Welcome William Wimsatt, (BillyWimsatt.com, FutureMajority, HuffingtonPost, ), and Host Josh Bolotsky, (FDL, LivingLiberally, agit-pop.com, other98.com)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super Movement

Josh Bolotsky, Host:

We have a serious problem, people. It’s called power. We don’t have it. We don’t want it. We think it’s dirty and bad…And that’s exactly why you’re the people who I trust the most to get power and use it for good.

* William Upski Wimsatt

There are no second acts in American life.

* F. Scott Fitzgerald

William Upski Wimsatt is one of those writers that one tends to either not know, or feel passionately about – there is little if any middle ground. If you’ve read Wimsatt’s cult classics No More Prisons and Bomb The Suburbs, then you already know why his work inspires so much feverish devotion, along with why his earlier, fearless examinations of race, power and politics were bound to instigate the occasional controversy. You also, if familiar with Wimsatt’s work, have made up your mind on reading through this salon. So rather than write to those folks already in the know, I’m going to provide a quick introduction to Please Don’t Bomb The Suburbs as a standalone work, distinct from his previous efforts, that has something to say of singular importance to progressives working in this historical moment.

Wimsatt, who seems to go by William Upski on the covers of his books but no where else (witness his primary site BillyWimsatt.com), has so much to say to us that he had to write at least three books. And so he did.

Sure, PDBTS appears to by a relatively slim volume of 211 pages, the thick acknowledgments section included. But don’t be fooled by outward appearances – by turns, PDBTS slides comfortably into three very different books:

* A memoir of activism, casting Wimsatt’s political engagement, first with grassroots hip-hop culture in 80s Chicago and later with the renewed progressive movement that grew up as he did. Peppered with hard-taken failures and the rare victories that slowly become more and more common as the movement grows, this section largely serves as a much-needed cautionary tale for young people diving into politics for the first time without thinking strategically about the people they want to be.

* A kind of self-help work for grown-ups in the movement, stuck between the crushing fear of impending doom that underlies our work in an era of climate crisis, BP spills and looted treasuries, and the desperate need to take care of ourselves so we can still be effective in transferring power from the ill-intentioned to the high-principled.

* Finally, a treatise on building a progressive movement that is big enough to stare unflinchingly at the sheer magnitude of our problems and move forward anyway, maybe just turning the Titanic around in the process – a kind of Super Movement dedicated to protecting our home planet, nation and communities. We require new metaphors for the size of our big-P Problems and the nature of our big-R Responses, and Wimsatt is in no way loath to provide them.

That all three books are so consistently engaging and thought-provoking, little must-read classics for those thinking about political work in the broadest frame possible, is a delightful surprise, given how much of a confusing disaster such a jam-packed approach could (and frankly should) have been. After all, describing PDBTS as three books masquerading as one is in and of itself a simplification – Wimsatt is not just unafraid to digress when necessary, but his digressions represent the kind of manic energy that make the book so much fun to read in the first place, the way that a face-to-face discussion with someone who shares your precise hopes and anxieties can be so bracing, able to expound on any point at will without losing the thread. The book truly flows like a conversation, just one that happens to have extensive timeline graphs.

Which seems to be part of the point. For Wimsatt, all of these stories are inextricable from each other, are perhaps just in fact the same bigger story honestly expressed. We need to look at the last 25 years or so of lefty politicking to understand the problems we have right now; we can’t responsibly discuss those problems without engaging in the very real anxieties, taboos and fears that we bring to the table; and all of this is for nothing if we don’t find new ways to explain and handle the unique nature of the opportunity before us.

All of which makes for a lot of fun while reading, but not a lot of fun trying to summarize for the purpose of a book salon. Rather than providing a fully in-context picture of every individual section, argument and remembrance, I’m going to provide a few interesting excerpts/concepts from the book to seed the conversation. Alongside some devastating self-critique of his earlier tactics as a youth activist, Wimsatt tackles:

* Why Please Don’t Bomb The Suburbs? Because after self-published his first book at 21, Bomb The Suburbs (which refers to the graffiti practice of ‘bombing’, not literally bombing), Wimsatt found doors shut for the rest of his life where we might’ve been able to affect real change, someone in a higher position not wanting to risk the bad press of hiring the author of Bomb The Suburbs, the actual meaning of the title in cultural context aside. The new title with “Please Don’t” affixed is part and parcel with the larger message to young activists: be strategic and don’t mess up your lives by being easily avoidable mistakes early on.

