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Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn

Posted: June 26, 2010 08:36 AM

Force or Fringe: United States Social Forum Vs. Tea Party

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I've written a piece over on AlterNet asking why it is that every itty-bitty Tea Party gathering is front page news while a meeting of 15,000-plus progressive activists in Detroit goes invisible.

Here's an excerpt:

It's not surprising that the mainstream media is paying little attention to the 15,000-plus community organizers and progressive activists gathered in Detroit, Michigan this week for the second United States Social Forum. After all, the center-left political establishment isn't paying attention either.

Why is it that the Tea Party -- the right-wing edge of the conservative political sphere -- exerts a gravitational pull on the Republican party and the conservative mainstream while the United States Social Forum and the leaders and groups gathered here, who represent the left of the liberal mainstream, are disregarded as marginal and irrelevant -- that is, if they're regarded at all?

I give three possible reasons why the United States Social Forum has been ignored or overlooked by the center-liberal establishment. The third argument appears to have raised the most eyebrows across the political spectrum:

Mainstream liberals, especially in Washington, have bought into the false dichotomy that there is a necessary trade-off between seeking political power versus sticking to one's ideological beliefs. The Democratic party, the Obama administration and many Washington-based advocacy organizations have picked the side of political pragmatism. It would appear that the left wing of the left has also bought into this false dichotomy and chosen the ideology end of the imaginary see-saw. But what if more Americans agree with the Social Forum crowd than the DNC? Perhaps even a governing majority? In November 2009, a BBC poll found that 63 percent of Americans felt that capitalism in its current form wasn't working for them. What if the Social Forum crowd claimed to represent that 63 percent -- and then some?

In his argument for hegemony as a left-wing aspiration, Antonio Gramsci wrote that before actually winning power, a political movement must believe it can win power and have a vision for how to use it. Yet the psychological failure to claim hegemonic aspirations -- let along make significant progress toward realizing majoritarian power -- can be linked to what another left philosopher, Frantz Fanon, dubbed the psychology of oppression. Communities so accustomed to personal and political marginalization have a hard time even imagining themselves as the ones wielding power as opposed to those over whom power is being wielded. Such hopelessness focuses a movement inward, leading to the kind of internecine fights around identity politics and issue positions that frequently divide the left. This explains United States Social Forum workshops like "The Struggle for Single Payer in the Time of Obamacare," piling onto the conservative attack on liberal policy in the name of left-wing ideological purity.

You can read the full article here and join the (very lively) debate over on AlterNet's site.

 

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