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Thursday, February 02, 2006

an open letter: CC, new media and the Harvard Left

Below is a letter that we're sending out tonight on email lists and to friends. Give it a read. Please let us know what you think about CC, New Meadia or the Harvard Left.


To all!

Last spring, a website called Cambridge Common was founded to add more voices to our campus’s political dialogue. This fall, all four of us took up the project, using the blog to offer thoughts about campus, national and international politics and society, and encouraging our readers to do the same. We’ve had some success and, along with a handful of other emerging blogs at Harvard like Team Zebra, Quenchzine, and Demapples, have started to build an online community of political perspectives and dialogue, offering a great alternative to old-school print media and top-down opinion writing. We’re writing this letter in the hopes that you will join the community, either with Cambridge Common or by starting blogs of your own.

New Media, including blogs, has sparked enthusiasm worldwide. Whereas in the past only the wealthy, the powerful, the connected or institutionally-endorsed had easy access to public discourse, now anyone with a computer and an internet connection has a shot at gaining not only an audience of observers, but a community of contributors. In other words, the internet has created an entirely new public sphere. At Harvard, this creates a particular and exciting set of possibilities: our community is small, we are privileged enough to have technology and time, and we are here to learn, most often from each other. The radically democratic ethos of New Media—the understanding that no one person’s beliefs or arguments or politics should be privileged by volume instead of quality and that everyone should have equal access to expressing themselves—gives us the opportunity to engage each other in a new way.

As we said before, this letter is intended to encourage you to join us, teach us, learn with us and express yourselves. Just because we have started to write on a blog doesn’t make us the best or only qualified people to share our thoughts. We know from classes, friends, student groups and the comments section of Cambridge Common that there are a ton of you who are passionate and articulate about political and social issues but aren’t joining the public dialogue. Some are too shy, too busy or too humble. For the shy and humble among us, we hope you’ll recognize that everyone’s contributions are works in progress that serve the greater community. Bloggers needn’t know all the answers; sometimes it’s just important to bring up good questions. For the over-committed, we hope you can make time. If not, encourage others who you think can and should to consider doing so. We don’t just need pundits; we need activists and organizers, thinkers and questioners, writers and facilitators.

Over the last 40 years the left has been gradually losing power in America. Partially, we think, this is a result of the fact that we are no longer easily driven by a single cause that is simply defined, or even a small handful of causes with obvious connections; as a community we have come increasingly to recognize the importance of a variety of viewpoints in the context of our political perspective. This is difficult because it divides us, but it’s important because it broadens and deepens our understanding of the world and our ability to change it. We will never again have a singular cause or just three or four causes. Our task now is to become each other’s constituents, overcoming our divisions in order to celebrate and advocate a whole host of common causes. This is not an original thought: attempts at building multi-issue campaigns and diverse, united communities have met with varying degrees of success. We simply hope that Cambridge Common can contribute to this ongoing effort, using diverse voices to find common causes.

Right now at Cambridge Common, our goal is to recruit more people who self-define on the political left—liberals, radicals and moderates; Democrats and democrats—to join our team of regular contributors to the blog. We’re looking for people of various perspectives to join our community of writers and thinkers, discussing among ourselves and with readers the issues and ideas that animate us.

If Cambridge Common is not a project for you, we still hope you’ll take advantage of New Media. If it is, we would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with any of us individually or join us at the Cambridge Common Open House: Thursday, February 9, from 8 to 10pm, location TBA.

Thanks for reading and sharing your wisdom,

Andrew Chimaobi Deb Katie


At 10:01 PM, Blogger icarus said...


thanks for the shout-out to Quench (the link to us doesn't seem to work though). we appreciate all the awesome comments from your readers!

check us out at: http://quenchzine.blogspot.com

At 10:54 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

sorry about the broken link, it's fixed now!

