On Activism and Citizens’ Democracy

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At the very end of an RT segment (start viewing at 45:00), Sam Daley-Harris explains why he thinks grass roots activism can succeed even in a post Citizens United world. He has over 40 years of training activists, and perhaps more important, of helping them set up structures to enable them to be effective.

I’ve been offered an introduction to him. Do NC readers have questions you’d like me to ask him? And although this introduction is admittedly superficial, do you see his approach as viable for your personal community (you, your family, your friends and colleagues)?

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  1. gardener1

    Admitting that I did not watch the video – –

    I will say that there is no way in these times I would be an activist publicly.

    We are older now and wishing to emigrate for retirement. One of my biggest concerns is being installed on the Do Not Fly list, and also harassment from the IRS as an expat American. (FATCA, FBAR etc)

    Secret criteria can virtually stop you from leaving the US at all, and the other agency can legally steal all of your financial resources.

    They have put in place an encircling context of laws and regulations to permanently ruin the lives of any citizen who dissents actively and publicly. And then keep them locked in poverty and ruin in the US.

    I will dissent by more subterraneous means.

    1. Furzy Mouse

      I promise all would be expats that your new overseas bank will be contacted regarding your account by the IRS, FATCA, FBAR, etc. Expect it. Go to the websites and read up on the regs.

    2. jrs

      Yea there’s lots of laws to punish you if you get arrested (most usually don’t) at protest etc., it could be a misdemeanor, which could be used against you in hiring (not necessarily will be used against you, it depends on the job, but could). But really wasn’t it always ever thus? Yes the surveillance state is more comprehensive, but wasn’t unionization won over great brutality originally? There probably never were any good old days, when dissent was easy.

      I do think subterranean means help, so do what you personally are capable of, as always (i’m not in the telling people how to live in an evil world business, but this rotten system does need to go).

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Look, I write this blog and am on no no fly lists. But getting foreign visa with no employer is VERY hard when you are over 45. Most countries don’t want older people unless you can demonstrate you are very well off. They don’t wan’t older people sucking off their social safety nets. Every country, even the ones that will take non-rich immigrants, have systems very much biased towards young, well-educated or otherwise skilled workers.

      1. frosty zoom

        where i live, the dominion of canada, the government imports professional couples from brown places. then they tell them their qualifications are not up to snuff and doctors and architects end up selling sno-cones and driving taxis.

        of course, these smart people will work hard and have smart children who can be educated under a proper (i.e. anglo) system.

        they seem to be harvesting the good dna.

      2. gardener1

        Not sure, Yves are you addressing me?

        It’s called a pensioner’s visa. There are counties that offer retirement visas to those who bring with them their own income source, some countries can be affordable and also have an affordable requirement of guaranteed monthly income for immigration.

        I have done my homework well. Now it’s just a matter of jumping through all of the bureaucratic hoops with the panoply of perfect documents required. Including two notarized and apostilled police reports, one of them FBI.

        So public protest (and the subsequent dossier) is pretty much off the table.

  2. Steve H.

    The Weyrich quote: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

    “One of the most effective forms of voter suppression is negative advertising.” Antonyms of ‘suppression’ are ‘support’ and ‘assist’, which are words SDH used in the interview.

    Kokuanani indicated that more people making concise comments with narrow focus was the effective strategy in Beltway advocacy. SDH seemed to be going a similiar route, for example talking about repeal of a particular statute. In his experience, is this a better protocol than tying groups together in a broader campaign?

    He mentioned congressmen. Is it worth the time to push on senators?

    He did not mention backing specific candidates. Do the groups he works with stay focused on the issue, or do they work with candidates?

    What about effective group size? Dunbar’s work suggests some sizes are more effective than others. How much time is spent co-ordinating larger groups vs narrow focus?

    Bernie is talking a good game economically, but lack of reform on military spending could render that a moot point. Is the narrow focus approach capable of causing systemic change?

    1. Kokuanani

      I’m Kokuanani, and I’m a “she.”

      I base my remarks/advice solely on my experience in working in a congressional office, admittedly many years ago, but I believe it’s still solid. Staffers, the ones who read the mail and the ones to whom “mail counts” are passed up the line, aren’t “swayed” by the arguments made in whatever form of communication you happen to utilize. It’s all about the numbers, with the exception that, if the “numbers” appear to be generated by identical “send in a postcard” or “sign a petition,” they’re discounted over actual “communication” generated by a “real” person who appears to know something about the issue.

      That’s why I suggest a short, “I’ve been studying the TPP [as much as one can] for some time, and I vehemently object to it for the following reasons . . . and urge you to vote against Fast Track/TPP . . .” message. It shows you’re not a raving crazy, it relieves them of the burden [should they feel it] to wade through your “excellent” analysis, and it demonstrates that you’re someone who’s aware of the issue and likely to continue to follow it, not just someone who was motivated by a “sign this petition” e-mail.

      I can’t really speak to, or suggest much beyond that.

      “Kokuanani” is my dog’s name, and means “beautiful helper” in Hawaiian.

      1. diptherio

        One thing that engaging with the NC community has taught me is that, when it’s just your brain engaging with the brains of others, without much in the way of gender cues, it’s really hard to tell who has what plumbing :) Go figure, huh? Personally, I just imagine everyone as slightly altered versions of Pat, from the old SNL sketches…

    2. Vatch

      The Weyrich quote is crucial (Paul Weyrich was a founder of the right wing Heritage Foundation and ALEC). Periodically here at NC, people post messages claiming that voting and participating in other aspects of electoral democracy merely provides support for a fraudulent system. Without intending to do so, they play right into the hands of people like Weyrich. Ferguson, Missouri, is the poster child for a place where most people don’t vote. Their most recent election was considered a “success”, because participation skyrocketed all the way up to 30%!

