What's wrong with MoveOn

March 12th, 2005  |  Published in Uncategorized

Around the time Howard Dean blew up, everyone got excited about Internet activism. Hey, who needs organizations with meetings, statements of principle, and ideologies? We’ll just go to a meetup, and donate to our favorite candidates online!

Since the upsurge of activism around the 2004 election pretty much defined “wide but shallow” for our generation, the rapid deterioration of its political structures was hardly surprising. And yes, Democracy for America, I see your hand in the back of the room. It’s rad how “DFA does not be having ‘chapters’, ‘affiliates,’ or ‘branches’.” Not just because it sounds all “street” and so on, but “because these terms imply a legal relationship and possible liabilities”. Wouldn’t want that. Wouldn’t be prudent.

But seriously, can we talk about MoveOn.org? How they suck, I mean.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the bankruptcy bill. The short version: after you’ve been pre-approved for double-plus-free-credit-for-life, the credit card companies jack your rate to 30% because your brother missed a car payment. Then you can’t declare bankruptcy. Or, to put it another way: this bill promises to lock generations of Americans into debt peonage to the credit card companies.

Republicans support it, natch. So do many Democrats, for two reasons. One, their corporate benefactors want them to. Two, they don’t have a grassroots opposition pressuring them not to.

So where’s the grassroots opposition? Well, here’s what MoveOn’s Eli Pariser said to Salon:

“Because of the solid Republican support for the bill, terrible though the bill is, it wasn’t something that we could make a difference by weighing in on,” Pariser told War Room by phone on Friday. He said that MoveOn’s members had chosen to focus on two other “critical fights that we can win” — namely Bush judicial nominations, and the battle over Social Security.

What, your members can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?

Apparently not:

Pariser maintained that the group has not narrowed its focus since the presidential election: “We’ve always been a multi-issue organization and we always will be.” But he says that members have indicated that they’ve been overwhelmed when asked to “track 16 different issues at once, so we’ve done our best to respect our members’ attention and inboxes.”

Live by the sword, and so on. The problem is that groups like MoveOn sell politics as a commodity. They present it to their customers this way: “rebuild the left in America, for only three clicks a month! From the comfort of your own home!” The similarity to late-night infomercials is not accidental, and it points up the limits of the genre. If you don’t ask people to be part of a movement, to learn an ideology, to develop an analysis–if you don’t do those things, small wonder no-one has the patience to pay attention to any issue which requires the least bit of thought. If you only conceive of politics as something you fit into your spare time, no wonder “16 different issues” is intimidating.

Blogs, the web, and related neat gadgets present interesting possibilities, but they are only technique, and they presuppose a political consisciousness which, judging by the silence over the bankruptcy bill, is still sorely lacking. I would venture to say that such consciousness cannot be built over the Internet. It requires stable, long-lasting social connections which are difficult to forge. More on that later. For now, read this rad dude for more on the commodified left.

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