Perhaps my dominant takeaway from the event was a sense of frustration at how wholly sold out to the democratic party political agenda the CBC is, and given that they represent the people who elected them, how ensnared by democratic political objectives African Americans are as a political constituency. This would include our national organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League and nearly all related causes. If the democratic party were an industry and black mainstream socio-political organizations were agencies, we'd call whats happening regulatory capture. Because we have become so entrapped by the democratic party agenda, we have little leverage to pursue what my blogging compatriot Constructive Feedback calls our "permanent interests". CF says he is on a quest for "ideological regime change" WITHIN the Black community. Today, that formulation of the issue is really resonating with me.
CF's chosen strategic approach is agitation. He manages to agitate me often, but my visit to the CBC and some recent reading have me convinced that while agitation is certainly a necessary starting point, we've got to move beyond that to disruption of this status qou, education and activism to reestablish a multi-generational understanding of our permanent interests and the capacity to effectively pursue them.
So, how do we do that? I won't pretend to have a full blown answer to the question, but here are two elements I think would be foundational to the effort:
- A radically decentralized political and social movement focused on the pursuit of our permanent interests which can end run the entrenched and captive office holders and national organizations and change the political culture of the black community.
- Legions of social entrepreneurs populating this movement employing tactics that recognize our permanent interests and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage ventures that make social change and create social capital.
Rauch came up with some takeaways that I found interesting and which immediately starting me wondering about the opportunity to use this same organizational structure to affect the black community's political situation.
- First, radical decentralization sidesteps the dangers of over centralized authority; external co-option, internal corruption, and gradual calcification, all three of which prevail with most of the mainstream black organizations. Decentralization is inherently resistant to all three of these strategies.
- Second, the system is self-propelling and self-guiding.If a good or popular idea surfaces in one part of the network, activists talk it up and other groups copy it. Bad and unpopular ideas fizzle out and the movement lives on even as people come and go.
- Third, the network is unbelievably cheap. Everyone is a volunteer. Local groups bring their own resources. Coordinators provide support and communication, but the heavy lifting is done by the grassroots.
The second bit of information that inspired point #2 above was a presentation by Amy Pearl, director of Springboard Innovation, on social innovation during the Indiana State Housing Conference. Among other things, she talked about creating a new type of social venture, the sustainable non profit. The defining, game changing element of such new entities is that they would be "investable" and capable of using profit-seeking ventures to generate social and environmental good. These social ventures would be at the forefront of a transition from philanthropic to capital markets in various sectors. They would represent blended value investments that tack social considerations on top of financial considerations in assessing the value (and valuation) of social enterprises. Inasmuch as such ventures must vie for funding and investment to scale their generation of social and environmental benefit, they have to demonstrate good-old hard-currency profitability. Pearl's organization actually manages a website that serves as a functional stock exhange where you can buy shares in these social ventures. I think these ideas have some scalability and applicability to an ideological regime change movement within the black community. This is a tall order, but very much in the realm of the possible.
Now, both of these foundational elements have negatives. Rauch notes that it is still yet to be demonstrated if the Tea Party's energy and impact can be sustained beyond the November elections or beyond 2012. Headless organizations are better at opposing things than agreeing on the right affirmative alternative and its difficult if not impossible to negotiate compromise because there is no leader. If you visit Pearl's organization website, the "investable" social ventures highlighted there all strike me as well and good, but not necessarily applicable to the down and dirty of the average inner city hood. The vibe they give me is that these are the social ventures dreamed up by suburbanites, not people who listen to Public Enemy. They are nice, but they are not edgy, they don't fight the power.
That said, I think that in these two ideas lie the framework of a practical, sustainable movement. The Tea Party is doing it now. I believe in these ideas are the beginning of the ideological regime change in the black community that Constructive Feedback, and myself, so fervently wish for.