Friday, June 17, 2005

Democracy Fest 2005


I am here in Austin for the three day Democracy Fest 2005, with all-stars Howard Dean, Jim Dean, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, Joe Ely, and top name activists and publicists (including bloggers) for progressive causes, hosted by Democracy for America (DFA).

The DemFest '05 is a gathering of well (and web) connected activists, organizers, politicos, fundraisers, potential candidates, and various hangers on, all the result of the original Dean for America campaign, which after Dean's withdrawal from the primaries in the spring of 2004 morphed into DFA, with ongoing monthly meetings (usually the first Wednesday of the month) in 271 districts of the 435 seats for the House of Representatives.

There are over 1000 activists signed up for this sold out event, converging in Austin at on the historic Huston-Tillotson College campus. The attendees hail from 44 states and, amazingly enough, ten foreign countries.

The famous "Meet Ups" are, by summer's end, going to be called something else, which I find most unfortunate. "Meet Up" is a great phrase, but it is owned not by Dean or the DFA but by the hosts of the website that creates all sorts of "meet ups."

Much of this Fest is about networking, brainstorming and BRANDING. The core staff of DFA, headquartered in Burlington, VT, are well aware of the branding messages linguist George Lakoff suggests in his books Moral Politics and Don't Think Like an Elephant. But attending this morning's sessions, it's clear that DFA is a lot like the Democrats and other progressives at large - too homey and yet not in enough homes, rambling, informal, disparate, campy, and motivated more by a springy hopefulness than by a more ruthless drive to snare power. Group claps and cheers reminded me of a high school pep rally. In the DFA's defense, it should be said that it's chances of becoming a major grassroots organization are among the best.

Except for the Republicans, who, I think, might have (for the better) run things more tightly and succinctly, with a gob more military precision, telling the troops what to do. For the worse, a similar gathering of conservatives might have started off things with a prayer and the pledge of allegiance - which would have reminded me not of high school but of grade school.

And there you have one cultural, proceedural, philosophical difference between the progressives and the conservatives. If we were to give an "age" or "grade" to the mentality of each, I'd say that the progressives show the positives of young people 16-25 years olds, students in high school and college. (The true full tilt liberals are either political nerds or grad school types.) Meanwhile, the conservatives' age/grade mentality centers around the worser aspects of kids 3-9 years old, definitely pre-tween. (The right wing neocons are the bullies and brats of that age group, sad to say.)

This weekend summit is supposedly about expanding populist democracy in this country, not just reforming and lending some backbone to the Democratic Party, but of course, it's mostly still about them vs. us.

Too bad so many in this country no longer really think we are in this together.

More ASAP after the Saturday and Sunday session.


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