      By itself, voting won’t achieve much. But failure to vote is even less effective.

  3. diptherio

    I will just say that the findings of Gilens and Page don’t seem to have much of anything to do with a lack of democratic engagement by the public. Even well organized lobbying campaigns on specific policy issues by large groups have ZERO independent effect on outcomes.

    I AM all about getting more people involved in their communities and in political decision-making in general, but I fear that successfully getting more people to engage with the Federal political system is just a recipe for mass dis-enchantment and despair. Once we get people engaged, I would MUCH rather we be directing them to projects that don’t require a bunch of professional liars to go along to be successful. Local efforts to implement Participatory Budgeting, various types of cooperative enterprises or creating and managing common community resources are things that I think would be much more effective in the long-term that trying to convince more people to engage with our broken, corrupt, Federal legal system.

    It seems to me that we should only spend time engaging the Congress when it seems like we might have some of the elites on our side, since as per G&P, if we don’t have some of the kleptocrats with us, we don’t have a chance of winning. By and large, I prefer building better structures outside of the rotten ones we’ve got now, rather than trying to rehabilitate the mess we’ve been left with. My two sense…

    1. Steve H.

      The interviewer makes an interesting point: “The billionaires who are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars in the campaign, they think the campaigns are consequential, they think the votes count…”

      If the system were fully captured the ROI on campaign investment would drop, save for who particulary wins or loses (the Lehman sponsorship that didn’t work out). Coupled with “…one of the most effective forms of voter suppression is negative advertising,” it is and indication that whatever we may think, the .% don’t think they have achieved total victory.

      1. Ned Ludd

        The 0.01% are not a monolithic group. They vigorously vie for control to determine how the spoils are divided, lest another elite abscond with their share.

        Also, there is contention over identity politics because a corporate feminist will have interests that are staunchly opposed by a right-wing religious businessman.

        That said, there are many economic and foreign policies they agree upon, to the detriment of the rest of the public.

        1. jrs

          Yes I think they are fighting for the spoils, the party apparatchiks are fighting for their own power and wealth. But I think various industries may benefit more or less under the two parties. So they are not indifferent! But not a darn bit of it has to do with the public interest and the interest of ordinary working class people. Votes count for their own agendas – NOT OURS.

      2. diptherio

        I disagree with that analysis. The .01% have successfully captured the mechanisms of social control and are now simply fighting among themselves for the spoils. That’s why they spend so much on elections: it’s a bidding war for the politicians.

        We’ve been told time and time again that voting is the key to fixing the injustices of the system. We were told it when people of color were given the vote and when women were given the vote…and how has that worked out? I believe it was Emma Goldman who said, “if voting could change anything, it would be illegal.”

        But, as pointed out above, this guy doesn’t focus much on elections, which is good, since trying to outbid billionaires for politicians is not a good strategy. On the margins, I think what this guy is saying is correct and useful: targeted popular pressure can be effective (but only when some section of the elite is agreeable, as G&P showed). My fear is that my fellow citizens will devote themselves entirely to trying to reform the system and neglect to focus on more direct and tangible projects: community gardens, babysitting co-ops, barter networks and time banks.

        One of the best ways to convince the politicians that they need to think more about the interests of the people and less about the interests of the elites, is to provide alternative systems that meet people’s needs better than the policies of the politicians do. There’s a reason why every armed revolutionary group you can name starts out by offering social services to the people.

        It is my great hope that we can have the revolutions without the need for the arms part–that we can start figuring out other ways to provide for ourselves and each other without having to engage in a bunch of needless and counter-productive bloodshed. (Although, let us not forget that needless and counter-productive bloodshed goes on everyday, already…or nearly…every 28 hours, according to Chris Hedges…)

        So I’m saying lets not put all our eggs in one basket; that of reforming the existing system of government. Let’s save some of those eggs for building a new world–let’s put some of them in the basket labeled “Solidarity Economy”…that way lies salvation, imho, if indeed it lies anywhere.

        1. R Kelman

          So your answer is bring back the early 1960’s. That really worked. Yes we have sex and rock & roll, but we gave up power to those who know what to do with it. The 1%. If you don’t like the political system and don’t think it can be reformed, then replace it. But don’t cede power and control.

          1. diptherio

            No, my friend, it is not the 60s. This time, things are much worse for more people than then. We’ve got the endless war, the corrupt officials, etc., but we’ve got a lot more wealth disparity. My parents generation was an initial spasm of discontent, but there were still enough good, stable, middle-class jobs to buy-off most of the dissent. Those jobs aren’t around anymore, or at least not nearly as many as a percentage of the pissed-off population.

            It’s not moral indignation that leads to revolution, whether it be political or economic, it’s need. The hippie revolt was mostly about morals–most of them could find a place in the existing order if they wanted to–and most of them ended up doing so. But now that option doesn’t exist. For many people I know, if we don’t come up with some different way of making our way in the world, all we have to look forward to is sh*tty jobs until we die. This is the reason why it is (somewhat) different this time.

            And, btw, we’ve had equal pay laws on the books for decades, and yet women are still only making $.75 on the dollar–even when we win through the political process, we often enough don’t really win at all. Meanwhile, a number of worker co-ops (very successful ones) pay everyone an equal wage, which nips that problem right in the bud, doesn’t it? So which one is more effective, winning a victory in the gov’t or organizing ourselves to solve our problems?

            1. craazyboy

              “No, my friend, it is not the 60s.”

              So true. The way they defeated us back then was to bribe us to sell out to the establishment. You could go to college and avoid the draft, and once you graduated, and after getting haircut and putting up with the indignity of wearing a tie, you could afford many more Led Zeppelin albums than before.

