I've touched on this topic before, and I even used a concert video to illustrate my point in that post too, but I want to return to this concept because I think it's really important and doesn't get talked about nearly enough. It goes like this:
In the summer of 2008, I went to a concert on the Santa Monica Pier featuring Arrested Development. It was warm, a nice breeze was blowing, and there were thousands of people out on the pier and down on the beach below. The group had been huge back in 1992 but eventually was drown out in the marketplace by the very gangsta rap they had sought to replace through their message of positive Afrocentric hip hop. Their first album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... remains one of the greatest music recordings of all time and it seems that most everyone in the audience knew all the lyrics to those songs.
Even though Arrested Development hadn't been on top in a while, the lead singer (Speech?) still had it as a performer and began to lead the audience in a call and response. He'd sing out, "Lemme here you say, whoaaaa," and we'd sing back "whoaaaa" and he'd say "yeaaaah" and we'd sing back "yeaaah." Or he'd sing a line from the verse and then point the microphone out to the audience for us to sing the next line. By the time we got to "Everyday People" the band and the crowd were one -- one huge single organism, singing, smiling, together.
The moment Speech started involving the crowd, chills of inspiration went up my spine. It was the middle of the Presidential election, long before Obama wowed the world at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and it was the first time in forever that I had actually seen someone lead anything. It was the first time in years that I had actually felt the collective energy of the group again. The crazy things is, I don't think we even have a vocabulary to describe what this thing is -- the collective sphere in the U.S. having been attacked, hacked, dismantled, thwarted, and quite literally murdered for decades. But here I was on the Santa Monica pier, feeling connected again, feeling like a part of a group, feeling the sensation that there was something here that was more than the sum of its parts.
For another example, check out this video for the song Resistance by Muse (seriously check out the video, it's amazing). The crowd shots are incredible -- this is a group of young people in black clothing who are so often portrayed as disaffected, unmotivated, unconnected to the world. But maybe the real issue is that they just don't give a fuck about what the corporatists want them to pretend to care about -- and THAT's why they appear checked out. But when their energy is gathered and focused -- you could power a city with it. Watching the crowd you get the sense that there is nothing this group, together, could not do. But then when they return out into the night again, the energy fades and scatters.
My point is this: as progressives, the collective is all that we have! Yes our policies are better, yes our governing philosophy is better, yes our policies actually work and improve peoples lives. But we are always going to get massively outspent by corporate forces and that money also buys more sophisticated messaging too -- especially in corporate media. ALL THAT WE HAVE is our ability to be popular, our ability to tap into the truth that always resides outside corporate control, our ability to tap into the collective energy that is more than the sum of our individual parts. All that we have is the ability to awaken and harness that thing that we all experience in working as a group, that sensation that anything is possible together. The collective spirit is the one thing the corporatists will never have because the true collective spirit is based on love -- love for each other, love for life, love for the planet. And love can never be bought or sold, it just is, the eternal river of life that flows around us.
During the campaign, Obama figured out how to harness this collective energy and he used it quite effectively. Since being sworn in, he has completely abandoned collective approaches, and mass politics in favor of Rahm-Emanuel-inspired inside baseball. But progressives never win based on triangulation and cynically playing an inside game. The only way we win is through tapping into the energy of the crowd that is based on the truth of love. And until Obama gets back to that, he won't be effective.
I also touch on this concept in a slightly different way in an earlier post called The River.