As part of A Proposal: The Politics of Kindness, I discussed the importance of organizing and acting in our communities, in non-partisan ways for non-political immediate purposes, in service to the ultimate social and political goal of deepening and broadening the shared commitment to reason and goodwill, in our private lives, in our communities, and in our public policies. I believe that doing so should become a social movement, akin to the Civil Rights Movement, but rather than dedicated to a single issue or set of issues, dedicated instead to a comprehensive attitude that implicates all social issues.
Clearly, the time is ripe for such a movement. Just as the Civil Rights Movement was blessed with a ready-made organizational infrastructure (the southern black church network), so too are all reasonable people of goodwill today blessed with an even more powerful and extensive organizational infrastructure: The Internet and Social Media. I’ve already written about the implications of this technological and social paradigm shift, the possibilities and potentials of which we have just barely begun to explore (se, e.g., A Major Historical Threshold or A Tragically Missed Opportunity?, Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed, Tuesday Briefs: The Anti-Empathy Movement & “Crowdfunding”, Counterterrorism: A Model of Centralized Decentralization).
A Tea Partier told me on a Facebook thread recently, “just remember who’s better armed.” When it comes to the more powerful weapons of Social Media, it may be the progressives who are better armed. In any case, the implication of these particular arms is that they accelerate the sifting out of rational from irrational arguments, the lathe of public discourse and debate, which favors reason and goodwill in the long run. Certainly, when it comes to Reason and Goodwill, progressives are better armed, and will inevitably prevail. It is our job to expedite that eventuality, reducing the short-term detours into irrationality and belligerence constantly elongating that path.
The best way to do so is to change the game, the frame and the narrative. Right now, America is stuck in a tug-o-war between progressives and conservatives, both broadly perceived by the vast silent middle to be two opposing extreme camps (with perhaps slightly greater affinity for the conservative than progressive pole). But those same occupants of the vast silent majority would not perceive a movement of community volunteerism and community solidarity building to be either extreme or unattractive. And they would not find it offensive if such a movement included in its “mission” improving the civility and reasonableness of public discourse. But what is the progressive movement if not the commitment to mobilize reason and goodwill, and apply them to our public policies?
The most effective thing progressives could now do is to mobilize a network of Community Action Groups (CAGs) into a nationwide Community Action Network (CAN), dedicated to this component of the proposal linked to above. The only challenge is to create an emerging awareness of the power of such an effort, of the degree to which it can become a game changer if enough progressives were to commit themselves to it. Every local progressive group now in existence, every state house and senate district democratic party organization, every OFA chapter, every MoveOn chapter, every other local group with even moderately liberal leanings, can and should organize into a Community Action Group that seeks to do good works in their own communities, and to foster civil discourse based on no ideology other than a commitment to reason and mutual goodwill.
I ask everyone who reads this to please help me to promote this idea, because the way to become a nation of reasonable people of goodwill is for all who are committed to that end to strive to be reasonable people of goodwill in their own lives, and in their own communities, and to allow that to be a model to others, and to coalesce into a national level commitment. The reason why progressive advocacy is so much less effective than one might think it would be is because progressive advocates are so much less effective, permitting the frames and narratives of the far-right to take root and define the debate. Removing that power from them, and owning it ourselves, is not a function of better sloganeering, but rather of more compelling demonstration; we can and should, we must, demonstrate what it is we are advocating for, if we want our advocacy to become a truly powerful and transformative force in our national history.