Of all the stories I’ve read that begin with the protagonist on a bathroom floor, David Sirota’s The Uprising is, by far, the best. On that bathroom floor, the author had an epiphany about seemingly diverse movements: New York’s Working Families Party; Lou Dobbs and the Minutemen/Militia movements; Ned Lamont’s netroots-turbocharged 2006 campaign for Joe Lieberman’s U.S. Senate seat; high-tech permatemps’ union organizing in the Northwest; Brian Schweitzer and Jon Tester turning Montana a new shade of blue; and a Dominican nun’s leadership of the shareholder activism movement. All these, he recognized on the floor in his room at the Riviera at YearlyKos1.0, are connected by the thread that is Yet Another American Uprising. This is the most extraordinary book about American politics I have read in a long time.
Americans are fed up with government, media, and corporate elites who have gotten rich and powerful by treating us like subjects to be ruled rather than people for whom they work, like passive absorbers of their message rather than creative thinkers, like consumers of their toxins rather than valued customers who are owed quality. And we fed-up Americans cross all political and partisan divides – we are left and right, union and business, liberal and conservative, Blue and Red. Mostly, though, we realize we’ve become Outsiders in a nation whose systems are geared to benefit the Insiders. And it’s that sense — that the American way no longer works for all of us because it’s rigged to benefit a few — which allows Sirota to see a cross-cultural, nationwide, transpartisan Uprising.
But Sirota’s thesis raises disturbing questions about who we progressive members of The Uprising may need to befriend to accomplish a mission to take back America – questions like “take it back from whom, for whom, and with whom?” And I suspect the non-progressive members of the Uprising might be equally disturbed to make common cause with those of us on this side.
Socialist United States Senator Bernie Sanders, an original member of The (Current) Uprising, sees partisan politics not as a continuum, but as a circle. He uses that circle to convince his politically conservative constituents who distrust “the liberal media” to ally with him and his politically progressive constituents who distrust “the Legacy Media,” in order to support the efforts of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. He works to stop the Bush Administration’s continued “deregulation” of media ownership, to benefit their campaign contributors and narrow the choices and voices available to American citizens (or “consumers”). Our own efforts to deconstruct the Legacy Media may benefit from an alliance with those who’ve long criticized the American media as captive of liberal elites – will we want to work together to take down our current media structure and then rebuild something more clearly responsive to Americans’ concerns about a palace court? Will how we take it down together influence what gets built in its place? Can we forge an alliance with those whose distrust of the media equals ours but comes from a very different place? And what goals might that alliance share?
When Sirota interviews a California Minuteman on “patrol” at Camp Vigilance, who is (in his day job) an owner of a small landscaping business, complaints about competitors who employ undocumented workers are legion. The small businessman wants the federal government to crack down on those who undercut him at every turn — because they don’t pay benefits, workers compensation, or a fair wage. At the core of his complaint, though, I hear echoes of our own frustrations with the ICE meatpacking raids in Iowa: why aren’t The Owners arrested, fined, punished? The intersection of our anger about immigration is the unfairness of the exemption provided to the businesses that hire and abuse workers. Can he see past our liberal humanitarian concerns, and can we get past his xenophobia, to find common ground in opposition to Capital’s rigged system? Is there a way for The Uprising to be soldered together on the very small place where our concerns align?
A relentless theme of Lou Dobbs Tonight is that our American middle class is being destroyed by DeeCee insiders from both parties who are overly responsive to campaign contributors. Lou rides that theme to some pretty scary places – the war on the middle class, broken borders, the drug war within. And Lou has some pretty frightening allies and supporters – rightwing racist xenophobes, angry Minutemen, and WorldNetDaily readers.
At the same time, though, a Blue America theme is that DeeCee insiders are much too beholden to big campaign contributors, and that the Democratic grassroots need to locate, support, finance, and elect Better Democrats in order to smash the corporatocracy’s hold on our party. Nothing could seem farther apart at first glance than the scary Lou Dobbs worldview and Blue America’s inclusive and diverse approach to candidate selection. But both are part of The Uprising. And, if so, how do progressives find a narrow place to ally with Dobbs to make change on the single issue of corporatocracy? Can The Uprising close this circle of partisan politics to create this change both Establishment antagonists want? And how would that work, anyway?
One example detailed in this book is the ten-year-old Working Families Party, created in New York by major labor, consumer and grassroots organizations as a “fusion” party, enabling them to cross-endorse another party’s candidate while counting their votes for that candidate separately, building a separate power base and sometimes providing a Democrat with a winning margin. That kind of success in New York State has moved Democrats toward people-based policies and away from corporate lobbyists with bags of cash. They’ve build a reputation as “the party that thinks wages should be higher” – a message that appeals to union members as well as working- and middle-class voters hostile to unions. The party’s leaders also make some compromises with power brokers because of configurations unique to New York – sometimes they find themselves on the opposite side of a primary campaign from union members of their own board, for instance. Sometimes they find themselves asked to reduce the emphasis of their own “Row E” message, central to their clout as a party, in order to achieve common goals with big power players. But their leader understands what we’ve learned at Blue America: “You cannot build a successful movement until you show you have the ability to defeat a bad Democrat.”
And yet – this party takes a pass on one core Democratic value I can’t: choice. I wonder what would happen in an Uprising alliance when the Working Families Party had a candidate who was great on all the issues, but still a forced-birth proponent? There’s no evidence in the book that it’s happened yet, but if reproductive rights aren’t anywhere on your candidate selection radar, a forced-birth proponent will get endorsed sometime. How can an economic Uprising succeed by leaving a core Democratic value aside? How successfully can it build alliances with other Uprising movements? What happens when the party’s neutrality collides with our passion?
The Uprising made me wonder: Are the differences we progressives have with other parts of The Uprising – the divisions we see as possibly insurmountable, even if we tried to find common ground – are these divisions real? Is our mutual disaffection from the center of power what makes us more like one another than we’d like to believe? And does keeping us divided one movement from another fulfill the Insiders’ plan to destabilize and disrupt the Uprising from reaching its full potential as the revolutionary antiestablishment force it can be?
This is a remarkable book – I literally learned something new on every single page. Stuffed with information, and yet beautifully character-driven, it’s an extraordinary piece of journalism that weaves a haunting story around the frustration and rage of the American people as we see our dream slip away. The Oligarchs should fear this book – and we should embrace it, even as we try to find our way around the contradictions its message provides.
FireDogLake is very excited to welcome author David Sirota – who is on a busy movement-based media tour to promote his book! Please keep comments on topic, and polite; discussion on other topics continues on the previous thread.