Creating A Progressive "Commons" In PhillyDuring the 2004 campaign, I became a full-fledged political activist, in no small part do to an organization called Music for America (MfA). The idea behind MfA was pretty simple- the best way to engage young people in politics is through culture. Culture is political, and our job as volunteers for MfA was to help other young people make this connection at the concerts we worked at.
I may be biased in my assessment, but what I saw working MfA shows was incredible. For the first time in my life I saw young people who probably wouldn't otherwise think or care about politics taking the time to ponder the political direction of the country. I saw kids not only accepting that politics matters, but embracing and getting excited by it. I saw the beginning of something which could have a huge impact on our nation- the cultural connecters and leaders converting their social spaces to political spaces, which I still feel can be our answer to the Right's politicization of their churches.
However, while working at shows all over Philly, I realized that there was a problem with the model of political organizing that MfA was basing itself upon. The culture which we were working through and with is under attack. DIY concert producers, who put on the small-medium sized shows that MfA worked at, find themselves in direct competition, and often open conflict, with the major entertainment companies such as Clear Channel and TicketMaster. These small companies, such as Philadelphia's beloved R5 Productions, find themselves in a precarious situation- not only do they have to compete with huge corporations, but they are constantly in search of places to put on their shows. And so, at just the moment when progressives are starting to pull together culture and politics, the culture itself is increasingly struggling to survive. (For example, in Philadelphia the last major independent venue, the Trocadero, recently signed a booking agreement with the large corporate House of Blues.)
Recently, I began working with a group called Cosmopolity, who are best known for brining us Drinking Liberally. One thing that we've been talking a lot about within this community is that in order to further the progressive cultural movement we need to create permanent physical homes, i.e. "Commons" or "Club Houses," where culture and politics can interact and thrive. In my first blog post on the Cosmopolity site I have proposed using Philadelphia as a test city for building these commons. Philly seems like the perfect place to start building commons- we have some great local show producers (and Sean Agnew happens to be a very politically minded- and a generally awesome- person), an emerging activist base, and connections to the national blogosphere. All that seems to be missing is the space.
My question is- do you think that working to create a space where art, music, and politics can interact and thrive is essential to the continued growth of progressive politics? If so, don't you think that Philly would be a perfect place to build a "Commons?"