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Happy Labor Day, I guess

Your Humble Blogger is feeling, alas, uninspired today. I do like to write something about Labor Day, about Labor that is, but as I say, I am feeling uninspired.

I guess I have a question, which is this: given that Labor Unions used to provide the function of informing a large number of people about current political activity and how it affects them, who do you see potentially taking over that function? I am looking for something more specific than ’blogs’; blogs may be a tool for informing people, but the existence of blogs has not, it seems, done much to keep large numbers of people informed. Nor would I expect it to—people who aren’t watching the news or reading the newspapers or otherwise keeping informed one way or another are not likely to be reading political blogs. Nor is there any easy way to find a blog that will (as your Union meeting used to) tell you how such-and-such a piece of legislation will affect you at your workplace or in your town.

I suspect that many people are being informed by their churches, and by people associated with those churches, so that’s one possibility. I suppose that it’s possible that employers will take up the task, being freed up to do more of that by the Citizens United decision. It’s somewhat easier, in this internetty age, for one passionate person in an extended family to do it, although, you know, we delete those emails, don’t we?

I’m not just talking about political mobilization, but—y’all see the surveys that come out that show that half the country doesn’t know the names of any Supreme Court Justices, or who the Speaker of the House is, or what party their Senators and Representatives are from, or what bits of legislation have recently passed or are up, or all that sort of thing. This vacuum is a Bad Thing, clearly, not only because it is a terrible block to making a democratic society, but because it leaves people very vulnerable to the untruths of demagogues. I don’t expect everybody to be a political junkie, and I don’t expect that everybody will want to vote, but basic civic knowledge used to be more widespread than it is now. I am persuaded (obviously) that the narrowing of political knowledge is because of the narrowing of union membership. Union membership, which wasn’t always entirely voluntary of course, meant a certain amount of political talk which also wasn’t entirely voluntary (in the sense that you couldn’t escape it, not that you were compelled to voice a particular position, although of course the latter did happen now and then). It wasn’t a perfect system for creating a democratic society and a democratic people, but it was a damned good one. I don’t see what replaces it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


who do you see potentially taking over that function?

Bumper stickers, twitter, and facebook. None of which allow for much depth.

I think a distribution channel that's well on its way to being established is:

1) Celebrity gets excited about a political or social cause, probably for the ostensible reason and not as a way to gain publicity.
2) Celebrity makes appearances/trips/demonstrations about the cause.
3) Entertainment media (TV shows / magazines / websites) provide coverage, thus making a lot of people who knew nothing about the issue a moderately more knowledgeable about it.

One thing that's starting to happen is that some unions are beginning to reach outside the workplace, becoming community organizers as well as labor organizers. That shift is a long way from filling the gap left by robust unions that created a strong political voice for the working class, but it's a start in the needed direction. The tools for building grassroot movements are known and available for use, if people have the will and energy to use them.

The lack of will right now is linked to the problem that just organizing people in and of itself--to vote, to march, etc.--isn't sufficient to bring about needed changes in our society, because the plutocratic right has gradually reshaped our political system to be unresponsive to expressions of popular will. Corruption is a big part of this problem, but other major pieces are plutocratic control of mass media, which strongly influences popular perception of protest actions, and the culture of aggressive selfishness that has been brought to its first apotheosis in the Tea Party movement trains people out of empathy and in fact celebrates callous disregard for the needs of others. These factors require active, serious efforts to bring about political and social change for the benefit of working people and the common good to be much more forceful, and the people by and large have not shown much appetite yet for that (partly because it's much easier to justify the violent suppression of forceful movements for change). So the other response, which is not necessarily ineffectual in bringing about change, when resorted to on a large scale, is withdrawal. Withdrawal doesn't revitalize the political system, but it does deprive the ruling elite of certain kinds of social and financial consent that weaken it, perhaps to the point of systemic breakdown, which may again create an opening for positive change and the removal of the corrupt elites from positions of control. This is a much more uncertain (and damaging) route to positive change than the direct election of good leaders to political office, but, given the challenge of identifying and supporting good and trustworthy leaders in a profoundly corrupt political system, withdrawal is not an indefensible choice, and any movement to organize voters around their real interests has to take account of the factors that lead people to prefer withdrawal to engagement.

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