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27 August 2002 (Tuesday): politics

Hey, all you out there. What say we get a dialogue going on the November elections? I intend to vote, and to cast as fully informed a vote as possible, so I'm going to need some help.

While I'm at it, the movement to require open-source software for government applications seems misguided to me -- fighting fire with fire. The new copy-protection proposals are scary as all hell, but the solution is to shoot those down, not to invent something that goes against open-source's very roots in libertarianism.

Activism exhausts me. I've never really done it as a result; I've voted, I've written letters to my senators, I've been a conscientious consumer, but I never dove headlong into a campaign of any kind. I have absolutely nothing in my life to complain about, and taking up someone else's battle cry against injustice always felt hollow at best, even if I sympathized with the cause. I think if I'm going to have any kind of serious political impact in my lifetime, it'll be through my checkbook, funding programs I believe in. Maybe it's my father's influence, and his (rather elitist) conceptualization of activism in terms of generals and footsoldiers. Anyone can wave a flag and set up chairs in an auditorium, he argues; to really make a difference you need to be at the helm, with both the money and the vision. I guess I think of it differently: I'd be supplying the only asset I know how to give. Devotion of belief and energy ain't my strong points.

Of course, this approach assumes achieving some degree of fabulous wealth first. I'm working on it.

posted by enjelani @ 01:46 AM PST

Replies: 5 comments

Actually, putting money into political action has always seemed wrong to me somehow. Sure, you're funding the organizations who advance something you believe in. But it's a passive and more convenient form of activism than getting one's hands dirty. Writing a check doesn't really take much passion, just, well, money. It's absolutely necessary that NPOs need cash, and I admire you for doing your part. But to me, it just throws the scales into one direction only to be thrown back the other way with funding to a rival organization. All money really buys is political influence, not foot soldiers.

Activism, the kind that produces any degree of significant change, rarely succeeds with money. It succeeds with bodies massing in large numbers, showing their passion for the cameras. I'm impressed with what I saw in Oregon last week. The shot of one protester squirting water in another's eyes to stop the burn of pepper spray is burned into my memory. There's your foot soldier. :) I'm hoping this will be a good start to more protests to come.

I rarely give money to organizations. Maybe I'm just cheap. :) But I know it's more than that. It's the disconnect. I do show up at rallies and I march when I'm finally so fed up that I can't take it anymore. The world is heading off into very scary directions, so I'll be getting my hands dirty when the time's right for me to jump in. Soon, very soon...

posted by jim @ 27 08 2002 10:48 AM PST

i don't know. foot soldiers (to stick to the metaphor) have to be fed and clothed and armed. any campaign requires a war chest. it's more noble, more romantic, (more dangerous) to be on the field itself, but sharp metal things are more effective and more expensive than sticks and stones. the money has to come from somewhere.

but it sounds like you have kind of a fatalistic outlook: what's the point of these little skirmishes when a full-on revolution is inevitable and is the only thing that's going to change anything?

i get the same feeling when i see apathy and stupidity and so many steps taken in exactly the wrong direction (including the establishment's unceasing efforts to increase apathy and stupidity). but i suppose i always think that if enough people are just slightly activist, care just a little bit, we can roll the revolution slowly and bloodlessly.

that's how it's supposed to work in our system anyway, right? every November a bloodless revolution.

posted by Zach @ 27 08 2002 11:44 AM PST

i guess my point is that i rarely feel the passion required to be an effective "footsoldier." i'll march and shake fists with the rest of them when i get pissed off enough. but i'm very very slow to anger, so i don't see that happening any time soon.

at the same time, i realize some of these are serious issues, and i'm willing to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to expressing my opinion. ideally i would do both: sign the check and storm the capitol building. but i think if more people would do just one of the two, we'd see some results.

posted by enjelani @ 27 08 2002 12:29 PM PST

I think the crux of my reply was the last sentence in the first paragraph. Money is the means of everything in this world, activism included. But placing money on one side only fuels reactionary investments in the other side. To take the analogy that much further, picking a side and funding either the Sierra Club or the NRA (one example) is akin to funding either the Palestinians or the Israilis. It's a fight for ideals that turnes into an endless attack-counterattack battle. Nobody ever wins because nobody sees the other side.

I have a problem with organizations, including liberal ones, that only tell half the story. They are all reactionary, which feeds misinformation. I'm an ardent environmentalist, but I can't trust the Sierra club because they only give one side of the story. Every organization is the same in this regard.

So what's the answer? As always, it's education. The problem with today's electorate is that it doesn't have the full story. This leads to the the other neccesary element: a truly balanced media, and a balanced argument. Public television comes close, but it still has a liberal bent.

Let's help create a system where all sides of an issue are truly heard, independent of money and influence. At this point such a society doesn't exist, even though we like to believe it does. So I don't put my money anywhere. This may sound like simple apathy. But I do what I can. Anytime I have the opportunity to help create a more educated, informed and balanced world, I act. Above all else, I pay attention. I try to become informed, try and see every side, and help communicate it in any small or large way that I can. As Frijof Capra says: "Healing the universe is an inside job."

posted by jim @ 27 08 2002 01:55 PM PST

well said, Jim. i agree that polarization and the over-simplification of issues for the sake of selling an agenda is an ugly, immature (and self-defeating, in the long term) tactic. its use is pretty much taken for granted in politics (particularly by the media) and it makes me sick to my stomach.

i also agree that education balanced and honest, with an emphasis on individual choice is our only realistic hope. the only other hope i can come up with is some sort of spontaneous species-wide burst of evolution wherein we're all suddenly on the path of the heart or some such :) ... though, come to think of it , "suddenly" on the evolutionary scale is maybe what we're in the middle of now.

but i still think that, despite the Sierra Club and other political liberal organizations being essentially creatures of politics, dependent on the marketing of its agenda (ie, unbalanced information), they can still do some tangible good and prevent irreversible damage.

i'd certainly rather have *something* there to push against the Dubyas of this world while we work for a system like the one you describe. and not all such organizations are equal. some are too shrill and extreme to get my support.

(not that anything we can do is truly irreversible, in the long run, but destruction is destruction ... )

posted by Zach @ 27 08 2002 06:10 PM PST