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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 27, 2007

 

Collective Effort

by poputonian

Today's anti-war rally in Washington brings to mind Ché Pasa's comment from last week:

The idea that physical protest doesn't matter or is ineffective is absurd on its face, and yet this idea is nearly endemic to much of high profile lefty blogistan, a matter of faith more than evidence. I've been in several set-to's with blogish proprietors over the issue, most recently over the question of whether Cindy Sheehan's protests are of any relevance or consequence, and shouldn't she and her tactics be shunned by the "serious" left? What complete garbage, but she does have a tendency to embarrass the Democratic Powers That Be, and that's her chief offense these days. But Cindy was down the street protesting last night with hundreds of others who marched and chanted and carried signs and --horrors -- disrupted traffic at rush hour, making the tired old point that this war must be brought to an END, yawn. See, nobody likes her, so why doesn't she just stay home? And all this marching and chanting and carrying signs has no appeal or effect any more, so we should all just stop it, hook in to the New Wired World, and zone out.

Perhaps that's part of the problem. Back in the Old Days, it wasn't really possible to hook in to the protest movement unless you were physically there in person. Now you can get a dose of protest vigor just by turning on your computer and visiting a site or two, where you'll find excellent rants and virtual marches out the wahzoo.

There. Done. Protest complete. Off to work, school or whatever.

Last year I posted an excerpt about Paul Revere's role in the revolutionary movement, a different 'old days' than what Ché Pasa was speaking of. In that piece, I suggested today's community of blogs are similar to the local associations that comprised part of the revolutionary movement infrastructure. Note the blend of meetings and action in historian Fischer's words:

The structure of Boston's revolutionary movement, and Paul Revere's place within it, were very different from recent secondary accounts. Many historians have suggested that this movement was a tightly organized, hierarchical organization, controlled by Samuel Adams and a few other dominant figures. These same interpretations commonly represent Revere as a minor figure who served his social superiors mainly as a messenger.

A very different pattern emerges from the following comparison of seven groups: the Masonic lodge that met at the Green Dragon Tavern; the Loyal Nine, which was the nucleus of the Sons of Liberty; the North Caucus that met at the Salutation Tavern; the Long Room Club in Dassett Alley; the Boston Committee of Correspondence; the men who are known to have participated in the Boston Tea Party; and Whig leaders on a Tory Enemies List.

A total of 255 men were in one or more of these seven groups. Nobody appeared on all seven lists, or even as many as six. Two men, and only two, were in five groups; they were Joseph Warren and Paul Revere, who were unique in the breadth of their associations.

Other multiple memberships were as follows. Five men (2.0%) appeared in four groups each ... Seven men (2.7%) turned up on three lists ... Twenty-seven individuals (10.6%) were on two lists ... The great majority, 211 of 255 (82.7%), appeared only on a single list. Altogether, 94.1% were in only one or two groups.

This evidence strongly indicates that the revolutionary movement in Boston was more open and pluralist than scholars have believed. It was not a unitary organization, but a loose alliance of many overlapping groups. That structure gave Paul Revere and Joseph Warren a special importance, which came from the multiplicity and range of their alliances.

None of this is meant to deny the preeminence of other men in different roles. Samuel Adams was especially important in managing the Town Meeting, and the machinery of local government, and was much in the public eye. Otis was among its most impassioned orators. John Adams was the penman of the Revolution. John Hancock was its "milch cow," as a Tory described him. But Revere and Warren moved in more circles than any others. This gave them their special roles as the linchpins of the revolutionary movement -- its communicators, coordinators, and organizers of collective effort in the cause of freedom.
...
In sum, the more we learn about the range and variety of political associations in Boston, the more open, complex and pluralist the revolutionary movement appears, and the more important (and significant) Paul Revere's role becomes. He was not the dominant or controlling figure. Nobody was in that position. The openness and diversity of the movement were the source of his importance.

So where the Boston radicals were meeting in taverns to plan their Tea Party, today we have virtual tools to enhance our associations. All told, I see more similarities than differences in the social and political structures of past and present. On this latter point, note how Fischer (writing in 1994) describes the opposing systems of intelligence for the British and the Americans, and see how it parallels today's wingnut organization, where information flows down from the omniscient White House inner circle, and also how it parallels today's liberal sphere that lives up (unwittingly, no doubt) to its legacy of disorder in the interest of intellectual strength.

Each side recognized the critical importance of intelligence, and both went busily about that vital task. But they did so in different ways. The British system was created and controlled from the top down. It centered very much on General Gage himself. The gathering of information commonly began with questions from the commander in chief. The lines of inquiry reached outward like tentacles from his headquarters in Province House. This structure proved a source of strength in some respects, and weakness in others. The considerable resources of the Royal government could be concentrated on a single problem. But when the commander in chief asked all the questions, he was often told answers that he wished to hear. Worse, the questions that he did not think to ask were never answered at all.

The American system of intelligence was organized in the opposite way, from the bottom up. Self-appointed groups such as Paul Revere’s voluntary association of Boston mechanics gathered information on their own initiative. Other individuals in many towns did the same. These efforts were coordinated through an open, disorderly network of congresses and committees, but no central authority controlled this activity in Massachusetts – not the Provincial Congress or Committee of Safety, not the Boston Committee of Correspondence or any small junto of powerful leaders; not Sam Adams or John Hancock, not even the indefatigable Doctor Warren, and certainly not Paul Revere. The revolutionary movement in New England had many leaders, but no commander. Nobody was truly in charge. This was a source of weakness in some ways. They wrangled incessantly in congresses, conventions, committees and town meetings. But by those clumsy processes, many autonomous New England minds were enlisted in a common effort – a source of energy, initiative, and intellectual strength for this popular movement.

The blogs and the rest of the virtual community are vital, but I agree with Ché Pasa that from time to time we need a tea party of some form to bring it all together, to physically demonstrate the movement and spread awareness of America's dissent from within. In keeping with that notion, I think the lefty blogistan should up its emphasis on the importance of rallies and protests.

In the meanwhile, here's to hoping today's march on Washington makes the news.



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