Progressive Visions: The Pluralist Commonwealth

Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth

To date, I have not said much about what progressives should be striving for as opposed to what they may be against. But without articulating a direction, any kind of political strategy is attempting to fly with one wing. As this site develops, I’ll be engaging with many progressive ideas about how to make America a more democratic country–economically and politically–that can work for everyone.

One intriguing vision is provided by the work of the Democracy Collaborative and its Next System Project. Two weeks ago, I attended a book signing at Busboys and Poets in DC for Principles of a Pluralist Commonwealth by Gar Alperovitz, political economist, historian, co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative and co-chair of the Next System Project.  Alperovitz studies democratic forms of economic organization as an alternative to the current system of corporate capitalism based on extraction, profit maximization, a skewed distribution of wealth, and the impoverishment–financial and spiritual–of a large majority of Americans, along with other negative results such as climate change and pollution.

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On the value of clarity: US withdraws from the Paris agreement

People’s climate march, Washington DC. April, 2017

Given the urgency of responding to accelerating climate change, the announcement by Donald Trump that the US was withdrawing from the Paris climate framework is a potential disaster for the future of humanity. For many in the US and around the world, it is also dismaying to see the US revert to the role played by the George Bush administration as spoiler–but in this case, times ten.

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On Rebuilding the Democratic Party

People’s Climate March, Washington DC, April 2017

For progressives interested in taking back this country and making it a sane and functional place that works for everyone, Theda Skocpol’s article back in January is required reading. It explains how the democrats need to organize and prioritize in order to become competitive again nation-wide, an argument that  both Tom Perez and Keith Ellison, among many others, appear to be in alignment with.  But, her insistence on the democratic party as being the single organizational locus for resistance may be too limited given the proliferation of progressive organizations that have emerged in the past several months.

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“How to Get Shit Done” – Review of Blueprint for Revolution

In Blueprint for Revolution, Srdja Popovic surveys non-violent movements that have brought about revolutionary change. In his words:

“It’s a book about the revolutions launched by ordinary peole who believe that if they get together and think creatively, they can topple dictators and correct injustices.”

If you are someone who wants to learn more about effecting political change, Blueprint is a good book to pick up. But be aware  that this book is more about social movements working outside of formal political institutions than it is about directly influencing legislation, electing progressive candidates to office, and related topics. If your primary interest is in this kind of politics, this book will not offer many direct insights, but it will still provide some interesting and useful ideas about how change can be brought about. And it’s a good read.

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Building Protest Campaigns: Structure and Movement in “Outside-Inside” Strategies

SNCC members at lunch counter sit-in, 1960. U.S. Dept. of State archive

This is my first review post of This Is an Uprising, an important book by Mark and Paul Engler published in 2016 by Nation Books. Important because it offers insights from many countries that social justice, environmental, and other movements can learn from and apply to their struggles.

In a chapter called “Structure and Movement” early in the book the authors talk about two models for promoting political change and the actions that correspond to each.

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Taking on Authoritarians with Humor and Ridicule

[Note, this post was written before the latest bombshell revelations about Trump’s statements to the Russian diplomats in the Oval Office and former FBI Director Comey’s notes about his meeting with the president in Feburary]

With the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the continuing slide of the United States towards authoritarian government, there has been much discussion and hand wringing about how to confront the president and his allies in Congress, who continue to support and enable him for the most part. The problem is that there appear to be few pressure points or ways to significantly weaken some of the administration’s pillars of support.

One way to look at this struggle is in the sphere of public opinion. Although Trump’s approval ratings are dismal in comparison with all other recent presidents, he is still strong among republicans and his other supporters. In a Washington Post article May 12, Phillip Bump presents data showing conclusively that republicans think Trump was correct to fire Comey, have little concern about the accusations of Russian meddling in the US elections, and approve of the overall job Trump is doing.

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Is the Resistance Slowing Down?

The health of the resistance movement seems to have become a matter of concern lately. I have engaged in discussions on social media and email with friends who are worried that after the Women’s Marches and other immediate actions such as the airport rescue demonstrations, the amazing energy we saw a couple of months ago has died down considerably. And, on this day, when the US House of Representatives passed the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace bill (AHCA), one might be inclined to think that the resistance has lost some of its mojo.

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What’s Next after the March for Science?

By just about any measure the April 22 March for Science was a big success. Tens if not hundreds of thousands marched in many US cities and many more in smaller towns and around the world. I was at the march in Washington and it was inspiring to see the spirit, solidarity, and creativity on a rainy day.

If it had not already been clear, scientists and their many allies are now mobilized. But what comes next?

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On Strategy and Tactics

As a concept, strategy has an exalted lineage, starting from Sun Tzu, through Machiavell to Clausewitz, to name the three most-widely recognized names. While those writers offered some useful insights, I start my exploration here with Gene Sharp, a contemporary theorist and practitioner, who thought very systematically about strategy and tactics in non-violent movements. I’ll be talking a lot about Sharp on this blog, as has written extensively on these topics, but for now, I want to sketch out some broad definitions that will inform a lot of what is to come.

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About this site

This blog is an extended contemplation on progressive strategy and movement building. How can we progressives defend against the Trump administration and the reactionaries in Congress? How can we push a more humane and effective alternative? How do we use the immense energy that has been generated in just the first weeks of the Trump administration? I hope you’ll explore these topics with me as we work to build a society and economy that work for the 99 percent. Continue reading About this site