Practical and militantly skeptical

I love coming across new words. Just when something seems clichéd, overused, misunderstood, loaded with contradictory meaning – like the words ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ -- someone has a gift of being more precise, more thoughtful or just dead witty in defining a new reality.

Jessica Clark, the managing editor of In These Times, recently surprised me with an excellent new term “practivists,” which essentially means practical or pragmatic activists. What’s more, in her insightful essay Move Over, Boomers, Clark does what great writers are supposed to do -- they describe things that you see around you, but don’t have the time, skills, or talent to define in a way that makes perfect sense of it all.

Clark separates practivists from boomer-activists, and defines them as 30-somethings, who “prefer to emphasize similarities rather than dwell in the 'silos' of various '-isms.' Pragmatic, visionary and entrepreneurial, these "practivists," molded by the social and political trends of the last 15 years, are reshaping progressive politics. ... Like other, less-politicized members of their cohort, practivists are also savvy consumers and media critics. ... Their political and cultural mobility allows them to imagine alliances that confound older activists trained in identity politics or issue-based organizing.”

Clark points our their strengths, “Many are women, as educated, technically skilled and ambitious as their male counterparts, but less interested in inter-organizational competition and high-profile ideological sparring.”

But she also points out their weaknesses, “Taught that identifying with or romanticizing the oppressed is akin to colonizing them, many of these bloggers, culture jammers and radical consultants operate from a place of privilege not rooted in working America.”

To sum it up, contrary to boomers, practivists will help forge necessary alliances and build infrastructure for our fragmented progressive movement. But they are largely white and middle class.

Fortunately, there are groups like the National Hip Hop convention, the Independent League of Voters, Project Underground, Youth Media Council, Justice Now and many, many more that provide a missing link. These young activists go where practivists won’t go. And they keep doing that thankless, most crucial job of building direct relationships with their home backyards. They are organizing and moblizing -- to use Jeff Chang’s term -- a “militantly skeptical” generation that --thanks in huge part to these groups -- voted in record numbers in the last election.

If I ever leave my favorite job of editing and writing, I’ll be knocking on their door for a fundraiser’s position.

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