Welcome to Activist Land!

Activist Land provides tools and a pragmatic forum for the progressive activist community. It aims to complement traditional political blogs by emphasizing how you can get involved in specific issues and how to integrate activism into your life in an effective and sustainable way. Therefore, in addition to calling for action on a particular issue, it encourages people to post "activism opportunity" posts that describe the nuts and bolts of how one would, or did, take action in a particular instance.

My main area of focus is media reform. I've been working with Save Boston's Progressive Talk to help bring progressive talk radio to Boston, and I've written interviews to publicize "The Real News", an independent international news network. My secondary area of focus is election integrity. I maintain a set of Voting Rights pages with an emphasis on an election integrity timeline. I've written pieces on these and other subjects for Daily Kos and my local newspaper. For more info, see my first post. Come and join the community!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Activism Opportunity: KLSD, Part 2

On Sunday, I interviewed Jon Elliott about KLSD. Jon is a talk show host based in San Diego whose show is broadcast on KLSD and also nationally. From my diary at Daily Kos, Jon Elliott Wants You to Save KLSD:

The fact that Jon Elliott commented [here at Activist Land] on my previous post got the wheels turning in my head, and it occurred to me that perhaps I could ask him about the situation at KLSD myself. So I sent him e-mail and invited him to call me back on my cell phone, then went ahead with my day. To my surprise, as I was in the supermarket, the phone rang and there he was. I got a kick out of the idea of conducting an interview right then and there over the cell phone in the frozen foods aisle -- hey, didn't Bob Woodward speak with Deep Throat in a parking garage? -- but realistically speaking, I knew I was better off going home, throwing the food I'd bought into the freezer, sitting down at my computer, and calling Jon back. Fortunately, Jon was agreeable.

I'm going to use this diary to analyze the whole activism opportunity rather than recapitulate the diary.

The high point of the experience was definitely the interview with Jon. I enjoyed speaking with him, but, somewhat surprisingly, I thought it was kind of neat that proposing, conducting, and writing up the interview felt so comfortable and almost ordinary, while five years ago, I would have never thought of doing it at all. I credit the blogosphere for giving me both a place to publish and an audience.

That said, I don't think the blogosphere does nearly as much as it could in terms of paying attention to the right subjects. And hence the low point: waiting for more people to visit my diaries.

My first interview with Paul Jay, founder of Independent World Television/The Real News, inoculated me against some of the disillusionment I would experience later. I had spent half a year chasing Paul down, preparing the interview, conducting it, refining it, passing it by him, and finishing it up. Then, in accordance with their wishes, I waited until they had revised the website and prepared it for new visitors. I also marketed the diary very energetically. I even ended up sending e-mail notices to a list of a hundred people who had written or commented on IWT a year and a half earlier. I had laboriously harvested their addresses from their profiles -- that is, from those profiles that provided addresses at all.

It got some eyes, but not nearly enough, certainly not as many as the blogosphere soap opera taking place that week along the lines of "Is X really a troll?" As a result, there are still many people out there who don't know about IWT/TRN.

So that experience, frustrating though it was, taught me a lot. In the short term, if I want to get a message out, I need to go beyond Daily Kos. (Fortunately, this isn't too hard to do. I've cross-posted on Political Cortex, Booman Tribune, Diatribune, ePluribus Media, and COAnews.org. I've been astonished to see how many more views are reported for the stories I post at COAnews than the ones I post at Daily Kos, even though Daily Kos is the biggest political blog around.) In the long term, I need to help build a better message network. That will be a major focus of Activist Land. In my next post, I'll tell you about my conversations with Ben Melançon of People Who Give a Damn. If all goes well, Ben, the other PWGD-ers, and I can make progress toward the goal of constructing a powerful message network for everyone.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Activism Opportunity: Save KLSD in San Diego

KLSD in San Diego is in danger of losing progressive talk. Learned about this from Robin on the Boston Progressive Talk message board, who posted information about the website, the message board, the upcoming rally on Monday, and the planning meeting today (actually, it's taking place as we speak). That info:

Website (with planning/rally info): http://www.saveklsd.com
Message board: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/saveklsd/

As soon as I got that info, I posted a diary at Daily Kos, which probably took about 20-30 minutes. Aldous at NonStopRadio.com had posted about the threat beforehand, but without the concrete information, so I hadn't acted on it.

I did the following, in this order:

(1) Posted a diary at Daily Kos:
Time: 20-30 minutes.

(2) Posted a diary at Calitics:
Time: 15 minutes (including registering for the site)

(3) Searched for progressive San Diego blogs but couldn't find anything suitable.
Time: 10 minutes

(4) Found the one San Diegan who had posted his location on the Daily Kos Frappr map. Wrote e-mail to him. Got a nice reply. He had been at the planning meeting.
Time: 15 minutes

(5) Posted on various radio message boards: Fresno, Duluth, Cincinnati, central Ohio, NE Ohio, Connecticut, Boston. Time: 20-30 minutes.

(6) Came here and posted as well.
Time: 20 minutes

(7) Added the San Diegan's reply to me as an update to my diary.
Time: 10 minutes

Wow, a comment from Jon Elliott, one of the KLSD talk show hosts! See below, where he asks San Diegans and out-of-towners alike to sign the petition. I did, and so did at least one of the members of the Boston group.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Lifelong Incremental Activist?

