Think Tank Schmink Tank
Since George W. Bush's narrow victory over John Kerry in November of 2004, the more insecure members of the Republican Party have been wringing their hands about what's wrong with the progressive movement. "How can we be more like the Republicans?" ask these lily livered imitation liberals, with their lower lips quivering in uncertainty. "After all, the Republicans won in 2004, and what we want most of all is to win, right?"
These worryworts come up with the oddest ideas to explain Bush's re-election victory. One of their favorite concepts is that the Republican team won because Republicans have lots of "think tanks". Someone in the freaked-out wing of the Democratic Party thought up the idea that Republicans have captured the American imagination because the Republicans have been able to take a lot of corporate donations and use them to fund little groups of conservative enthusiasts, who do nothing but sit in tanks and think up ways to win. In response the neurotic pseudoprogressives have called upon everyone on the left to donate lots of money so that liberals can start foundations, and consortiums, and committees, and institutes.
Oh, Yick! Of all the weird, antilogical ideas to come out the mushy-minded collaborationists in the Democratic Party, this one is the number one stinker. The last thing that liberal America needs is more "think tanks". I mean, first of all, who wants to think in a tank? Not me. The "tank" metaphor for a thinking center is plainly rotten. It embodies all the formality, orthodoxy, and containment that stifles creative thinking and effective action.
Let's be clear about one thing: Liberal America has always had more think tanks than the Republicans, and it's been a great disservice. All across America, little liberal think tanks have been going full tilt for generations. One of their guises is the Peace and Justice Center. A Peace and Justice Center is a place where a bunch of liberals come together to talk to one another, mostly arguing about little differences of opinion like whether Mumia Abu Jamal should be freed or should be given a fair trial. In Peace and Justice Centers across America, people have responded to the war in Iraq and other dangerous policies of the Bush Administration by, well, holding discussion groups and working to revise their mission statements.
It's nothing I have against Peace and Justice Centers in particular - the point is that, on the liberal side, the moral formal organizations become, the less responsive to events they are. I've had this trend confirmed by the results of a project I've undertaken in the last few months to build up a new framework for progressive networking across America. Overwhelmingly, the progressive groups and individuals that have been the least responsive have been those organizations with the more formal titles and structured procedures. Individuals and small, informal groups that focus on quick action instead of theory and process have been those who are quickest and most effective in the effort, adding their efforts. The liberal equivalents of "think tanks" have explained that they're just too busy with committee meetings, if they bother to respond to the call for action at all.
What we liberals need is to be liberal. Let the high-ups in the Democratic Party establish their new progressive "think tanks". When it comes to those of us who are in the rank-and-file, marching in lock step to the commands of the foundations and committees is among the least effective forms of action. Each one of us has a great deal to contribute to the progressive movement - as free and creative individuals. As foot soldiers merely executing the plans of people who do nothing but sit around in tanks and think, we're expendable and cheap.
Dare to be just another troop member in the big culture wars. When you get active, cooperate with others, and participate in networks, but never allow those networks to overcome your individuality. In a struggle to protect freedom and celebrate the worth of humanity, we will achieve victory only when we decide that we want to win on our own terms.