By Ralph Benko
In the previous installment I describe the beginnings of my long search for Them -- The Bad Guys -- and the disconcerting recognition that there may be no Them. Just Us.
Progressive master strategist Patrick Reinsborough (See Part One!) introduced me to Ilyse Hogue, recently departed from the Rainforest Action Network to become the political director of the dreaded MoveOn.org. I promptly joined MoveOn -- hey, no dues! -- as its one dissident member out of, then, two (now eight) million. I became fascinated by MoveOn. While certainly progressive and activist MoveOn proved to have real decency both as to its own community and even as to the policies it advocated.
I became so fascinated by MoveOn that I wrote an internationally award-winning cult classic book, The Websters' Dictionary: how to use the Web to transform the world about it and how it did what it did. Ilyse proved an admirable and deeply likable person. She invited me to a MoveOn party in Pittsburgh some years later where I was attending the Right Online counter-conference. The MoveOn party was DJ'd by Shep "Manufacturing Quality Dissent Since 1989" Fairey (the artist of the iconic Obama HOPE poster). Shep, in a delightful conversation, also proved yet another ... Us.
Note to readers: Capitalize with the capitalists but socialize with the socialists. They throw much better parties.
On Election Day 2008, with Obama crushing McCain, I visited Ilyse in her Secret MoveOn lair. I there presented her with a small model Fokker Tri-plane (keeping for myself a model Sopwith Camel), uttering: Curse you, Red Baroness! You crushed us! We shall meet in the skies yet again, next time to crush you. Curiously, on Election Day 2010, when the Tea Party fueled GOP swept to a House majority Ilyse informed me that her model Fokker spontaneously fell off its shelf and splintered.
Ilyse, now head of NARAL, and I could hardly be more ideologically polarized or militant. Yet what a wonderful person and arch-nemesis, Moriarty to my Holmes! (Unless, of course I am Moriarty and she Holmes. Depends on one's point of view.) Another Us.
Soon I made a trip to the Bay Area where I was received by MoveOn's co-founders and then senior leaders, Wes Boyd and Joan Blades. Joan had been ferrying her then High School daughter to cello lessons. A nice, unpretentious, middle class home from which the original MoveOn website had been designed and published and from which this civic behemoth was coordinated (via a laptop) and a most cordial reception. They said that The Websters' Dictionary was the best thing ever written on how MoveOn achieved and wielded influence.
To paraphrase Gertrude Stein (about Oakland, not the adjacent Berkeley): No Them there. Just Us folks. Joan and I began what developed into a warm friendship that evolved into my active participation with her most recent passion, LivingRoomConversations.org -- which, subversively, is arranging that "people who have fundamental differences of opinion and backgrounds work together with respect - and even joy - to realize the vibrant future we all desire."
Over the course of time I also had the pleasure of meeting then SEIU leaders Andy Stern and Eliseo Medina, who appeared very, very Us. Lawrence Lessig, who recently ran a brief presidential campaign as part of his ongoing efforts to bring about public financing of Congressional elections? Another Us.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that the overdemonized George Soros (who I have not met), a loyal disciple of the classical liberal (i.e. conservative) Karl Popper and friend of Hayek, turned up to speak at the Cato Institute on "Why I Agree With (some of) Friedrich Hayek." Us, anyone?
More recently, through LivingRoomConversations.org, this Tea Party Patriot developed a friendship with the president of the Coffee Party USA, Debilyn Molineaux. Another Us!
Dash it all! My quest to find a Them was foiled at every turn. We have profound and meaningful differences and I do not blur or minimize these. Yet it began to dawn on me that ... maybe ... there's no Them. Just Us.
This concept represents a rapidly emerging theme, just beneath the activist surface. It is seen at Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas's #EmergingUS. It may be found in thirty self-styled transpartisan groups collectively calling themselves the "Bridge Alliance." Let me note that I myself am a cispartisan, and proud. But ... live and let live. It is the essence of the increasingly influential LivingRoomConversations.org.
Disappointed? I sure was. Nothing like having a really sinister enemy to rally troops to the Cause! And yet...
Saul Alinsky (who, Surprise!, detested Big Government and loudly denounced LBJ's war on poverty as "political pornography") trenchantly wrote in Rules for Radicals, "the standards of judgment must be rooted in the whys and wherefores of life as it is lived, the world as it is, not our wished-for fantasy of the world as it should be." Sobering thought.
Not having a Them lacks drama. Yet it appears to be "the world as it is," To be effective one must learn to cope with the possibility that left and right may actually be spirited adversaries rather than enemies.
Nobody here by Us.
If you, dear Reader, are one of Them do contact me. Although I'm resigned to there not being any Them it would be great to be proved wrong and to see a Them with my own eyes. (Bring a crucifix. I'll wear a garland of garlic.)
If, however, there really is nobody here but Us it opens up new possibilities. Like the possibility of people who have fundamental differences of opinion and backgrounds will work together with respect - and even joy - to realize the vibrant future we all desire.