Interrupting the Monologue

I was there . . .

by Hugh D'Andrade, 2004

Originally published in The Political Edge


Campaigning for Matt Gonzalez during the 2003 Mayoral run-off against eventual winner Gavin Newsom.

Photo: Michael Rauner

In November of 2003, I returned from vacation to a San Francisco in the middle of one of the periodic explosions of political extravagance for which it is justifiably famous. The mayoral race had failed to produce a clear winner, and a runoff election was scheduled for early December, matching the well-oiled, well-funded Democratic Party insider Gavin Newsom against the rumpled former public defender and Green Party underdog, Matt Gonzalez.

Having been out of town for a few weeks, I was a little surprised at the level of euphoria and excitement the campaign had stirred up. Everywhere I went, people were almost hysterically pro-Gonzalez, and even in circles that aren’t normally very political, people were talking in an animated, excitable way about the election and what it meant. The political types I hang out with were in a virtual fever of organizing and campaigning. Everyone felt that a window of opportunity had opened momentarily, and the excitement was contagious.

In the Mission district, where I live and work, it was almost impossible to ignore the election—and as a radical with an anarchist background, ignore elections is what I usually do. But the level of popular support for Matt was truly impressive; the hundreds of official “Matt for Mayor” signs were one thing, but the many countless homemade signs, stickers, posters, even graffiti, were evidence that formerly marginalized voices were speaking out. People who are normally not involved in the usual grind of the electoral cycle had jumped in the ring. Matt’s campaign touched a nerve, and in a city still reeling from years of “development,” it was truly a refreshing phenomenon.


Setting aside my usual ambivalence about electoral politics, I decided to get involved. I had time on my hands, being even more underemployed than usual. And I was curious to see if I could learn more about what was behind the Matt Gonzalez phenomenon—what, if anything, made this politician different. The Gonzalez campaign was “hiring” canvassers at the lofty sum of $62 a night, and so, in an act motivated at least as much by financial desperation as by political curiosity, I walked into the chaotic headquarters of Matt’s campaign and offered my services. For the first time in my life, I would involve myself in an official campaign, working to elect an actual politician.

My political curiosity wasn’t just about the Gonzalez campaign, but also about the rest of the city. It was obvious that the mayoral election had manifested the same divide that had been opened over the Iraq war, as ordinary life was disrupted by protests against the impending disaster. While those of us involved in the protests experienced an exhilaration that seemed to engulf the entire city, it was clear to anyone paying attention that our sensation of being a majority was an illusion. Most San Franciscans were not far from their fellow Americans in their support of the war. Getting outside the bohemian enclaves of the city during those months provided a bracing slap of political sobriety.

I could see that the Gonzalez campaign was going down a similar path. While certain circles were buzzing with nearly unanimous support, the rest of the city was clearly removed and somewhat baffled. The noise and the excitement of this political contest defined a high-stakes showdown between the liberal establishment and our newfound power—what we could call, for lack of a better term, “the alternative cultural progressive bloc.”

I wanted to get involved, but I was tired of talking to hip culturatti like myself. How did things look to people in the Sunset? Hunters Point? South San Francisco? Or the neighborhood most bitterly reviled among progressive hipsters, the tragically unhip Marina district, home to our archnemesis, Gavin Newsom? My hope was that walking precincts for the Gonzalez campaign would give me some brief opportunity to get outside the usual circles and converse with people on the other side of my self-imposed exile. As one of those rare people who actually enjoys talking to strangers (especially about politics!) I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to walk up to someone’s door and discuss the burning issues of the day.

Unfortunately, it was much more difficult than I imagined.

In January, as the Bush administration’s imperial plans fell into place, tens of thousands of people marched together in massive displays of antiwar sentiment. Each rally grew in size and strength until February, when millions of people around the planet marched simultaneously in opposition to the looming disaster in Iraq, with apparently no effect on the Bush administration.

On March 20, the day the invasion of Iraq officially began, San Franciscans once again filled the streets, this time not content to offer symbolic resistance. On that day, and for several days after, over 20,000 people, organized into small, close-knit affinity groups, cooperated on a massive scale to shut down the financial heart of the city. The movement against the war had advanced from simple protest to an active assertion of social power.

