January 17, 2013

Creating a Tea Party Inspired Movement in the Black Community: A Thought Experiment in Ideological Regime Change

I originally posted these thoughts as a Prezi several months ago.  I actually think its more fun to read that way and I encourage you to check out that version. If slightly unfun text is cool for you, read on.

The inspiration for this ideological regime change initiative in the black community came from two places.  First, serious shout out to blogger Constructive Feedback who pens the blog  Politics, Priorities, Psychology and Hope WITHIN The Black Community.  The phrase "ideological regime change" is one I first heard from him and I think it aptly describes the challenge before us.

Secondly, inspiration comes from an analysis of the organizational structure of the Tea Party movement, published in the  National Journal  by Jonathan Rauch, titled  "How the Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders".  It's a deep dive on the structure of the Tea Party movement, highlighting the Tea Party's self description of itself as not a spider, but a starfish structure movement (cut off a piece, it grows back, and a piece can generate a new starfish vs. a spider which if you knock it in the head, you kill the whole organism). Tea Party members take their inspiration on this from the book  The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, a business book by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom,  published in 2006.


What We Must Create
A radically decentralized political and social movement focused on the pursuit of our permanent interests which can end run the entrenched, captive office holders and national organizations to re-orient the political culture of the black community.

Why this Structure?

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.

Why Should We Do This?
We've got to move from our current ideological dead end to disruption of the ideological status qou, followed by education and activism to re-establish a shared multi-generational understanding of our permanent interests and the capacity to effectively pursue them.

Library of Congress description: ", SNCC ...
We've Done it Before
 The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of the 1960s attempted a movement using this same type of organizational structure.  In 1964, SNCC switched from small groups of activists acting independently to a more centralized structure, after which SNCC eventually dissolved from internal dissension and a healthy dose of FBI/Government surveillance and repression.  SNCC's more decentralized beginning didn't have the benefit of the tools we enjoy today, namely the internet and other forms of instantaneous, cheap, person to person communication to fuel the movement. We do.


Headless organizations are better at opposing things than agreeing on the right affirmative alternative.
It's difficult if not impossible to negotiate compromise because there is no leader.

Who is Available to Populate This Movement?

Working class/Middle class African Americans?
Rationale: This group has tangible political/financial interests at risk in real time, an active frustration with the status qou that has nowhere to go and the requisite time and financial resources to engage. A significant portion are deeply embedded in the existing democratic party political structure and could be the subversive insurgent vanguard or the first line of counter insurgency defense. Nonetheless, a large portion is ideologically available to an effective movement.

African American college students?
Rationale: Potentially the shock troops of the movement? Willing and able to engage in protest actions first group cannot/will not? More flexible, more activist?

Backslidden, Just Around the Corner from Me

Who is Not?

The underclass/the very poor
Rationale: They are not equipped for the fight - lack of education, resources and preoccupation with surviving in an economy they can't participate in renders them missing in action, though potentially ideologically available?

What Are Our Permanent Interests?
"Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests. ~Congressman William Clay
1. Education that enables (education levels us up, not out)
2. Meaningful economic competency (we are competent capitalists)
3. Effective political literacy (permanent interests drive policy results)
4. Enforced socio/cultural accountability (viable family structure, safe communities)

What Should We Call It?

"Tea Party" as a moniker for this movement doesn't really resonate in the black community. What else could we call it?  Coffee Hour?
Black Tea (submitted by twitter user @marshallfsmith)
I'm open to suggestions, though admittedly, this may be the least important thing to figure out early on.

Okay, What Do We Actually Do? What is our Action Step? What does starting this movement from square one look like?
That is a damn good question. I'm still noodling on it.  I started this talking about ideological regime change.  I don't entirely care for that formulation because I like tangible outcomes.  By definition, this is pushing for intangible outcomes that eventually manifest themselves in different political action and policy outcomes.

In my mind, the action step must be action that intelligently and effectively challenges the policy status qou currently supported by mainstream black organizations and black politicians embedded in the democratic party structure  As I noted earlier, the star fish organizational structure is geared more to opposing bad outcomes than affirmatively supporting good ones, so perhaps we start with identifying funky outcomes of the current status qou and come up with actions that challenge them?

One of those areas might be disrupting the traditional policy formulation process of the democratic party to move it more towards supporting our permanent interests. The Tea Party has effectively moved GOP politics (you can question the utility of where they've moved it, but you can't question their effectiveness in moving it). If we created a movement that was equally successful, we will have done something major.

What have you got?
This is a thought experiment and one that really requires audience participation and engagement.  So this is one I really need you, the reader to step up to the plate on and comment.  Have at it.

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