You are herecontent / Why We're Leaving
Why We're Leaving
[cross-posted from the Democracy Cell Project]
When did we know we had to leave?
Certainly the first indication was right before the 2004 election, after a year-plus of working hard, 24X7, to elect a smart, good, thoughtful, honest man to the White House. Richard (Blogmaster for johnkerry.com, initiator of the first national party website and first online political community sponsored by a political party) and I were sitting in the car on the Sunday prior to election day. He hesitated before turning on the car. "I have a bad feeling," he said. "I have a sense that in churches all over America, people are being told to vote for Bush."
My mind reeled. I had been operating under the assumption that the good guys would win this time. I was much more concerned about what would happen to us WHEN John Kerry and John Edwards were elected. I was concerned because I genuinely respected and liked very few of the folks who were high up in the campaign at that point in time. It seemed to me that they were spending more energy on casting themselves in key roles inside the White House than they were in actually winning the hearts and minds of voters. Few of them seemed to even like or respect John Kerry himself. My concerns were split: that Richard would not find a place of integrity inside the new administration and/or that he WOULD and we would have to hang out with these sleazebags for years.
My concerns were unfounded, his were not.
It was on November 4, 2004, after days of managing the Kerry online community without sleep, that I found the website for homes in Canada. There was a converted church listed, and it sat on the water, serenely overlooking lapping waves. It was open; it had flow and history.
I looked at the church until it disappeared from the listings, then noted when it returned, and then when it returned again.
Meanwhile, the political insiders who made up the bulk of our social lives split up and found camps to join: the MoveOn folks, the policy organizations, various NGOs, Media Matters, the Campaign for America's Future, etc., and, of course, various campaigns. We had a difficult time with all of the organizations; having begun the Democracy Cell Project, we found ourselves competing with much larger and sexier communities. No one believed in the power of a few knowledgeable and motivated folks to change the world, despite Margaret Mead's oft-quoted belief in that possibility. But most significantly, no one believed in the community management skills we had honed over the course of the Kerry Blog. What they did believe in: scaling, page views, market share.
We had nothing to offer on those fronts. Having worked in an atmosphere of the high-touch interactions, and having spent a lot of time and energy on learning how to shift perceptions and manage difficult people, we were uninterested in either the circle jerk of insiders or the ATM machines-for-change that were set up. We proposed helping the Congressional Progressive Caucus build a community and they passed. We advised the Kerry people on how to utilize the loyal supporters they had and were more-or-less ignored.
But we noted that both the Obama and Edwards campaigns were picking up on aspects of what we had promoted, and that felt validating.
As the Clinton campaign got rolling, we watched them make mistake after mistake, online and off. Our friends who were working there were uninterested in our perspectives, and that was OK. The message back to us was that we were a little quaint, under-informed, and possibly disloyal.
We went to Nova Scotia and visited the church, for sale again. it was old and needed work, but the perspective, the water, the distance from insanity, felt marvelous. We made an offer. A few minutes later, another offer came in, without our conditions. We lost the church.
In the past four years, we have also worked with many grassroots, on-the-ground organizations as well: Code Pink, the World Can't Wait, the Backbone Campaign, AfterDowningStreet, etc. We have found a number of folks who truly believe in right action and the inspired moment. Our political insider friends are disdainful about right actions and inspired moments; they believe in data and rolodexes.
Lately, since losing the church as an escape option, watching the activists lose court battles, face, and sometimes heart, and smelling the decaying roadkill of the presidential election, we have come up with a new plan.
A friend once told us of friends of theirs who had fled Nazi Germany. "How did you know when to leave?" they were asked. "It's not that we knew when to leave, but at some point, you realize that you must leave, and then you look for the opportunity to leave."
I have thought about that quote often in the past year. Our insider friends stopped calling us long ago, and the events I have attended that were put on by those organizations, the campaigns, the gatherings, etc. have been tepid enough to convince me that they are not being effective. The Clinton campaign, which has taken a very very bad turn of late, has managed, with more cooperation and less insight than we could have imagined, to drag several of our friends into sordid situations, some of which have become public. The loyalty argument has evolved into something that appears to be even more Mafioso-like than that of the Republicans, which, if you think about it, is stunning and horrific.
Our activist friends are frustrated as well, realizing that Obama is better than Clinton, especially as her campaign's tactics and strategies emerge as ever-more-desperate, but that a President Obama cannot evolve the country back into a true democracy, or even a decent Republic, in any real time. Protests are small and ineffective, actions alienate those trying to move incrementally, incrementalism is slippery.
The blogosphere is equally fragmented, civil discourse is increasingly scarce, management of message is disingenuous and highly controlled, and the progress towards the Democratic nomination is sporadic, random, and without enough soul or heart. We search for truth in piles of manure, sift through crap to find nuggets of hope and vision. Meanwhile, gas is up, food sources are down, jobs are gone, and people are frantic.
We have a beautiful house. I have a very good job. My work is meaningful and useful. Richard's work is truth-telling and has integrity, something few around us can say, but which allows him to sleep better at night than they deserve to. So why are we leaving this house?
We cannot afford to stay. It is that simple. It's not that we are persecuted, like our friend's friends were under the Nazis. It's not that we are unpatriotic or disloyal, as some would say. It's not even that we are so discouraged that we must crawl away to a distant place to lick our wounds. We are not frightened, we are not retreating from battle.
We're just out of resources, and the struggle for resources is draining us from doing the work we know needs to be done. The most valuable resource we have is the house; it is in a great location(five blocks from the Senate) and now, with a new paint job and a yard sale this morning to eliminate excess material goods, it might sell quickly and at a price high enough that we can take the opportunity to do the right action and have more inspired moments.
For us, we are thinking that we will buy some land and build a solar house. We will write about it. We will continue to observe the struggle for democracy and to offer advice when asked, when compensated, and when we can help others be effective. But we will not be enmeshed, close observers of the debacle. There are things we already wish we did not know, and we will not have to know about the new ones. This, we hope, will free us to write about the things we do know, and which need to be shared.
The selling of our house provides us the opportunity to leave. It is the moment to take the opportunity.