America’s Left: Find it on Twitter
posted by Frank Pasquale
Many thanks to Danielle for mentioning Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick’s article “What’s Left? Have progressives abandoned every cause save gay marriage?” They argue:
[S]omehow, somewhere along the line, to be progressive … stopped meaning a commitment to help the poor. The central problems that defined the left from the early history of the Progressive movement through the Great Society are as urgent today as they ever were: Economic fairness; a war on poverty, meaningful education reform, voting rights, workers’ rights, racial justice, women’s rights, equal access to child care and health care. But while none of these social ills has been remedied in modern America (and many are now worse) all that talk about “welfare queens” seems to have scared folks off. Face it: There is not, and never has been, anything sexy about the minimum wage.
You certainly won’t find very egalitarian views expressed at a $10,000-a-plate Democratic Party fundraiser, or among the millionaire anchors of cable networks. But I think Friedman/Lithwick are looking for lefties in all the wrong places. Sure, the mainstream media isn’t going to take the concerns of workers seriously. It’s going to feature a lot of fauxgressives instead. But take a look at Sarah Jaffe and Josh Eidelson’s excellent podcast, Belabored. Both also do serious reporting on recent strikes and other labor actions led by people who, increasingly, have little left to lose. If you’re looking for direct legal interventions, check out the Center for Progressive Reform. They’ve been defending labor and environmental regulation for years.
As for welfare and poverty coverage: both Mother Jones and Alternet are outstanding. Sam Pizzigati of Too Much has doggedly exposed inequality. He’s also chronicled past actions (and present movements) to remedy grotesque disparities. There are many members of Congress who supported the “People’s Budget,” which tries to preserve health care and education funding.
Speaking of education: the dialogue about university life on twitter puts to shame any stuffy salon you’ll find on the New York Times’s “Room for Debate” page. Check out @reclaimuc, @zunguzungu, @tressiemcphd, @jhrees, @gerrycanavan, among many others. I think the single best magazine piece on the crisis in higher education today was written by two prolific tweeters, Aaron Bady and Mike Konczal. These are very exciting thinkers, thinking far more holistically and humanely than nearly anyone you’ll see featured in mainstream media.
Finally, in terms of progressive views of technology, Twitter is a godsend. As I completed an article on the role of algorithms in finance the past semester, I found inspiration in items shared by @dgolumbia, @evgenymorozov, @marginalutility, & @interfluidity. There are also communities I follow on health care and IP. Sick of hearing about financialization as a cure for pharma’s innovation fatigue? Follow @DrRimmer, or go whole hog for @JacobinMag’s feature on socializing pharma.
I don’t want to just give a list of names, but I will say this: no one should lament reformers “missing in action”. Virtual communities dedicated to protecting the interests of the disadvantaged exist, and can find each other now more easily than ever. A progressive press would do better to cover the existing left than to lament the failings of liberals.