For those of us involved, the lived experience was powerfully transformative. Everywhere you looked was another small group of committed people, many young or simply new to political action, engaging in actions that in their creativity and imaginativeness far surpassed the ordinary, predictable dynamic of leftist marching and chanting. It was as if imagination itself had finally been so offended by the “inevitability” of war that it unleashed human ingenuity in all its splendor to stop business as usual. There were dozens of groups following a “menu” of choices to occupy and block intersections: bicyclists swirling through the city providing scouting and guidance to blockades; Aging Grannies Against War; Crafty Bitches Knitting Against War; and countless others.

One could have been forgiven for assuming San Francisco had achieved virtual unanimity in opposition. In the neighborhoods where I and most of my extended circles hang out there were no yellow ribbons of war support. The Mission, the Haight, the Downtown neighborhoods were awash in antiwar sentiment—simply walking out in public was to become an instant participant in some act of resistance staged by one of the hundreds of affinity groups. Everyone, it seemed, was against the war. Who were these people that actually thought Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction and planned September 11? Did anyone know them? Where were these mythical pro-war masses?

Our disruptions at the war’s outset were to us an inspiring example of our own ability to cooperate in imaginative, nonviolent resistance. But they struck others as morally abhorrent. I had a few interesting e-mail conversations with fellow San Franciscans offended—maybe “mortally outraged” is a better word—by our actions. One former marine saw our activities as deeply immoral, criminal acts. “What have you ever done for your country,” he asked, “other than disruptive noise in the streets?”

The marine’s question gave me pause. For one thing, as an internationalist, the idea of “doing something for my country” is somewhat foreign to me. And for another, my political activities almost entirely consist of what you could call “disruptive noise”—I’m involved in Critical Mass, played a role in bringing bicyclists into the streets during the war, and routinely plaster the city with political stickers and posters. I like disruptive noise. Like Howard Zinn, I think the problem is not civil disobedience, it’s civil obedience—the blind apathy of a public too lazy to challenge the crimes of the state. It was almost as if the marine and I were speaking different languages—or the same language in which words have different meanings.


Photo: D.S. Black

The news media constantly bombard us with polling information that is difficult to believe, disturbing statistics about what our fellow Americans do and don’t believe. 69% are convinced Saddam staged 9/11; 78% are positive that weapons of mass destruction will be found; 67% believe the United States is a Christian nation. No doubt a similar percentage also believes in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. While it is reasonable to question the accuracy of statistics and the methodology behind them, it is also unwise to ignore the broad truths the polling data express. Let’s face it: radicals, progressives, and independents with some willingness to question authority, all together comprise a small fraction of the population, even in San Francisco. By taking part in these massive displays of unity, were we trying to convince ourselves and the world that we somehow amount to a majority, if only for a day? Were we, on some level, concealing from ourselves the uncomfortable fact that we are, most likely, a marginal minority?

For me, the war simply drove home once again the fact that I lived in a bubble. Not only did I live in one of the most left-wing cities in America, but I spent almost all my time in the most Left neighborhoods of that city. My relatively large circle of friends and acquaintances is almost entirely comprised of somewhat marginal, creative types—artists, students, writers, musicians, poets, activists, city planners, teachers. People who don’t watch much television but who go to lots of independent films, people who read the papers but supplement their mainstream news sources with radical periodicals and well-informed perusal of the Web. Like most Americans, we shop compulsively, but we patronize the local hip shops and stores, almost never setting foot in a mall. And, crucially, we live in dense neighborhoods, where we have dozens of unexpected interactions with friends, neighbors and strangers every day— interactions that introduce us to new underground music, bits of news suppressed or underreported in the papers, local heroes on the Board of Supervisors running underdog campaigns for mayor.

Matt Gonzalez elicited a near-unanimous enthusiasm from our crowd because he was so obviously and conspicuously “one of us,” a member of our extended “urban tribe” of creative, alternative types who gravitated to San Francisco to take part in its famous bohemian subcultures. We looked at him and immediately saw our own reflection: someone who lives with roommates, rides a bike to work, has dusty punk and jazz albums in his record collection, reads poetry, goes to gallery openings, and looks somewhat out of place in a business suit. One of the first things that Matt did on the Board of Supervisors, which set him off from so many other politicians, was open his office to the art community, using it to stage shows of local artists.

With the city once again divided over serious political questions, the Gonzalez campaign was going to send me out into new territory, hopefully leaving my comfort zone to find out what made the city tick.

It was easy enough to sign up with the Gonzalez campaign. Their office, located in a prominent empty building at Mission and 14th, was a hive of buzzing activity. Walking in, I felt immediately at home, surrounded by laid-back hipsters with whom I could just as easily have swapped iTunes collections as share outrage over the latest policy statement from Willie Brown’s heir-apparent. Here and there one or two of my political friends flitted about, looking incredibly harried and busy with important campaign work.

