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writing for godot

The Staff of Satyagraha: A Movement of Movements

Written by Patrick Walker   
Wednesday, 26 August 2020 09:37

Satyagrha--escaping movement silos for united POWER

Visionary Radical Realism–NOT Eternal Optimism

With my last piece invoking Gandhi and satyagraha, this series took a frankly visionary turn. A seemingly outlandish turn, perhaps, given its topic: the brass-tacks, workaday problem of how U.S. leftists regain the political leverage surrendered via lesser-of-two-evil (LOTE) voting. Putting things concretely, how the hell do we expect to successfully pressure Joe Biden after voting for him?

Any leftist keenly attuned to recent Democratic Party history should concede that this is a staggeringly difficult question. And to coddle any hope of strategic success, leftists must face it squarely. Best as I can judge from my political reading, watching, and listening, I’m perhaps the only public leftist voice who has.

Given my unflinching realism, I was flabbergasted one commenter under the OpEdNews version of my previous piece accused me of “eternal optimism.” Viewing his own obvious stance as a Never Biden leftist, he clearly confused me, in knee-jerk fashion, with the Blue No Matter Who folks he’s used to confronting. In my optic, lack of nuance makes for lack of realism–and jerking knees–in both camps. It’s natural to respond with sheer reflex when your and your opponents’ views are prepackaged and not attuned by deep reflection to intricate present realities. And the last thing you’re prepared to recognize and meet on its own terms is visionary radical realism–eternal optimism’s almost polar opposite.

So before proceeding with my stated topic here–the movement personnel who’ll “staff” the new satyagraha–I must highlight for readers a point that’s become crystal clear in writing this series. Namely, my whole detailed project is an exercise in visionary radical realism. All three words in that description are closely interwoven and crucial; together they define a position diametrically at odds with eternal optimism. It would be insanely cockeyed optimism to expect all, or even most, details of my proposals here to be adopted by the movements in question, and perhaps the soberest realism to expect them not to impact the world at all.

So, Antonio Gramsci’s brilliant revolutionary dictum “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” must become my personal rallying cry. The Herculean task of leverage under LOTE demands a correspondingly grandiose solution. Proposing a grand, imaginative scheme that’s never been tried–and, admittedly, probably never will be–I must brave naysayers’ ridicule even to put that scheme on the table, granting it slim hopes of success rather than none.

What makes my grand scheme a target for ready ridicule is precisely biggest merit: that it’s visionary. Severing the long-unyielding Gordian knot of leverage under LOTE will surely require “outside the box” thinking–or in a word, vision. The relevant vision here affects not just remedy but–crucially–diagnosis. As radical a cure as Gandhi’s satyagraha would never have occurred to me had I not (with much help) diagnosed the problem facing would-be relentless pressurers of Biden and Democrats as a sinister, insidious, omnipresent system of propaganda shielding Biden and Democrats.

By failing to confront this propaganda system (because they don’t know they need to), our major U.S. progressive movements–like the Poor People’s Campaign, the Sunrise Movement, and Black Lives Matter–are defeated in advance. Failing to confront the propaganda system leaves intact elite assumptions and agendas lethal to the aims of all these movements. Since elite lying shaping public opinion is the fundamental problem, obstinate movement “truthing”–on a scale sufficient to overcome elite propaganda advantages–is the innovative solution.

While I clearly claim important innovative thinking here, my claim to originality is purely one of synthesis. As regards “my” analysis, never has Isaac Newton’s insistence that he saw farther because he “stood on the shoulders of giants” been more relevant. In my second piece in this series, I already paid homage to Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald as essential analytic sources. Beyond Chomsky’s and Greenwald’s continuing influence, “my” analysis has also been indebted to such leftist lights as Naomi KleinAdolph Reed, Jr., and Thomas Frank. And, needless to say, Mahatma Gandhi. My synthesis is purely a matter of “hooking up” major U.S. movements tragically disconnected from their crucial insights.

The Movements “Staffing” Satyagraha–and Their Demands

In this article’s headline, I’ve already described the new satyagraha as a “movement of movements,” implying that members of major U.S. movements already on the ground will serve as satyagraha’s “staff.” Justifying the member choices–and above all, their united demands–will require much preliminary spadework. But to keep readers interested–to avoid keeping them in needless suspense–I’ll briefly identify here the key movement players in my novel adaptation of Gandhi’s satyagraha. I’ll also–probably more controversially–specify the severely limited package of demands around which they’ll need to unite.

Briefly put, my proposed satyagraha movement “players” include members of the three major U.S. progressive movements already named: the Poor People’s Campaign, the Sunrise Movement, and Black Lives Matter. My choice reflects the size and visibility of these movements as well as their experience with peaceful civil disobedience–a necessity for any movement inspired by Gandhi.

Almost needless to say, it includes lesser-known groups sharing their basic aims, such as the many groups comprising the youth climate movement. Also–in some issue overlap with the Poor People’s Campaign–it includes the various groups against militarism and pushing U.S. peaceful foreign policy (like Black Alliance for PeaceCODEPINK, and World Beyond War). It includes RootsAction and at least some of its allies in its campaign to elect Biden and then relentlessly pressure him. It probably can include various Medicare for All and immigrant rights groups.

