II'm here in Margate, New Jersey with my family for the Memorial Day weekend. The Shore, as it is called by those of us who grew up in Philly, is a good place to hang out, eat Rita's Water Ice, and chill - a good place to try to calm nerves before my book launch on 5/27.
I'll be posting in the coming weeks on various themes from the book, but right now, I'm in a bit of a contemplative mood. In thinking about the 30+ city tour I have ahead of me, I'll admit it -- I'm pretty scared.
Trying to make a living as a writer ain't easy in any genre -- but it is particularly difficult as a progressive.
Despite the talk of infrastructure building, there remain very few support systems for progressive writers, and the progressive message in general. Most of the new resources that have been spent in the name of the progressive movement have, in reality, been spent in the name of partisan politics and elections. In that sense, the term "progressive movement" has been defiled -- it has become a veneer for organizations and donors to feel their activities are replicating the conservative movement, rather than simply wrapping the same ideology-free, party-first support of the Democratic Party in the veneer of a social movement.
For all of us in the blogosphere, Netroots, progressive media, community organizing and civil society doing the real work of true movement building, the party-first psychology makes things tougher -- to put it in the terms I use in my book, it makes it all the more difficult to turn America's current uprising into a full-fledged movement.
For writers of books - whether me, Rick Perlstein, Matt Taibbi, Amanda Marcotte, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Yglesias or whoever -- the lack of infrastructure means you have to scratch and claw even more tenaciously just to get your work out there (and then, of course, you get caught in a catch-22 where some people then accuse you of "self-promoting" -- somehow, progressives are expected to get our message out there because that's essential, but are not supposed to work hard to get our message out there). This, of course, is compounded by the inherent disadvantages of writing from a progressive perspective. The Establishment media is not exactly psyched to cover or give a platform to voices that question the Establishment.
And so the terrain is intimidating. Other than the blogosphere, there is nothing "built in" as there is for power-worshiping Establishment writers, or for movement conservative writers who are supported by all sorts of foundations, donors, and Big Money. To know this is the way it works, just peruse the bestseller list on a given week - you will likely find hacks like Jonah Goldberg or elitists like Fareed Zakaria atop the list, and few - if any - signs of progressives, other than celebrities (as an aside, this means that progressive writers have to live by the up-from-the-bootstraps model that conservatives preach, while our conservative counterparts are able to live by the welfare-handout model they claim to deplore). For writers in the high-stakes numbers-driven book world, this is scary stuff. If your book doesn't perform in the marketplace, your opportunities for writing - and thus our collective opportunities to get the progressive message out there - can be severely limited in the future.
So as I look over the cliff and wonder what is going to happen to a project that took two years of grueling reporting work to complete, it is frightening. Though I have spent the last 5 months contacting local grassroots groups and arranging events that both promote the book and raise money for local movement infrastructure, there is no guaranteed baseline of performance -- even if, on the merits, the book is good, important, etc.
What's this all mean, beyond me personally being a bit unnerved on a Sunday at the Jersey Shore?
Well, obviously I'd love everyone reading this to buy my book, and tell all of your friends to buy the book. But individual sales pitches aside, it means if the progressive movement is going to become a real movement -- and not just a new brand name for old politics -- we are going to have to develop institutions that support our writers, bloggers and other chroniclers. Without a media of our own, we cannot have the voice we need in a political debate that is getting noisier and noisier. Without a media of our own, the uprising I describe in my book will either die, or worse, be channeled into causes and policies that do have a media of their own - right-wing causes and policies are truly dangerous.
Let me be clear -- I'm completely appreciative that we have what we have. Sites like DailyKos and OpenLeft, institutions like Credo Action, publications like In These Times and The Nation - these are absolutely essential. Additionally, I helped found the Progressive States Network because I believed we needed an institution whose objective is to promote progressives' great work at the state level, and get that work into the hands of state legislators. These are the foundations we can build off of. But the key question is whether other institutions and donors with mass fundraising and grassroots reach will devote some of their resources to these endeavors -- or whether their own partisan blinders, vanity and territorialism will prevent that.
The hope, of course, is the latter. Progressive journalists should not have to rely solely on non-journalism celebrity to get their important work out there, and they should not have to scratch and claw any more than their conservative counterparts. Put another way, our writers, bloggers and media voices should not be looking over the edge of a cliff when their work is published -- they should be looking at a bridge that we as a movement build together.
The Uprising will be released on 5/27. You can pre-order it today.