The first intimation that my experiment with canvassing was not going to be as interesting as I had hoped came during the initial training session. We introduced ourselves, talked a bit about Matt, and broke into teams to practice the prewritten “rap,” a short script we were advised to memorize and use. One person would pretend to be the canvasser, and the other would be the person at the door. To my chagrin, I can still repeat it from memory:

“Hi, my name is Hugh and I’m with the Matt Gonzalez Campaign for Mayor. As you know, polls show we have a good chance to get Matt elected. The problem is that Gavin Newsom has raised over 3 million dollars . . . So we’re going to door to door today, asking people who support Matt to chip in. Some of your neighbors have contributed $100 or $200. Is that something you would be able to do today?”
“Uhh . . . I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Oh, that’s fine, I totally understand. Some other folks have been putting in $20 or $40. Is it possible you could do something like that?”
“Oh, no, I really don’t have any money to give away.”
“No problem. Thanks for your time! Can I give you a window sign to put up or some campaign literature?”

This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I signed up. The focus on fund-raising has always kept me away from electoral politics, and here I was, about to really rub my own nose in this dirty business. Did I really want to do this?

I decided to try it out. I could discard the silly speech and use my own communication skills, which would allow me to tailor my message and convey a more authentic voice for the campaign—more important values, as far as I was concerned.

But I was also disappointed by the fact that we weren’t exactly getting into all those districts that had remained a mystery to me during the war. We started out in Bernal Heights, a slightly upscale neighbor to the trendy but low-budget Mission, home to plenty of strollers as well as cars with “Impeach Bush” bumper stickers. Not only is Bernal decidedly liberal, but it is also not the flattest neighborhood, which meant long hikes around windy San Francisco hills.

My trainer was a friendly, enthusiastic guy I’ll call Gary. Judging from the way Gary could rattle off the rap about “some of your neighbors” pitching in $200 without sounding completely phony, I figured he was an old hand at this. I was amazed out how easy he made the whole process look. He could knock on a door and walk away with $50 or $100 in a way that I knew I never could.

That first night, after breaking off on my own, I didn’t bring in any money, and I didn’t have any interesting discussions, at least not with anyone on the other side of the fence. For the most part, I walked alone through quiet streets, marveling at how few people even leave their porch lights on (a green light for canvassers to harass you, obviously). It was a lonely experience, especially when I did actually find someone who would come to the door. For one thing, I found that my attempt at improvising a rap didn’t work particularly well—I could feel people wanting to end the conversation as quickly as possible. It was difficult to feel that I was doing anything other than taking people away from their few moments of cherished quiet time with friends and family—or perhaps they were eager to get back to watching Survivor.

The best moments came when I would somehow stumble on a house that was enthusiastically pro-Matt. The people would come to the door, invite me in, talk excitedly about attending one of the millions of benefit parties for Matt. Straying wildly from the script I was given, I would ask about their opinion of Newsom’s Care Not Cash policy. It was always gratifying to share a moment of quiet anger at corporate liberalism’s attempt to scapegoat the poor.

One interesting household made up for all the bad vibes I’d been experiencing. Two kids answered the door, and enthusiastically asked if I had any Chinese-language Gonzalez for Mayor signs. “We’re learning Cantonese in school!” they said. We talked for a while, and their friendly, bearded Dad told me they went to a school where they learned half the day in Cantonese, half in English. The kids were so smart and friendly and curious about their world that it made me feel somehow hopeful for the future. I think the Dad wrote out a check out for a big $20.

But for the most part my first night had been a bust. I hadn’t broken even (meaning I hadn’t raised enough to pay for my own $62 stipend), and I hadn’t learned anything about how people who are different from me actually think.

As it turned out, my first night in Bernal was actually my best night canvassing for Gonzalez. The subsequent nights spent walking around other neighborhoods were even more alienating. I found myself longing for the comfort of Bernal’s funky, informal suburbia.

One night we were in Laurel Heights, which is an upscale neighborhood somewhere on the edge of the diverse but quiet Richmond district. There aren’t any hip bars or bookstores in Laurel Heights, and no trendy restaurants. Prior to this night, I had not even known this area was an actual “neighborhood.” Certainly I’d never considered strolling here, talking to people. This was exactly the non-comfort zone I was looking for!