It can include, in short, any group or individual, in short, willing to unite around a severely limited set of “umbrella” demands. Namely, just two: a peaceful Green New Deal and national ranked-choice voting. Probably quite controversially, I believe the demands of all the named movements and groups can be subsumed–for the sake of united struggle–under the neat rhetorical package of a “peaceful Green New Deal.” The second unity demand–ranked-choice voting–is to defeat Democrats’ use of electoral extortion (at its worst in the Trump era) to win elections while strangling all progressive aims. All the movements and groups in question have a potent common interest in ending Dems’ strong-arming of progressive voters by rational threats of Republican craziness. By making it safe to vote for progressive third parties like the Greens, national ranked-choice voting would face Democrats with competition from parties far more sympathetic to progressive movements’ aims.

Such a radically simplified unity package of course requires far more thorough justification, which I’ll at least begin (it’s truly a huge strategy subject) in the next section.

Justification: Movement Unity as Propaganda War Power

Tim the Tool Man, in the popular 1990s sitcom Home Improvement, was celebrated for his oft-misguided manly mantra “more power.” Whatever its shortcomings as home fix-it advice, it’s always been the pinnacle of wisdom for popular movements. Nor has it ever been more relevant. In an election where Democrats’ overwhelming theme is stopping Donald Trump–a dangerous demagogue who really must be stopped– Biden and Dems have had their best convenient excuse ever for offering popular movements their lightest lip service and rudest cold shoulder.

Not that they ever needed much excuse. But now–when a global climate emergency makes popular, populist reforms more urgent than ever–the need to deep-six Trump gives Democrats every excuse to brutally elbow all talk of reform off the table. And, what’s worse, with plausible appearance of holding the higher moral ground. “How dare you,” Biden and Democrats seemingly scold, “bring up such controversial, divisive diversions when all decent people are uniting to defeat Trump?” (Uniting, they fail to add, behind the same corrupt agendas and callous neglect of human needs that gave us Trump in the first place.)

Such Dem establishment propaganda–successfully framing urgent, popular reforms as controversial and divisive amidst a need to unify against Trump–doubtless played a major role in Biden’s primary victory over Bernie Sanders. Even such a leftist icon (and firm Sanders supporter) as Noam Chomsky acknowledged that such propaganda smeared Sanders and his agenda so successfully with mainstream voters that Bernie, if nominated, might not have been able to beat Trump.

Now, Sanders really represents urgently needed reforms–needed both to effectively address humanity’s climate emergency and to keep dangerous fake-populist demagogues like Trump from again seizing power. Knowing this, our major U.S. movements should deeply resent how thoroughly, rapidly, and successfully the Dem establishment and its media propaganda machine circled their wagons around Biden–to those movements’ deep, lasting detriment. But while nourishing keen resentment again that “circling of wagons,” our major U.S. movements desperately need to learn from it.

Our major U.S. movements must quickly learn that 1) they’re in a propaganda war where, in terms of money and messaging media, they’re desperately outgunned and 2) that to have any hope of achieving their agendas amidst such depressing propaganda disadvantages, they need a unity and simplicity of messaging– a circling of the wagons around a basic, unifying message–even tighter than that achieved by Biden and establishment Democrats in smearing Sanders. As Jim Morrison memorably sang, “They got the guns but we got the numbers/ Gonna win, yeah, we’re takin’ over.”

To have numbers remotely adequate to surmount their gargantuan propaganda disadvantage, our major U.S. movements need to escape their “issue silos” and unite around a simple, forceful message in an unprecedented way that seems quixotic to ask for or expect. But reality itself dictates this need–and I warned that my proposals here would be an exercise in visionary, radical realism. In other words, realism radical enough to diagnose the root problem as a propaganda war and visionary enough to call for big solutions scaled to the size of the problem. Like updating the unity and discipline–in urgent, obstinate truth-telling–of Gandhi’s satyagraha movement for America’s current political climes.

To sum up, I’ve made the radical proposal that our major U.S. movements unite–for political pressure purposes–around a splendidly simple set of just two demands: a peaceful Green New Deal and ranked-choice voting. I’ve justified this unprecedented unity program by a need for concerted strength of voice in outshouting a propaganda machine our major movements haven’t even yet identified as their foremost common enemy. Where lying propaganda is the shared root problem facing movements, unity in obstinate truth-telling–satyagraha–is the radical common solution.

In my next piece, “The Risks and Rhetoric of U.S. Satyagraha,” I’ll frankly face the risk our major movements–above all, Black Lives Matter–may fear of seeing their unique aims get lost under the big umbrella of a peaceful Green New Deal. I’ll also discuss in more detail the truth-telling rhetoric–tailored to specific, pernicious establishment lies–our satyagraha movement needs to obstinately insist on. Russiagate will loom quite large in this discussion. your social media marketing partner
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