Thursday, September 8, 2016

Is Austin's Progressive Identity a Sham?

Standing across the street from Austin's NBC affiliate (KXAN), 
Robin S. protests the RNC/DNC duopoly on the presidential debates.

I live in Austin--a city that bills itself as a progressive bastion within the conservative state of Texas. But the more politically engaged I become, the less evidence I see to support this claim.

If alternative parties (such as the Greens and Libertarians) stand a chance anywhere in Texas, it should be in our self-consciously "weird" capital city, which blends the energy of politics, academia, technology, and entertainment. Austinites think of themselves as creative, empowered, and informed. So if any city in Texas should be clamoring for an alternative to the status quo, it should be Austin--right? 

Last evening, NBC aired a Commander-in-Chief Forum in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were presumably encouraged to explain why it's vitally important for all of us, as Americans, to rededicate ourselves to the task of imprisoning ourselves while terrorizing everyone else on the planet.

I didn't see the program because I was outside the local NBC affiliate protesting the fact that neither the Greens' Jill Stein nor the Libertarians' Gary Johnson will be allowed to participate in the upcoming presidential debates.

The email invitation I received to the protest indicated that supporters of Stein and Johnson should gather outside the NBC affiliate at 7 p.m. to let the world know how dissatisfied Americans are with Trump and Clinton as the major party candidates.

Since the email reached me just a few hours before the protest was scheduled to begin, I didn't expect much of a turnout.

In fact, I was one of only three people who showed up. I enjoyed meeting my fellow protestors (Robin and Elliot), but I'm unsure how much of an impact our trio had. When Elliot stepped away for a drink of water and I crossed the street to take the photo above, our protest looked like one man holding one flag.

I'm not sure anyone inside the NBC building even noticed that we were standing outside.

There was no reason for me to be disappointed by low turnout at a last-minute protest, but I was distressed by several things that became clear to me last night.

Problem #1: The invitation that I received from the Green Party yesterday suggested that this protest would be a joint effort between Greens and Libertarians, so I was disappointed to see that no Libertarians at all showed up.

It's not clear to me if the Greens reached out to the Libertarians on a national level or if it was left up to local Greens to reach out to their local Libertarian counterparts. If the message was supposed to be transmitted at the local level, then it would have been helpful for the email generated at the national level to indicate as much. But in any case, there clearly needs to be stronger communication between Greens and Libertarians in Austin. We may not see eye-to-eye on economics, but both Greens and Libertarians see the wars on terror and drugs for what they are: governmental excuses for oppression.

Solution #1: At an upcoming event featuring Martina Salinas, the Green candidate for Texas Railroad Commissioner, I hope to find out which of the local Green Party members have the strongest connections to the Libertarian community. If there isn't anyone who fits the bill, I will take it upon myself to become a liaison between Greens and Libertarians because few things are more important in the realm of politics than coalition-building.

Problem #2: There is clearly room for improvement in communication between Greens at the national and local levels. Elliot, the sole official representative of the Green Party at last night's protest, only found out about it after I contacted the local Green office to confirm that the event mentioned in the email was taking place.

Communication breakdowns happen from time to time. Maybe the communication between Greens at the local and national level is better than this event seemed to indicate. But my experience with the Green Party so far in 2016 (including several by-the-seat-of-the-pants events in Philadelphia during the DNC) leads me to suspect that the Greens' emphasis on decentralization may be incompatible with the clear channels of communication necessary for effective organization at the national level.

Solution #2: I'm not familiar enough with the Green ethos to diagnose or address this communication problem on my own. However, I think the rise of various YouTube personalities may provide us with an organic solution. As more people turn their attention to YouTubers such as Tim Black (of Progressive News), Mike Figueredo (of The Humanist Report), Debbie Lusignan (of The Sane Progressive), Will Gaillard (of Let the Madness Begin), and Joshua (of New Progressive Voice), the conversation that we all need to have with each other will become part of the fabric of our lives.

The progressive movement sparked by Bernie Sanders' candidacy is visibly losing steam by the day as the community of his supporters becomes ever more fragmented. When Sanders lost New York, we all held our breath for California. When Sanders endorsed Clinton before the convention, we held our breath for something magical (e.g. the death of the TPP) to happen in conjunction with Clinton's nomination. When Clinton's nomination became official, we held our breath for Tim Canova to defeat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. No matter how many times we move the goalpost, we keep failing to reach it. We're becoming demoralized in exactly the way the system is set up to demoralize us--and the temptation to check out of the political process only becomes stronger.

Solution #3: We need to set clear and achievable goals. If we can't set them collectively, then we must set them individually. Once we start reaching our individual goals on a regular basis, we'll find the energy to tackle collective goals again. But if we rely on other people for a sense of achievement, then we're at the mercy of factors beyond our control. Instead of resolving to get Martina Salinas elected as Railroad Commissioner, I'll figure out what goal I can set for myself to help get her elected. Even if Salinas doesn't win, I need to do something I've never done, learn something new, establish contacts I didn't have previously, and be in a better position to make a difference for the next Green candidate I can support at the local or state level.

The moral of the story is that the worst response I could have to last night's feeble protest would be to blame the Greens for not being more organized or the city of Austin for not being more progressive. If the Greens are indeed poorly organized, then it's important for me to recognize that deficiency and do what I can to help improve communications. If Austin is a sham progressive city, then it's important for me to recognize that reality and address it.

What could I have done to make last night's protest more effective? I could have reached out to the Libertarians. Next time, I will.

That's one positive step. If we put enough of those together, we have a path to a coalition. If we put enough coalitions together, then we have a shot at changing the system.

If you have better suggestions for what I should do, please leave your advice in a comment. And if you know any person or organization in Austin that I should contact, I'll be grateful for the tip.


  1. Mike, enjoyed the post. I agree, and would just like to share some of the words of Chris Hedges in "Wages of Rebellion" "Because revolution is evolution at its boiling point you cannot 'make' a real revolution any morethan you can hasten the boiling of a tea kettle," Berkman wrote. "It is the fire underneath that makes it boil: how quickly it will come to the boiling point will depend on how strong the fire is." He was quoting another book and the fire that it refers to is the system of power persecuting its people. Just as in South Africa Apartheid was overthrown suddenly after years of struggle, just as US black population so long suffering in this country suddenly rose up, just as the sixties here in the states took everyone by surprise... I believe it is coming! Just as a "middle class" white family in 1959 couldn't possibly imagine what was just around the corner for them in the 60's I believe that is where we are.
    On a side note I never received an email from Elliot or any of the Travis county greens...

  2. Hi Robin,

    Thanks for dropping by the blog. Quotations from Chris Hedges are always welcome here. Last month, I was delighted to write about his brilliant debate vs. Robert Reich on Democracy Now.

    I also like your analogy to boiling, though I think it's incomplete without likening human beings to frogs in boiling water. I think most of us are likely to be boiled alive before we recognize how much hotter the water is becoming. (Climate change makes this analogy a bit more literal than it should be.)

    I'm sorry to hear the Austin Greens were unable to reach you. I did hear from them via Slack--but I don't really understand what Slack is. If you care to respond to this comment with your email address or phone number, I'll try to figure out how to communicate that info to Debbie Balandrano (who sent me the Green Party invitation via Slack).

    I look forward to seeing you at future progressive events here in Austin.

  3. Mike, spoke to soon. Friday I received an invite. I'm connected locally and am looking forward to doing what I can!

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  5. Glad to hear it, Robin. I hope to see you at the #NoDAPL event tomorrow evening: