Monday, August 04, 2008

Al Giordano

For those of you that don't regularly read Al Giordano's campaign analysis at The Field, um, you should.

Al Giordano's perspective on the Presidential contest is fascinating. A long-time leftist activist and organizer who left the country in opposition to Clinton centrism, Mr. Giordano has broken with many in the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist ranks to enthusiastically support Barack Obama's candidacy.

I'm personally loving this: As a longstanding community organizer, journalist and foot soldier on the left (with the scar tissue upon scar tissue and a string of hard-won victories to prove it) my frustration with the ineffectiveness of so many that consider themselves also of the left in the United States in recent years has boiled over. I am so sick of having to be lumped in with those masturbatory practitioners of bad performance art that they call activism. Really. I had to leave the country 11 years ago to find better change-agents worth reporting on.

And suddenly, along comes a political candidate inside the United States - a category of person from the last place I expected this to come from - giving a nationwide teach-in and lesson-in-civics about how to effectively organize for change.

Here's an unspoken little secret: The success of Obama's campaign challenges those that still subscribe to broken patterns of activism - whether the zombie-like attempt to repeat the completely coopted street protest tactics of 1968 (or of 1999) or the academic purity troll approach that complains without even attempting to organize real people - and is driving various of them absolutely crazy with envy.

To every fellow and sister of the left that, practically on automatic pilot, bemoans that Obama has taken center stage when it comes to organizing for change in the United States (I've heard your whispers about "We can't wait to see Al disillusioned in 2009! That'll show him!" as if you're actually hoping for bad news), I say: Show me the better plan.

Show me how you are effectively organizing real people. Show me how you stopped the Clinton machine in the 1990s from auctioning off the Democratic Party (oops, too late!). Show me how you stopped the war in Iraq. Show me a single political battle you that have won with your tired old tactics and "framing" of "issues." Then I'll take your complaining more seriously.

The skinny kid with the big ears that don't look like the men on dollar bills is doing, right here, right now, what none of you complaining about him have accomplished: He's built a nationwide grassroots organization - and trained thousands in the nuts and bolts of how to do it on the local level - in a way that facilitates simultaneous horizontal organization and that can sustain the kind of pluralism that says: hey, you don't like the way I'm doing it? Do it yourself then!

I'm glad that this is happening in my lifetime. For a long time, I doubted that it would.

That's so well-articulated it's almost criminal. Giordano's long-view analysis of social movement structures, tactics, and most of all, opportunities fits a theorist's (though he's more of a doer than a thinker) historical context onto this campaign in a way that is incredibly useful. Even the best campaign analysis (TPM) loses a lot of perspective being bogged down in the day-to-day minutia of surrogate conference calls, etc.

Al Giordano also hosted the New Orleans panel at Netroots Nation '08.


jeffrey said...

Actually that's surprisingly stupid. Almost juvenile.

He seems to be arguing with two kinds of strawman 1) "envious" failed "activists" and 2) Giordano's version of "Nabobs of Negativism" who seem to be a specific sect of his envious failed activists.

It looks to me like Giordano has some personal beef with imagined people. And while I suppose it's personally reassuring to him to justify his own "masturbatory" decision to go on his global vision quest for "better change-agents to report on" whatever the fuck that actually means anyway it's still just arguing with imaginary people over the fact that he has chosen to be excited.

None of this addresses any of Obama's critics' actual complaints about the obvious continuation of establishment politics he represents.

I wish some of these Obama enthusiasts would take a second to wonder if the supercool "simultaneous horizontal organization" they're all excited about isn't just a natural manifestation of the new communications tools in use. I guess they're all too busy gee-whizzing over the magical appearance of "better change-agents to report on"

But to someone like Al Giordano this isn't really about Obama or American politics at all for that matter. It's about Al Giordano's right to be proud of his actions.

Fucking tiresome.

E said...


I guess I see your point about the need to further examine how much of Obama's funding of horizontal movement structures is owed to the natural progressive mastery of new communications platforms. I would briefly argue that Obama's candidacy would not have been possible without democratic development of new communication but that his candidacy has enhanced, supported, legitimized these tools.

As for your personal problems with Al's observations of his colleagues on the radical left, I can't really help you.

I would say that Al's phrase "I am so sick of having to be lumped in with those masturbatory practitioners of bad performance art that they call activism," recalls the public housing debate in New Orleans and the ill-conceived street theater tactics of activists that essentially contributed to the sandbagging of discourse around that issue.

Certainly, you had an awful lot to say about those types of "straw men" or "douchebag hipsters." I can't necessarily agree that Giordano is beefing with "imaginary" people given that you and I have often generalized about certain types of activists that adhere to certain schools of protest strategy.

I just published an excerpt that struck a chord with me. The personal reflection is part of a larger post analyzing the "race card" controversy from over the weekend. You should go read the whole thing or otherwise browse Mr. Giordano's posts from this election season.