The first thing I noticed about Laurel Heights was how silly I felt walking at all in this neighborhood. This is a place designed to be driven through. The streets are wide, and the large houses have large, welcoming garages. There is almost no foot traffic at about 6 or 7 in the evening, and the only sound is the occasional whoosh of another SUV sweeping by.

I also noticed that, unlike so many other neighborhoods during this turbulent time, few residents cared to display their political allegiance with window signs or bumper stickers. It was as if, along with the quieting of urban noise that comes with suburban lawns and driveways, a quieting of political noise took place as well.

Predictably, there wasn’t much space to forge a political connection with people, either. Like quiet Bernal, most houses kept their “Welcome, Canvassers” lights turned off. I had a difficult time finding anyone who would come to the door to talk to me, and when they did, they were very clear that they didn’t have time to listen to my speech. And no, they didn’t want a window sign.

At one point, outside one of the few apartment buildings in Laurel Heights, I came across a couple uncharacteristically using public space: they were awkwardly standing on the sidewalk having a smoke. I had to laugh at their appearance in this context—dressed in black, with wallet chains and nose rings, they could not have looked more out of place anywhere else in San Francisco. They bolstered my flagging spirits by expressing their enthusiasm for Matt’s campaign and sharing their chagrin at having to live in such a dull neighborhood. They were very excited to have their own window signs, but alas, they weren’t able to help me with my main mission of collecting money for the campaign.

Despite the lack of street life here (and thus the difficulty of starting a political conversation) I had my most interesting political conversation during my brief experiment—and oddly it had nothing to do with Matt Gonzalez! In a small side street where suddenly the houses were less posh, I found one house that was occupied by several students. Like the other young folks I met, they were very supportive, and actually cheered me up by commiserating with me on the awful grind of canvassing. “That job sucks, dude! Want some beer, man? Water? Anything? C’mon in!”

One of the housemates here was a young Israeli guy with one of those soothing, lilting accents that makes me wish I learned English as a second language. That day, the papers had carried news of more carnage in the occupied territories, and I asked him where he thought it would all end. He totally surprised me by saying, 1) that he supported Sharon, since he was doing what needed to be done despite the difficulty, and 2) that he thought eventually at some point, the Jews would be forced to leave and the country would cease to exist.

I was amazed. First, it was odd to find that someone who was Left enough to support an outsider like Gonzalez would have anything nice to say about Sharon. But more odd than that was his assertion that Jews might just up and leave. “Where would they go?” I asked. “How could a whole country just disappear like that?”

He shrugged. “Do you know how many people are in Israel? Only 6 million. That is less than live in some cities in the U.S.”

I told him I thought the population of the entire Bay Area is about that.

“Exactly,” he said. “It’s a lot of people, but at the same time, it’s not that many people. They could leave. They could all move to various countries, I don’t know where.”

After wandering around Laurel Heights for a while, getting absolutely no contact from anyone except the odd hip young person who somehow managed to slip into the neighborhood, I decided to call it quits. Right then, one of those oversized family SUVs drove past me, and from the cold of the street the driver looked downright cozy in her large, expensive bubble. As she entered her automatic garage and disappeared into her quiet, lonely house, I considered knocking. After all, this was one person I knew was home. What did an SUV driver think of the election? Of the housing crisis? Of the end of Willie Brown’s long reign? But I knew this was one person who didn’t want to talk to me. Her whole life—from the job she had probably left late to the massive, elevated vehicle to the house on a quiet street in a neighborhood no one has ever heard of—was designed to avoid bumping into people like me! This place was a refuge, a hidden garden away from the noises of the city and the annoying needs and demands of a society in turmoil.

I ran into one of my fellow canvassers, a heavyset smoker I’ll call Joanne. It became apparent that she had stolen into my zone and checked all the houses—judging from her transparent denials, I figured that this must be some sort of breach of canvasser protocol. I certainly didn’t mind, though I found it irritating to be lied to. But I was saddened to realize how much more this “job” meant to her than to me. I looked at her puffing away at her cigarette in this rich neighborhood and realized she was obviously a low-income person, as most of the young, hip Matt supporters I knew were. For a moment I wondered whether there wasn’t an element of class struggle in the campaign after all!

I was cold, tired, and reduced to squabbling over “turf” with a career canvasser. This whole thing wasn’t working out. I put in a couple more nights, collected another check, and called it quits.