At 12:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Understood that a lot of your goal is to help out leftist causes here, but given that you're also interested in political dialogue and alternative perspectives, why don't you mention the RedIvy.org blog? Certainly it deserves a mention if you're going to mention the nonexistant TeamZebra.org

At 1:03 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Team Zebra was mentioned and Red Ivy was not because we were mentioning blogs that had developed an audience and established a voice. Team Zebra is very well known because of the UC races and had over a thousand readers a day for much of their brief stint. RedIvy is very new, the writing is not yet regular, and there is not yet a discussion community there. I hope all of those htings happen, but we were trying to point to success stories, not newbies with lots of promise. Hope that's clear.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy the "40 years of losing power" argument. Democrats still have 50% of the country, until the early 90s they dominated both houses of congress. Rights for women, racial minorities, and gay people have been increasing. Fewer Presidents isn't the same things as less power or success.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are not getting a lot of responses because this is basically a huge manifesto without a clear, concrete call to action.

"If Cambridge Common is not a project for you, we still hope you’ll take advantage of New Media. If it is, we would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with any of us individually or join us at the Cambridge Common Open House"

Um, so I guess people will go to your open house?

Basically, it's unrealistic to expect that by calling for dialogue you are suddenly going to have an explosion of people rising up and saying brilliant things or suddenly networking. Calling for dialogue is kind of vapid, almost as vapid as the bit about the coalition of infinite causes at the end... which btw is a lot of the reason that the Dems keep losing.

Also, I'm not sure that New Media deserves the pedestal you give it.

My $0.02 towards your dialogue...

At 7:37 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Hey anonymouses, thanks for the thoughts.

To the first person, who brings up the successes that the left has had since the 1960s, I would agree in large part. However, the Democratic Party is much farther to the center now than it was 40 years ago. 40 years ago LBJ was proud to declare himself a liberal, as was a majority of the political establishment. Today, few Democrats would loudly do the same. In addition, I think that you're right that there has been a lot of social progress, but I would argue much of it is threatened now as a result of a growing cultural backlash and conservative movement (which are connected, but not the same thing). In addition, I would argue that liberal fiscal policies that emphasize helping the poor, creating real opportunity, having a progressive tax system, have been decreasingly politically popular as conservatives have tried to shrink the size of government and privatize its functions whenever possible. As a result, public commitments to equality are few and far between.

To the second, thanks for responding. I would really love to hear more of what exactly you mean. You say that calling for dialogue is vapid, but you yourself ignore the point of that call and don't explain or engage the thought in full. Why is it vapid? What's wrong with it? Is there already too much dialogue? Is dialogue useless? You may be right, but I have no idea what you really mean by it.

The same is true for your second and third claims. The Dems loose because they are a coalition of infinite causes? I would argue that the GOP wins because IT is. If you think about it, libertarians, christian conservatives, business interests, traditionalists, neo-populist anti-elitists and many other intellectual traditions and political movements have been combined into an effective political party. Robert Dahl, a Yale professor who has written a ton about American Democracy, calls this "polyarchy" or "rule by minorities." In a country where no single political movement gains a full majority, the key to putting together an effective political party is building a coalition of minorities. It's like front-ended parliamentary politics. The Dems are bad at this, because they have a coalition of minorities but it doesn't function as a whole, agree on any priorities, or see the value in each other's efforts. The labor movement and the environmental movements clash, the black community and the gay community clash, etc. etc.

To the final claim, the New Media doesn't deserve the pedestal we give it: why? I don't really know whether or not to agree or disagree because you haven't really explained your claim. I'm open to seeing weaknesses in New Media, and would rather know them than not, so do share.


At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does CC have any thoughts on the violence in response to the Danish cartoons? It would seem that this is an interesting discussion waiting to happen - tolerance of religion on the one hand and freedom of expression on the other.

How do we, as a liberal society, balance that given the circumstance above?

At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golis, the reason no one is commenting on this is because they haven't thought that much about New Media and they don't know that much about the history of the American left. I know you like studying the new left in the sixties, the New Deal coalition and early progressivism, most political people don't. They like playing paintball.

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Josh Rosenthal said...