* Over and over, Wimsatt stresses the need for activists to move past their fear of power as a Dirty, Bad Thing, and accept it – the Wall Street day-traders and industry spokespeople have no compunction with using power, and people aiming for a more equitable society should at least moderate their fear. Quoting a professor he had at Oberlin before electing to drop out: “The problem with [people like you] is that you’re good people and you’re not going to have any power…You’ll all want to go into nice professions like social work and become teachers. But you’re afraid to get power because you think it’s bad. So the people who end up getting all the power are the people who want the power.” (p. 49)

* The growth of the League Of Young Voters, an organization that felt to Wimsatt at the time a culmination of all his different hats: hip-hop, youth organizing, electoral politics. He examines the dearth of community-to-movement-career pipelines on the progressive side, particularly when it comes to getting young people typically shut out of the conversation into roles of power.

* I would be derelict if I didn’t mention that, if I know Firedoglake’s readership (and if I’m off, please let me know), perhaps the most controversial element of Wimsatt’s book will be his treatment of Obama as an ally who is the best we can hope for, who can be pushed but ultimately needs to be supported against real political foes. “So, yes, it is important to push the Obamas to be better. But we have to walk two very fine lines: we need to make sure we’re expanding their political space to create progressive change, not tearing them down, and we need to realize just how damn good they are under the circumstances.” (p.115)

* Politely asking progressives to stop moving to cities, and instead organize in their suburban or rural hometowns. Quoting Danny Hoch, he offers “Stop moving to New York. Stop moving to Brooklyn. Stop moving to Williamsburg. Go back to Iowa. Go back to Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin. Wherever you’re from…GO HOME!” (p. 133)

* One section is simply titled “Why Isn’t There A School For Movement-Building?”, and rather than dwell on the institution-by-institution specifics of Wimsatt’s survey of the progressive training field, I think I’ll let that question stand as its own spur for conversation. (p. 142)

* Speaking of segments that are somewhat provocative in and of themselves, the very fact that Wimsatt devotes a chapter explicitly to self-help for people growing up within movement roles deserves some mention. (Wimsatt opines that “people who are the most uncomfortable with self-help books and talking about feelings are usually the ones who need it the most.”) (p. 149) Wimsatt delves into the need to self-sustain in some detail, but all this begs a larger question: why is there so often such a tireless, rugged needs-no-help individual activist story in our movement, when we’re ostensibly dedicated to the idea that we all need everyone else to be a fully functioning society, that the rugged individualist myth is false? Why do we accept it in our activist narratives?

* Wimsatt (thankfully) assumes we’re already on-board with acknowledging climate change and our energy dilemma on a hot, crowded planet, and doesn’t waste time trying to convince us. Instead, he delves right into the central problem – in a world where we need to make deep change, and fast, to live at all sustainably, how do we change our approach to match the seriousness of the challenge? This segment of the book is even more manic than usual, throwing so many ideas and suggestions at once that it’s a bit dizzying. I’m going to focus on two ideas that I think FDL readers will find particularly fascinating. First of all, Wimsatt frames the task we have before us as protecting “God’s Art Project” – the endless array of beautiful life that developed evolutionarily through the Cenozoic Era, including us, which we need to protect from Holocene extinction. This implicitly includes not just protecting a beautiful, livable world, but allowing the humans in it to live rich, full lives, markers like class and race aside, without endangering the whole thing in a carbon-sensitive age. (p. 187) Wimsatt’s plan? Build a Super Movement: over the next 10 years, aim for “sustainable volunteer leadership in all 300,000 precincts in the United States” – by making activism mainstream in every corner of our country. (p. 194)

There is a lot of other stuff to chew through in PDBTS – there is a discussion of the need to evolve how we talk about white privilege and supremacy as a movement that could easily take up its own book – and one of the few frustrations is how Wimsatt will every so often shortchange his own ideas, introducing a deliciously new nugget of an idea (“So we need to talk about the joyous aspects of being a white ally, huh?”), develop it for a few pages, and then drop it, so eager to tackle everything he can.

Maybe that’s reasonable though – he suggests that we all have a big job ahead of us. Wimsatt is doing nothing less than betting the American experiment on Fitzgerald’s pessimist credo being wrong – not just in his own personal life and mistakes, but for all of us to have a sane society and a livable planet. For our own sake, we’d do well to bet alongside him.

104 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes William Upski Wimsatt, Please Don’t Bomb the Suburbs: A Midterm Report on My Generation and the Future of Our Super Movement”

BevW December 12th, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Billy, Welcome to the Lake.

Josh, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:00 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hi everybody, thank you for showing up!

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hey Bev,
Thanks so much for the warm welcome.

Billy, thanks a ton for being here. Let me start with a very basic question: this is a book that is clearly written in anticipation of the 2010 elections, talking about the impact they’re likely to have. Is there anything you’d add or change to the book, knowing what we know now?

dakine01 December 12th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Billy and Josh and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Billy I have not had an opportunity to read your book but based on Josh’s intro, I do have a couple of comments.