Back to the Mission

Each time I finished canvassing and returned to the Mission with a car-load of canvassers at about 10 at night, I couldn’t help but notice how lively even the quiet parts of the Mission are on a weekday night. There are people in the streets, hanging out in bookstores, having a drink with friends. There is a cacophony of sounds and voices of many different types of people, all occupying the exact same space. Every possible surface is plastered with some form of communication, mostly small advertisements for shows, but a lot of do-it-yourself political agitations as well.

All this noise in my neighborhood contrasted with the hush and quiet, the orderliness, of the neighborhoods I had just left—neighborhoods where people don’t generally bump into each other on the street or use signposts to agitate for issues. I wondered how much this fact impacted the kinds of politics you find in each area. The way social life is structured in neighborhoods like the Haight and the Mission makes it possible for ideas to circulate and social movements to develop, outside the controlling interest of the mainstream media. But how far could that go?

In trying to elect this guy mayor of a big city, we had succeeded in creating a huge amount of noise—not just window signs, but nightly parties and events—but only in a few select neighborhoods. It was as if we had been able to raise our voices to fever pitch, but we still couldn’t raise our voices loud enough to be heard over the wall between our comfort zones and the rest of the city.

I had totally failed to do what I set out to do, which was find out what people outside my social scene thought about local politics. And, in the bigger picture, our whole movement, such as it is—whether it’s trying to stop a war, elect Matt Gonzalez, defend the homeless, or get more low-income housing built—is failing as well. We are failing to do much more than talk amongst ourselves.

I’ve always found the old critical cliché “preaching to the converted” extremely annoying, partially because I do so much of it, and partially because I think the “converted” also need to be inspired from time to time so that they don’t slip into apathy and amnesia. But the criticism stings because of the element of truth contained in it.

There is a paradoxical nature to our movements for social change. The very thing that makes them dynamic and exciting to be involved with—the fact that they are rooted in many subcultural niches—also makes them limited and exclusive. As I pointed out earlier, our affinity for Matt was not based so much on agreement with his politics as on a certain shared cultural sensibility. Few of us were even able to identify exactly what it was, beyond his perceived honesty, that made us supporters, or what he would do to improve San Francisco. But if you weren’t in our club, you looked at Matt and thought, “so what?” Maybe you even preferred Newsom’s greasy, slick hair to Matt’s bed-head.

Phenomena like the Gonzalez campaign and the antiwar affinity groups have been relatively successful because they avoided the usual mistake of exclusively communicating through the dead zone of the media. Instead of trying to water down ideas to the point that they might be palatable to some mythical lowest common denominator, they built on existing social networks and spoke with the authenticity of face-to-face dialogue. These movements thrived in the social space opened by alternative lifestyles and the street life of dense urban bohemian neighborhoods. The movement for change, based in a cultural milieu, expresses itself and communicates with cultural signifiers—and is thus somewhat opaque to non-participants.


This type of politics, in which cultural values replace genuine political conversation, comes fraught with peril. I would hate to become known as the guy who compared Matt Gonzalez to Ronald Reagan, but it is a fact that Reagan’s appeal was exactly this. His supporters largely opposed his policies (tax cuts for the rich, covert imperial war, and so on), but were swayed by his sentimental sociability, which spoke to many people’s affection for “old-fashioned values.” He had a cultural appeal that circumvented the conventional politics of the day and united people behind him in a powerful grassroots coalition.

We also can’t forget that the movement for Gonzalez unfolded within the logic of a political campaign. Progressive political campaigns—like the one to elect Gonzalez, or to elect Medea Benjamin, or Ralph Nader, or Eugene Debs for that matter—desperately need to raise money (like the campaigns of their conservative rivals) and raise it fast. Everything is subordinated to this guiding principle. This puts a limit on what they can do, what questions they can ask, how far their program can go.

Beyond that essential problem, there is also confusion about what actually drives social change. Reformers often make the easy assumption that the state is the director of society, and that to change social life, all that is required is grabbing the controls of state power and driving society in the correct direction. As radicals have pointed out for generations now, this is akin to assuming that the world is flat. The real mechanisms of change are much more complex and mysterious than they at first appear. The state’s power is constrained within a network of visible and invisible forces that run the gamut from corporate power to public opinion. Beyond that, real social power is based in human communities, not the state. Transforming life begins with this social power.

The story of bicycle activism in San Francisco over the last few years illustrates this point. Back in the early nineties, the San Francisco Bike Coalition was a tiny group with scant resources, lacking in any political clout. The city bureaucracy was strongly resistant to implementing reforms to protect bicyclists or encourage cycling.

