Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jefferson Smith Talks Bus and Bigger With MyDD

The major progressive blog MyDD has been kind to Oregonians of late; wunderkind politico, blogger and amazing interview hound Jonathan Singer is a regular contributor, and Kari Chisholm of BlueO is affiliated with them as well. MyDD is more wonky, less user-diary driven, a little more seriously activist-based than Kos, with an idea a minute popping up about how to influence the political sphere with new media. So to get a major interview feature, as part of their IM-based Hearing Progressive Voices series, is a pretty nice accolade for Jefferson Smith of the Bus Project.

But anybody who's talked or hung out with Jefferson knows it's MyDD that's being graced. The man is the empresario of community spirit. He gets people to do things with and for each other, and somehow stays savvy without being politically jaded and cynical. MyDD's Nancy Scola does a nice job setting Jeff up to tell his story, which is less about him and more about the potential he tries to feed in others. Please do read the entire interview with one of Oregon's notable people; here are some excerpts of his responses. You know they're good because you don't even need the questions...

The voting habits across rural, suburban, and urban lines in Oregon are indeed pretty profound. Portland is one of the most progressive places in the country -- Eugene, Corvallis, and Ashland are smaller but likewise progressive. Much of the rest of the state votes differently than those places.

This is no different than many other states. We recognized that to move the state forward, we needed to come together a bit across geographic lines. Here's a fun fact: over the past 30 years, an American is 4% more likely to live near someone with a different ethnic background. But we are 48% LESS likely to live near some with different political leanings. If we're going to come together around key problems like health care, renewable energy, investment in education, and generally protecting the public treasure, we gonna need to get beyond that ideological clumping.

Part of our basic case is that the country needs more volunteer-driven democracy. The public interest can't win based just on pay-for-play politics. It is in no one's individual self interest to invest $1 million for imperceptibly cleaner air. But it is in the self-interest of numerous organizations (read: companies) to invest $1 million in relaxing environmental restrictions for the addition of $1 million+ in additional profit.

For the public conversation to yield the public interest, we need a healthy dose of benevolent irrationality. That's what we mean when we talk about service-driven democracy.

Engaging volunteers is indeed the key. First of all, the focus shouldn't be the organization -- it should be a new progressive movement. There are many organizations we have worked with who are doing great work and helping advance the movement. That said, there are a few things I can say about engaging volunteers.

First, fun. We end each bus trip with some community-building, fun kinda thing. Sometimes we have done policy conversations. Other times, we've done karaoke, kickball, listened to live music.

Second, great people beget great people. We work hard to engage really talented, smart, fun people -- the kind of people who attract other people.

Third, we work on making the work ABOUT something. We aren't raging against something, we are raging FOR a new progressive movement. Our enemies aren't certain political party operatives. Our enemies are apathy, greed, and selfishness. The idea is that together we are better than we are apart -- and that together we can help bend the arc of history towards justice.

this bit just makes me laugh:
Hey, did you know that you have the exact same name as Jimmy Stewart's character in "Mr. Smith goes to Washington?"

Yeah, although I wasn't aware of it until I was in law school. Until then, people would say "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and I would think they were being stupid -- after all, there are a lot of "Mr. Smiths." And then I saw the movie. Turns out I had been the one being stupid. Now it's one of my favorite movies (although it ends to suddenly for me). There's a great part of the movie, towards the beginning, when a bunch of children are telling their Governor-father that "Jefferson Smith would make the best Senator." "He oughtta be President." "I like Jeff Smith." "Jefferson Smith is the greatest guy there is."

Whenever I'm feeling down on myself, I just play that part and put it on loop.