              Young people don’t have the same opportunity today.

            2. Gio Bruno

              I’m in your parents cohort, Diptherio. You have a better understanding of the 60’s than many. It was a much different social mileu than today. Then, some folks were protesting against racial injustice; others the devastation the US was wreaking on peasants in Southeast Asia; others the confining conformance of American cultural narratives; all while some were exploring psychedelics and reveling in the music of the day. Some were doing all of this all of the time; some some of the time :). And it scared the holy shit out of many and Ronald Reagan become their spokesman. The next 40 years brings us to today.

              Economics will be the impetus for change today. Social sideshows are just that.

            3. neo-realist

              Yes, I got the impression of the 60’s that you (or at least, mostly white people) were free to oppose the system, sometimes in very extreme and outrageous ways, knowing that at the end of the day, you could still get a decent job, afford a good apartment and possibly a mortgage.

              Nowadays, finding a place economically under the current order appears to be limited to bankers who flip default swaps and as is very much the case in the Northwest and the Bay Area, the masters of software.

          2. diptherio

            If you don’t like the political system and don’t think it can be reformed, then replace it.

            See my reply to John Zelnicker below.

            And for the record, I’ve paid my dues working within our political system. I’ve lobbied for the people on capitol hill, I’ve spent summers gathering signatures for initiative campaigns, I’ve registered A LOT of people to vote. Now I’m helping people start and convert their businesses to worker co-ops. I’m not talking from an armchair here and I ain’t ceding sh*t, I’m just speaking from my experience.

            1. R Kelman

              But what is it you are pushing for. What structural changes? Lobbying is good. But not enough. ALEC stole legislative power. These are the policies being implemented. We have a shadow government.

              The details of what changes you want make a difference. Co-ops are good but a not enough. The corporations own the courts and the took over enough states houses to hamstring the federal government. Individual votes don’t win elections. Gerrymandering does. Money isn’t speech. It is power. Think structurally.

              1. zapster

                Co-ops *are* structural change. Replace enough businesses with co-ops, and the entire dynamic changes. This approach has endless angles. If cities, before granting concessions to big bidness, demanded that there be clauses that returned the property to the city upon decamping for cheaper climes, and then gave it to the abandoned workers to run, there would be a huge change in attitude all around. Just a fr’instance.

        2. Oregoncharles

          “There’s a reason why every armed revolutionary group you can name starts out by offering social services to the people. ”

          Which would also be a reason for TPTB to suppress such efforts.

          Remember the Black Panthers. I don’t see this as a reason not to try; it’s a reason to be very wary, and try to CYA.

        3. jrs

          One problem with such things is that people tend to focus on the easy stuff. Exchanging easy services. But we could have our own internet locally implemented. But this stuff is not the easy stuff, it’s technical. There’s a name for people’s tendency to only do the easy stuff in those types of systems. I wish I could remember it.

          Another is most people still need jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Though it’s done by a few, it’s generally hard to pay the rent in barter (to speak nothing of the medical bills).

          Even though it’s ridiculously rambling all over the place, there’s something to this article:

          “The hesitancy to focus on what dominates the lives of all of us – jobs, or the search for them, results from the silo mentality that funders enforce.”

          They push basic income.

    2. John Zelnicker

      diptherio – Working locally has additional benefits. One ongoing strategy of the conservative movement for the past 50 years has been to build from the bottom up by electing like-minded people to the school boards and municipal governments all over the country. Not only do local government entities have more day-to-day effect on citizens, they are also the best training ground for those who want to get to Congress or the Presidency, e.g., Scott Walker or Bernie Sanders.

      In the process of getting people involved in the kind of activism you suggest, hopefully there would be some good people who would be willing to run for local positions and use them as stepping stones for higher office.

      1. diptherio

        Putting good people into corrupt institutions more often corrupts the people rather than improving the institution. I can tell you that from direct, personal experience.

        I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the only way we’re going to get a handle on this thing is to introduce some real accountability for politicians beyond the ballot box. My preference is for a Democracy-based party where the elected rep is required to vote in accordance with the wishes of the party rank-and-file as demonstrated through some sort of on-line/IRL platform along the lines of Loomio.org

        Until we have a system worked out that provides actual transparency and accountability, focusing our energies on Federal-level politics is only going to help around the margins…and even that is going to take a massive amount of energy. I’d much rather see people use their energy coming together to discuss and determine ways of dealing with their local problems, rather using it to try to sway politicians (Again, the G&P study seems to provide a guide for when such use of energy has a chance of being effective). That’s all I’m saying.

        So for sure, write to your congresscritter and your local paper, but fer goddess’ sake, don’t let it end there.

        1. RanDomino

          As much as your viewpoint is an improvement, it’s still way too invested in existing government.

          Start from the position of ignoring it entirely and figuring out ways of taking care of our needs as though it didn’t exist; then make the slightest concessions necessary to prevent those solutions from being immediately attacked by the police. Better, exploit contradictions in the system such that even though the State may wish to attack the project, it can’t without pissing off one of its real constituents.

          Then one of two things will happen: Either those solutions will work, or the government will be forced to make concessions just to maintain credibility. That’s what happened with Civil Rights, the New Deal, and slavery abolition- indisputably the largest and most significant socio-economic movements in American history.

          1. diptherio

            Start from the position of ignoring it entirely and figuring out ways of taking care of our needs as though it didn’t exist

            But the problem with doing this entirely is that our degrees of freedom may be limited by the State, through the political process. That’s why I do think we should exert ourselves trying to affect policy when 1) the policy in question would severely handicap what we’re trying to do (e.g. ditching net neutrality) and 2) Elite opinion is divided, so majority opinion might be the deciding factor.