I’m sure after this past week it will get ever more difficult to keep thinking that President Obama can actually be pushed or pulled to the left.

But I also understand getting people to “go home” to try to agitate from the small towns we grew up in. I grew up in small town Kentucky and know from things like Facebook, that I can occasionally make a small change in some folks thinking, just because we knew each other back when we were growing up.

egregious December 12th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Welcome to Firedoglake – glad you could join us today!

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Yes! I’m less positive about Obama. Josh and I are actually sitting at a table at Rootscamp in DC and we’re missing out on going Senate Christmas carrolling with DREAM ACTers. In short: Obama is more dissappointing than he was even three months ago. But I stand by the basic premise.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 6

…that governing is hard. It was never about Obama. He is a vehicle. It’s our job to build a massive movement to make him reflect our values.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:07 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 7

There are several stories in our book of complete burnout, people being eaten alive by their work, including a few truly tragic stories, such as Lisa Sullivan’s dying at a young age, consumed by the stresses of her work. Why do you think there is so much overwork and on the progressive side, and how do we change the attitudes around taking the time to repair ourselves?

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:07 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 8

Pardon me, *your* book.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:09 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 8

Oy vey! I think we’re both burned out right now. I want to get some water! But I feel a responsibility to type at a computer.

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Hi Billy, hey Josh. Great intro, really inspiring book. I’m not the intended audience, but I hope you can inspire and re-animate your generation. We really need you guys to pick up the pieces of mess my generation has left lying about, using the tools we discarded when we went mainstream.

Two questions for Billy: first, what’s your reaction to what happened in London this week? Seeing paintbombs on Charles and Camilla’s RollsRoyce stirred something deep inside me. You?

Second: can you expand on your disappointment with Obama, and with the evolution of Super Movement? What happened this mid-term election, do you think? Folks didn’t really change their minds, did they? So, then, why did they stay home? We’ve got a huge task motivating people to re-engage, don’t you think? Where do you think we start?

(Okay, that was more than two questions, more like two topics with embedded questions in each one).

Thanks again for your writing. Please don’t stop!

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 10

What I’m thinking about right now is how we learn from this moment. What we’ve been doing is amazing. The theme of my book is that we don’t suck. But how do we take the game to a whole new level in the coming year? 2003 and 2005 after our big losses were great turning point moments in movement building.

dakine01 December 12th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 7

But how does that happen when at every turn he either insults the people who got him elected in the first place or he says one thing while doing something totally opposite?
(in that I’m thinking of how he professed to be in favor of a Public Option with the Health Insurance reform months after he had made agreements with Big PhRMA and Big Insurance to make sure there would not be a public option

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Great questions! So much to say! A friend of mine who studied populist movements throughout history said a key factor is in identifying a specific vivid and villanous villian. I missed the incidents in London. But I loved the student protests over tuition hikes. More…

Phoenix Woman December 12th, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I’m guessing that he’d probably say that the paintbombs probably turned off the very people who should be backing the rioters, much as his first book turned off a lot of the Middle America types he most needed to reach.

(Not to put words in your mouth, Billy!)

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 13

I disagree deeply with Obama’s approach to many things –probably in the same ways you do. I’m trying to look realistically at the situation. For me the challenge is always on us as a movement. How much power do we actually have in relation to Wall Street? Insurance? Oil? Millitary Inc.? We ARE making progress. We have more power than we’ve had in decades as a movement. But if you draw a power map (ranking different players 1-10), we hav a long way to go to create an environment that forces and allows Obama and Democrats to represent our interests.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I think Billy is working through the mass of questions right now, all of which are really good questions that touch on really tough issues. Let me throw something very straightforward in for after the stategic questions:

Billy, this book feels like it’s written for a very specific moment; it comes after, by a wide margin, the biggest time-gap between your books. Was there a clear tipping-point moment where you felt this was a book you needed to write? Was there a particular moment where it felt necessary?

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 14

I am very worried that when one-third of American workers get our first 2011 paychecks and see that, in fact, our taxes HAVE gone up and our paychecks ARE smaller — the villain will be Obama, because of his promises that his deal with the GOP ensures no one’s paycheck will be smaller.

