Thursday, February 16, 2012

Layer 520 . . . A Sense of Shared Purpose? Poverty and Progressivism in the USA

An interesting comment on the Guardian website:
I've just watched Panorama on BBC. America is fucked.
This is under an article headlined
The re-energised US left has much to teach its dismal European counterparts
Moving from retreat to re-tweet, US progressives have linked the personal and political to create a sense of shared purpose
by Adam Price

In Europe the city's aflame, but America's Athens, Philadelphia, city of the founding fathers, has lit a very different touchpaper: its Occupy movement is the first in the country to announce it's running for Congress. Whether or not 29-year-old Nathan Kleinman beats the moderate incumbent, it says something about a new spirit of opportunism on the American left.
In December, a poll by the Pew Research Center found support for socialism now outweighs support for capitalism among a younger generation of Americans. In 2012 so far, in a spectacular series of victories, American progressives have taken on big oil, Hollywood and (some people's version of) God, winning every time.
The European left, meanwhile, is in freefall . . .  What has gone so badly wrong for the Euroleft, and what can they learn from the US?
The killing off of the internet censorship bills Sopa and Pipa in January, despite big-battalion backing by the entertainment industry, and Bank of America's binning of a proposal to charge for debit-card usage at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, were internet-fuelled successes. The US left, it seems, has gone from retreat to re-tweet in just a few short years.
The progressive revival may be tech-enabled, but it's far from tech-driven. The real social web these movements have created is a web of values, a vision that somehow connects with people at an emotional level, joining the dots between the personal and the political to create a sense of shared purpose – though often using new digital tools.
The American left learned their emotional intelligence the hard way in the culture wars of the 70s and 80s, when good arguments seemed powerless against ignorance and prejudice. During the Bush era, Democratic thinkers like George Lakoff and Drew Westen started the push-back by teaching progressives the importance of "framing". Yet Karl Rove and the Republicans already had that playbook and used it with devastating efficiency.
The real secret to progressive success is a 68-year-old professor called Marshall Ganz, the Mark Zuckerberg of activism, who dropped out of Harvard to organise migrant workers in 1965 only to return almost 30 years later to finish his degree and teach a new generation what he'd learned in the field.
Ganz's work has inspired a myriad movements, from Obama's grassroots campaign in 2008 to the world's first trade union for models. At the core of his teaching is the idea that leaders must build a public narrative explaining their calling, a sort of progressive elevator pitch in three parts: why they feel called to act (story of self), how this act relates to the audience (story of us) and what urgent challenge this action seeks to address (the story of now).
Political therapy for Ed [Miliband] will never solve the wider problem: a European left that is tired, dull, top-down and moribund. The American left, historically weak, is by necessity decentralised and diverse. This once meant disorganisation and division. But it's managed to find a new coherence across geography and generation.
Technology allowed the anti-Keystone Pipeline campaign to connect Nebraska farmers with DC environmentalists. But connecting people across time is just as important. A phalanx of institutes funded by philanthropists and the remarkable breakaway SEIU union have built a repository of knowledge of how movements win, creating what Forbes writer Giovanni Rodriguez calls "fast history", accelerating the pace of change.
Today's American left is where the old world of community organising and the new world of social media meet. The dismal official European left, by contrast, has neither invested in their past, nor in their future, discarding their history, ignoring new technology. Our only hope, if Obama, as looks likely, is re-elected, is that he might perhaps consider a new Marshall plan, to rebuild a left in Europe that's everywhere in ruins.

The Panorama programme referred to by jonniestewpot was broadcast on Monday night.
America's homeless resort to tent cities
Panorama's Hilary Andersson comes face to face with the reality of poverty in America and finds that, for some, the last resort has become life in a tented encampment.
Just off the side of a motorway on the fringes of the picturesque town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a mismatched collection of 30 tents tucked in the woods has become home - home to those who are either unemployed, or whose wages are so low that they can no longer afford to pay rent.
Conditions are unhygienic. There are no toilets and electricity is only available in the one communal tent where the campers huddle around a wood stove for warmth in the heart of winter.
Ice weighs down the roofs of tents, and rain regularly drips onto the sleeping campers' faces.Tent cities have sprung up in and around at least 55 American cities - they represent the bleak reality of America's poverty crisis.
According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line - the most in half a century - fuelled by several years of high unemployment.
One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland.
Depression-type poverty
There are an estimated 5,000 people living in the dozens of camps that have sprung up across America.
The largest camp, Pinella's Hope in central Florida - a region better known for the glamour of Disneyworld - is made up of neat rows of tents spread out across a 13-acre plot.
Unemployment in America today has not reached the astronomical levels of the 1930s, but barring a short spike in 1982, it has not been this high since the Depression era.
There are now 13 million unemployed Americans, which is three million more than when President Barack Obama was first elected.
The stark reality is that many of them are people who very recently lived comfortable middle-class lives.
For them, the economic downturn came too fast and many have been forced to trade their middle-class homes for lives in shelters, motels and at the far extreme, tented encampments.
Watch Panorama on iPlayer:

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