March 19, 2009. Gchat:
Stoller: Does Forrest Brown work for you?
Me: ??? who?
Stoller: Someone at PCCC.
New GChat window with my Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Stephanie Taylor:
Me: Do we have someone named Forrest working with us?
Stephanie: Yes! He just volunteered to do a research project about how various congressional campaigns spent their money in 2008. He's researching Grayson first.
I relayed the news to Stoller, who had recently left OpenLeft to work for Rep. Alan Grayson — letting him know that this guy poking around asking probing questions was legit.
Subequent Gchat conversation with Forrest:
Me: how'd you join the PCCC list?
Forrest: i think i read a post by Bowers about it
Me: he wrote some nice stuff
Forrest: i read almost everything on openleft
Forrest (who makes a cameo at the front of this recent PCCC video) was a 17 year old prodigy at the time. Today, he's a 19 year old prodigy, deferring Harvard for a year and doing all sorts of talented, mind-blowing things as our Senior Fellow in DC.
This line of conversation has always stayed in my memory — and has special significance on this bittersweet day of transition for OpenLeft.
It's a reminder of who you — the person reading this blog post right now — are. You are not just a “reader” or “commenter” or some random person browsing the Internet. The OpenLeft community is comprised of some REALLY smart and talented people — people who have gone through an experience together. We've struggled together, had victories together, mourned losses together, and had resurgences together.
And despite this site shutting down (for now), our journey of fighting together to beat back the ridiculous conventional wisdom that flows from DC, give voice to a more accurate narrative of the world, fight hard for a progressive agenda that helps regular people, and build long-term progressive power will go on…together.
Some enterprising folks have set up an OpenLeft Survivor's blog. Forrest just set up an OpenLeft Survivor's Facebook page. The PCCC — which thousands of people have joined through OpenLeft — will keep marching forward (and you are formally invited to join if you haven't already). Chris, myself, and others will keep blogging at Daily Kos and other places. Digby, John Amato, and others will keep the narrative flowing at their awesome blogs. And Matt will keep the ideas flowing at his own new perch consulting for MSNBC and doing some other fun progressive stuff in the near future.
Speaking of which, back to the sappiness…
Matt Stoller is brilliant. I'll never forget the first time I met him in person.
I was in my home state of New Jersey at a Jon Corzine campaign rally. Matt was on leave from MyDD to work on Corzine's Internet team. A friend of mine said, “That's Matt Stoller.”
I didn't really read the blogs yet, but had heard Matt's name, so I said hi. We started talking and it was instantly interesting. We left the indoor rally and went outside where it was more quiet.
Something Matt said reminded me of something brilliant that I had just heard on a netroots'y conference call that I was on because I worked for MoveOn. I told Matt about this call and went on and on about this great point that somebody made. I explained it the best that I could, butchering the details along the way. Matt nodded along. Eventually, I stopped talking.
Matt looked at me and said, “That was me.”
If you've ever met Matt, you know he's a tall guy. I think he's like 7 foot 2 — I once saw him hit his head on a basketball rim. But at that moment, I felt about 3 feet tall. Looking back, it was kind of awesome.
That was the first of many times that I experienced Matt's towering mind. Matt is like a crystal ball. Countless times he's said things or written things at MyDD and OpenLeft that just seemed so…not my where mind was. Alarmist-sounding stuff about completely random-sounding issues. Stuff that upset the ebb and flow of my day-to-day thinking. My instinct at those moments was to put Matt's thoughts in my “duly noted” mental folder and move on with my life. But then, sure enough, weeks or months later, whatever Matt talked about became hauntingly relevant…and hauntingly true.
(Those of you who asked “Where's Matt Stoller now?” in the comments today know all this already.)
Matt predicted parts of the Net Neutrality fight well before they ever happened. He talked about how congressional “bipartisanship” was a bad thing long before it became a piece of the progressive narrative. (I've been trying forever to find a piece Matt wrote, I believe titled “Bipartisanship,” that showed all the bad policies that the two parties conspired to pass. Matt can't find it either. If you happen to have the link, please send it to me! adam [at] BoldProgressives.org or Tweet it @AdamGreenOnline.)
