Documentation. Witnesses. Facts. Truth. That's what they're afraid of.

Monday, December 19, 2016

For the Record

I've been seeing the Indivisible document swirling through the tubes of the Interweb for a few days now, and figured I'd chime in.

I think it's great that it's happening; people are hungry for techniques to fight back, and Indivisible is basically a codification of a lot of the best practices that activists have been using for years, kind of a drier Rules for Radicals for our time.

I'm not going to chisel at the substance of the document, because it's generally solid and useful, but I want to take a sledgehammer to one of the basic premises. Quoting the mighty Driftglass:


You see,  back in 2009, millions of our fellow citizens who had cheered on the Bush Administration (and screamed "Traitor!" and anyone who dared question the infinite wisdom of George W. Bush) had a sudden and urgent need to completely disavow everything they had said and done foe the previous eight years (without, of course, taking any responsibility for saying and doing it) so they could get on with the important business of hating America's first African American president with the heat on 1,000 suns.  In a normal, health democracy, the idea that millions of wingnuts could build a mile-high bonfire out of their Bush/Cheney lawn signs and then dance around it pretending they had never even heard of George W. Bush would be a problem for the nation's top mental health professionals.
But we do not live in a normal, health democracy, and millions of wingnuts really did leap almost overnight from relentlessly praising George W. Bush to deny!deny!denying! him harder and faster and more desperately than Peter denied Christ.
But that's not the story either, because really, Republicans lying en masse and in lockstep isn't even a story anymore: it's just another day in America.
No the real story is how massively well-funded and coordinated this lie was by Fox News and all the usual loathsome creatures of the Right (Media Matters has a sampling of Fox News' wall-to-wall barrage of "These are just plain folks rising spontaneously up again the Evil Gummit!" propaganda here.) The real story was how quickly and cravenly the "respectable" media went along with this transparent hoax.  In Washington D.C., David Brooks turned the act of jogging past one group of protesters into a deep, sociological proof that they were the salt of the Earth,  In Chicago, the local PBS affiliate went all-in with the "We've never even paid attention to politics before" teabagger line of bullshit, failing to do even the most minimal research to find out who they were actually interviewing and what their actual political affiliations really were.  Even the "liberal" New York Times could only manage a tepid, he said/she said, Both Siderist take on this "tea party" thing in which some people say it's a real movement full of awesome, while others say it's just ten square acres of Koch-funded AstroTurf, so who really knows?

I don't want to patronize the team of writers who put this document together too much (they're in their 20s and early 30s, from what I understand), but I happened to be watching CNBC on that fateful day in 2009 when the "Tea Party" equivalent of the Franz Ferdinand shot was fired:

We knew way back then that this was nothing more than astroturf. From the Atlantic, on April 13, 2009:

Here is the organizational landscape of the April 15 tea party movement, in a nutshell: three national-level conservative groups, all with slightly different agendas, are guiding it. All are quick to tell you that the movement is a bottom-up affair and that its grassroots cred is real.
They are: FreedomWorks, the conservative action group led by Dick Armey; dontGO, a tech savvy free-market action group that sprung out of last August's oil-drilling debate in the House of Representatives; and Americans for Prosperity, an issue advocacy/activist group based on free market principles. Conservative bloggers, talk show hosts, and other media figures have attached themselves to the movement in peripheral capacities. Armey will appear at a major rally in Atlanta, FreedomWorks said.

Armey was doing the Tea Party thing waaaay back in 2002:

In 2002, CSE launched the website, with a video game that encouraged users to toss crates of tea off a ship in Boston Harbor while then-Democratic Senate majority leader Tom Daschle stood on the dock, wearing a British redcoat and taunting: “Just pay me and shut up.”
Armey joined CSE as co-chairman the next year, providing political star power that the organization lacked. He made $430,000 a year, on top of the $750,000 salary he earned as a lobbyist for the firm DLA Piper.
But shortly after his arrival at CSE, a boardroom dispute split CSE in two. The Kochs broke off and founded Americans for Prosperity while Kibbe partnered with Armey to form FreedomWorks in 2004. Kibbe wanted to make sure FreedomWorks couldn’t disband the way CSE had, Armey says, so he structured the nonprofit with an unusual three-person board of trustees that had the final say in all organizational matters. Kibbe and Armey took two of the three seats.
Together they organized activists to support small-government initiatives throughout the country. But without the Kochs’ financial backing, FreedomWorks struggled to make payroll. Kibbe and Armey organized anti-tax protests each April 15 at post offices around the country—rarely drawing more than two dozen people.
They penned an op-ed submission in 2007 advocating the Boston Tea Party approach to citizen revolt. “[Samuel] Adams was the first American to recognize that ‘it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather, an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds,’ ” they wrote, according to Kate Zernike’s book Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America.
Editors yawned; the op-ed was never published. No matter what they tried, Kibbe and Armey couldn’t seem to ignite their modern-day Tea Party movement. 