That’s a really significant percentage of working people to lie to, and lots of them are young people: baristas, copy kids, bag boys at Krogers: folks who make up Obama’s natural constituency who need re-animating.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:24 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 15

I think we need a variety of approaches, an eco-system. My question to y’all: What do you find most inspiring and smart on the progressive side right now?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Taxes gone up? Paychecks smaller? What did I miss?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Can we shift beyond reactive mode and create new long-term game-changing plays? That’s what I’m interested in.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

The whole next two years are going to SUCK at the level of government. We know this. Our job right now: 1. Understand deeply where we are and what it’s going to take to make deep transformative change. 2. Build an inspiring and emotionally resonant new Supermovement. 3. Fight back against the shitshow and turn the tables on the villians.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

So… I just came from Rootscamp. I’m curious about people’s post-election conversations about what our next big strategy is… This is the moment to think BIG BOLD COLLABORATIVE LONG TERM

dakine01 December 12th, 2010 at 2:34 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 23

How do you motivate people though, especially all the people who became first time voters and political participants because of the promises for “change” from Obama after they’ve seen two years of “get along and go along” and a continuation of business as usual?

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I was just checking my FB to see what my League of Young Voters friends are doing now. It looks like there has been movement on their part to become campaign consultants, working with tribes on issues and organizing, among other things.

I guess this is a natural progression for young organizers who want to stay with the work and have families to support, pragmatic.

I am not familiar with how the League was funded, but it had to have had significant “underwriting.” Is the League still active?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:36 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 17

It feels so generous to have you read and ask questions like this. I realized there’s a generation of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s and I was hungry for a book that told the story of our generation and there really wasn’t much out there. And I realized I’ve lived through most of the movements of the past 20 years and there’s a thread. It didn’t all start with Howard Dean in 2003 or Obama in 2007. And the history is facinating. I’m a Howard Zinn fan. So it was filling a gap.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:38 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 26

Or three gaps, really, as you say. One history. Two an analysis of where we are as a movement generation. Three, where the hell to we go from here. 20-30 year plans as Millennials and and people of color become a plurality.

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Part of the big story of the campaign was the enthusiasm of the younger “kids”. Do we know what they are doing/thinking now?

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I’m going to directly ask something I already included in my profile of the book, because I’m really interested if you have any insights on this:

Why is there so often such a tireless, rugged needs-no-help individualist activist story in our movement, when we’re ostensibly dedicated to the idea that we all need everyone else to be a fully functioning society, that the rugged individualist myth is false? Why do we accept this in our activist narratives?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:41 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 25

YES! The League rocks! I passed the torch to Robert Biko Baker in 2008. They are kicking ass and winning, and developing a new crop of young leaders, mostly from communities of color.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Billy, you express in the book some reservations about how anti-racist efforts cast the role of white allies. This section is clearly written with some personal bruises from your own work in the past. Given that we live in a time where even some of the most progressive quarters sometimes miss out on being aware of white privilege and supremacy in the first place, how does one aim to begin that conversation?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:44 pm
In response to RevBev @ 28

Huge silver lining this election: 18-24 year olds voted AGAINST the Republican Tsunami by 19 points. 18-29 year old by 16 points. That’s amazing. These are kids who voted to the left of their parents and grandparents by about the same margin as in 2006 and 2008. This generation is our best hope.

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 2:44 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 29

Collective work is not easy to do, in my experience. In order to overcome the paradigm, it takes so much interpersonal work and meetings that focus on individual issues/personalities, etc. There are some people who will just work hard and ignore their personal needs. I think it is very hard to make the time and be in the space for working together in the way you suggest, if I understand what you are saying. Organizing must go on, and it is at the expense of the personal/interpersonal a lot of times. Not that it is not an ideal to work towards. Maybe youth have it more together.

December 12th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Thank you for this excellent book – much appreciated.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:46 pm

this chat is great. no snark. a lot of sincerity. what questions are folks wrestling with in your own work and lives?

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I think local organizing is still key. Your suggestion that we have 300,000 precinct organizers is key, IMO. With this level of organization, it May be possible to develop alternative party possibilities, but getting to that 300,000 number is really uphill, IMO.

We are also talking about alternative/new economies.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Another question waiting for Billy once he gets through the current slate: you contrast the preconceptions that GenX activists grew up on, weaned off the L.A. Riots, Battle of Seattle and Bush Vs. Gore, and more likely to be skeptical overall, with those that Millennials bring to the table, growing up in an era with more easily identifiable opponents and a stronger collaboration ethic in the face of Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, etc. Are there any strengths to the GenX approach that should be retained? Or that need to be questioned on the Millennial side?

Dearie December 12th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I’m a senior. My impression is that some of us are dispirited by Obama because he is either spineless or duplicitous — or both. Sometimes it feels easier to fight against a Republican regime than to acquiesce to a failed Democratic regime. I appreciate your optimism and continued work.

