Category Archives: activism

The Gay Rights Hero?

Comedian S.E. Cupp doesn’t think so:

Wouldn’t it have been more courageous if Obama had evolved a bit before the North Carolina vote, not after? And wouldn’t it have been more sincere and meaningful if his revelation weren’t so obviously connected to his reelection and fund-raising efforts?

Or if it weren’t prompted by a gaffe from the gaffe-prone Vice President Biden, who had declared on “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, thus forcing the President’s hand.

Considering the timing and the political implications, it’s clear that Obama’s message to gay America wasn’t so much “I love you” as it was “I’m okay with you and want your vote.” It was the equivalent of hitting the “like” button on a Facebook page.

 

Battle of the Gay Conservatives

Frum Forum’s Jeb Gonklin wrote a great post a while back on the differences between the two gay conservative groups: Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud.  Since I’ve been involved with Log Cabin for almost a decade, my sympathies lie with them.  Gonklin does a good job of describing what both groups have done in the last year, and Gonklin seems to have little good to say about GOProud.  Regarding the latest controversy regarding the Conservative Political Action Conference and GOProud’s role, Gonklin has this to say:

Conservatives tolerate GOproud precisely because they know the group won’t actually push them to address substantive issues involving gay rights.  GOProud’s motto might as well be: “Gays should not ask what the Republican Party can do for them. Gays should ask what they can do for the Republican Party.” But for those gay conservatives who would like their organization to speak for their own interests too, little is to be gained at an event like CPAC.  LCR realizes, I suspect, that it doesn’t need to fight such public wars as the tides of progress flow in a pro-gay direction. LCR’S absence from CPAC is a sign of LCR’s strength. GOProud may have provoked social conservatives into a petulant and self-destructive display, but CPAC remains as hostile as ever to a gay civil rights agenda. GOProud’s participation does nothing to correct that offense.

Gonklin’s post might come off as a bit strong, but I also think he’s on to something here.  GOProud has done a lot of big, spalshy events, like Homocon, but they have done little when it comes to advancing gay rights.  On the other hand, Log Cabin was very involved with trying to get “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repealed.

In a 2009 column, I had this to say about the inception of GOProud:

Does Log Cabin have problems? Yes. I disagree with the support for Hate Crimes legislation, which I disagree with on philosophical grounds. I also think they should have spoken more forcefully when gay GOP staffers were being outed. But that said, on the whole, this group has been a good organization showing that one can be gay and conservative.

As for all this talk about how Log Cabin has become “liberal?” Pure bunk. Please tell me, what is “liberal” about wanting the right to civil marriage, or the right to not be fired from your job because you are gay? What is “liberal” about wanting to serve in our military? The “liberal” term is used by those who are more interested in a “small tent” GOP, than in creating a movement and working to make the party that we love a more tolerant and welcoming party. Just because I believe in that doesn’t make me accept single-payer health care…

I could be wrong since the group’s purposes have not been released yet, but I fear that GOProud will be a group of gay Republicans not so interested in making society and our own party, more tolerant of gays, than it is about preserving the status quo. It’s interested in rallying around the GOP as it currently is and adding a dash of gayness to it. So they will promote the current GOP agenda, but do very little to change it. If that is there agenda, they are welcome to it, but I will remain with Log Cabin, imperfect as it is. My African American heritage and my upbringing in the Black church remind me that one must fight for their rights and that is what Log Cabin does.

It seems that my predictions came true.  GOProud has really done little to advance gay rights.  Last year during the California primary for Senate, they decided to attack gay-friendly candidate Tom Campbell, who they deemed as too liberal, and supported Carly Fiorina, who was supported by the anti-gay marriage National Organization for Marriage.

I know I’m biased, but I think Log Cabin will have a more lasting impact on gay rights and in making conservatism more inclusive than GOProud ever will.

The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

I’m sorry I didn’t get to this sooner: I was out of town overnight for a family celebration.  It’s is a great thing to say that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the ban on gays serving openly in the military is basically dead.  It’s another step in the march towards equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

Being a Republican, I do think thanks are in order for the six Republican Senators who voted for fairness, especially Maine Senator Susan Collins who worked hard to get the DADT repeal to come to a vote.

Politics, War, Civility and No Labels

I’ve said before that I have my doubts with the new centrist group called No Labels.  There has been a lot of talk about the orgainzation in the blogosphere and most of it is predictably negative.  Conservatives tend to think this is nothing more than liberals in drag, while some liberals want to remind people that labels are important.  Christopher Beam’s article in Slate is able to mix my concerns about the groups with some of the same criticism about the name and the need for partisanship in American society.

