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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Social Movements"

Save the Date! IPS 50th Anniversary Celebration, October 11-13

March 25, 2013 ·

IPS 50th Anniversary logoThe Institute for Policy Studies invites you to IPS's 50th Anniversary Celebration and Reunion highlighting bold and progressive social movements over the last 5 decades. From October 11th-13th, 2013, we will host a weekend of events in Washington, D.C. honoring progressive activists and activism and envisioning a plan for the future.

We will begin with an opening "reunion" reception to celebrate IPSers from the past, present and future on Friday, October 11, 2013. This will be a great opportunity for old friends to reconnect and for the extended IPS family to come together. On Saturday and Sunday, we will hold an “Ideas into Action” Festival featuring workshops, forums, and artistic expressions as well as a bazaar for our progressive partners and allies to feature their work. The celebration will culminate with a VIP dinner at Busboys and Poets and an interactive gala at the historic Union Station on Sunday evening with over 600 people, including notable progressives from major social movements in the past 50 years and rising young public scholars and activists of today.

The Theme of the 50th Anniversary Celebration and Reunion is "The Next 50 Years" and all events will be intergenerational with an emphasis on the next generation of public scholars and a bold, progressive future.

Event Dates:

October 11th, 2013
IPS Reunion Reception

October 12th-13th, 2013
Ideas into Action Festival

October 13th, 2013
IPS Sustainable Dinner

October 13th, 2013
50th Anniversary Gala
Purchase Tickets (early-bird rates going fast!) 

Together, we can bring together the IPS community for a truly amazing weekend! Please also stay abreast by joining our IPS Community: Celebrating 50 Years on Facebook.

If you would like to help with planning and preparation or know of IPSers we should be contacting, please email Joy Zarembka, Associate Director, at joy@ips-dc.org or call 202-787-5244.

Why Elections Matter, and Why We're Still Arguing About It

October 29, 2012 ·

It’s practically the eve of the election—and I’m still kind of stunned to hear from people who don’t plan to vote, who think voting doesn’t matter. A young writer, 21 years old, wrote to me the other day, after seeing an interview I did on what elections are and aren’t, and on how the candidates do and don’t differ on foreign policy. (Spoiler alert: mostly they don’t.)

Among other things, he said “We young people understand that the political theater of electoral politics will not bring about the radical transformations required to avert environmental and economic catastrophe.”

And of course he’s absolutely right. Anyone who thinks that choosing a “better” leader for the US empire will somehow bring about “radical transformations” has been watching too many campaign infomercials. Only powerful social movements can do that. We have to fight for democracy and we have to build our movements—choosing a presidential candidate doesn’t accomplish either one.

Because national elections—at least those for president—in this country are not democratic. As I said in the interview he was critiquing, presidential elections are not our turf, they’re not our people, they’re not our choices. And anyone who thinks that voting for one candidate over the other is going to solve our problems—especially global problems including wars, occupations, climate change and global inequality—is way wrong.

So our work has to focus on building our movements. But who gets elected president is dangerously relevant. My own work focuses on stopping the drone war, getting US troops out of Afghanistan now instead of two years from now, ending US support for Israeli occupation and related issues—and on those issues there’s hardly any difference between the candidates.

There is one war-and-peace issue where they do differ, and that one matters a lot. Both set “red lines” and say they would use military force against Iran—that’s disastrous under any circumstance. Romney’s red line, which is Israel’s red line, would use force to prevent Iran from reaching “nuclear weapons capability.” While it’s not defined anywhere in international law, “capability” is generally assumed to include the ability to enrich uranium and scientific knowledge. And arguably, Iran actually has that capability already. In the real world of potential new wars, there’s a huge difference between that, and Obama’s red line, which he would invoke to prevent Iran from “having” a nuclear weapon, an event which the entire combination of US military and intelligence agencies agree could not happen before at least a couple of years out. The difference matters—because over years it is possible to build and strengthen movements that will make any such new wars impossible.