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 2:51 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 35

How to keep hope/optimism alive? I work with a teabagger who gloats/”we won” smirk. And what are some pressing causes to get folks on board?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:53 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 36

Yes! I’m so glad you brought that up. Reaching 300,000 local teams is the holy grail –enough people power to counter corporate power– but attainable by 2020 if we focus on it. It’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

Sebastos December 12th, 2010 at 2:55 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 32

Imagine what would have happened if those 19-point and 16-point margins for youth voters had been in turnout percentage, not just in voting percentage for liberal candidates! Obliviousness, apathy, and discouragement are our worst enemies (as usual).

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 37

The effort that shut down the WTO in seattle is still one of the best things we’ve done. Corporate campaigns by groups like Rainforest Action Network and United Students Against Sweatshops and Ruckus. A more oppositional frame. I think we need to bring that back.

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 40

How many organizers from all generations who could be counted on now towards that goal of 300,000 do you think there are, realistically? What sort of attrition is there amongst organizers, 2020 is a year to shoot for, but I will probably not be able to go door to door then. I have been at this since at least 1970, so that will be fifty or more years by then.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:57 pm
In response to hopkins @ 34

Thank you hopkins –what was most interesting to you??

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 2:58 pm
In response to Dearie @ 38

Cool. Dearie, what efforts, organizations or movements are inspiring you these days? We need to go where our passion is

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 2:59 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 43

Power to you….thanks for your work.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to RevBev @ 39

Pressing causes: Credo mobile has a good list. Dream Act in Senate in next few days. A very key movement-building effort. I’m inspiraed by so many things. Let’s make a list shall we?

Inspiring #1: Agit-pop which Josh works for has a hilarious series of videos called Republicorp. Watch them! Genius….

[ADD MORE]

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to RevBev @ 46

Still learning.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Inspiring thing #2:

Counter-action on the Koch Brothers conference in Palm Springs Jan 30.

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Two things that I’m interested in.
1) the comment “a key factor is in identifying a specific vivid and villanous villian.”

I like this idea.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to go after Rupert Murdoch in a way that has a financial impact. Specifically getting him on and SEC violation for lying about the impact of no advertisers on the Glenn Beck show. Over 300 advertisers were convinced to stay away from the Glenn Beck show, yet he says that it hasn’t impacted NewsCorp.

I think that going after the Koch Brothers and the right wing media companies with violations of IRS tax laws and SEC violations could be a very powerful method of attack. And if we do it correctly we get a part of the revenue recovered. However, when I suggest the idea I get a “meh” response.

Instead I read people wanting us to “fill the streets”. I think that “filling the streets” isn’t something that the powerful are afraid of. Losing money, SEC problems and jail time are.

Is this response to this idea because it is too abstract? Too hard? Too scary? I don’t know why I get a “meh” response.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Billy, there’s a really fascinating section in the book where you talk about the need to be more honest about what’s working in the movement, and be more forward in praising people doing good work. Two questions:

1. A lot of progressive orgs have really focused on Sander’s quasi-filibuster of the tax cut ‘deal’ – does this kind of focus on stuff being done right seem to be the mold you’re looking for?

2. There’s a great section where you essentially call Eli Pariser of MoveOn the most effective actor for social change since Martin Luther King, Jr. How do we get back to making activists for change publicly known and appreciated household figures? Not everyone should be in the background – why is there such a disconnect between the public personae of activists in the past vs. now?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Inspiring #3:

Coffee Party is doing a series of satirical actions on CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE. Culminating in a “We The Corporations” action at the Supreme Court Jan 21 –anniversary of Citizens United.

mzchief December 12th, 2010 at 3:06 pm
In response to RevBev @ 39

{ Thank you William Wimsatt, Host Josh Bolotsky, and all attending! }

Consider watching, sharing and discussing films like this– “Moving The Mountain,” a documentary about the protests in Beijing in 1989, available online on December 10 (still streaming now), the day of the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony for prisoner of conscience Liu Xiaobo. See what these people have achieved with so much less material support but amazing internal strength.

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 3:08 pm
In response to mzchief @ 53

Thank you….how true.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:09 pm
In response to bgrothus @ 33

Opposite point: Community can be wonderful! I had dinner with friends in Takoma Park last night and the neighborhood is like one big family. People take care of each others kids, give away free shit on their porches, women do ladies night in a hot tub. Another friend in Crown Height Brooklyn said his whole block goes on field trips together. When one person is sick, everyone takes care of them. This is what mega-churches do. We need to do the same.

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 3:09 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 51

I worked really hard for MoveOn in 2004. At the end of it, they took all their data, our contacts, did not leave us with any infrastructure of a movement. I hope MO learned from that. Terrible.

OTOH, so many new people were recruited to that effort, without having had any losses behind them, they gave up and did not stay active. Another lesson.

