Mixing it up

Back in Novem­ber I start­ed a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was react­ing to the pro­gres­sive debates about safe­ty pins as a sym­bol but it seems we’re are in anoth­er round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and oth­er ini­tia­tives. As I find myself fre­quent­ly say­ing, we need lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple orga­niz­ing in lots of dif­fer­ent styles. So may­be this blog posts’s time has come again.

May­be this is just anoth­er stages of grief but I’ve been notic­ing a num­ber of online dis­cus­sions in which pro­gres­sives are shut­ting down oth­er pro­gres­sives for not being pro­gres­sive enough. Every time I see a pos­i­tive post, I can pre­dict there’s going to be about three enthu­si­as­tic “yes!” com­ments, fol­lowed by a 500-word com­ment explain­ing why the idea isn’t rad­i­cal enough.

Folks, we’ve got big­ger prob­lems than try­ing to fig­ure out who’s the most woke per­son on our Face­book feed.

Suc­cess­ful social change move­ments are always a spec­trum of more or less politically-correct and rad­i­cal voic­es. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies sound bet­ter togeth­er. Some­times in pol­i­tics you need the crazy rad­i­cals to stir things up and some­times you need the too-cautious lib­er­als to legit­imize the protest mes­sage.

Some years ago I was part of an cam­paign in Philly that tar­get­ed what many of us felt was a pro­pa­gan­da push around Colum­bus Day. An attempt by all of the con­cerned activists to come togeth­er pre­dictably went nowhere. There were too many dif­fer­ences in style and tac­tics and lan­guage and cul­ture. But that break­down in coör­di­na­tion allowed each sub­cul­ture to pick a tac­tic that worked best for them.

The Quak­ers did their vis­i­ble agit­prop lead­ing and got detained. The anar­chists made cre­ative posters and set off sur­rep­ti­tious stink devices. Some anony­mous pranksters sent out fake press releas­es to dis­rupt media cov­er­age. The resul­tant news cov­er­age focused on the sheer diver­si­ty of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a sin­gle group fol­low­ing a sin­gle tac­tic, the dis­sent would have been buried in the fourth para­graph of the cov­er­age. But the cre­ativ­i­ty made it the focus of the cov­er­age. Diver­si­ty of tac­tics works. Mis­takes will be made. Some pro­gres­sives will be clue­less – may­be even some of the ones con­sid­er­ing them­selves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wear­ing safe­ty pins was effec­tive – or we might won­der why we ever thought it was mean­ing­less sym­bol. What­ev­er hap­pens, let’s just encour­age wit­ness wherever and when­ev­er it’s hap­pen­ing. Let’s be gen­tler on each oth­er.

New Yorker New Yorker New Yorker

Web­sites are start­ing to talk about a Don­ald Trump pres­i­den­tial cab­i­net and the names high­light a curios­i­ty of this elec­tion: many of the prin­ci­ple insid­ers come from North­east Cor­ri­dor states that vot­ed for Hillary Clin­ton. Rudolph Giu­liani and Chris Christie, are, like the whole Trump fam­i­ly, metro New York­ers and as far as I know Newt Gin­grich lives in north­ern Vir­ginia.

I’ve lived in Chris Christie’s New Jer­sey since he was elect­ed gov­er­nor and I find it real­ly hard to believe he’s sud­den­ly going to have a strong inter­est in the Mid­west­ern red states that gave Trump the win. You can point to VP-elect Mike Pence of Indi­ana, but as far as I can tell he was only brought on for strate­gic rea­sons and is not part of the Trump cir­cle.

What real­ly can Trump do to bring back the good pay­ing jobs that dis­ap­peared decades ago? Our econ­o­my has been shift­ing regard­less of which par­ty occu­pies the Oval Office. There’s sops and pork to be doled out, but the nation­al econ­o­my has been cen­tral­iz­ing in the big coastal cities that our new polit­i­cal lead­ers call home (the same would have been true with a Clin­ton pres­i­den­cy). What if Trump’s elec­tion is the ulti­mate prank: red states sell­ing their vote to a New York devel­op­er who will most­ly con­tin­ue to devel­op the New York-to-DC cor­ri­dor?