I agree with a lot of what Beam said.  There have been lots of attempts by well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned according to some) people who want to foster a more gentler politics and most of those efforts have amounted to nothing.  Beam is also correct in stating partisanship, or at least having beliefs is important and he is spot on in stating that part of the reason liberals and conservatives can’t cooperate is because they have less and less in common:

No Labels sounds noble in theory. But the group misunderstands what bipartisanship is. It’s not two parties deciding to be nice to each other. It’s a moment when their self-interests happen to align—moments that are increasingly rare. Washington does not have a “civility problem.” It has a polarization problem. Politicians aren’t any meaner now than they were 30 years ago. It’s just that over the last few decades, the two parties have become more ideologically coherent. Back in the 1950s, some Southern Democrats opposed racial integration, and some Republicans in the North favored a robust social safety net. Opposition to abortion was a bipartisan affair. There was a Christian right, but there was a Christian left as well. (The first Catholic president was a Democrat, after all.)

All of that changed in the ’60s and ’70s. Small-government libertarians aligned themselves with social conservatives under the Republican umbrella. Social liberals and economic interventionists joined the Democrats. In the 1980s, there was still enough overlap between the parties to beget phrases like “Reagan Democrats.” But every year the parties drift further apart. In a conversation with NPR about “No Labels,” Charlie Crist trotted out the old saw about Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. Those men “probably didn’t agree on a whole lot of things … yet were able to get along and at the end of the day, go out and have a cold one and understand that it’s important for them to be civil.” Sure. But by today’s partisan standards, O’Neill and Reagan had a lot in common. What stops Barack Obama and John Boehner from taking smoking breaks together isn’t that they’re jerks. It’s that they don’t agree on as much.

The parties have become more ideologically coherent, which has led to the current problem.

But where Beam and other detractors of No Labels fall short is on how to solve this issue.  It’s as if they don’t seem to care that important issues are not being discussed.  Of course partisan wrangling is part of the deal in a democracy.  An open society is not supposed to be a nice society.  I have no doubt that Democrats and Republicans were arguing back during the halcyon bipartisan days of the 1960s and 70s on the issues of the day.  Continue reading

Reasonable Voters, Radical Pols

Blogger Jay Bookman says that at least according to Gallup, Republican voters are pretty “reasonable,” but it’s the pols in Washington that are radical.  His last paragraph is the kicker:

In other words, it’s not merely that Washington Republicans won’t compromise with Democrats. They won’t compromise even with their own voters. The national party is in the grip of radicals who accept no deviation from the approved party line, and who demonstrate no tolerance for the broader, more reasonable range of opinions that exists within the Republican electorate they claim to represent.

The takeaway from this blog post is supposed to be that Washington Republicans who are “radicals” need to listen to their more “reasonable” voters. 

On the surface, there is some truth to that, but that’s only if you have a very simple view of party politics.  But I think Bookman leaves out a lot of factors that has made Washington pols more conservative than their supposed electorate.  Continue reading

Repost: Strong Ties, Civil Rights and Centrists

Kathleen Parker gave a shoutout to the new moderate group called “No Labels” a few days ago.  In the wake of this op-ed, I wanted to share this post from late September by Malcolm Gladwell on social media and activism.  I’m not as down on the social media as Gladwell, but he does have some insight and I’ve love to hear yours.

Over the years that I’ve been blogging (which is now about eight years), I have seen the desire for a strong centrist movement come and go.  Every so often, you see a blog posting or an article by a well-known columnist talking about how a centrist third party or movement is just around the corner. 

 Centrist Republican groups have started and up and disappeared making the pitch that the party needs moderates.

Why is that?  Why hasn’t a strong centrist movement actually got off the ground in America? 

Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on social media and social change, offers some clues.  He starts out by talking about the decision of several African American college students to stage a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960.  What Gladwell shows is that this decision to make a public stand against segregation didn’t just arise out of nowhere: it came from long conversations among the college students as well as the fact that they knew each other. 

So one crucial fact about the four freshmen at the Greensboro lunch counter—David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil—was their relationship with one another. McNeil was a roommate of Blair’s in A. & T.’s Scott Hall dormitory. Richmond roomed with McCain one floor up, and Blair, Richmond, and McCain had all gone to Dudley High School. The four would smuggle beer into the dorm and talk late into the night in Blair and McNeil’s room. They would all have remembered the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott that same year, and the showdown in Little Rock in 1957. It was McNeil who brought up the idea of a sit-in at Woolworth’s. They’d discussed it for nearly a month. Then McNeil came into the dorm room and asked the others if they were ready. There was a pause, and McCain said, in a way that works only with people who talk late into the night with one another, “Are you guys chicken or not?” Ezell Blair worked up the courage the next day to ask for a cup of coffee because he was flanked by his roommate and two good friends from high school.