I LOVE the idea of action on the Supremes re: CU on Jan 21, wish I could be there!!

bgrothus December 12th, 2010 at 3:11 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 55

My neighborhood is cool, not quite at that level, but very good.

Denning December 12th, 2010 at 3:15 pm

It seems to me that the Obama candidacy attracted the attention of a previously apolitical or detached generation. They liked the image but because of their naivety, didn’t yet understand the political codes and ambiguity Obama used to create an image that existed only in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, now that the reality of Obama has become strikingly apparent, a once energized generation is in danger of lapsing back into apathy. In two short years “Yes We Can” became “But There Was Nothing I Could Do.” Shameful.

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 3:16 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 51

I think your question about Eli Pariser is very interesting. I wonder how much of it is because of the media’s desire for telegenic spokespeople. The Right is very good at turning left leaders into demons. But in this case they just use “Move On” not “Eli Pariser” as the villian. If they focused on him more, like they do on George Soros, then he would have greater recognition.

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

You mentioned the Dream Act above….any other suggestions on the immigration issue?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:16 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 31

Race issues! Oy vey. You’re right a lot of good people have major blindspots. The goal is for everyone in the movement to learn from, build relationships with and understand each others experience. Not just across race, but all divides… We need to work concretely against injustice, but not undermine ourselves because we feel bad about having privilege. And that goes for all types of privilege: gender, sexulity, race, class, ability, and less visible types.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:17 pm

We’re less than two years away from a Presidential election, and while there’s plenty of questions to ask about that, there’s a larger trend that I’d love your take on. It seems that more and more of our political dialogue, including within the movement, is focused on campaigning at the expense of governing. Is that a serious concern? Do you try to balance your focus on the policy we’re trying to achieve with the need to treat the elections as the Big Deals they are?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 51

1. Yes!

2. Totally! We need to create and support visible leaders (although REALLY, we all need to be seen as important players). Where’s our Glenn Becks at? We need to create distribution channels for them…

mzchief December 12th, 2010 at 3:21 pm
In response to RevBev @ 54

{ You are welcome. It is as much a reminder for me as anyone else and there’s more from where that comes. Please don’t hesitate to ask! “:) }

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

So, off from boring governing questions, back to exciting campaigning questions! :)

It would seem at the current moment that President Obama’s re-election campaign faces extraordinarily different challenges from those that were handled by the election of Senator Obama. We can all agree that just about anyone the Republicans could conceivably nominate will be a likely disaster for the country – but it’s hard to run a campaign on opposition alone if you’re not touting anything.

If you had 5 minutes with Obama alone, what advice would you give him about the next two years, from either a political or policy perspective?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:23 pm
In response to RevBev @ 60

Local 287(g) laws are passing all over the place = local police collaborate with ICE to deport people. Other states are trying to pass their own version of racial profiling laws like Arizona. There’s a huge battlefield at the state and local level. The goal is not only to fight these bad things. But to build a deep strong movement for the long term. Very inspiring to see like 20 people from Promise Arizona at Rootscamp just now… They’re on fire

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 65

Easy…how does he recapture some trust and authenticity? It may be all over-reaction but he has gone, almost, from being one of the good guys, to not. Is there an action he could take that would boost trust?

masaccio December 12th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 35

I’m a baby boomer, and I don’t have the same time horizon as my kids and especially my granddaughter. The political situation is dispiriting: winning elections is meaningless, because the same people are in charge, people who cannot learn from experience, and whose North Star is money. The people who are running in any given election have already been bought off. This isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future.

So that’s what’s on my mind this Christmas. Also France.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Billy, there’s a great quote in the book when you’re discussing your regrets over leaving college without graduating and forgoing electoral politics in your youth, feeling you were too cool for school at the time because:

“What made it worse was that I got chosen as an “Utne Visionary” by Utne Reader.” (p. 53)

Which is both hilarious and a real problem. How can young activists love themselves and their work, without taking the wrong lesson from early praise?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:29 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 62

Look, I think we’re living through total class war right now where the top 1% are killing us and we’re all taking it lying down. The ruling elites (AKA The Other .1%) want people in trailer parks and exurbs and farms to continue the cold civil war against people in the hoods, barrios, and college campuses. Then we won’t focus on how they’re pulling the strings…

PeasantParty December 12th, 2010 at 3:32 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 70

Yes, and yes they do. However, the farms and farmers are our best friends. Especially if they grow organically and use heirloom seeds. The GMO Monsanto food is not good for our children.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:33 pm
In response to masaccio @ 68

Well said, as long as it doesn’t imply that our actions don’t matter. People have worked extremely hard to create exceptions to this rule. We have to create a critical mass of exceptions. That’s our job –to create enough exceptions for a new normal.