            But by-and-large I agree with you. We spend far too much of our time, energy and money trying to convince politicians to side with us and not nearly enough learning how to cooperate with each other and then doing it.

            I, for instance, put on a screening of Own the Change, a documentary on worker co-ops, and am today preparing for our first Cooperative Economics Study Group, which already includes people interested in tech, restauranting, ecovillages and construction. If we want to change our reality, we need to start doing it, not just trying to convince politicians to have the state to do it for us.

            In a sense, this is a magical operation–in that we seek to alter material reality in accordance with our will. The first rule of Subgenius magic is “get off your ass!”

            Speaking of which, Ada Colau, new mayor of Barcelona and radical commoner and anti-eviction activist, and the coalition for which she is the spokesperson, are showing a new way forward for a truly people-centered, democratic form of politics. Her interview on Democracy Now! is a must-watch, imo (see link below).

            1. RanDomino

              Worker co-ops are a great thing to do, and if that’s your strategy then we don’t disagree. I don’t think they’re sufficient (since there are ways of attacking them; for example banning the types of contracts and articles they’re incorporated under, whether by fiat or just by doing crap like instituting onerous filing fees and adding delays to the bureaucratic process), but they’re excellent because they create a contradiction between the conservative love of private property and hatred of workers, and (more importantly) they help workers get practice in self-management.

              I also see value in explicitly breaking laws when it’s strategically beneficial to do so.

    3. Vatch

      “Even well organized lobbying campaigns on specific policy issues by large groups have ZERO independent effect on outcomes.”

      That is close to being true, but I’m going to indulge in a little pedantic nit picking. Here’s the Gilens and Page article (minus the appendices – we probably have to pay Cambridge Univ. Press to see those):


      From page 573 of the journal (page 10 of the article):

      Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo,
      opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their
      way; but when a majority—even a very large majority—of
      the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it
      wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change
      majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted
      only about 30 percent of the time. More strikingly, even
      overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80
      percent of the public favoring a policy change, got that
      change only about 43 percent of the time.

      That’s very dismal, but it’s not zero.

      1. diptherio

        But this, from pg. 570:

        Ordinary citizens, for example, might often be observed to “win” (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail.

        So, maybe we’re just fooling ourselves thinking that we’re winning much of anything. That’s the “no independent effect” part, right?

        1. Vatch

          You might be right. Although there is the depressing chart on page 573, which I don’t fully understand, but which might refer to an independent effect. If fewer than 10% of the members of the public support a policy, it has a .3 (30%) probability of being adopted. If more than 90% support the policy, it has what appears to be a .31 (31%) probability of being adopted. Non-zero, but not very significant.

          One sign of hope is that people are developing a better understanding of these processes, since we’re actually discussing the facts of what is occurring. That could lead to more effective efforts to overcome a portion of the huge advantage that the members of the top 0.01% have over the rest of us.

      2. diptherio

        Also, there is this (573):

        Economic-Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans—though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases—is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater. [emphasis added]

        On a positive note: here’s what’s got me excited at the moment:

        Ada Colau, new mayor of Barcelona on Democracy Now!

    4. Oregoncharles

      Gilens and Page are really depressing (but I just bookmarked the study – can’t remember their names for some reason). They imply that we’re cooked.

      I suggest a big caveat, which is the source of my own political activism: that effect is premised on the rule of the 2-Party System. Once the plutocrats buy both parties, we ARE cooked as long as we accept those llimits. That’s why I’m a Green Party activist. We’re basically hanging in there waiting for enough people to catch on.

      Are there big further problems at that point? Yes. But electoral politics are essentially the only way to make big changes without breaking a lot of stuff – and a lot of people. Even if you make your impact on the street, you still have to form a new government. So my activism is essentially optimistic. And, of course, it’s linked with a whole complex of issue organizations – right at the moment we’re trying to get some of them to supply us with anti-TPA candidates for spoiler campaigns. Might as well use the power we have.

      Otherwise – yes, all too true.

    5. Carl

      Not only is the evolution of alternative sources of community support at present our only option, it is also an effective challenge to corporate dominance. Corporations spend billions each year to convince us that we can’t live without them and their business plans absolutely require that ever more captive market. The anxiety thus displayed shows their biggest fear is irrelevance. Same for the political establishment. The 2008 Obama coalition scared the elite; Occupy terrified them. Those events were demonstrations of their deep vulnerability and well-deserved paranoia. The public may not appreciate it, but our oligarchs stand on delicate pinnacles and are well aware of the contingent nature of their power.

  4. akaPaul LaFargue

    No argument that bottom/up organizing is needed in all areas. And giving orgs the tools to be effective is needed. If a community had numerous “issue” groups plugging away at their specific projects the political atmosphere (meaning the electoral arena) would be transformed.

    Even better if the people involved with specific issues ALSO had a daily connection via co-ops, volunteer action groups (gardens, education, alt energy, etc.) so that practical projects had an obvious impact on their communities.

    BUT still what is needed is an overarching analysis of the essential bankruptcy of the system on a material and philosophical level. For me this means dissolving the link between jobs and income and recognizing our innate right to a livelihood (not a job).

    See “Beyond Localism” at CounterPunch.

  5. Paul P

    Mass grassroots organizing is the only way to oppose the plutocracy with its wrap around propaganda system that includes the university, radio, TV. the press, officials, pundits, religions, and all the rest. Only 300 of 7,000 students knew their Congress member’s name. We are a depoliticized society.

    Sam Daley-Harris wants people to become public citizens. Get involved in an issue, you will get involved in campaigns, donate money to groups, find alternative sources of information, and develop a critical view of politics.