On Thursday, I introduced you to Hillary Rettig's book, The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way. Today I'm going to talk about the challenges I face in integrating activism into my life. They differ from the ones she addresses in her book, but her approach is still helpful to me.

It's hard to find a volunteer opportunity that simultaneously:

- involves working with people one likes
- calls on one's strengths
- lets one contribute chunks of time that fit around around one's other commitments
- finds a nice balance between bursts of activity and "downtime"
- makes one feel essential without being the only one keeping things running
- allows one's efforts to be recognized
- supports a purpose that one feels is important
- does not feel like a hopeless cause

Hillary (whom I'm calling by first name because I've met her in person) aims her book at idealistic people who have trouble recognizing that they have the right to demand that these requirements be fulfilled. By contrast, I already am comfortable with demanding those conditions. I just find it frustrating when they're not met.

The problem of incrementalism comes up everywhere. Even in writing a blog entry, one needs a certain minimum amount of time to express the basics, even if one is planning to add more later (either by updating the post or by continuing the discussion in a new post).

Speaking of which... it's time for me to bring the discussion to a pause for the day.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"The Lifelong Activist" in Activist Land

I'd like to introduce you to Hillary Rettig and The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way, her guide to living a sane life as an activist. Her ideas are both provocative and comforting. I've been grappling with them ever since I encountered the book. I plan to explore her ideas in future posts on this blog.

I first heard about The Lifelong Activist through a diary on Daily Kos:

Book Review: Hillary Rettig's "The Lifelong Activist" by SusanG (December 4, 2006)

Susan begins with a short introductory quote from the book:

Activism is the act of influencing a person or group of people with the goal of eliciting a desired behavioral change.

and continues:

If I had but one book to spend hard-earned cash on this year, this one would be it, hands down.

Lifelong Activist is a unique and luscious hybrid, part inspirational tract and part practical textbook on sustaining effective and dedicated activism over the long, long haul.

The author, a business coach involved in progressive causes, brings her approach in training entrepreneurs for success to the realm of political involvement, adapting pragmatic and measurable exercises to the personal realm.

Admitting from the get-go that one of the biggest problems facing progressive activists is burn-out with its accompanying guilt and joylessness, Rettig begins the book by walking the reader through the logic of taking care of yourself, which includes your health, your personal relationships and – yes, it’s true, despite the pushback Rettig admits she gets on this final issue – your financial stability.

Intrigued, I bought the book. Later, I found this Daily Kos review, which expands on the first one:

The Lifelong Activist by Kossack Hillary Rettig by OrangeClouds115 (January 18, 2007)

I wrote my own review on Amazon:

"The Lifelong Activist" is clearly written and a pleasure to read. But reading it is the easy part. Hillary Rettig, the author, is an animal activist who periodically refers to "companion animals" (the non-hierarchical version of "pets," I suppose), and the book reminds me of having a friendly but persistent snout being wedged into my hand to remind me that it's time to get off the couch and out the door.

The goal towards which the book nudges the reader is not necessarily full-throttle activism, but rather a searching examination of oneself followed by a dedication to whichever level of activism makes sense. Definitely a worthy goal. But by no means simple.

One of the ways in which Rettig helps out the reader is by giving some ideas of potential blocks and how they can be overcome. She aims mostly at target readers who are young, idealistic, and suspicious of anything suggestive of the corporate world. They dream of being consummate activists -- throwing themselves with complete abandon into every cause under the sun -- but feel guilty about their desires for a comfortable personal life. Rettig, by contrast, insists on finding balance between activist work and material needs, and spends about a third of the book promoting marketing concepts for activists as a means for convincing audiences. I can imagine such readers being struck by her insight, and channeling their newfound energy into a more productive approach toward engagement with the world.

Readers who are not as hard to persuade might not find the book as much of a catalyst, however. And a catalyst is clearly what is needed to get a disorganized person organized enough to do the exercises that will take one the rest of the way. Rettig does offer help in that regard: compassion, thought-provoking anecdotes, downloadable charts, exhortations to be playful. The book itself, however, is rather earnest. Those who are used to reading activist blogs may find Rettig's book lacking in snark (humor with an edge). I actually found that a selling point, however. While snark is entertaining, it can ultimately be distracting. And Rettig's book is about acknowledging the limited number of waking hours in a week (112, more or less), writing up a schedule, and then getting to work -- in a healthy way, of course.

If Rettig writes a second edition or sequel, in addition to choosing a more colorful cover (the path winding up the grassy hill is a great image, but why must it be in black and white?), I would like to see her address the central question of WHY to structure one's life around activism -- or not. In this regard, readers are mostly on their own. Of course, Rettig can't answer those questions for her readers, but she could spend some more effort marshalling insights and anecdotes, much as she does in her attempt to convince would-be martyrs that self-denial is not a sustainable strategy.

Rettig makes frequent appearances in the Boston area, where she lives and works as a life coach. (In fact, tomorrow I'll be going to hear her speak at a local vegetarian restaurant.) She maintains a blog, where she posts short essays, information about her schedule, and clips of interviews. Check out her site if you'd like to learn more. But do it now. You only have so many hours in a week...

And indeed, my hours for this day have run out. But I will tell you more about the book soon.