Of course, one need not be good friends for this kind of social activism, but what Gladwell is getting at is that these four freshmen had strong social ties to each other. It was in his words, “high-risk activism.” Gladwell recounts the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In East Germany, what looked like spontaneous protests were actually quite organized:

…revolutionary actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core, strong-tie phenomena. The opposition movement in East Germany consisted of several hundred groups, each with roughly a dozen members. Each group was in limited contact with the others: at the time, only thirteen per cent of East Germans even had a phone. All they knew was that on Monday nights, outside St. Nicholas Church in downtown Leipzig, people gathered to voice their anger at the state. And the primary determinant of who showed up was “critical friends”—the more friends you had who were critical of the regime the more likely you were to join the protest.

So what made a movement was knowing someone in the movement, but it also mattered that the movement itself was rather top-down and orderly.  Gladwell notes the civil rights movement was incredibly military-like in its organization:

The students who joined the sit-ins across the South during the winter of 1960 described the movement as a “fever.” But the civil-rights movement was more like a military campaign than like a contagion. In the late nineteen-fifties, there had been sixteen sit-ins in various cities throughout the South, fifteen of which were formally organized by civil-rights organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and CORE. Possible locations for activism were scouted. Plans were drawn up. Movement activists held training sessions and retreats for would-be protesters. The Greensboro Four were a product of this groundwork: all were members of the N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. They had close ties with the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. They had been briefed on the earlier wave of sit-ins in Durham, and had been part of a series of movement meetings in activist churches. When the sit-in movement spread from Greensboro throughout the South, it did not spread indiscriminately. It spread to those cities which had preëxisting “movement centers”—a core of dedicated and trained activists ready to turn the “fever” into action.

The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline.

While one can look at the Civil Rights Movement as one that was dsiciplined, the same can not be said of the so-called Centrist movement. I’ve followed the Centrist and Centrist Republican movements over the years and they are not highly organized in the same way that the Civil Right movement or the opposition in East Germany was. Many a website or organization has been formed, but they have few if any followers.

The reason why is can also be found in Gladwell’s essay. The whole crux of this essay is the fact that social media is not as good in promoting social activism as face to face contact. Gladwell notes that websites like Twitter and Facebook are developed around weak-ties as opposed to the strong ties of social movements. I think this is interesting because much of the centrist movement is organized around the web with groups like the ill-fated Unity ’08, the Modern Whig Party and the new group No Labels as prime examples.  Gladwell notes that these weak ties groups make for a weak social movement:

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism…

In a new book called “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” the business consultant Andy Smith and the Stanford Business School professor Jennifer Aaker tell the story of Sameer Bhatia, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who came down with acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s a perfect illustration of social media’s strengths. Bhatia needed a bone-marrow transplant, but he could not find a match among his relatives and friends. The odds were best with a donor of his ethnicity, and there were few South Asians in the national bone-marrow database. So Bhatia’s business partner sent out an e-mail explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts; Facebook pages and YouTube videos were devoted to the Help Sameer campaign. Eventually, nearly twenty-five thousand new people were registered in the bone-marrow database, and Bhatia found a match.

But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

 

Bingo. This is why a centrist movement has not as of yet sprung up. It’s easy to ask someone to go to the No Labels website and sign up; nothing is being asked of you except to sign up. It’s another thing to sign up for something and then put your life on the line.

I think what this all comes down to is committment. How truly committed are we to building a real movement? Social media can help maintain the ties people have, but it won’t lead a movement for change. Yes, I can sign up on Facebook to say I support No Labels, but I can also sign up to support bacon as well.

If nothing much is asked of people, we can’t expect that much will be given. 

My guess is that most centrists are not really that serious about wanting change.  If they did, they would be more active in trying to make change happen.  It’s one thing to create a website and get some important people supporting it, it’s another thing to work for moderate candidates and get the average joes motivated.

 

Some (Slightly) Contrarian Thoughts on Gay Teen Suicide

The fall of 2010 seems to be a time when many folks are preoccupied with bullying and gay teens committing suicide.  Around the nation there have been a number young boys who have ended their lives either because they were gay or percieved as being gay.