    Ralph Nader expresses the same idea as Harris in his book 17 Solutions. You can find Ralph Nader talking about Congressional Watch Dog groups on YouTube under “17 Solutions.”

    How many people on this website have gotten a delegation of neighbors and lobbied their Congress member in their local offices? How many are members of a political club?

    I have been a member of a union for most of my working life. My union has never organized local lobbying visits. You would think that would be a given. Union and AFL-CIO email alerts on Fast Track began after the bill had been introduced in Congress. Ask people on the street, your fellow worker, or a union member what is fast track about and you will find the same results that Sam Daley-Harris found in asking, “What is your Congress member’s name?

    I got involved in organizing against fast track and the TPP after having attended a panel at All Souls Church in NYC a few years ago. I helped organize a number delegation visits to my Congress member at her local office. It dawned on me that in all of my 70 years, I had visited my representative only a handful of times. That my union hadn’t organized and institutionalized delegation visits. That I have no political involvement with neighbors within walking distance of my house. There is an enormous grassroots, untapped latent power of ordinary people. It is fallow and only needs the seeds to be planted.

    Their are 12 million unionized workers in the US. With family members included, there are 36 million potentially informed voters an lobbyists ready to meet with their Congress members.
    These people are not organized. Not asked to participate, except in minimal, top down ways.

    The power is with the people, but they are watching TV. They need not be watching TV. There are more interesting things to do.

    1. diptherio

      There is an enormous grassroots, untapped latent power of ordinary people. It is fallow and only needs the seeds to be planted.

      This is what Occupy taught me…

      The power is with the people, but they are watching TV. They need not be watching TV. There are more interesting things to do.

      Preach it!

      1. zapster

        Well, there’s another angle that I’ve never seen anyone address, and that is the nomadic nature of living today. We’re perpetually *moving* to chase jobs. There aren’t many established, permanent neighborhoods left where you could feel safe going door-to-door rounding up support, or even be successful if you do. “Oh, my contract is up in 3 weeks and I’ll be leaving” is a very common example. I just moved, and I’ve looked up the names of reps here, and still can’t remember them just yet. But it’ll be the 4th set in 4 years.

        We need an app for that.

    2. Vatch

      “Only 300 of 7,000 students knew their Congress member’s name. We are a depoliticized society.”

      For goodness sake, please forward this URL to friends and family (this link is referenced in a separate NC article today):


      Whenever you advise people to support a particular issue, include the link. When I send a message to 15 or 20 friends and family, I sometimes get feedback from one or two that they have contacted Congress about the topic. They might not have been able to make that contact without instructions on how to actually get in tough with the people in Washington.

  6. Furzy Mouse

    Listening to Daley-Harris, perhaps he could use/propagate a presentation titled ” ECONned for Dummies”, as well as “MMT for Dummies”. We need, almost desperately, real grass roots activism and enthusiasm…there is a phenomenal amount of apathy out there, for many good reasons. As activists in the ’60’s, we enjoyed amazing camaraderie and some success…at least in the headlines..and I do credit my generation with ending Vietnam…(only to watch bushbaby start another endless boondoggle)….today, activists are being ignored or trashed by the cops.

    I say “for Dummies” because to empower people, to get them involved, they need to “get it”. And clarity can bring hope and energy to a campaign. Need to hone in on bullet points and slogans…rinse and repeat…=:)

    A third party looks difficult, but possible, and as a long shot, perhaps a call for a Constitutional Convention. That would be a free-for-all full of wingnut proposals, but perhaps genuine need and common sense would prevail if we got that far. It was the change in sentiment, as well as the televised atrocities, that turned the public against the war in ‘Nam; now we seem immune, numb, to all the brutality televised every day. Maybe that is part of the apathy…..so turn off the tube and give a talk to your friends and neighbors!!

    1. Dan Lynch

      Furzy Mouse said “I do credit my generation with ending Vietnam.”

      I disagree. Vietnam went on and on and ultimately it took Watergate to end our involvement. The anti-war protests were not successful.

      To the extent that activism did enjoy some victories in the 50,’s 60’s and 70’s, I would say that had a lot to do with Cold War 1.0 and the ideological competition between capitalism and communism. After the Berlin Wall fell, that ideological competition ceased and was replaced by “There is No Alternative.”

      Cold War 2.0 is not about ideology, so it will not help activists.

      Back to the OT — I can’t watch the vid (no broadband) but I googled Daley-Harris. General impressions: 1) never trust anyone with a hyphenated name. 2) he was a big supporter of neoliberal microloans 3) his professional background is in music. Nothing against musicians but color me unimpressed. 4) in general he comes across as a snake oil salesman. He hasn’t actually done much of anything.

      1. Kas Thomas

        ultimately it took Watergate to end our involvement

        That’s true, but also don’t forget Daniel Ellsberg.

        Sometimes one Ellsberg or one Snowden is worth 50,000 marching in the street, although personally I’d love to see 50,000 in the street, of course.

          1. Paul P

            Vietnamese didn’t have anything to do with the US withdrawal?
            3.2 or 3.8 million Vietnamese died, a 10th of the population.

    2. frosty zoom

      “I do credit my generation with ending Vietnam.”

      didn’t they just run out of money?

      1. Furzy Mouse

        Money had nothing to do with ending ‘Nam (see “fiat currency”) and the protests kept up until Nixon was removed from office.

