Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Overheard In The Lobby

A student, likely a recent graduate, though one I didn't recognize, telling a friend about her new job in Washington, DC. I don't know what the job is. As she left the lobby after realizing she was in the wrong building (apparently her time at Hastings, with its lonely 3 buildings, wasn't long enough to learn the numbers assigned to each, but no matter), she tossed a parting comment to her friend: "so I'm off to fight the fight in DC. Someone sure needs to."

And I was struck with two immediate thoughts:

Firstly, she is hardly the first person to leave San Francisco in pursuit of greater fights.

Secondly, I don't think "the fight" is in DC any longer. And this thought surprises me, though it shouldn't. The fight is in each county, on each elected board and selected commission. It's in the schools and on the streets. It's in law schools and judicial chambers; cafes and at the gym. Confining the fight to one ring in DC - or in all three rings in DC's circus - is ineffective. George Lakoff is making money telling Democrats how to recreate fully executed conservative tactics and we're stabbing at windmills in a few-square-mile area while they're erecting dozens more behind us.

You needn't go to DC to fight the fight. Even in blue California, try Riverside or Fresno. The fight isn't staying put, and neither should we.


Robin said...

So true! In fact I have seen some convincing arguments recently that the fight -- or, more broadly, the opportunity for change & reform & interesting new ideas -- is precisely NOT in Washington. All the cool stuff is happening -- can only happen -- in other, more flexible arenas.

I'd be interested in a good (short) history of big reforms and social movements -- I wonder how many of them began in the hubs of power. Not many, I'll wager. (But if I'm wrong, that would certainly be interesting to know!)

Heather said...


pamela b said...

Hi Christiana! (This is my first post to anyone's blog, ever, so I thought I'd make up for lost time by making it really, really long.)

"The fight" was never in D.C. Or at least not exclusively. This may sound surprising coming from a person who is obsessed with getting good people elected, but let's take a brief look at social movements history.

A lot of the social and political changes that matter, at least to a progressive like me, weren't initiated in D.C. Think about the women's suffrage movement, or the civil rights movement, the movement to pass the ERA, or the California movement to establish marriage equality. Each of these movements began at the grassroots. They were lead by people who had limited access or no access to public office because they were gay or women or black, and in many cases poor and without the uber-elitist education that may D.C. types enjoy. After decades of progressive grassroots organizing and reactionary conservative counter-organizing law-makers finally weighed in by passing the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act, defeating the ERA, and removing gender from California marriage laws. D.C. and Sacramento were important in each of these movements because they produced the laws that ended much of the debate on each issue. Legislators played an important role in the final stages of each of these movements, but they didn't create the social force that moved these outsider issues into the elite arena of powerful legislators. They couldn't have. Laws can't change hearts and minds. Community organizers do. (Perhaps someone can offer some debate here on AB 849).

I know that many good young people believe we’re going to support progressive causes by running for office or by working for people who do. Since this usually requires the steady ego that comes from a bit of privilege and a great deal of exclusive higher education not available (or affordable) for most folks, and many of us have these assets, it’s a noble place to make our own contribution to the cause. But let’s keep those egos in check, and remember that we’re just one important part of a movement that relies on the strength, commitment, and tenacity of organizers on the ground.