And while foreign policy shows the closest parallels between the two parties, that isn’t the only issue. Who gets appointed to the Supreme Court—whether a mainstream moderate centrist or a young right-wing extremist ideologue who will work for decades to move the court even further to the right—matters a huge amount. And that’s exactly who the current Republican party will appoint. Top Republican candidates view rape—“legitimate” or otherwise—as God’s plan for bringing babies into the world. Women, especially poor women, living in much of this country already have few or no options for full reproductive healthcare, especially in how to deal with unwanted pregnancy. One party is pledged to appoint judges who will overturnRoe v. Wade and make abortion illegal across the board. That matters.

Some undocumented young people have just won the opportunity to gain legal status in this country; that’sway not enough, but it matters when the alternative is a new regime pledged to deport all undocumented or to force them to “self-deport.” Obama’s commitment to Medicare and Social Security remains mostly intact, largely because his political base demands it; Romney’s commitment to both is non-existent, except as a means towards increasing privatization. As usual it’s the poor who would suffer the most. Obama has not made good on most of his earlier commitments on climate—but Romney would take those failures further, opening up the Keystone pipeline on his first day in office.

My on-line critic went on to say, “Perhaps a Romney administration would speed up a response by a dislocated working class in overthrowing this doomsday machine? Obama is an extremely effective tool of the corporate enterprise.” Somehow I never accepted the view that the worse things get, the more likely we’ll have a revolution. I just don’t think it works that way. Revolutionary processes—look at the Arab spring—don’t emerge where people are the most beaten down, the most impoverished (which is why we haven’t seen a Sierra Leone uprising or a Niger spring). They happen when people have some renewed hope and then those hopes get dashed. I’m pretty sure we’re not anywhere close to a revolutionary moment in this country. And I certainly don’t think that making things worse for the poorest, oldest, sickest and most vulnerable among us is a viable strategy for building movements—or for making revolution.

This election is not about supporting or withdrawing support from Obama; it’s about keeping the worst from gaining even more power than they already have, so we can get on with the real work of building movements. If you want to call that the “lesser-evil” theory, fine. There’s an old saying that when you’re drowning, and the water is rising up over your mouth, that last half-inch before it reaches your nose is a half-inch of life and death. Especially if you’re short—or in this case, especially if you’re poor.

This election, regardless of who wins, will not solve the problems of this country and the world. We have to build movements powerful enough to take on the challenges of climate change, war, poverty, inequality. But we should be clear, there are significant differences between the two parties and the two candidates; while neither are our allies, one will make our work of building movements even more difficult, will threaten even more of our shredded civil liberties, and will put even more people around the world at much greater risk. Around the world many people are terrified of an electoral result that will return us—and them—to the legacy of George W. Bush.

Elections don’t change the world—only people’s movements do. But elections can make our work of building movements impossible—and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.

This blog post originally appeared on TheNation.com.

From The IPS Cave: A Conversation between Newman Fellows

November 9, 2010 ·

Obama Campaign

TOPE
: Hey Kevin, Just came across this really interesting article by Sean Wilentz in The New Republic today.  It’s a distillation of a few ideas I’ve been batting around for a few months – the most important of which (and Wilentz captures this really well, I think) is that President Obama set himself up to fail because his campaign was all about ‘movement building’ and his presidency, alas, has been about the typical horse-trading and politicking that accompanies much of what happens here in DC.  The article is effective because it captures why so many progressives feel, well,used (I hate using relationship terms here, but hey, it works).  But maybe not just progressives – maybe everyone (everyone who voted for Obama, that is) feels a bit used because Obama’s candidacy was premised on channeling the rage and disappointment that people felt about America circa 2007/8 towards an amorphous idea of a future in which ‘we were the change we could believe in’ or some such…and yet, there was never, well, a point.  As Wilentz says:

Thus, the Obama campaign presented itself as a social movement that was more sentimental than political, pushing gauzy “values,” like “hope” and “change,” while leaving policy concerns to the wonks. Yet the successful movements of the past had more than values; they had specific goals.

Later, Wilentz says:

The point of the Obama campaign-as-movement was conceived differently: exciting people with the thrill of empowerment, and collective self-empowerment, by electing to the White House a community organizer who believed in “hope” and “change.” Why electing Obama was imperative required no explanation among the faithful; it was enough to get the spirit, share the spirit, and revel in the candidate’s essence, which, by definition, no other candidate possessed. The leader was the program.