        Lyndon Johnson refused to run for another term because of the anti war sentiment in ’68 …alas, lumpy Hubert Humphrey ran and lost to Nixon, showing America’s preference for nasty authoritarians..,.but the protests continued…remember, Kent State’s killings happened in ’70 under Nixon:


        “On April 30, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon appeared on national television to announce the invasion of Cambodia by the United States and the need to draft 150,000 more soldiers for an expansion of the Vietnam War effort. This provoked massive protests on campuses throughout the country. At Kent State University in Ohio, protesters launched a demonstration that included setting fire to the ROTC building, prompting the governor of Ohio to dispatch 900 National Guardsmen to the campus.

        During an altercation on May 4, twenty-eight guardsmen opened fire on a crowd, killing four students and wounding nine. Following the killings, the unrest across the country escalated even further. Almost five hundred colleges were shut down or disrupted by protests.Despite the public outcry, the Justice Department initially declined to conduct a grand jury investigation. A report by the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest did acknowledge, however, that the action of the guardsmen had been “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.” Eventually, a grand jury indicted eight of the guardsmen, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.”

        1. frosty zoom

          sorry, just being cynical. of course the anger of the people was essential to end the indochinese slaughter.

          but didn’t mr. nixon dump gold because they had inflated the dollar so much to “pay” for the horror that it had to be set free of any earthly constraints. i think they were very scared they had milked the cow dry.

          alas, the management of war has been refined considerably since then and the people just chug along oblivious to what is happening now.

          but my 2015 brain sees that the only way the carnage will end is for the money to run out (i.e. swell up so much that it bursts at the seems).

          1. Furzy Mouse

            If the current $17 to $18 Trillion “deficit”, mostly pumped up by the bailout of the banksters, does not bust us, I’m really not sure what will…there’s probably a black swan lurking out there, but by definition, we don’t know what it is…meanwhile, the dollar is on such a bull rampage that exporters are fainting…and I repeat, that with a fiat currency, we can always pay our bills (for better or worse!). Here’s one account of why Nixon took the $ off the gold standard; it agrees with your inflation theory, and looks like a lot of the usual fearmongering was going on:


            “Lyndon Johnson,… precipitated the currency crisis by choosing to finance U.S. spending on guns and butter with inflated dollars. By 1970, U.S. gold reserves covered only 22 per cent of the dollars in circulation, down from 55 per cent a few years earlier. One by one, the major European countries tested the U.S. Treasury. In July, 1971, Switzerland delivered $50-million (U.S.) to the United States, demanding gold in return; France dumped $190-million. Germany made a formal request for a $500-million swap.
            The world had lost faith in the greenback. In May, 1971, Fed foreign exchange chief Charles Coombs concluded, in an internal note, that Europe was getting ready for the U.S. “to close the gold window.” He calculated that private investors could, at any time, sell billions of dollars in equities to buy gold, “triggering a virtual collapse of the New York Stock Exchange.” The British, he advised, were set to dump dollars. “If the British … take gold for their dollars,” he said, “it’s game over.”

            In early August, Federal Reserve president Alfred Hayes warned Mr. Burns that confidence in the dollar had eroded so much that “the breakdown of the entire international financial system” could occur within a matter of weeks, if not days. When Mr. Burns warned Treasury Secretary John Connally that the Europeans might retaliate, Mr. Connally responded: “Let ’em. What can they do?” (Mr. Connally once told a contingent of foreign monetary authorities that the dollar was “our currency, your problem.”)
            On Sunday, Aug. 15, Mr. Nixon pre-empted the popular prime-time TV show Bonanza to announce the end of the world’s last legal currency connection to gold. He took Europe by surprise – and his own State Department, too. His closest advisers recalled later that, when they met to decide what to do with the falling dollar, they spent more time discussing the pre-emption of Bonanza than discussing the dollar itself.
            British investment banker and financial writer David Marsh cites Mr. Nixon’s conversation with Mr. Haldeman, in his new book on the 10th anniversary of the euro, to illustrate the president’s remarkable insouciance toward Europe at a time of an approaching global crisis. Mr. Marsh’s gripping work, The Euro: The Politics of the New Global Currency, encompasses – as its title promises – the extraordinary political drama that led ancient enemies to embrace the euro (introduced as an accounting function Jan. 1, 1999).”

            1. frosty zoom

              i have a feeling that the world getting fed up with the print-a-war monetary policy is the grey swan that is turning a little blacker each day.

              as to the dollar’s apparent strength, perhaps the currency is not fiat after all, but a bomb-backed currency.

  7. flora

    “Starving the beast” is a political strategy employed by American conservatives in order to limit government spending[1][2][3] by cutting taxes in order to deprive the government of revenue in a deliberate effort to force the federal government to reduce spending.” -Wikipedia

    How do you get people to understand that “Starve the Beast”
    means “Starve the 99%” ?

  8. alex morfesis

    Internecine warfare always creates opportunity

    even as you sit there afraid to speak (as some suggest) the battle among the greedy and the powerful continues, amongst themselves…

    the greedy and powerful will never be satisfied…their thirst for recognition, their love of schadenfreude will
    never end…they are weaker than you realize…they will go to the grave remembering how all the hate did not matter in the end…

    these are much better times than ever existed…

    and even over time darkness and evil falls on its face…

    next time you are in New York City…go find a little park in manhattan (not the one in brooklyn) named after Joe Petrosino…

    Badge Number 285

    it was known as kenmare square…but probably better known as mafia square…there were probably more hoods within 1000 feet of that park than anywhere in new york outside of brooklyn…

    Petrosino Square, named in 1987 so the local mobsters could laugh and spit on Petrosino square…

    its on a tiny little street, cleveland place where kenmare and Lafayette meet…

    now…not so many years later…the mobsters are the ones who have to hide…and artists enjoy the space and new york the way Lt. Petrosino would have wanted…he gave his life for a better america…