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
In response to masaccio @ 68

Masaccio speaks for me. Also Italy.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

It seems that more and more progressive actors are becoming bolder in their approach – whether it be the work of groups like MoveOn and PCCC, or the efforts of the blogosphere, or any number of different examples. As part of that, do you think progressives are beginning to get over their fear of power? Is the culture improving at all on that front?

PeasantParty December 12th, 2010 at 3:37 pm
In response to spocko @ 73

Same here! I’m in between being able to qualify for social security and my 401K, but can’t find a job. Things are dire here. DC has known of these problems for 9 years and yet have not taken one little step to preseve the America that does not live in upper Manhattan or in DC!

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:37 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 69

Almost no one gets enough praise for their activism… More people get a ton of criticism. So praise is important to balance it.

thatvisionthing December 12th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Hi Billy — I just read through the intro and was heartened to see 3rd paragraph from end that you have a lot of ideas about climate change in your book. So I applaud that, because when I try to make sense of what we need to do, the environment is where I start. All the things we need — bees and trees, birds and animals, clean air and water, a sense of place in an ecosystem — seem to have no value or power at all — all the drive seems to be toward recovering the economy spot we failed from and going on from there — insane and impossible growth growth growth. Environmental activists get named and targeted by the DOJ as “domestic terrorists.” I feel we’re all just gas gathering in a box and waiting for a spark. Not focused, amorphous. Pretty much I’m appalled and disheartened by how stupid the powerful are.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Just got an interesting question from a reader:

Billy, I was just wondering what your take is on the new social networks: Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 3:40 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 70

Okay it’s a class war. We are getting our asses kicked. We can fight back.
To quote Trading Places. “If you want to hurt rich people you take away their money.”

They don’t give a shit about people showing up in the streets. You show up at their office for a perp walk for tax evasion, then they care.

If their North Star is money, then get in between them and their money.

I and a handful of bloggers cost K S F O millions of dollars in revenue and got two vile right wing radio hosts fired –because they became a liability, not an asset. They freaked out and went on attack and over reacted, which I also used against them.

You don’t fight a class war with giant puppets and clever slogans, you fight it by taking away what they value most.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to spocko @ 50

Clever idea Spocko. I think we need to try bold strategies like this. In terms of the viabilit of this strategy, my understanding is that Fox just shuffled these ads to other shows and therefore may not have lost money…

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:45 pm
In response to spocko @ 79

cool campaign!

My sense is to MARRY the tactics. Some people like doing street rallies. They can go together.

PeasantParty December 12th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Boycott days?

thatvisionthing December 12th, 2010 at 3:46 pm
In response to spocko @ 79

“If you want to hurt rich people you take away their money.”

I would say they’re doing a fine job of poisoning money to death. All the assets are toxic, touch toxic, can be pulled down by toxic. I think I’m watching money collapse. Trying to figure out what comes after. The planet is essentially bankrupt. All the fantasy casino derivative debt?

masaccio December 12th, 2010 at 3:47 pm
In response to spocko @ 79

That’s the thing that drives me up the wall: no one is accountable. The administration won’t prosecute anyone. It’s like there is this whole generation of prosecutors who have no fire in their bellies, who are so worried about losing that they don’t do squat.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Sure… Boycotts can be effective in certain cases in huge campaigns with vulnerable targets.

thatvisionthing December 12th, 2010 at 3:48 pm
In response to masaccio @ 84

They’re not worried about losing, they’re complicit.

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 3:51 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 80

Thank you for the response. Especially the part about “is that Fox just shuffled these ads to other shows and therefore may not have lost money…”

That is the lie. And, because of the size of NewCorp, they don’t have to publish that information. But it doesn’t pass the sniff test to anyone who knows how the economics of broadcasting works.

You have 12 planes flying to New York from San Francisco. For an entire year you have on plane flying empty. When your investors ask you about it you say, “We like the pilot, so we allow him to fly with no passengers.”

Doesn’t that cost you money?

Well, we could make more if he had passengers, but we are happy to make less revenue because he is such a well loved pilot. And we won’t tell you how much more we could make if he had passengers since it’s proprietary.
It’s my airline and if I want to provide shareholders with 11 cents on the share instead of 15 you can’t stop me.

PeasantParty December 12th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

It is my opinion that all the corporations that moved offshore are traitors to their country. We gave them tax breaks, subsidies, and all kinds of goodies from the taxpayers back. We worked for them, and purchased their goods. I personally try to boycott them as much as possible.

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 3:53 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 69

That was a great moment in the book.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 74

I agree. There’s the beginning of what I think will be a sea change. Boldness is key!

RevBev December 12th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Teddy, You are around alot….this kind of how to participate, etc. thread is very helpful…Maybe it could be more of a feature.