All of the talk about gay suicides has sparked a lot of angry blog posts from people and sparks yet another episode of the culture wars, with both left and right screaming at each other.

These episodes of young men killing themselves have stirred not a small amount questions, on why it’s happening and what we can do about it.

As gay man, I can tell you this straight up: all the stories about kids getting teased because they gay or precieved as gay is not new.  I was teased or bullied or whatever you want to call it, back in the early to mid 80s , the years I was in Junior High/High School.  It was pretty common then, especially among young black men, to make fun of any kid that acted like “sissy.” 

Also, it is not a surprise that gay teens kill themselves more  than most other teens.  I remember hearing about a controversial government report in 1989 that said just as much.

So, like Jason Kuzinski, I have to wonder where the media (and the rest of society) has been all these years when it comes to gay teen suicides. 

That said, the question now before us is, what are we going to do about it? 

Well, I do agree that there probably needs to be more done to beef up anti-bullying policies.  Maybe we need to find ways to suspend bullies or move them to alternative schools.  But I also think that no matter what we do, there will always be kids trying to hurt other kids.  Even if we tell kids that making fun of others is bad, kids will still do because a) they’re jerks and b) they want to test the rules.  I’m not saying that nothing should be done, but let’s not think that putting a new policy or passing a law is going to magically stop bullying, teasing and suicides. 

Being a teen is hard.  It was hard for me 30 years ago, and it is hard now.  It’s not simply that our culture is homophobic, but it’s that kids can be cruel to each other.  I don’t think we can make it easier for them in an instant, but we as adults can be there for them and listen to them.  We can tell them they are not alone.

Next  Friday, I will take part in a new ministry at my church that is aimed at gay youth.  It wasn’t my idea.  It was the idea of a straight woman who saw what was going on and decided to do something about it.  My part is to share my story and let them know things will get better in time.

Laws can only do so much.  If we adults can get more involved in kids lives as they go through this rough stage called adolesence, then maybe we can make a difference in the lives of both the bullied and the bullies.

Strong Ties, Civil Rights and Centrists

Over the years that I’ve been blogging (which is now about eight years), I have seen the desire for a strong centrist movement come and go.  Every so often, you see a blog posting or an article by a well-known columnist talking about how a centrist third party or movement is just around the corner. 

 Centrist Republican groups have started and up and disappeared making the pitch that the party needs moderates.

Why is that?  Why hasn’t a strong centrist movement actually got off the ground in America? 

Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on social media and social change, offers some clues.  He starts out by talking about the decision of several African American college students to stage a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960.  What Gladwell shows is that this decision to make a public stand against segregation didn’t just arise out of nowhere: it came from long conversations among the college students as well as the fact that they knew each other. 

So one crucial fact about the four freshmen at the Greensboro lunch counter—David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil—was their relationship with one another. McNeil was a roommate of Blair’s in A. & T.’s Scott Hall dormitory. Richmond roomed with McCain one floor up, and Blair, Richmond, and McCain had all gone to Dudley High School. The four would smuggle beer into the dorm and talk late into the night in Blair and McNeil’s room. They would all have remembered the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott that same year, and the showdown in Little Rock in 1957. It was McNeil who brought up the idea of a sit-in at Woolworth’s. They’d discussed it for nearly a month. Then McNeil came into the dorm room and asked the others if they were ready. There was a pause, and McCain said, in a way that works only with people who talk late into the night with one another, “Are you guys chicken or not?” Ezell Blair worked up the courage the next day to ask for a cup of coffee because he was flanked by his roommate and two good friends from high school.

Of course, one need not be good friends for this kind of social activism, but what Gladwell is getting at is that these four freshmen had strong social ties to each other. It was in his words, “high-risk activism.” Gladwell recounts the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  In East Germany, what looked like spontaneous protests were actually quite organized:

…revolutionary actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core, strong-tie phenomena. The opposition movement in East Germany consisted of several hundred groups, each with roughly a dozen members. Each group was in limited contact with the others: at the time, only thirteen per cent of East Germans even had a phone. All they knew was that on Monday nights, outside St. Nicholas Church in downtown Leipzig, people gathered to voice their anger at the state. And the primary determinant of who showed up was “critical friends”—the more friends you had who were critical of the regime the more likely you were to join the protest.

