Jeff Chang and I teamed up for this piece in The American Prospect making the case that progressives need to build the infrastructure to support cultural strategy and cultural organizing.
Here's an excerpt:
On Nov. 3, progressives awoke to find that they had returned to 2004. Despite important legislative victories, Democrats had been outflanked. Republicans had successfully sold themselves as the party of economic growth, the party of the angry out-of-work American, and, most dissonantly, the party of change. They owned the narrative and won big.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the dark days following George W. Bush's re-election, frustrated progressives set out to build an enduring movement that would effectively advance and communicate their ideas, policies, and values. Funders and strategists created new institutions and scaled up existing ones, including think tanks, civic-engagement organizations, and media-watchdog groups. These institutions played a key role in the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress, the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, and the passage of parts of the Obama platform in 2009 and 2010.
Yet as progressives watched Democrats suffer the worst election loss since the Republican collapse of 1948, they seemed to be back where they started. Just as in 2004, many have blamed the losses on ineffective Democratic campaign messaging.
The problem, however, runs much deeper. Electoral and Beltway politics are episodic, short-term, and transactional. Movements, however, are long-term. "Public sentiment is everything," Abraham Lincoln once said. "With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently, he who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed." In other words, movements must change hearts and minds in an enduring way. They must change the culture.
Culture is the space in our national consciousness filled by music, books, sports, movies, theater, visual arts, and media. It is the realm of ideas, images, and stories -- the narrative in which we are immersed every day. It is where people make sense of the world, where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated, and emotions are attached to concrete change.
Cultural change is often the dress rehearsal for political change. Or put in another way, political change is the final manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occurred.
Jackie Robinson's 1947 Major League Baseball debut preceded Brown v. Board of Education by seven years. Ellen DeGeneres' coming-out on her TV sitcom preceded the first favorable court ruling on same-sex marriage by eight years. Until progressives make culture an integral and intentional part of their theory of change, they will not be able to compete effectively against conservatives...
Read the entire piece here.