    I am not suggesting people throw themselves into the mouth of the lion…

    but only to suggest that power fades and this too shall pass…

    was in court a few days ago, Pro Se on a property that sorta fell on my lap…nice house, great view of the gulf, nice sunsets…and 20 no see-um bites if I want to actually use the deck outside to enjoy the view…

    someone owed me money, this person owed them more money..they had this unfinished house in foreclosure….20 grand later in repair work and I only had maybe half a house subject to an underwater mortgage(did I mention the ugly divorce in the middle of this property)…here I was in front of a politically connected judge…he had never really practiced much law, had been the local attorney for the political party that runs the show in Florida today…he was brought in to push thru the foreclosure judgments Gov Dred Scott wants pushed thru…thought he had been moved off these cases, but the newly elected judge was not going to hear this and other matters that morning…and in comes old grumpy…I knew i had lost when he walked in, but, figured that I had a court reporter so he would tone down his usual berating of pro se defendants…

    nah…he cuts me off left and right (I do some legal support work for attorneys, mostly foreclosures, so the rookie lawyer from the bank on the other side was not going to make winning arguments)…he did everything but stand next to the bank lawyer and make his arguments for him…it got testy on his part as his getting louder and threatening to take me in front of the Florida Bar for practicing law without a license(must be some special law school he went to where knowledge of the law is now also a crime if you are pro se)…but…there was probably more…

    the judge had shared a law office with a local attorney who fancies himself “the TITLE insurance guy”…and that “title insurance guy” had oops-up-ed a title insurance policy that an acquaintance of mine had lent 3 million dollars on a failed real estate development on the water in south st pete next to a college…my associate had been given an MAI (made as instructed) appraisal claiming the land was worth 12 million (really worth maybe 2 mil, maybe the 12 was just a typo)…and oh, that lease the state of florida was to have signed for the marina section “before” the loan proceeds were distributed, had not yet been delivered by the “persian developer” who then tried to use the lack of a lease to extract (read blackmail) another 2 million to build some spec houses so that my associate “might” get his money back…I did the legal support and research on the title insurance issues the judges former office mate had created for himself. I am sure “they” are not happy that the “Title insurance” guys E & O policy might have a claim against it…I am sure that had nothing to do with the jurist trying to scare me into submission.

    Sadly for him, he and the bank lawyers actually gave me what I wanted. See, I could have brought up the title issue on the record and ask the Jurist to recluse himself…but the new chief judge in the district is one of the best judges in Florida and I was not going to put him in a tough spot over this stupid house, that even if I had gotten the judgment overturned, would still be a 400 Thousand dollar home(owing 750 grand) with a great view, bad construction, maybe sinkhole, and endless no-see-ums from the mangroves (read swamps) surrounding the property…and only half of it as the deed I had gotten was only the ex-husbands TIC…but

    since this is/was a DB as Trustee (david co) transaction, this is now ripe for an IRS whistleblower report and claim with the IRS…REMIC 100% taxable event…..hmmm… Thank you your honor…

    There are many many many victories lost in the dustbins of history…if you research metaxas or paul robeson, you will hear, if anything…FASCIST COMMUNIST…when they both faked it to get across the bridge…but you wont read that in any contemporary writings about these two quiet giants…

    if you want to see a community stand up to city hall and win,..try to study the Black Metropolis/ Midsouth Planning and development council. It is hard to find much. You might read something pushed forward by corporate media with a phony community “activist” with thick glasses named Harold(I used to call him the phony groucho marxist behind his back) whose job was to go from committee to committee so that “the clowns that be” could stop this insolent group of citizens.

    I was the token white guy…there were two other “white guys” but they were from the 4:59 crowd, it was part of their community organization work(paid to be there)

    This disparate rag tag group of a few hundred citizens stood up to the nazis (IIT-Meis vander roe) the closet racist liberals(U of Chitown) and the right wind of the demoKratyk party (Michael Reese Hospital and McCormick Place)…

    it seems these “blak foke” didn’t get the memo, that all 40 thousand of them were to just move from the historic black community and let these four very important institutions get on with creating construction jobs for white guys from indiana…

    well, for the two people working on the “Land use plan” for Mayor Daley and his friends, a certain valarie Jarrett and Michelle robinson-obama(you may have heard of them) even though their mission failed for the Department of planning, they got a little consolation prize…

    and it still stands…I have had my fun moments in life…1992…what a fine year it was…one of my favorite was sitting with Double Duty Ratcliffe and William Barnett on 35th Street…

    on a cold winters night that was so deep….

    Charles Hayes had pretty much not really properly kept the seat warm he had inherited when Harold became mayor…I had helped barnett dig up the 750K Daley was hiding that had been set aside by the state legislature to rebuild the historic 8th Regiment armory on 35th street…double duty had stopped snarling at my white ass when he realized my mom was born in Cuba after I had asked him about Cristobal Torriente…The question was how to slow down daley and his attempt to push down and out the majority minority in Chicago…so in the first few weeks of 1992 a plan was hatched…Bobby Rush, who had many questions around him about his “so called” radical days, was not too bright, but very symbolic. His winning the election and going to congress would remove some of the self imposed mental blocks many in the neighborhood had of “no use trying, shit aint never gonna change”…the basic idea was to get a bunch of old goats looking like they were all inlove with Hayes…to snap people out of their sleep..to get people thinking “the fix was in” for Hayes, and then “the supporters” Magically started making stupid statements in public…and the citizens in the district slowly began to think…well if these idiots are with Hayes, maybe we need to think about voting Bobby in…Dr. Lewis Rawls really spread it on thick…it was a work of art…I don’t think every one told Congressman Rush until a few years later…poor Mr. Hayes…never saw it coming…and if Daley could see thru it, by the time he did it was too late…and then with a few weeks left before the March 17 primary, I was (cough cough hack) asked to go volunteer at the Carol Mosley Braun senatorial disaster…disaster did not begin to describe the career political hacks on the phone looking for their next gig…they would not even answer the phones…so I sat by the front door when I would come in and answer them myself…asking people to bring in checks when they would ask for signs and posters(no money, no victory), telling them the signs had almost run out and the printers would not give us anymore credit so close to the election(lies lies all lies, there were plenty of signs, but no money for corporate media)…and then the article in the reader hit…and suddenly there were woman lined up out the front door with checks in hand after being asked to bring them in by ME…and soon the political hacks were “coordinating” the phones with my script and putting it down on their resumes on the “well coordinated” work they did to defeat Alan Dixon…and as I have often done in my life…having helped Sisyphus finally push that damned boulder over the hill, I looked for the close up of Barbara Bain and wait for the music to que up…then I use my happy feet and try once again to learn how to play the guitar…


