Here’s my latest post over at (TPM Cafe) as part of the ongoing discussion of MoveOn. (Unfortunately, right now it’s a whole bunch of white dudes. This is largely my fault, but hoping some new voices come in.)
John Stauber raises a number of criticisms of MoveOn that he raised in my interviews with him, and before responding directly to them, I’m curious to see what Eli or Ben or others within or associated with MoveOn have to say.
That said, I want to just stress a few points:
1) Probably because my father was an organizer and my brother is one now and many of my friends work in the trenches, I am, as a writer and observer, a bit circumspect in criticizing people doing the very difficult work of organizing. (Or, “exceedingly fair” as John aptly put it) That’s not to say there’s no room for what in the olden days used to be called “principled critique,” but it does mean that it’s a whole lot easier to write a few grafs about the shortcomings of this or that organizing model than it is to actually organize. I try to keep that in perspective.
2) Substance v Process. I think in looking at MoveOn, and the whole post-impeachment progressive movement in general (in that I’d include MoveOn, the netroots and a whole host of institutions that grew up in the Bush years to push back against the right), it’s important to distinguish between substantive critiques and procedural ones. John does a pretty good job of that. Some people think MoveOn isn’t sufficiently anti-war, or embodies an ideology that’s too tentative and squishy. That’s fine. One thing you learn quickly as a writer for the Nation is that there’ll always been someone to your left calling you a reactionary sellout. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just the fact of the matter is that the American Left (and I’d imagine the Right, though I obviously don’t know it as well) has a kind of ideological long-tail. And indeed the disagreements between radicals and liberals, for instance, are, while sometimes unpleasant, part of a larger dialectical process that is both inevitable and salutary. I do think, however, as Matt points out, that in general the ideological and political positions of MoveOn the group reflects those of its members quite well.
But John’s question is a different one, about process. He and my friend David Sirota criticize MoveOn for not being democratic, and that’s true: they’re not. There is no structure whereby MoveOn members vote, as, say, union members do. I can imagine a day in which the local councils they’ve started naturally begin to assert themselves more forcefully and, perhaps create or evolve towards a bottom-up democratic structure. But, we shouldn’t have any illusions about what this would entail organizationally. One of MoveOn’s defining characteristics is the insanely high ratio of members to staff: almost 150,000 members per staff member. This would simply be impossible if they converted to the more democratic model that John and David urge. I don’t have the numbers off-hand, but having spent a lot of time around the labor movement i can tell you the staffing ratio of your typical union is more like 100 to 1, maybe 1000 to 1 at the largest. The reason unions can afford a massive overheard and organizating is because of dues, which members all pay as an act of collective solidarity. But MoveOn doesn’t have access to dues and as currently constituted simply could not financially support the kind of overheard and staffing of say, SEIU, or, as I compare it to in the article, the NRA. (Another organizationt that is, theoretically at least, democratic.)
In other words, a “democratic” MoveOn of the kind John envisions would be so different from the current MoveOn, that I’m not sure the critique is even really relevant, or if it’s more like criticizing the New York Yankees for not being a better football team.