Thanks for being part of this community, and thank you for letting me develop my voice and ideas in concert with your voice and your ideas. In 2007, Chris, Mike, and I started OpenLeft based on the idea that there was a new ideologically left-wing yet open set of actors on stage. I still think this is true, and perhaps, there’s some of that going on right now in the uprisings in the Middle East. Though it’s in fashion, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Egypt, except to note that Facebook will totally set everyone free. Thanks, Zuck!
The signs of a world undergoing profound change are everywhere. Wikileaks is a genuine social innovation, a new form of collaborative media that scales what Daniel Ellsberg did. The political blogosphere, and then the financial blogs, have sketched an open counter-elite that can truly challenge the existing financial oligarchs’ intellectual stronghold on our social order. Much of the world is overthrowing the Washington consensus, and our elites are naked to the world in terms of their own incompetence and ignorance.
After OpenLeft, I worked for Congressman Alan Grayson, in what was the best job of my life. He used to joke when he hired me that most Congressmen have staffers, while I had a Congressman. Man did we have a good time, fighting the good fight. And we accomplished a whole lot – the first audit of the Federal Reserve in history is being done right now, in part because of Grayson. And actually, as I think about it right now, working for Grayson was a lot like blogging. Blogging is its own form of writing, at once conversational and collaborative. You aren’t in a room, with the door closed, trying to think up the brilliant phrase that will turn the world on its head. You’re riding the wave. You’re interacting with thousands. You’re getting steamed by commenters, the flame wars and the critics, and your friends gone right and gone wrong. At its best, blogging is a democratic space, a necessary ingredient of what Lawrence Goodwyn pointed out was a predicate to the great social movements in American history.
OpenLeft was such a space, which is why many of us are sad about today. It was a space to which all of us contributed. It’s not that bloggers, commenters, and audience are going away, never to be heard from again. I’m still around, you can find me at @matthewstoller on Twitter, stirring up trouble and ideas. The rest of the gang is going to be on the internets as well. But there’s a mixture that will be missing. I know this because of the people who called me when I worked for Grayson, some of my coworkers and interns, who were part of the OpenLeft world. There was a very specific, I don’t know what to call it, but flavor, a code, perhaps, a way of seeing the world that we all shared, and share. When we got together at Netroots Nation, or in the comments sections, or when I meet a reader, we had and have a bond.
We can create that space again. I suspect it will be created, in much larger forums than we ever imagined. Humans can accomplish profoundly incredible feats when challenged. I keep seeing Egyptians saying that they never dreamed these days would come, when their people would rise up. I cannot right now imagine such a day for Americans, but that does not mean it won’t happen. It means that it will happen in a way that I will not expect. Perhaps some of you will lead such a consciousness raising moment. The great social movements in American history worked that way, with generations passing down memories of dissent, until there was a disruptive break-out social innovation, like the farmer’s cooperatives of the 1880s, the sit-down strikes of the 1930s, or the boycotts and marches of the 1960s. In Poland, Solidarity came from the memories of worker strikes in the 1950s, and I suspect that we will discover the roots of what is happening in Egypt come from something similar. Like Facebook! Zuck is so dreamy, did you see the Social Network? It was awesome! Oscars here we come!
We’re in a darkening period in history, there’s no doubt about that. And I’m not a believer in progress as an inherent fact of life, I’m more of a stuff just happens kind of guy. Before the Civil War, American slaves didn’t believe in progress. And why should they have believed in progress? Many of them died in chains, their lives used purely as profit generators for the “owners” who often whipped and raped them. But they believed in dignity, and righteousness. That attitude comes closer to what I believe, than the frustratingly callous narrative which says that life in America always gets better, and if you don’t see that, then you don’t belong. Suffering and pain is real and inherent to life, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you to feel those emotions. In fact there’s something wrong with you if you don’t feel them. “Winning” or being on top isn’t meaning, meaning is meaning.
During Grayson’s (and my) fight to audit the Federal Reserve, I had a conversation with William Greider, one of my heroes. Greider wrote a book you should all read called The Secrets of the Temple, about the people who really run America. He was appalled at the secret bailout run through the Fed, and worried that this was the final nail in the coffin of any sort of democratic impulse in America. I responded with, the financial oligarchs have certainly taken a bunch of wealth and power, but they have also made their position explicit. We run the world, they said, you don’t. Making such an explicit statement about your own power reveals profound weakness. And we’re seeing a catastrophic loss of legitimacy across all of our cultural institutions as a result, both liberal and illiberal alike. That loss is reasonable, and we should go with it, not hold onto dying political entities that succeed only through deception and raw power. We should innovative into the changes, take advantage of them to create new spaces like that created by Wikileaks, rather than throw good money after bad.
And so, I say a kind of goodbye, and a thank you for the collaborative work we’ve done together. Change is what happens. It’s sad, but I would be worried if we didn’t change after this experiment. America is poorer and weaker than it was when we started this site, as is the Democratic Party. Wealth stratification is higher, and the policies of the Bush administration on endless war and financial market-rigging are now openly embraced by the elites of both parties. But none of that changes that OpenLeft is and was a great community, and an important experience for all of us. It is now our task to spread the values that we shared, that flavor, into much bigger forums. I hope all of you try to do that. Maybe, some of us will succeed, but certainly, all of us will find meaning and righteousness in our lives and in the lives we touch.