Stuart Bramhall on why the left fails to attract the working class.
After posing this question to working class clients and friends for 30+ years, I have come up with the following answers:
Liberals and progressives rarely address the nitty gritty financial issues (i.e. paying the rent or mortgage and food and doctor bills) that would motivate blue or pink collar workers to become politically active. When you can’t afford a doctor or shoes for your kids, it’s hard to get excited about wars in the Middle East, banking reform or climate change.
Liberals and progressives tend to be insensitive to working class culture and are often perceived as moralizing about “political correctness” and “lifestyle changes.” This often includes a heavy emphasis on changing light bulbs and other “sacrifices” activists are expected to make to reduce global warming.
My blue collar friends complain about not being heard at political meetings because more educated activists tend to monopolize the discussions.
My working class friends tend to be mistrustful of progressives in general, owing to their tendency to stigmatize common working class issues, especially chronic illness and obesity (which increase in prevalence as income decreases), smoking and gun control.
Liberals and progressive organizers are generally urban, middle class and above, and too often patronizing to the working class whom they expect to quietly listen to and absorb the perceived wisdom from them, their enlightened betters. Marxists are just as guilty of this, if not more so, since they deliberately ignore the white working class in favor of people of color, who are supposedly more prole and thus more authentic. Plus Marxists really expect you to shut up while they tell you about their religion. Few liberal, progessive or Marxist organizers genuinely listen to what the working class says, much less encouraging them to have leadership roles in their organizations. Saul Alinsky did, and that’s precisely why he was so successful.
I love the ‘US out of Vermont’ slogan on the guy on the left and the rest of the cartoon made me laugh too. But it got me thinking, tactics on the left haven’t changed much since Dylan’s early days, have they? Back then it was civil rights marches. A few years later the anti-Vietnam War mobilizations were huge and had massive impact. Some of those DC protests drew a million people, and they were organized without email, Twitter, the Internet, faxes, or copiers. To use current jargon, word about the protests spread virally.
Not much has changed on the Left since then in terms of tactics and strategy. It’s all a bit calcified, frozen in amber. Protests, even huge ones, don’t have the impact they had in the 1960’s, when it was all fresh and new. Yet the left mostly plods along with the same old ideas – and wonders why its impact has waned. The world has changed, the American Left, not so much.
First off – and this has become abundantly clear since we moved to southern Utah – the American Left is almost entirely urban and seems allergic to going into rural areas. Along with this too often comes the unspoken assumption that anyone living in the country must be a right-wing, gun-toting goober (who needs politics explained to him by a leftie living in a city who doesn’t know the difference between hay and straw.) But the only thing correct about that is the gun-owning part. The Populist Revolt of the 1890’s came straight out of the Kansas farmer heartland. And I bet not a single left-wing organizer from the city ventured there to see what was happening or lend a hand.
And could we please toss out the tired old idea that mass organizing can only happen with the help of or be led by unions? Most unions today are ineffective and part of the problem. The leadership of major unions hasn’t the slightest interest in creating One Big Union to smash the bosses, as this could threaten their big salaries and private jet travel perks. The current protests in the Middle East and now in Europe aren’t coming from unions or even from just the left. They are arising spontaneously from a pissed-off populace.
The best thing the American Left can do is to nurture (not lead) such dissent. But as to when this could happen, the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.
The SNP, a “pro-independence moderate left-of-centre party” which was left for dead four years ago in the aftermath of the Royal Bank of Scotland having to be bailed out by Britain, has roared back and now controls the Scottish Parliament. They decimated Labour and the Lib Dems. They did not do this by being timid little church mice and constantly moving to the right. Instead, they stood strong for health care, affordable housing, education for all, and a green economy which includes investment to develop Scotland’s huge wind, wave, and tidal energy resources. And the voters responded.
This of course is what the Democratic Party here should do. Stand tall and fight for specific issues instead of cravenly capitulating, trying to grab a mythical center. The SNP shows us Left can win.
US Uncut. Violence at protests. Bloggers arrested
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With Josh Mull from Rethink Afghanistan and Firedoglake, Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and myself.
Tonight’s discussion was free-ranging. The SOTU address seemed mostly banal. Also, Utah revamped their state pension plan in just one year, potentially saving 50%. Can this be a model for other states? It shows that change can happen, and quickly too.
Egypt is erupting. Will the protests succeed in toppling the government? What would that mean for the rest of the Middle East? While the protests are anti-government, the underlying cause may be rising food prices and water shortages.
These protests have spread their message via SMS and Twitter. These are powerful tools. But here in the States, we need to decide what the message is, and make sure it resonates across political boundaries, not just left or right.
With Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and Josh Mull of Firedoglake & Rethink Afghanistan and myself.
Listen to the podcast on BlogTalkRadio.
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