That all began to change when bicyclists started meeting once a month to ride home together in Critical Mass. Organized informally, without overt political demands or central committees, Critical Mass created a public space where bicyclists could experience and feel their own social power, and experiment with changing their city one Friday at a time. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually bicycling became an issue no politician in San Francisco could afford to ignore. Today, more than a decade since the founding of Critical Mass, there are ongoing improvements—still sadly inadequate, but welcome nonetheless—being made to the city’s bicycle infrastructure.

Some people imagine that San Francisco needs a charismatic leader who will bring honesty and vision to city planning. But it will take imaginative, visionary, and eminently simple practices like Critical Mass to turn things around, carried out by ordinary people. Does the endless procession of progressive electoral campaigns help or hinder the process of discovering and using social power? We as individuals and communities have the power to remake the world, but we mostly don’t believe it, and rarely use it.

In the first weeks of the war, a Critical Mass splinter group called Bikes Not Bombs met every day to continue protesting. After the March 20 shutdown of the financial district, the media emphasized a backlash among ordinary people horrified by the inconvenience caused by protestors. While many affinity groups responded by avoiding disruptions, Bikes Not Bombs kept those tactics in circulation. As we knew from years of riding in Critical Mass, it only takes a small group of determined bicyclists to really jam up the downtown area. We didn’t make too many friends among the shoppers and commuters, although there was a fair amount of support. We did distract war supporters—who thought they could merrily sip their latté on their way home to watch the latest upbeat war news on TV—with a loud, discordant note of angry dissent.

During those months, I often rode the 38 Geary out to the Richmond district to visit my sister and her new baby girl. Each time, I couldn’t help noticing the palpable ebbing of my antiwar rage—as if, as the bus hurtled down Geary, away from Downtown and the Mission, the noise of the social struggle faded and dissolved. Out in the avenues, all was order and normalcy, and it was hard to remember why I had been so angry. It was all too easy—and such a relief!—to retreat into a world of private concerns. There was food to be bought, laundry to be done, money to be made . . .


Photo: D.S. Black

If I had turned to my neighbor on the bus to discuss my feelings about the war, I might have had more success than I did as a canvasser for Matt Gonzalez. For the most part, my attempts at dialogue were thwarted at every turn. Canvassing is clearly a poor way to conduct political dialogue. My chances of making even a small dent were limited—as our political movements are also limited—by the fact that most Americans are not engaging in any dialogue at all. Cocooned in air-conditioned offices, navigating the city in giant SUVs, returning to homes sequestered from the noise and hassle of city life, and immersed in a mediated world of dazzling info-tainment, the wider public is busily receiving a prepackaged monologue. Celebrity newscasters, celebrity politicians, and celebrity businessmen speak, while the public listens, watches, absorbs.

Our movements for social change all begin with dialogue. Conversing amongst ourselves, conversing with the power structure, conversing with political opponents. We seek to instigate dialogue and extend the terms of the debate. We depend on unscripted social interaction and genuine, face-to-face political discourse, thriving on the turbulence and unpredictability of urban life. This turbulence and messy diversity contrasts with the calm, orderly, neutral tones of the corporate voice that constantly announces its own inevitability—the voice of “journalists” on cable news, but also the smooth voice that advertises the luxury of chocolate and wristwatches. The voice that states unequivocally that weapons of mass destruction will soon be found, and announces that the next mayor of San Francisco has already been decided, long before a single vote has been cast.

The recent antiwar movement and the Gonzalez campaign show us that diverse movements can link up in large, decentralized networks to raise issues and challenge the system. Recent campaigns, thankfully, have escaped the conventional leftist logic of building large “popular front” organizations or parties. Moreover, the Gonzalez campaign in particular shows that a large slice of the population is willing to break from a self- defeating loyalty to the liberal Democratic establishment.

These two promising movements have remained limited culturally and geographically. Dominant social patterns favor isolation in an environment where the voice of power speaks and acknowledges no other. It is clear that certain sectors of the population have had some success in breaking out of the traps set by the power structure. But to go beyond organizing hipsters, the movements of the future will have to puncture the sealed world of disembodied images, and find a way to interrupt the monologue—to insist on meaningful dialogue with a population that has forgotten how to think and speak for itself.

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published originally in The Political Edge ed. Chris Carlsson (City Lights Foundation: 2004)