Indeed!  The leader was the program.  So this got me thinking – have we (we being Obama supporters here, erstwhile and otherwise) given up too soon?  After all, we knew what we were getting into…right?  We knew that Obama didn’t offer up many policy specifics, we knew he was green, we knew that he’d do some learning on the job...we signed up for all of this. We believed in the man – we believed that his background and intelligence would enable him, ultimately, to succeed as no one else could.  So are we just really fickle?

KEVIN: That is an interesting article, and like many progressives I do feel used by Obama (I firmly believe that we had a good thing going on there). 

I do agree that in order for social change to happen, a coordination of the top and the bottom needs to happen. You need a grassroots movement to hold those in power accountable. And I think the reason why we are losing so much right now is because the grassroots movement got hijacked by the right (i.e. tea party). I've read a little bit of Ganz while I was in school, and we talked about this before, the Obama movement (which is drastically different from past movements) is that it is based on getting Obama elected, and I guess in extension, supporting the values and rhetoric that he was presenting to people. However, I don't know if I can buy into the fact that the Obama movement had no substance whatsoever, I mean it is a little harder to tell when you position him against Hilary Clinton, but if you pit him against McCain, there is a stark difference.

I think the problem we are facing here is that we are missing a robust progressive grassroots movement that is pushing the Democratic Party and Obama to do progressive things (i.e. single-payer health care system, more robust wall street reform, a true withdrawal from the Middle-East). I am starting to wonder whether it would have been better for the greater good of all of us if Hillary or any other democrat, with somewhat progressive values became president, and Obama, using his cult of personality and movement to establish a truly progressive grassroots movement to check the Democratic Establishment. But then again, the reason why Obama was so popular was because people were excited about seeing an African American in the White House, so who knows if he has that ability to rally people from the "outside." All in all, I think it is safe to conclude that what is desperately needed right now is a grassroots movement--how we go about creating that movement is something a little bit more difficult. And as always, we are open to suggestions!

What the Chilean Miners Taught Me

October 25, 2010 ·

I’ve spent much time of late wondering about the connections between progressive movements and art.  I recognize how grand a statement this is, combining, as it does, an ill-defined political perspective with a term that encompasses the sum of creative expression.  Still, there is a long history of art-infused political action on the left in America; I’m thinking especially of the civil rights movement which, in some ways, represented the apotheosis of the arts and politics mixture.   Who can forget the images of luminaries like James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte participating in civil rights marches across the country, or the sounds of movement leaders singing We Shall Overcome?  In this decade, many of us spent hours staring at Shepard Fairey’s once iconic (and now, inevitably, oft-parodied) depiction of then Senator Obama as a heroic figure swathed in red, white and blue. 

Yet something occurred to me as I watched the Chilean miners ascend from their temporary prison below the earth to their families and throngs of waiting press above.  I realized that the most salient connection between progressive politics and art is imagination.

This was surely an odd time to be struck by such a revelation.  First, the rescue itself was an apolitical affair, carried out by people of various political beliefs (one would assume) who’d descended on Chile from locations around the world.  Second, although we occasionally heard singing in the background as reporters described the rescue in minute detail, there wasn’t much art.  However, each time I read an update about the progress of the workers who were attempting to rescue the miners, or saw pictures of the families waiting and hoping, and then, last week, when I saw the miners ascend one after another from the ground, I realized that the trajectory of this particular story approximated, in micro, the popular movements that I grew up reading about in school.  I reveled in the miners’ victory because it represented the triumph of imagination over the seemingly unalterable rules of reality. 

I became fixated on the power of imagination as I watched the story unfold, and the way imagination can sustain a vision of brighter possibilities, even when such possibilities seem, well, impossible.  The same type of imagination that sustains art – that enables someone to, say, shape a new reality on a blank page, canvas, building wall, from a piece of clay – sustains progressive movements.  This link is important for many reasons, not least of which because contemporary progressive movements all struggle to sustain a kind of prophetic vision about a future that could happen, not the kind of future that probably will happen if things remain the same.  As I saw the miners celebrating with their families, I couldn’t help but think how heartening it was to see a group of people work towards a common goal, understanding that they could fail, and imagining, all the same, that they wouldn’t.