Ego-Progressivism

Jake Tonkel

  I am part of what someone might call the Tesla activist (what was the Prius activists of 2010). We drive electric cars, even electric bikes, pay for books and lecture series, documentaries and Coexist bumper stickers. We are rarely the type to be forced into activism for our own protection, it is generally the result of a liberal education in women’s studies, international development or environmental policy. The issue is, not unlike those forced to fight, we adopt our cause based on what most closely reflects our individual identities and personal experiences, instead of how severe the problem is. What I would call, ego-progressivism.

  We are the people with the money and work-life balance needed to volunteer and to organize, and we may be partly to blame for the constant fracturing of the left and its message.  We’ve seemed to become so predictable in our “mass movements” that the opposition power structure just simply waits us out until we tear ourselves apart. It used to be that they would demonize our leaders, call them communists or something. Now the media just depicts to the world the left as an unstructured mess, reporting we don't have a concrete objective when in reality the media doesn’t feel like listening to our lengthyintellectual blabber.


  It is true that the battles are getting more complex and nuanced. With abackwardsystemic social and economic structure and the sheer number of problems to tackle, it'snot hard to see how overwhelming being engaged and involved can be. But we aren’t doing ourselves, or the world, any favors when we continue to divide ourselves, our efforts and our money.
 

  Referring to my last piece, while we don't have Koch money, it's not to say money isn't there. Millions of dollars poured into election campaigns only to disappear into the landfills and internet. We do the same thing outside of elections too. There are hundreds of groups dedicated to fighting climate change, even more for anti-war. Each needing hundreds of man hours for website maintenance, rent, tables, flyers, working supplies. How do we create the social structure we want the world to follow, one of sharing, caring and equity, if we can’t do it among the most dedicated of us? Without the money and the power, how do we build a movement that lasts, that is collaborative, that addresses more than one issue at a time? Because we don’t get those man hours back, and when we don’t have Koch money, we can’t afford to be reinventing the website every time someone wants to start making a difference in the world.


  To make the money point, Susan G. Komen for the Cure raised $118 million dollars in 2015. The average breast cancer treatment can cost $15,000 - $50,000 dollars. Without putting any money towards research for new treatments, that $118M helps about 7,000 people. Comparatively, the UN estimates that $30B a year would end world hunger (just 4% of what the US spends on Defense). With 795 million people in hunger (chronic undernourishment) in 2017, for the same $118M, could erase hunger for 3.1 million people. Should we be spending millions to save thousands or thousands to save millions?


  On the people side, as someone attempting to be involved in more than one thing, I am often, double or triple booked. And this stress, rightfully so, forces humans to choose what they care about most. Climate activists, LGBTQ rights activist, Police Brutality Activists, each of us retreating into our own silos. While often people understand how these issues overlap, the choice of what to be apart of is very often personal and less often, the problem that creates the most suffering in the world, the heart of the beast of evil.


  When I’ve been to city council meetings, there are 5 people each from one of 2 or 3 organizations working on that night’s subject matter. In a city of 1 million people, those numbers are not too powerful, especially when the groups' messages are not coordinated. I may have never heard of the other two groups involved yet, upon introduction, I’m always invited to their next meeting. Where is the conversation about merging our groups, working together, and most importantly merging our demands? It just doesn’t seem to be what is happening in these circles. The discussion of intersectionality has been growing over the last few years. But I find that the demands of the left haven’t followed suit just quite yet. Climate activists sign petitions for anti-war policy in solidarity and in return anti-war activists call their representative for climate legislation. Is there legislation, policy, or action that is actually intersectional and not just barely staying afloat by massive amounts of hard work from a few very dedicated people, while the rest of us are busy working on our own issue? It's not an easy question to answer but without it, we will constantly be finding ourselves fighting battles on way more fronts than we have the time or money to handle.


  In a system where food goes uneaten and people go hungry, homes stay empty and people stay homeless, teachers go jobless and students go without school. Something is limiting our capacity as humans to fill what we call our basic human rights and there have to be a few common threads.

(Published March 1, 2018 - View Full Newsletter Here)