Monday, August 25, 2008

Denver Diaries: Day Three - New Media

Photo: Our Tent at 'Tent State'

Getting Inside
The DNC's Gated


By Carl Davidson
Progressive for Obama

Today I started off heading for the Progressive Democrats of America/The Nation sessions at the 16th and Sherman church downtown. The theme is 'Healthcare not Warfare'-the fight for single payer, with Tim Carpenter firing up the crown and Congressman John Conyers getting into a terrific speech.

But I get pulled aside by an old friend who offers an opportunity to get inside the highly secured Pepsi Center-dubbed 'the Can' locally-for an upscale lunch with progressive writers and editors. The affair is funded by Media Matters, a relatively well-heeled media monitor and fact checker operation that is very useful. I'll spare you the detail of how we got tickets, but my friend said, 'Hey, we're both progressive writers, we got books out, let's go for it.”

So we're off to 'the Can,' and find a decent place to park close by. Then we head through various mazes, bridges and chained linked enclosures, meeting up with checkers at various points, flashing our stuff and getting waved through.

At one checkpoint I run into Todd Gitlin, the writer and sociologist as well as an old SDS friend, who's headed to the same event. We catch up quickly, and in turns out he's chairing the meeting. Once we get past the final check, and up the elevator, I'm in air-conditioned splendor, compared to the sweltering previous day at 'Tent State' eating beans out of a can with lukewarm water from a fountain. Now I've got a wonderful buffet, waiters, and fancy starched and folded napkins in the water glasses.

Attendees are top writers and editors from the New Yorker and the Nation, influential academics like Cass Sunstein and Samantha Power, multimedia people and donors.

The goal of the meeting is very worthy. It's launching a new enterprise, the Progressive Book Club, designed to counter the Conservative Book Club, influential on the right and elsewhere as well.

Gitlin opens the discussion with a challenging question: Is the era of conservative right dominance over? This brings a range of responses showing that the book club is only the tip of the iceberg. The broader agenda is creating and/or building a new progressive cultural and progressive infrastructure for a new politics for the 21st century.

I chime in by noting that in my study of the right over the years, that the brightest of them actually used some of Antonio Gramci's notions of working in cultural and civil society to counter a perceived hegemonism, even if a decadent one, of the liberalism of the late 1960s. It's way past time for us to oppose their 'running it in reverse' and turning it around to build real popular democracy.

Others add to this, and soon we're off discussing whether there really are new progressive solutions out there to the whole range of political, economic and cultural concerns. There's no consensus on that point, but everyone is fired up on the initial concern. All agree it was a good meeting, and new contacts and projects are tosse around as we bring it to a close.

Now that I'm well fed, hydrated and cooled off, I head back to our radical makeshift tent city along the Platte River. Fighting a stiff breeze, I get the 'Progressives for Obama' tent in order and its signs and literature out. I'm open for business.

Soon enough about five young anarchists and radicals show up, some complete in black clothing and bandanas. They're not too hip on voting for anyone, let along Obama, but one figures out that I'm the author of the 1966 'Toward a Student Syndicalist Movement' paper, and the discussion gets far ranging and lively-ranging from Zen, to Beat poets, and election tactics in 1968 and 1972.

Then one kid whips out something looking like a Blackberry and makes a call. “Here, let's do an interview for our radio show.” He presses a few buttons, then tells me, 'just pretend it's a mike, and speak into it as I ask you questions.” It goes on for 15 minutes, and I lay out our approach, while he adds questions with his spin.

It's a good interview. “Give me your card. We'll have it on the air and one the net in a few days, and I'll let you know where to find it on the dial or how to I-Pod it.”

As one of the authors of 'Cyber-Radicalism: A New Left for a Global Age,' I feel like a proud parent. The younger crew here have picked up on things we merely talked about in the future tense, and they now are making them part of their daily lives.

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