So what made a movement was knowing someone in the movement, but it also mattered that the movement itself was rather top-down and orderly.  Gladwell notes the civil rights movement was incredibly military-like in its organization:

The students who joined the sit-ins across the South during the winter of 1960 described the movement as a “fever.” But the civil-rights movement was more like a military campaign than like a contagion. In the late nineteen-fifties, there had been sixteen sit-ins in various cities throughout the South, fifteen of which were formally organized by civil-rights organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and CORE. Possible locations for activism were scouted. Plans were drawn up. Movement activists held training sessions and retreats for would-be protesters. The Greensboro Four were a product of this groundwork: all were members of the N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. They had close ties with the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. They had been briefed on the earlier wave of sit-ins in Durham, and had been part of a series of movement meetings in activist churches. When the sit-in movement spread from Greensboro throughout the South, it did not spread indiscriminately. It spread to those cities which had preëxisting “movement centers”—a core of dedicated and trained activists ready to turn the “fever” into action.

The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline.

While one can look at the Civil Rights Movement as one that was dsiciplined, the same can not be said of the so-called Centrist movement. I’ve followed the Centrist and Centrist Republican movements over the years and they are not highly organized in the same way that the Civil Right movement or the opposition in East Germany was. Many a website or organization has been formed, but they have few if any followers.

The reason why is can also be found in Gladwell’s essay. The whole crux of this essay is the fact that social media is not as good in promoting social activism as face to face contact. Gladwell notes that websites like Twitter and Facebook are developed around weak-ties as opposed to the strong ties of social movements. I think this is interesting because much of the centrist movement is organized around the web with groups like the ill-fated Unity ’08, the Modern Whig Party and the new group No Labels as prime examples.  Gladwell notes that these weak ties groups make for a weak social movement:

The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism…

In a new book called “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” the business consultant Andy Smith and the Stanford Business School professor Jennifer Aaker tell the story of Sameer Bhatia, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who came down with acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s a perfect illustration of social media’s strengths. Bhatia needed a bone-marrow transplant, but he could not find a match among his relatives and friends. The odds were best with a donor of his ethnicity, and there were few South Asians in the national bone-marrow database. So Bhatia’s business partner sent out an e-mail explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts; Facebook pages and YouTube videos were devoted to the Help Sameer campaign. Eventually, nearly twenty-five thousand new people were registered in the bone-marrow database, and Bhatia found a match.

But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and—in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need—spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.

The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.

 

Bingo. This is why a centrist movement has not as of yet sprung up. It’s easy to ask someone to go to the No Labels website and sign up; nothing is being asked of you except to sign up. It’s another thing to sign up for something and then put your life on the line.

I think what this all comes down to is committment. How truly committed are we to building a real movement? Social media can help maintain the ties people have, but it won’t lead a movement for change. Yes, I can sign up on Facebook to say I support No Labels, but I can also sign up to support bacon as well.

If nothing much is asked of people, we can’t expect that much will be given. 

My guess is that most centrists are not really that serious about wanting change.  If they did, they would be more active in trying to make change happen.  It’s one thing to create a website and get some important people supporting it, it’s another thing to work for moderate candidates and get the average joes motivated.

Why There’s No British Tea Party

Alex Massie explains why there is no UK version of the Tea Party:

Because most of the contests called primaries in Britain are really forms of caucus, not proper primaries and even the so-called “open primaries” that have been held by postal ballot are actually only semi-open. In each case voters are offered a choice of candidates who have been approved by Tory HQ. It is not, in other words a truly open process and consequently it’s exceedingly difficult for a grass-roots rebellion to take place.

This is one reason why there is no British Tea Party. The establishment party controls who is put on the ballot even in the so-called open primaries and, generally speaking, the party isn’t going to risk putting forward for selection the British equivalents of O’Donnell or Rand Paul. Genuinely open primaries could change that and that’s why no party, I think, has any desire to emulate the openess of the American system. Sometimes, you see, the “wrong” people win.

I wonder if that’s why it is so hard to reform the Republican Party in the same way that the Conservative Party in Britain was able to reform.  Because their system is less populist, there is more space for more moderate elements and ideas that just can’t occur here.  As we have seen, populist movements within the GOP  have the tendency to snuff out anyone who is seen as moderate.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Is Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the military policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is unconstitutional because it violates the 1st amendment rights of servicemembers.

Judge Virginia Phillps (a Clinton appointee to federal bench but a GOP appointee to state bench) ruled that the law is unconstitutional on its face and issued an injunction.

I presume this will be appealed, especially since past rulings have accepted limits on the rights of the military when it was necessary for national security.

Personally I am quite pleased at the outcome but await more information before deciding if the reasoning was proper.