Waking up to President Trump

Bar­ring a very improb­a­ble series of events we will more than like­ly be look­ing at Pres­i­dent Trump once the num­bers have been tal­lied overnight. And not just him but a rad­i­cal­ized Trumpian Con­gress, Sen­ate — and because of the suc­cess­ful stonewalling again­st Obama’s nom­i­na­tion — Supre­me Court. We’ve not just elect­ed an author­i­tar­i­an: we’ve also tak­en away the entire sys­tem of checks and bal­ances that might be able to hold him back. Add to that the expan­sion of the raw pow­er of the exec­u­tive branch in recent years and it’s the setup for a dystopi­an TV show.

We’ve seen seem­ing­ly sta­ble coun­tries fall apart under con­di­tions like this. We claim Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism but his­to­ry is lit­tered with the corpses of democ­ra­cies that didn’t make it. This will be the biggest test of our civic val­ues in our life­times. We might well expe­ri­ence things the Amer­i­can repub­lic has nev­er seen: the impris­on­ment of a los­ing oppo­si­tion lead­er, the rise of orga­nized hate crimes, whole­sale theft of incred­i­ble wealth by a new oli­garchy, the divy­ing up of the world back into empires… The mod­el of a kind of alt right soft dic­ta­tor­ship is well devel­oped by this point and Trump has been clear through­out both his career and his can­di­da­cy that it’s his vision.

We do not get to choose our era or the chal­lenges it throws at us. Only some­one with his­tor­i­cal amne­sia would say this is unprece­dent­ed in our his­to­ry. The enslave­ment of mil­lions and the geno­cide of mil­lions more are dark stains indeli­bly soaked into the very found­ing of the nation. But much will change, par­tic­u­lar­ly our naiv­i­ty and false opti­mism in an inevitable for­ward pro­gress of our nation­al sto­ry. We must respond with courage and grace. We’re going to get a lesson in what’s real­ly impor­tant. Time to engage.

The birth of soul

Via Wikipedia
Via Wikipedia

I recent­ly lis­tened to Solomon Burke’s 196 album Rock ‘n’ Soul. Def­i­nite­ly worth a lis­ten if like me he’s been off your musi­cal radar. I espe­cial­ly like Wikipedia’s account of how con­flicts over brand­ing and church pro­pri­ety led Burke and his record label Atlantic to coin the term “soul music.”

Almost imme­di­ate­ly after sign­ing to Atlantic, Wexler and Burke clashed over his brand­ing and the songs that he would record. Accord­ing to Burke, “Their idea was, we have anoth­er young kid to sing gospel, and we’re going to put him in the blues bag.”As Burke had strug­gled from an ear­ly age with “his attrac­tion to sec­u­lar music on the one hand and his alle­giance to the church on the oth­er,” when he was signed to Atlantic Records he “refused to be clas­si­fied as a rhythm-and-blues singer” due to a per­ceived “stig­ma of pro­fan­i­ty” by the church, and R&B’s rep­u­ta­tion as “the devil’s music.”

Burke indi­cat­ed in 2005: “I told them about my spir­i­tu­al back­ground, and what I felt was nec­es­sary, and that I was con­cerned about being labeled rhythm & blues. What kind of songs would they be giv­ing me to sing? Because of my age, and my posi­tion in the church, I was con­cerned about say­ing things that were not prop­er, or that sent the wrong mes­sage. That angered Jer­ry Wexler a lit­tle bit. He said, ‘We’re the great­est blues label in the world! You should be hon­ored to be on this label, and we’ll do every­thing we can – but you have to work with us.’”

