New York City

Patricia Williams needs to learn to “play the blues and go.” I say this because I did not find Williams on Condoleezza Rice either satiric or insightful [“Diary of a Mad Law Professor,” Dec. 13]. But it was full of the clichés one expects whenever a black man or woman does not pick up the sword considered “progressive.” Rice is a Republican, not a Democrat, and that, apparently, is her great sin. She cannot be judged as what she is; Rice must endure these kinds of confessional essays disguised as commentary, with everything that Williams herself has apparently experienced pushed into the Republican context. In short, are we to assume that Williams has not suffered “the torment of loneliness” she projects onto Rice, that she has not been put in a dream position of sexual magnetism by left-wing white males and that she has not been the one of her kind and her ethnicity in the room with the guys who uphold the “progressive” ideology? The sexual speculations about Rice are perhaps most personally true to Williams and most vulgarly out of place–that is, unless one is not accustomed to seeing and hearing women of success demeaned with the consistency one would expect of a rapper.

If Williams wants to write a confession of an affirmative-action baby and detail all the sexual insults whispered, implied and trumpeted her way as she rose in her world, she should leave Rice out of it and just go for herself, which is the real topic. The complexity of female lives in our time of greater opportunity and accomplishment is deserving of some real thought, perhaps some freedom from obligatory conceptions of sensibility. Someone needs to keep the feet of the Republican Party to the fire–its sins are multitudinous enough–but some originality would be welcomed to the discussion.



New York City

Oh puh-leez. My clichés are strictly equal opportunity: I think the Republican Party’s sins are great whatever race, religion or ethnicity they come wrapped in. And of course Condoleezza Rice is free to be as unprogressive as she wants to be; my point is that the Bush Administration’s spin–and really, Stanley, I am not so naïve as to think it has anything to do with her on some personal level–has very deftly constructed an icon of Rice as righteously precocious little girl frozen in an untouchable time warp of 1963. Thus, she projects Martin Luther King’s moral legacy, even as she is in fact the new face of the far hawkish right, so shmoozy with Big Oil that they named a tanker after her. She is a black Dick Cheney; but the cognitive dissonance between her image and her actual political stance seems to shield her from the kind of unapologetically tough scrutiny for which Democrats and progressives might otherwise be pressing. It is this complexly contradictory spin that, I posit, conservatives love to love.

And although it made my poor middle-aged heart flap about a bit to follow your so gentlemanly suggestion and imagine myself “put in a dream position of sexual magnetism by left-wing white males,” it has about as much to do with what I was talking about as that time you waxed on in print–most vulgarly, if I may say so–about how far Anita Hill’s skirt was cut up her “gams.”

In any event, for the full confession of me as an affirmative-action baby, please consult my hot new memoir, Open House: Of Family, Friends, Food, Piano Lessons, and the Search for a Room of My Own, from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

PATRICIA (“Maybe I’m a rapper, but can’t call me a slapper”) WILLIAMS


Hamden, Conn.

Jason Vest wrings his hands about the damage allegedly being wrought on the CIA by the Bush Administration [“Destabilizing the CIA,” Dec. 13], with quotes from ex-spooks maintaining that “the [Directorate of Operations] especially will effectively slow or close down” and that the former deputy director of operations is “not sure that the current DCI can recover from the wrong foot his partisan staff has put him on.” One can also easily understand that the Bush Administration’s unilateral pre-emptive policies will weaken NATO. One wonders what there is to lament in all this.



Norwalk, Conn.

Frances Kissling is right that sexual justice issues must be an integral component of a religious commitment to social justice [“Sex & the Clergy,” Dec. 13]. However, she does no justice to the tens of thousands of religious leaders, both men and women, who support these issues. Almost every denomination has an organization working to welcome GLBT people. More than thirty national religious organizations and denominations officially support abortion rights. The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing is a network of 2,300 religious leaders who publicly and actively support a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights, including access to voluntary contraception, abortion, HIV/STD prevention and treatment, comprehensive sexuality education and full inclusion of women and sexual minorities in the life of the church.

Rather than denigrating some leaders, what we need is support for those who challenge sexual oppression and who work for justice within their congregations and denominations.

Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing


Washington, DC

Debra Haffner is far too concerned that some religious leaders are “denigrated” by my article and others are not sufficiently praised, and too little concerned with the damage pseudo-progressive religious leaders are doing. The inability of the progressive religious movement to stand solidly for women’s moral agency, which includes the right to choose abortion, denigrates all women and actually reinforces the agenda of the religious right.




It’s tempting to view technology tools that connect the “unconnected” as the panacea for what Micah Sifry calls the top-down style of the Democratic Party or MoveOn, but transparency and accountability aren’t the only requirements for a more engaged democracy. Sifry’s “The Rise of Open-Source Politics” [Nov. 22] visualizes a wickedly attractive, “Net-centric” democracy spawned fully grown from the brain of the Internet. It offers a “frictionless” (read, cheap) organizing model where “ordinary voters” participate equally with the mighty. This view of personal democracy (sometimes known as self-organizing) is all the rage these days. It’s also a Rorschach for progressives. Where Sifry sees a growing community of ordinary voters, we see yet another middle-class movement claiming to speak for all.

While the Internet is many things, it is not the easy way out for progressive organizing. The organizing that succeeds at making a difference is local, face to face and has a long-term commitment to systemic change. Terrific community-led grassroots organizing is going on. A prime example: In South Central Los Angeles Karen Bass, formerly of Community Coalition, was elected with the assistance of voter turnout work from CC, AGENDA and unions HERE and SEIU. These groups have turned their street smarts to using technology and the Internet–but they don’t confuse that with actual democracy. That’s still in the streets and the voting booth.

Progressive Technology Project


Micah Sifry’s optimism about the power of the Internet to democratize progressive politics is undercut by his own excellent survey of the election. He accurately characterizes MoveOn as “top-down” and giving its members “little ability to talk to each other directly”; the Democratic Party as interested in the Internet mostly for fundraising; and Internet users as white middle- and upper-income professionals. Indeed, the MoveOn meetings I attended here in Tucson were overwhelmingly white, despite our large Latino population.

Instead, the progressive movement has to bring more volunteers face to face, letting us listen to one another’s feelings–not just our ideas–encourage individual initiative over top-down directives and deal directly with the racism, sexism, homophobia and other “isms” that divide us. Most progressive organizers would agree, but too often fall back on paid staff making superficial contacts with members for actions largely determined by funding sources.

The Internet can accentuate these tendencies toward superficiality and isolation–white men blogging! By contrast, conservative churches have long recognized the importance of bringing their supporters together in small, face-to-face groups where they can get their social needs met. Ideally, progressive groups would use the Internet in conjunction with this kind of vital face-to-face interaction.


Portland, Ore.

Micah Sifry lauds the new open-source politics–the brightest light in the otherwise dark landscape. Now we have to be sure we don’t squander the incredible energy we’ve generated. We should build a partylike structure out of all the MoveOn and ACT volunteers, SEIU heroes, Deaniacs, progressive Democrats, Greens and Independent blue voters. We don’t need to build a real party just yet, since third parties are relegated to the spoiler role. But we could learn from the Working Families Party in New York. We should not get drawn into the culture-war trap Karl Rove has set for us. We should stick to issues of public morality and civic virtue and come up with a simple platform–support for public education, infrastructure for a sustainable economy, universal preventive healthcare.

We should pool our money and find, train and support candidates who will stand by our issues. We should prepare for 2006, not 2008. We must start electing people–state legislators, governors, county commissioners and school board members as well as members of Congress. And we need a litmus test, damn it! We have a lot of work to do. We will prove we are right, state by state.