And this goes back even further:

The spring of 1993 was a lousy time to be associated with the Republican Party in Washington, D.C. Bill Clinton had just stormed into the White House. The Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress. Even undersecretaries of powerful cabinet departments from the Bush administration discovered that they were unloved, unwanted, and unemployed in the nation’s capital. 

So I did what many others did in that spring of 1993 in the nation’s capital: I began consulting. My first client was a think tank that I’d never heard of—a small outfit with big dreams and a curious checkbook.
At the time, no one knew much about Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). When I’d asked about funding for CSE, it had taken a while to get a clear answer. But, eventually, it became obvious when Rich Fink showed up at critical strategy sessions and spoke with unblinking certainty about what Charles Koch was interested in and wanted done without question. Though few have heard of Rich Fink, he’s been in the inner circle of the Koch brothers’ movement-building efforts for decades, influencing the creation and actions of Koch-funded front groups.
CSE was, in effect, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the United States, with interests in manufacturing, trade, and investments.
But what I didn’t know when I began consulting for Citizens for a Sound Economy was what any of the connections between CSE and the Koch brothers were really all about. What was the endgame? Today, we know.
Charles and David Koch—who, if their individual fortunes were combined in one place, would quite possibly represent the wealthiest person on earth—have almost certainly spent or raised more than a billion dollars to successfully bend one of the two national parties in America to their will. The long rise of the Tea Party movement was orchestrated, well funded, and deliberate. Its aim was to break Washington. And it has nearly succeeded, as America saw in the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011, prompted by the Republican Party’s demand that the president negotiate over deficit reduction in exchange for an increase in the maximum amount of money the US Treasury is allowed to borrow. There are no mistakes or accidents in the Tea Party movement. Its leadership has made certain of that.

On top of all of that, they had a whole TV network behind them:

Some on the left are dismayed at Fox News for its unabashed support of the "tea party" protest movement, wherein citizens protest the government's use of taxpayer money in its response to the economic crisis--primarily in the TARP bailout, and also the $787 economic stimulus package.
Frustration culminated this week with Glenn Beck, who promoted the tea parties on his show Monday, encouraging viewers to "celebrate with Fox News" and join the protests April 15. Some of Fox's more popular personalities--Greta Van Susteren, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Beck himself--will broadcast live from tea parties in DC, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Atlanta on tax day.

What's our real equivalent to Fox News? It really doesn't exist (no, MSNBC doesn't count).

Anyway, this is not to say that there was no grassroots conservative activity during the time of the "Tea Party." There was some. But unlike Occupy Wall Street, and most of what pissed off and scared liberals doing right now, it was building on a foundation and frame that already had existed for years and just needed walls and some paint. Kibbe and Armey, among others, were making salaries well into the six figures to provide leadership, and the Fox talking heads were making millions. I don't think any member of OWS ever took a salary.

Conservatives are great at taking the long view -- Rick Perlstein's series on the rise of the modern conservative movement is required reading.

(An aside: we need a word that combines "pissed off" and "scared" to pithily describe what we're all feeling right now.)

So what's my point? It's really to address this disclaimer that was only in the original Indivisible Google document and colored the way I read the rest: "P.S. We’re doing this in our free time without coordination or support from our employers. We’re not starting an organization and we’re not selling anything."


As much great energy as we have at the bottom in the progressive movement, we need real, well-funded leadership at the top, as well. It's largely because of the lack of that that despite the fact that we're on the right side of history that we're still relitigating the 2000s, the 1990s, the 1960s, the 1930s, hell, even the 1890s! It's why when they had Brooks Brothers Riots while we have somber press conferences. They've been building a movement for decades with tremendous resources behind them, win or lose, while we appear to dissolve and start anew after each loss because we have nothing to fall back upon.

I don't expect the writers of this document to fix all of our problems alone, but they need to know their enemy. Why? Because their revolution was televised:

Why can't ours be?