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Hullabaloo


Sunday, September 24, 2017

 

Built to #Resist

by Tom Sullivan

Maybe our reality star president is a shot in the arm of our democracy, argue E.J. Dionne Jr., Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein in the Washington Post. For all the shots you've needed since November 8th, l’chaim.

Okay, maybe his election wasn't the best thing for our democracy. His lack of regard for political norms has him threatening to use nuclear weapons to preemptively wipe a rogue nation off the map in a way that turns "rogue nation" on its head. His erratic behavior has, the trio write, "weakened our standing in the world and deepened the divisions of an already sharply torn nation." The president is doing a heckuva a job in the Michael Brown sense.

But the first reality-show presidency has produced some soul searching among Republicans whose cynical undermining of trust in government over the decades, and deepening radicalization has produced "the least-qualified and least-appropriate president in the nation’s history." So far, that soul searching, in the salons where it exists, has not produced a conservative countermovement to Trumpism. It will take more than a few George Wills and William Kristols, with their own baggage, to undo what the movement's appeals to xenophobia and nativism have endeavored so long to build. No Republican Colonel Nicholsons are going to fall onto the detonator.

Yet the president's abrogation of every norm has awakened an appreciation for how they are the keel and rudder for guiding a democracy. Not only among corporate leaders and the media, but on the left. The trio write:

The need to contain Trump has given life to new forms of organization. People of faith, across traditions, have stood up for the most vulnerable in confronting measures that have targeted immigrants and sought to roll back social protections. Lawyers have organized to combat the president’s travel bans, to protect the rights of undocumented individuals and to challenge Trump’s financial conflicts of interest. Public interest groups such as the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Project on Government Oversight have expanded their efforts on behalf of political reform, forging new alliances to fight the influence of big money in politics, protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, strengthen anti-corruption statutes and challenge the electoral college.

Will these initiatives lead to a sustained, long-term project? Will they build a new politics that acts as a counter to Trumpism and survives beyond his time in office? The evidence is promising.

Many of the new groups are developing models of citizen activism designed to promote lasting engagement. The largest of these, Indivisible, started as an online guide to political advocacy from former congressional staffers, but it amassed several thousand local chapters across the country with astonishing speed, assisted by full-time organizing staff. While Indivisible chapters do take action to resist Trump’s agenda at the national level, they emphasize advocacy in their states and counties. Although Trump is doing great damage through and to the federal government, the decay in our civic culture and institutions must be addressed from the bottom up.

Swing Left, another group formed in the aftermath of the 2016 election, is helping to connect progressives living in comfortably blue districts with opportunities to support Democratic congressional candidates in nearby swing districts. And #KnockEveryDoor is recruiting and training volunteers to canvass in their communities with the goal of promoting progressive policies by engaging voters in civil conversations — imagine that! — about the issues that matter most to them.
On that note, Insightus and Daily Kos sponsored the Data & Democracy Conference yesterday in Durham, NC. The conference brought together organizers focused on using data analysis for engaging voters and fighting vote suppression. Founded by Bill Busa (DocDawg at DKos), Insightus has been instrumental in providing data analysis in support of lawsuits brought to fight vote suppression and to uncover inequities in administration of voting in North Carolina.

Andrea Stein and Becca Zerkin formed Neighbors on Call in Chapel Hill, NC after the 2016 election. The group aims not to pursue its own agenda, but to build a willing pool of volunteers ready to dispatch in aid of any local campaign or progressive nonprofit that needs foot soldiers. Breaking the GOP supermajorities in the NC legislature is a primary focus. They've already grown so large that their current challenge is spinning off new chapters.

The most surprising presentation came from B Cordelia Yu of RagTag.org, a distributed team of over 200 technology volunteers who build or adapt tech tools, help candidates build websites, or otherwise solve tech problems for progressive activists. With the flood of new orgs out there issuing calls to action, just one of their tools gives the flavor of how RagTag means to help:
Through the CTA Aggregator, anyone who wants to focus on inspiring meaningful activism, rather than building software, will be able to focus on their strengths rather than having to own their full “stack”. Likewise, it will serve as a backend to websites and other mobile apps, permitting them access to a broad range of actions to take. CTA Aggregator has three components: a database of actions, a data entry layer with a scraping toolkit, and a data API. Ragtag has partnered with a number of organizations and is actively soliciting other partners to contribute and distribute timely call-to-action data.
I've never seen anything like it. Still, I'd trade it all for a Democratic Congress and White House. They're working on it.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.