To mol­li­fy Burke, it was decid­ed to mar­ket him as a singer of “soul music” after he had con­sult­ed his church brethren and won approval for the term. When a Philadel­phia DJ said to Burke, “You’re singing from your soul and you don’t want to be an R&B singer, so what kind of singer are you going to be?”, Burke shot back: “I want to be a soul singer.” Burke’s sound, which was espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar in the South, was described there as “river deep coun­try fried but­ter­cream soul.” Burke is cred­it­ed with coin­ing the term “soul music,” which he con­firmed in a 1996 inter­view.

Michelle Alexander on the black vote, the Clinton brand — and of course, mass incarceration

Michelle Alexan­der on the black vote, the Clin­ton brand — and of course, mass incar­cer­a­tion.

Alexan­der is one of the lead­ing voic­es on the rise of a lev­el of mass incar­cer­a­tion in this coun­try in the last 25 years. It’s hard to over­state just how dev­as­tat­ing our prison-industrial com­plex has become. The huge num­bers of African Amer­i­can men in jails for non­vi­o­lent crimes begs com­par­ison to the dark­est days of slav­ery. Bill Clin­ton esca­lat­ed mass incar­cer­a­tion and the “War on Drugs” as a way to prove his polit­i­cal tough­ness.

The love affair between black folks and the Clin­tons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clin­ton was run­ning for pres­i­dent. He threw on some shades and played the sax­o­phone on The Arse­nio Hall Show. It seems sil­ly in ret­ro­spect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a pop­u­lar slo­gan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t under­stand,” Bill Clin­ton seemed to get us. When Toni Mor­rison dubbed him our first black pres­i­dent, we nod­ded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

We tend to remem­ber the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion through rose-colored glass­es but there were a lot of WTF moments we’ve for­got­ten – three strikes, the sanc­tions again­st Iraqi civil­ians, the way cruise mis­sile strikes seemed to mag­i­cal­ly coin­cide with admin­is­tra­tion scan­dals, Bill’s seri­al phi­lan­der­ing and Hillary’s slut-shaming respons­es. On paper, HRC is the most qual­i­fied can­di­date to ever run for the pres­i­den­cy. But if she’s run­ning on the Clin­ton brand, she needs to explain how her polit­i­cal choic­es dif­fer from her husband’s 20 years ago.

Some thoughts on the Twitter expansion

Twit­ter has always been a com­pa­ny that suc­ceeds despite its lead­er­ship. Many of its land­mark fea­tured start­ed as hacks by users. Its first apps were all cre­at­ed by third-party design­ers, whose good will to the curb when it about-faced and killed most of them by restrict­ed its API. Top-down fea­tures like Twit­ter Music have come and gone. The only inter­est­ing grass­roots inno­va­tion of recent years has been users using image attach­ments as a way of going past the 140 char­ac­ter lim­it.

I’ve been get­ting less patient with Twit­ter in recent months. Then-CEO Dick Costel­lo acknowl­edged their fail­ure han­dling abu­sive sit­u­a­tions ear­ly in 2015 but noth­ing much seems to have changed. Hav­ing co-founder Jack Dorsey come back this in Job­sian fash­ion has been encour­ag­ing but only to a point — there’s a lot of weird ego involved in it all. Twitter’s inabil­i­ty to pro­mote diver­si­ty and the tone-deafness of hir­ing a white man as diver­si­ty chief last mon­th makes me won­der if it’s just final­ly going to do a full Yahoo and implode in slow motion.

But today some­thing new: we’re look­ing at doing away with the 140 char­ac­ter lim­it. My ini­tial reac­tion was hor­ror but if done well it could be inter­est­ing. I’ve always won­dered why they didn’t part­ner with blog­ging plat­form Medi­um (found­ed by anoth­er co-founder, fea­tur­ing sim­i­lar core prin­ci­ples). The key will be keep­ing the feed at 2 – 3 lines so we can scan it quick­ly, with some sort of but­ton or link to expand past 140 or so char­ac­ters.

One could argue that the­se “fat­ter tweets” is Twitter’s way of build­ing the pop­u­lar long-text pic­ture hack into the sys­tem. Could Twit­ter man­age­ment be ready to look at users as co-creators of the wider Twit­ter cul­ture?