Matt told me after the 2008 election — as I was getting into a taxi and trying to get off my cell phone — that he was thinking about leaving OpenLeft to work for “a guy named Alan Grayson.” “Who?”
His July 2008 post, during the heat of Obama lovefest'ism — entitled “Why It's Important to Note that Obama is NOT Liberal or Progressive” — was particularly prescient:
Over the past few days, I've been pushing out an idea through the media that Obama is not a liberal or progressive…
As a liberal, I believe that if Obama comes in and implements a bunch of muddled centrist policies, proposing tax cuts to deal with poverty and an expanded military and entitlement reform along with a weird convoluted health care reform, he will fail because basic liberal ideas like accountability, oversight, and integrity in leadership will not be embedded into our institutions. The rich have left us with a massive bill in the form of an intractable trade deficit, national debt, and oil addiction, and someone's going to pay it. If it's the public instead of the people who ran up the country's credit cards (take a look at the nation's billionaires), it's going to make a lot of people much angrier than they are right now.
This anger will go somewhere; right now anger is going against Bush, but he's out of the picture come 2009, though we can kick his corpse for a few years or so if Democrats act smartly (which they won't). If Obama's centrist policies fail, and he is considered a big government liberal or progressive, the public will reject liberalism and progressivism, as it has for the last forty years. But this will not be a result of disliking progressive ideas, but as a result of believing that bad centrist ideas are progressive ideas.
If you played a drinking game, and took a shot for every accurate prediction Matt made in that one post, you'd be one drunk bastard right now. If Matt comes out publicly with a SuperBowl pick, I suggest you bet big.
(What's scary is to hear Matt's views of the future of Wall Street irresponsibility and our economy. Not to sound too much like Glenn Beck but…buy gold!)
There was one other prescient thing Matt said to me that stands out right now…”Do you know Chris Bowers? He's a really smart guy. You guys should meet.”
Later via cell…”Remember I told you about Chris Bowers? He's here right now. We were just talking about this guy Ned Lamont who may decide to run in a primary against Lieberman. Here, you should talk to Chris.”
[Imagine two at-times awkward people unexpectedly talking to each other. Insert that here…]
I quickly became a big Chris fan.
We collaborated on several blog-meets-email-activism campaigns since then, but I think a favorite of both of ours was “Use it Or Lose It” — where we mobilized MyDD and MoveOn volunteers around Chris's idea of pushing Democratic members of Congress who were unopposed and sitting on giant warchests into giving up some of that money to help Democrats retake the House in 2006. It worked. To the tune of a couple million dollars, not bad!
The long list of “Open Left Campaigns” that will live in perpetuity on the right side of this site, which Adam Bink referenced in his post today, follow in that tradition of really innovative activism…helping to lift blogging from commenting about the news to making the news. (That said, Chris's commenting about the news — and his number-crunching analysis of the campaign and policy landscape — remain legendary.)
As you know, part of the reason for this site shutting down (ahem, for now) is that the success of OpenLeft has catapulted several of its original founders to bigger platforms.
Chris's experimentation with turning a blog community into a community of online activists at OpenLeft has earned the (very tough to achieve) trust of Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos, who recently hired Chris to be the first online organizing director for the Kos community. Matt Stoller is consulting some major media players, helping to mold the news that millions of people get each week. Adam Bink is going to help lead the fantastic Courage Campaign, after blogging at OpenLeft and serving under the mentorship of Mike Lux for years. Mike is continually moving forward in doing what he always does — serving as one of the sage wisemen of the progressive movement, bringing together the true believers among the old guard that he met during his Clinton days and the new guard that he became part of with his blogging days, and continuing to mentor young talent.
Having shared some thoughts on what this OpenLeft community and the OpenLeft founders mean to me on this day of transition, there are two final thoughts that I'll move from the inner sanctum of my mind to the front page of OpenLeft, if you'll indulge me.
One, which I'll keep super-quick, is my favorite posts among those I've ever posted on OpenLeft. I don't need to go on and on explaining them, I'll just list them:
Avenging Amanda Terkel — Turning the Tables on FOX
Is the Chamber of Commerce Using Bailout Money to Attack Workers?
