Monday, July 13, 2009

Government and the Arts

By: Harry Waisbren

On my last day in DC this past week I found myself at the Smithsonian American Art Museum per a suggestion from Alan Rosenblatt (@drdigipol). Upon entering hte museum, I found myself eccstatic to see an exhibit entitled 1934: A New Deal for Artists. This is in large part because my father has long been one of the foremost scholars and collectors of the WPA arts programs, and unsurprisingly he has quite enjoyed a book covering the exhibit that I bought for him.

Furthermore, the knowledge I have gained from my father's passion has made me increasingly convinced that such funding of the arts is essential in today's comprable environment, making me look to such exhibits with a much keener eye. This money would be allocated as but one aspect of a new New Deal that I also believe must be established, as the importance of providing job assistance to artsts, writers, and anyone unfit for physical labor is quite integral. Government assistance should go to both the working and creative classes, and we can look to successful New Deal programs such as the Federal Arts Project as a corrollary to today.

I am hopeful that the organizations and individuals promoting a "Green New Deal" consider the need for more artistic elements to permeate as well. It would not only create jobs for a suffering part of the economy, but it will express the pain and agony of a country whose government has--once again--turned its back on them in a manner in which no policy paper could compare.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


By: Harry Waisbren

It’s been incredibly encouraging to watch the blogosphere’s fight for the public option’s inclusion in major healthcare reform. Observers have been able to watch prominent progressive bloggers flex their muscles, and their increasing influence is made manifest by their newfound capacity to rapidly push forward the development of new tools and strategies.

One element of this that has me particularly psyched about the evolution of activism is the Public Plan Whip Tool which Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has been heavily promoting. This tool correlates to the very successful effort to push members of Congress to vote against the Supplemental Appropriations Act, as they have utilized a crowdsourced effort to call every member repeatedly to both lobby for the cause and document their current position on it. The action’s page makes it easy for anyone to participate by providing concise messaging and the congressperson’s contact information, and the large pool of information is relayed into charts providing day by day and blow by blow updates of where these members of congress stand. At least 1,200 different people participated in the “citizen whip count” for the Supplemental Appropriations Act, and the effort for the public plan continues to go strong on Day 12.

Because of these early successes, I was surprised by the timing Chris Bowers’ post calling for a “new strategy on constituent phone calls to congress” yesterday afternoon. After all, there is only so much time even the most dedicated activists have available to spend on activism such as phoning a congressperson, and Bowers is quite blunt in his criticism of the status quo.

the bottom line is that constituent phone calls to members of Congress have mainly become an astroturf operation by corporate interests designed to skew perception of public opinion and further right-wing economic legislation. It is yet another aspect of our government that has been almost thoroughly corrupted.

Progressives should consider changing tactics. Instead of making phone calls to members of Congress, perhaps we should start campaigns to mail hundreds of copies of comprehensive, non-partisan polling analysis to every congressional office. Instead of making phone calls, perhaps we should turn instead to placing media requests that ask questions (ala our stand with Dr. Dean campaign). Or, perhaps when we make phone calls to Congress, our calls should focus on reminding congressional offices that most of the calls they receive are corporate astroturf.

Whatever we do, we can't allow the status quo to continue. We will lose to the billions of dollars in corporate money every single time.

Bowers does not explicitly cite the Public Plan Whip Tool in the post, and he responded to my email about it by emphasizing that he is not disagreeing with Jane about tactics. In fact, he states that he’s working with her to continue to adopt new strategies. I had been expecting him to denounce large scale blogosphere powered efforts to phone bank, but his passion for reforming these practices instead of replacing them was evident when he discussed its importance in relation to the Progressive Block. Bowers explained that both he and Jane have a shared desire for a dramatically increased focus on calling progressive members of Congress to urge them to vote against Democratic legislation unless specific demands are met. This flies in the face of the current phone banking strategy of attempting to lobby swing members of congress, and it holds great promise since progressives “never convince these swing voters to side with us” anyways. As Bowers argues, the status quo is so ineffective that “the Democratic Party leadership often encourages them to vote against us and heavily funded conservative organizations always place more phone calls”. Ending such encouragement that ensures the maltreatment of progressives is precisely why he is so vociferously seeking help to build the Progressive Block, and this development would have an impact far beyond phone banks.

Furthermore, as Bowers emphasized during our exchange, these strategies and tools can, indeed, “work in concert with one another”. I found this explanation to be extremely satisfying, as I believe wholeheartedly that continued and enhanced coordination between both of these efforts is absolutely essential. In fact, I see a direct corollary to Matt Stoller’s seminal post on Open Left calling for a closing of the rootsgap that separates Democratic politicians and their activist base. When used in concert, these two tools can do much in that regard, as they connect a coordinated block of progressive activists with a self-identified Progressive Block of legislators through the phone lines.

If we are to get the literally life or death issue of healthcare right, we need every progressive on the ground, in media, and in political office on the same page. Here’s hoping we can leverage FDL’s new tool and Open Left’s new strategy to help do just that!