To all the naysayers -- you have to start somewhere. I think this project's a great one with a lot of potential. Alternative media provides substantial opportunities for political discussion, organization, and debate, across the political spectrum, which people are only beginning to realize. After all, who would have expected a website like MoveOn.com to spawn such a following?

At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you'll still keep up with UC coverage. That was one of the original draws of this blog, after all. And with Team Zebra out of commission, this may be the only alternative to the Crimson for intelligent perspectives on the UC.

At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in every empire there is the problem of succession. the king is looking for his heir.

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

golis, just fling your seed about. some new media whore is bound to be in heat this week. go forth, and sire another useless rss feed.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I guess these comments are intended to mock me. I'm open to criticism, so if you have something to say you're obviously able to hide behind anonymity and say it.

But, hey, apparently I'm a king siring rss feeds...

Just as a point, this blog is no longer run by me, but by all of it's writers. In addition, the letter is from all four of us.

See you Thursday!

At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone willing to do a tutorial on siring rss feeds or spreading one's seed electronicly? That sounds like fun to me!

But in all seriousness, I am always really interested in conversations that end in sexual jests or insults. It's interesting to see what is an insult and what is a complement (or a backing of someone else).

Examples: "Can I have your babies?" vs "Fuck you" or "Suck me."

I know this is off-topic but I just think it's interesting to see what comments are used as positive and negative statements, and what gets used on who.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

From wikipedia:

"In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who posts rude or offensive messages on the Internet, such as on online discussion forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants. "Troll" can also mean the message itself or be a verb meaning to post such messages. "Trolling" is also commonly used to describe the activity."

At 7:02 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Funny that you mention the king/heir thing, because one of the main issues we're working out among the cambridge common team is how to transition from something like a monarchy, where golis had all the administrative responsibilities (partly because he'd been running it the longest and knows how everything works, and partly cuz people like me are inept when it comes to computers), to a democracy, where there's as little hierarchy as possible, no single person has the most power, and responsibilities are shared pretty much equally. Golis continues to catch most of the flack for the project since he founded it and most people immediately associate it with him, but actually Deb, Jersey and I are also deserving of criticism (and/or accolades, and/or indifference, as the case may be).

I think a discussion on prefigurative politics (that's what you call it, right?) is forthcoming.

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from wikipedia:

"Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a form of pathological narcissism that first appeared as a mental health diagnosis in the DSM III-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) in 1980. As distinct from healthy narcissism, which all people possess to some extent, pathological narcissism is a maladaptive, rigid, and persisting condition that can cause significant distress and functional impairment. Narcissistic personality disorder itself is defined by the DSM as being characterized by an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), the need for excessive admiration or adulation, and a distinct lack of empathy, all present in a variety of possible contexts. Its onset usually begins by early adulthood with a failure to outgrow the normal narcissism inherent in adolescence."

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, above commenter. An asshole and not even brave enough to put your name on it. Kudos.

At 11:37 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

Anonymous re: wikipedia,

I take your comment to heart and am thinking about it. I really don't intend to be narcissistic, and if I come off that way I certainly need to check myself and reexamine the project and my own attitude. The above letter is a sincere attempt by all of us to explain that we believe that the point of new media is honest dialogue not self-important pontificating and to convince other people to share their thoughts accordingly. If I pontificate or tend towards narcissism, and obviously opinion writing always has this tendency, I apologize and will watch myself. Please do check me if you think that's what's happening and I appreciate it if that's what you are doing (although more charitable methods would be appreciated if possible).

I hope this project (and I would think the others here at CC agree) is about contributing to bringing out ideas and discussions and attempting a more democratic dialogue. Part of the attitude that enables that to happen is a certain level of humility, willingness to listen and more importantly hear other people, as well as a willingness to be open and heartfelt in your thoughts. I certainly don't always live up to that, but I hope readers and prospective writers (on this blog and others) know that's what I strive for and that's what all of us at CC hope others will strive for with us.

At 9:34 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

Does ANYONE have feedback on what we're trying to do with CC, the left, New Media, or anything else like that?


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