BevW December 12th, 2010 at 3:56 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

Billy, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and activism.

Josh, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Billy’s Website, Book

Josh – websites, Living Liberally, Agit-pop, Other98

Thanks all,
Have a great week!
Happy Holidays

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 92

Thanks, Bev – I think we’ll both be around for a bit more to answer questions – it’s been a great time – thanks to everyone who’s been taking part.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 65

I don’t know what to tell Obama. At Rootscamp we all signed a huge letter telling Obama we’re pissed off about the tax cut giveaway. Mostly, we need to focus on building our own movement and assuming that most of what we do with him should be a tactic to build the power of our own movement.

AdamPDX December 12th, 2010 at 3:58 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 81

Street Rallies are parties with your friends
DC Protests are big parties with all your friends.
Little of real value gets accomplished at either.

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to masaccio @ 84

I hear ya.

I have been reading David Cay Johnston’s books and you see that one of the big tricks is that if you don’t want to get busted, you change the law.

And if you are in the process of getting busted by the IRS (for example) you call your congressperson/senator and you tell them the IRS is leaning on you and “if you want those campaign contributions to keep coming won’t you make a call?”

I found out that the IRS and the SEC both have programs that provide Whistleblowers with money. The SEC program is too narrow and the rewards not enough if you want to keep working, but the IRS program is pretty good. I like the idea of targeting the Koch Brother’s for violations, they would be forced to pay taxes (which they hate) and –if we do it right–fund the the people who forced them to pay.

But I’m not a tax attorney, SEC guy or former IRS person. I’m gathering info and can package it and run the media part of the story, but digging up the right dirt is stuff I need help with.

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Building the super movement is going to continue to be tremendously hard work, in a culture where people have been conditioned by stimuli to see results immediately (to not-real problems, on sitcoms and commercials, but still….). How can we help people better understand the timeframe involved in this effort without discouraging them, and help them overcome interim disappointments like these recent mid-terms?

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Thank you everyone! It’s hard to write interesting stuff fast. The book is much better than my quick thoughts after a long weekend. So please keep it in mind for last minute holiday gifts :) Hopefully it’s an inspiring read in challenging times.

billywimsatt December 12th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

We are building a supermovement –it’s a long term game and we’re all part of it. GO TEAM! And thank you for participating in this conversation. I look forward to meeting y’all in person and seeing the great work you do locally.

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 4:02 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 20

To answer your earlier question (got called away, sorry) here’s an explanation of taxes going UP and paychecks getting SMALLER under the Obama-GOP tax “cut” deal:

The Making Work Pay credit gives workers up to $400, paid out at 8 percent of income, meaning that anybody making at least $5,000 gets the full amount — and gets as much as anybody else. Its replacement knocks two percentage points off the payroll tax cut, meaning a worker would need to make $20,000 to get a $400 break. Of the nation’s roughly 150 million workers, around 50 million make less than $20,000 and will see at least some increase as a result.

Additionally, roughly a quarter of 20 million state and local workers pay no payroll tax, because they have a separate pension system. Some of those workers with children will benefit from the extension of other tax credits, but overall will have less money in their pocket.

Did folks at RootsCamp know this when you signed the protest letter to Obama?

It’s kind of important and puts the lie to Obama’s promise that NO ONE’s taxes will go up as a result of the already-bad deal he had to make with Mitch.

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 4:03 pm
In response to Billy Wimsatt @ 98

Folks should buy this book.

It’s a great memoir, terrific guidance, and a hopeful promise about where we can go.

Thanks for writing it.

Josh Bolotsky December 12th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hey everyone, I think we’re done for the night – thanks a ton, everyone, for the insights and questions. And to second Billy, it really *does* make a good holiday gift for any young people you know that have the caring-about-the-world bug. Have a good evening!

Teddy Partridge December 12th, 2010 at 4:06 pm
In response to Josh Bolotsky @ 102

Thanks, Josh.

spocko December 12th, 2010 at 4:10 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 88

I agree with you about the corporations going off shore. They pull this, “We are global” crap so they don’t pay US taxes and then get Government contracts because they are “patriots”

It reminds me of the dodge I just read about from 1996 when Murdoch claimed that Fox News was Australian owned to the IRS so he wouldn’t pay US taxes and said it was US owned so he could get the FCC license.

When busted he went to a Newt. With the help of Newt they threatened the very existence of the FCC. Then he held a fund raiser for Pence and this “problem” went away. No fines. No back taxes paid.
There was a 500,000 fine as well as millions in back taxes at stake.
A 50,000 dollar fund raiser for Pence and a 15 minute conversation with Newt and problem fixed.

That story was in the Dec. issue of Harpers if you want to read it and weep.

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