Chamber of Commerce Admits They Accept Bailout Money To Fund Anti-Worker Ads
Ceci Connolly — Ridiculous Reporter
Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence: Journalism Without Facts
Who supports Third Way? Not the public.
How would defunding Third Way work?
Third Way's Jon Cowan Needs To Account For Anne Kim and David Kendall
Profiles in Bad Online Organizing: Part 1 (DSCC) — I'll comment on this one, and some of you may have heard me speak publicly about this in the past. Applying Back To The Future thinking, I think it's safe to say that if OpenLeft didn't exist, and this post never happened, one of the formative campaigns in PCCC's growth (“Dollar a Day”) never would have happened. And the course of events which led to PCCC later growing to 700,000 members, raising $3 million online last cycle to support progressive candidates and issues, having a wonderful partner in Democracy for America on so many future projects, and being able to hire a great team of 14 folks…never would have happened.
(Apologies to Jill Lawrence and Cici Connolly for unintentionally triggering their boss's Google Alerts — and to Jon Cowan and his colleague Jim Kessler for unintentionally triggering their Third Way board members' and donors' Google Alerts.)
My final memory, about one of my fellow bloggers here at OpenLeft, is one that I've never really said publicly before but now seems like a good time.
I'll never forget my official transition point from “Democratic press hack” to “progressive movement person.” It was in December 2004, during my months of unemployment after working as the DNC's press secretary in Oregon for John Kerry.
There was a wonderfully vibrant debate about the future of the Democratic Party happening back and forth in progressive media publications like The American Prospect and The Nation among a bunch of really smart people who I didn't know.
I may have heard the names Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein for the first time during this period. But one piece had an especially profound impact on me. It was called “The Democrats' Da Vinci Code” and was published in The American Prospect by a guy named David Sirota. It went a little something like this…
As the Democratic Party goes through its quadrennial self-flagellation process, the same tired old consultants and insiders are once again complaining that Democratic elected officials have no national agenda and no message.
Yet encrypted within the 2004 election map is a clear national economic platform to build a lasting majority…Where, for instance, does a Democrat get off using a progressive message to become governor of Montana? How does an economic populist Democrat keep winning a congressional seat in what is arguably America's most Republican district? Why do culturally conservative rural Wisconsin voters keep sending a Vietnam-era anti-war Democrat back to Congress? What does a self-described socialist do to win support from conservative working-class voters in northern New England?
The answers to these and other questions are the Democrats' very own Da Vinci Code — a road map to political divinity. It is the path Karl Rove fears. He knows his GOP is vulnerable to Democrats who finally follow leaders who have translated a populist economic agenda into powerful cultural and values messages. It also threatens groups like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has pushed the Democratic Party to give up on its working-class roots and embrace big business' agenda. These New Democrats, backed by huge corporate contributions, say that the party must reduce corporate regulation and embrace a free-trade policy that is wiping out local economies throughout the heartland. They have the nerve to call this agenda “centrist” even though poll after poll shows it is far out of the mainstream. Yet these centrists get slaughtered at the ballot box, and their counterparts — the progressive economic populists — are racking up wins and relegating the DLC argument to the scrap heap.
[A lot more here.]
I still get inspired reading that. It's motivated my work to this day.
Along with my campaign hackery in the “red” state of South Dakota in 2002 (which, in retrospect, confirms everything David wrote about) and Stephanie Taylor's work organizing workers for the SEIU in some deep “red” states, the principles in David's think piece have influenced much of the economic populism work that PCCC focuses on each day.
(And the polling still backs up David's message — from the public option to tax cuts to Social Security, a progressive economic-populist vision is where the “center” of the country is. Corporatists who the DC crowd calls “centrist” are actually way out on the fringe. Hello, Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe…)
David wasn't originally a front page blogger here at OpenLeft, and neither was I — but we were both part of the OpenLeft community since the beginning. And for me to eventually blog in the same place as David was quite the honor.
Which brings me back to my original point about Forrest Brown. OpenLeft brought people together. Folks who may not have found each other, thought together, or fought together were part of this vibrant and thoughtful OpenLeft community.
So, this is a bittersweet moment. Along with great progress for folks like Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers and Adam Bink comes the end (for now) of daily OpenLeft conversation.
But the community goes on.