Monday, September 08, 2008

The Fighting Bob Fest: A Progressive Microcosm

Robert_M._La_Follette,_Sr._At the Fighting Bob Fest everyone on the left is welcome to have a moment of catharsis. The Green Party, Jews for Palestinians, the Obama Campaign, 9/11 Truthers, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Pagans, Anarchists, Socialists, and even Ralph Nader were encouraged to breath some fire. These moments helped edify everyone who attended. In the words of Joe Strummer: anger can be power. But the fest hit too close to home for me. It represented the best and the worst today’s left has to offer.

First of all, for those who don’t know about Fighting Bob Fest, its namesake was a Labor Activist who ran for President as a Progressive Party nominee in 1924 picking up 17% of the nation's popular vote. It's a huge festival filled with exotic food venders ranging from Laotian to Jamaican cuisine (I had my first taste of jerk chicken and it was delectable), an assortment of information booths representing everyone I mentioned and some of the greatest public speakers on the circuit. In years past Amy Goodman, Russ Feingold and Cindy Sheehan all made appearances. This year was no different. On the docket was Phil Donahue, Cynthia McKinney, Jim Hightower, Scott Ritter and an adorable 98-year-old activist named Granny “D” who spoke with a speech impediment like Potius Pilate from Life of Brian (“Cwucify Wumsfeld fow Wa’ Cwimes!”)

It is disappointing to report Granny “D” wasn’t in the minority. The median age of the attendants was around 50. A frustrating revelation. Twenty and thirty somethings were few and far between. Baby Boomers aren’t going to be around forever and it seems the younger generations aren’t engaging the way they should.

Another quite conspicuous omission from the festival was that of the local media. No satellite trucks or roving journalists to interview the giant, cartoon heads of Condi, Bush and Cheney in prison jumpsuits. What makes this so odd is that the Fighting Bob Fest typically sees around 10,000 people enter its gates which makes it bigger than either Wisconsin’s Democratic or Republican conventions. So if the area’s FOX affiliate can cover any old backwater Weenie Carnival why not a grassroots event like Fighting Bob?

To the credit of Progressives they are able to organize without media coverage, relying primarily on word-of-mouth. But the speakers couldn’t quite get out of each another’s way. That is to say there was a political tug of war occurring on stage. When Ralph Nader spoke he inveighed against the two party system reminding the audience of how reforms come when a third party applies pressure on the Washington establishment. A few hours later Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore spoke. She delivered an explosive speech urging people to forget everything Nader said and rally behind Barack Obama. And so it went back and forth all day. Some saying third parties were the answer others insisting this election was too critical to support anyone other than Obama.

Personally my view is clear. Voting does have an effect, just a microscopic one. So it’s best to send a message by backing a third party candidate who addresses your concerns. Like Eugene Debbs used to say: “I‘d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don‘t want and get it.”

When Phil Donahue spoke he went off on a tangent about America’s bloated military budget and how it didn’t stop 19 hijackers with box-cutters from attacking us, that statement got a swift “That’s a lie!” from the 9/11 Truthers. Donahue just paused, chuckled to himself and said that’s what this festival is all about. He was right, and that’s what the modern Progressive movement is all about. Warts and all with such a marketplace of ideas beneath a single mantle it is hard to envision how the left’s long term survival isn’t secure.

Phil Donahue at The Fighting Bob Fest 2008

Scott Ritter speaks on Iran, Citizenship, Disarmament and More

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