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Wendy Block Headshot

Can We?

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"I can't go on. I'll go on." -- "The Unnamable" by Samuel Beckett

Yea us! Americans just spent over a billion in time, energy and dollars and changed our government.

I'm exhausted. For two weeks, my brain has been floating on dreamy currents in the South Seas.

So one recent morning just before I punched the radio button for "Democracy Now," I was not thinking. Because right after the funky opening music, there was Amy Goodman spurring Naomi Klein to Shock Doctrinize me about how banks are violating the Wall Street bailout bill by using $250 billion to pay bonuses to top management and dividends to shareholders (though some have apparently reevaluated this decision), rather than helping revive the economy by loaning money to institutions which will then loan it to consumers and small businesses; and about how Congress knows this is illegal, but won't stop the criminal activity because it's afraid of further disrupting the markets and the economy.

The Federal Reserve won't reveal which banks (and maybe other corporations) it's loaning to, supposedly because customers will fear the worst and withdraw their money. At the same time, Gordon Brown's British bailout deal forces English banks to guarantee Britons seats on Boards of Directors, voting rights going forward, curbs on executive pay, suspension of shareholder dividends, the institution of repayments to government, and the distribution of bailout loans to homeowners and struggling businesses.

Goodman and Klein were not finished, but I was.

Then on the way to my kitchen, I should not have glanced at David Sirota's prescient new book The Uprising. I could hear his cod liver oil reminder that real change requires us to hold our government accountable now -- post-election thrill and lame duck Congress be damned. It's barely two weeks since we voted in our spectacular new president and strapping Democratic Congressional majority. I'm not ready to return to the same non-adrenaline-rush grassroots work that propelled Obama and the Dems to such a decisive victory.

Sirota and his inspiration, community organizer extraordinaire Saul Alinsky, addressed this disinclination. Sirota writes, "any effective organizer in any uprising... will tell you the campaigns that attract the most loyal followings are usually those that make the activism fun for the activists." Alinsky wrote, "A good tactic is one your people enjoy." Besides enjoyment, people need to feel they're doing something important, taking "a significant part in the action" according to Alinsky and Sirota, and "solving their own crises."

Turns out that even if my brain's still vacationing, I remember that my body returned to work two days after the big win -- helping pack up the San Fernando Valley Democratic Party's election headquarters for its move out. It was fun and more aerobic than the workout I escaped that afternoon.

Grassroots meetings are underway too, to keep the progressive agenda moving, to fight California's absurd gay marriage ban and to gain some control over the bailout process, if that's possible. Regulars are showing up along with a few newbies, but I am worried about how to convert the passion of these awakened activists into ongoing commitment that supersedes boredom, discouragement and desperate times.

My email network shows that MoveOn's leaders are scheduling "Fired Up" house parties across the country, and that many groups and individuals are holding their own versions. It feels like a movement.

I wonder if the new progressives know that without them, banking and other corporate lobbyists, their starve-government cronies and high-salaried, amoral minions will have little trouble trashing our still scruffy alliance. But I know those other guys are just biding their time.