    a wretch like me

    can annoy “the clowns that be”

    and not have scars on my face or my soul

    anyone can make a positive difference

    but I do tend to be very nice to nice people and very evil to evil people

    but there are not really THAT many evil people on this planet…

    remember, there are 7 billion beings using their human host to breath the air of this planet

    and maybe there are 250 thousand truly evil people

    spread out over a few hundred organizations, governments, armies and religions

    and evil is a reaction to fear…and once you realize that almost all evil people live in
    constant fear…you will never be afraid of the boogie man again

  9. Mary H.

    Sam Daley Harris achieved significant success in one major initiative: to promote the success of microcredit as a way to overcome poverty. His organization, Results, singlehandedly popularized microcredit — by mobilizing hundreds in the US to get media coverage locally and partnering with Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. Later he ran the Microcredit Summit Campaign and mobilized thousands of microcredit organizations globally to report data and discuss progress to the goal of reaching 100 million people as customers.

    It appears this was his life’s work for more than 30 years.

    The microcredit industry (which evolved into microfinance and now into financial inclusion) is a large field of players with many issues being well debated. It shook up the international development field with its scale but proving impact has been illusive. (Many researchers have done serious research.)

    The field has been a hotbed of innovation and today practitioners are developing savings, insurance and mobile banking systems, to name a few.

    I would encourage NC to get assessments of Results and the Microcredit Summit Campaign from respected observers (Elizabeth Rhyne and Brigit Helms are two useful commentators at the Center for Financial Inclusion and the World Bank respectively) before meeting with Sam Daley Harris. (I am not close enough to make a accurate assessment of the effectiveness of his role.)

    1. Bill Houghton

      Study how much effect he had in one area, and what steps he took—that could be more enlightening, provide more leverage, than many generalizations about the state of society. All activism is a small organized effort in the churning ocean of competing multitudes

  10. Kim Kaufman

    The question I would ask him: how do we at NC deal with the wonky issues that we think are important here? Talking about the evils of private equity is never going to be as “mass” as “climate change,” for example.

    I have heard good things about “Results” and I’m not adverse to working with it and the Marianne Williamson crowd. I think information would flow both ways and that would be good.

    1. Oguk

      I agree with this angle. We have to explain why the wonky issues are important, or what’s important about them, not to dwell on the wonky aspects but to take relevant action. We want to take specific actions, but at the same time we want to reframe the discussion – not get lost in the details. ECONned and NC overall contribute to this, but if we want to get more activist, we have to pay attention to how to “feed” the groups, as Daley Harris puts it.

      I read Mary Woods book, Nature’s Trust, after watching the Bill Moyers’ segment that was linked here a few months ago, and it seemed very relevant to what we read here about finance, not the least because it deals in great detail about the nature of captured regulatory agencies. The book is a call to reframe the cause of environmental protection. Instead of getting stuck defining how much harm the environment can take, in bits and pieces (the corporate strategy), we must demand in clear terms that the public natural resources – the land, air, water – must be left in good condition for all to enjoy including unborn generations. It’s about public, democratic rights. Couldn’t we apply this to finance? Start with what is the socially useful function of finance, and ruthlessly question – and fight – every piece that is not. As Wendell Berry wrote, what are people for?

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Here I differ with you. Private equity is one where winning the battle in a few key democratic jurisdictions or with some key institutions creates a disproportionate amount of trouble for the industry. This isn’t one where the opposition has a simple political front on which to fight (some key national governments). It has numerous points of vulnerability, particularly given how reckless they’ve been. In other words, PE is a front on which the public has more leverage than you’d imagine.

  11. GuyFawkesLives

    I would like you to ask him how we reach the 14 million + families that have been illegally foreclosed upon and how we get these people who were stolen from and screwed to ACT.

  12. RBHoughton

    I missed Sam Daley-Harris’ book “Reclaiming our Democracy” but I agree signing petitions is not enough; Letters to the Editor is not enough; Comments on articles like this is not enough.

    He says we have to become change-makers by voicing our concerns to neighbours and work colleagues, starting a conversation on ‘what can I do?’

    It used to be common to give a tithe to the church. Has the church preserved democracy in your neighbourhood? We should send donations to the active groups who are really trying to bring about change.

    I personally want to see a kind of domestic Peace Corps started in which students spend a year after schooling nurturing and protecting the Constitution, observ ing the representatives, reporting on their acts and words and making it crystal clear that they and their financial and commercial owners are not getting the special deals any more.

    1. Lambert Strether

      That’s a very good point. I can’t count the number of times I heard, when #BlackLivesMatter was first coming up, “I can’t talk about that in my family because of my crazy Uncle,” and in more or less identical terms.

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