue called Battle Plan that purports to teach the true patriots of America how to wrest control back from the dangerous Marxists who have taken over. Here is how they tell their own what is in the advertised issue:

Highlights of "BATTLE PLAN" include:

"How to make the Obama nightmare go away" by Joseph Farah

"How to take back America" by Phyllis Schlafly, who tells how to combine old playbooks with new tools to build a "solid conservative majority"

"The block captain revolution" by John Burns, a proven, step-by-step plan for restoring America, neighborhood by neighborhood

"Turning the tables on evil in America" by David Kupelian, an in-depth, sophisticated look at how to prevail against a government and culture gone mad – with specific examples of winning strategies

"Karl Rove: 6 things that will determine November's election outcome"

"Glenn Beck on re-founding America" – focusing on the necessary attitude and principles necessary to win

"A model for unity and action" by Sean Hannity, who outlines the urgent need for an updated Contract with America

"Saving America from 'Obama's secular-socialist machine'" by Art Moore, profiling former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his call for citizens to bravely mobilize to face the "mortal threat" to their nation

"Forget about third parties" by Rush Limbaugh, who reveals that "the Republican Party has lost its way because of one issue"

"Out-of-touch Congress sounds our clarion call to take a stand" by Sarah Palin, who cautions Americans to "remember the outrages of Obamacare when you vote" this November

"GOP on track to snatch defeat from jaws of victory" by Ann Coulter, a timely warning on the extreme dangers of overconfidence when things look good

"Dick Morris: Work your 'electronic precinct'" by David Kupelian, who explains the top strategist's key advice this November: Since Obama won the presidency through innovative use of the Internet, to take America back, conservatives can do no less – and Morris tells how to do it

"Final thoughts: My very best advice to anyone who wants to take America back" by Joseph Farah
What an interesting set of plans and intentions. And all for only $39.95 annual subscription. I learned a lot just reading the contents' titles annotated for us. The assumptions are too numerous to enumerate in one short blog entry, but the seriousness of their efforts, and the practicality of some of it, cannot be doubted or discounted, Glenn Beck's tautologies and Dept. of Redundancy Dept. language notwithstanding.

WWGD? What on Earth would Gandhi do about such a situation? It's hard to know if he would engage door-to-door, on the Internet and Democracy Now!, strive to place op-eds into mainstream newspapers or return to the ashram to work on some spinning and goat-tending. We can all decide for ourselves. But I think he would have been the Gandhi Godfather, keeping his friends close and his opponents closer. Listening to rage and learning of plans to put it even more in power is a Gandhian first step, I think. While we may be amazed that anyone could believe that what Obama has done is outside the war system, these people intend to strengthen it even more. They are misguided and are the reason our nation is so reviled around the world, but our great error would be to ignore them or fail to engage.

And finally, from the Dept. of Deep Ironies, these people call that magazine Whistleblower--and they are calling for Julian Assange's head on a pike. Not figuratively, literally. The most serious whistleblower of our millennium is now the target of a massive rightwing call for his execution. Obama himself--the despised peacenik appeaser--is spearheading an effort to get several governments to issue arrest warrants for Assange and the entire relationship to Iceland--which has sheltered him--is now under review at the top levels of the US government.

The far right always believes they are called to action.

We on the nonviolent and inclusive side believe we are called to education, which is indeed first. But action is also crucial. The stakes are so high, from off-shore drilling to alternative energy to basic human rights to civil rights to an economy based, for once, on a partnership with humankind instead of war profiteers. We cannot sit back and let the war system drive us all over the cliff into the abyss that the suffering people of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere can show us right now. Collapsed economy? It's there and coming here. Violent anarchy? Same thing. As Malcolm X said, the chickens are coming home to roost. In the case of the rightwing, it's the chickenhawks, but the dystopia they prepare for us is something we can reject with enough civil society organizing. I hope we're up for it. It's always people power v profiteer power and it's always a battle first for hearts and minds.

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