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Fifteen Years of The Crisis Papers:

A Personal, Passionate History

By Bernard Weiner

Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers

November 4, 2017

 

The horrific events of September 11, 2001 awakened in me -- or, more properly, re-awakened -- political thoughts and feelings that I had kept bottled up for far too long. The same day of the terrorist attacks, I began opening that tap, just a crack. It didn’t take long before I was nearly bowled over by the flood of ideas and information that came pouring out of my fingers onto the computer keyboard. (The era of the CheneyBush presidency had that effect on a number of us leftie activist types.)

Since I no longer was connected to any publishing entities -- my ties with the San Francisco Chronicle were severed in the early-1990s, and my ‘60s and ‘70s contacts on the national magazines were no longer active -- my writings tended to be seen by very few readers. I emailed my first 9/11 articles to a list of friends and colleagues, which felt good, but I knew that I also wanted my thoughts to have more of an impact on the wider stage. And so I started sending out my essays to a number of progressive websites, among them Common Dreams, Truthout, BuzzFlash, Smirking Chimp, OpEd News, American Politics Journal, Counterpunch, Scoop, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, History News Network, Reader-Supported News, et al.

Soon I became a regular contributor to these and other websites including sites in England, India, New Zealand, Germany, et. al and felt productive and, in some small way, effective as a political commentator, receiving a goodly amount of complimentary words of encouragement (along with the usual rightwing hate mail). But I was always at the mercy of some editor or publisher in terms of acceptance, placement, deadline, headline, editing, etc. It was time to consider a website of my own.

But I was a total naif when it came to technology, especially anything to do with computers. I would need help for sure. I approached two writers on the liberal-left internet whose work especially impressed me -- William Rivers Pitt and Ernest Partridge -- and inquired whether they’d like to effect some sort of internet alliance, maybe even establish our own website.

Partridge was game. Pitt said he was flattered but he was being snapped up by Truthout as a regular contributing editor: a good fit. (To this day, he continues wowing readers, me included, with a good many of his passionate essays and fluid style.)

FIGHTING THE HARD RIGHT IDEOLOGUES

Ernie Partridge and I finally met face-to-face in early 2002, in Monterey, California, and hit it off immediately, as did our wives. The first edition of our new website, The Crisis Papers, was birthed on the eve of the 2002 midterm elections. It seemed clear to both of us that the CheneyBush forces were going to control Congress for at least the next two years and, if Cheney and Bush were re-selected in 2004, would dominate the political scene for another four years. GOP strategist Karl Rove actually was talking about creating a “permanent majority” for the Republicans. This would be a catastrophe for the country -- in foreign/military policy, civil liberties, the environment, science policy, climate change inaction, dumbing down of the culture, etc. -- and that prospect made Ernie and me vow that we would do everything in our power to keep that from happening, or, at the very least, from getting much worse.

So we launched The Crisis Papers 15 years ago, in November of 2002, as the Bush/Cheney Administration was preparing to invade Iraq, a monumental neocon tragedy based on mistaken assumptions, outright lies, imperialist arrogance, widespread ignorance about the peoples and history of Iraq. In short, having learned nothing from America’s catastrophe in Vietnam, and undissuaded by ten-million (!) antiwar protesters in the streets of America and across the globe, America’s elected leaders launched the shock-and-awe invasion.

Our initial goals for The Crisis Papers were pretty ambitious. Not only would we write our weekly columns for CP, and send them on to the larger, more established websites that resonated with our lib-rad politics, but we decided CP would be a kind of portal linking to the best progressive articles we ran across each week. (We wrote short summaries of each linked-to article -- a crazy, time-consuming task, let me tell you -- and, in so doing, created an archive of the best of what was appearing on the liberal websites.) In short, Crisis Papers would be a one-stop-shopping site. We honored this labor-intensive approach for way too long. Too much work, too little feedback.

We had alerted the websites who regularly re-posted our essays that we were starting up a full-fledged progressive site of our own, and a number of them went out of their way to alert their readers about our newly-born presence on the web, especially OpEdNews ,   The Smirking Chimp, and Democratic Underground. So, thanks to that advance publicity and to our continuing publication in other liberal websites where we were identified in our bios as co-editors of a new website called The Crisis Papers, right out of the gate we had thousands of curious visitors to the site. Most of them seemed to like what they saw and stuck with us over the next eight years.

On a normal week, Crisis Papers might attract anywhere from 10-40,000 visitors, 7000 of whom were unique visitors. After a few years, on several weeks (usually preceding national elections), we had more than 400,000 hits.

THE CP/DU PARTNERSHIP

Keeping Crisis Papers at that high level of quality and readership was a never-ending struggle, especially since it was just Ernie and me doing the heavy lifting: writing essays and satires on deadline, maintaining the website, making editorial decisions, writing the article summaries, responding to the voluminous mail that was pouring in, surfing the web constantly for stories and sites to link to, etc. (This meant reading, and summarizing, several hundred articles a week.)

Actually, I got off relatively easy on the praxis part, since I had no website chops or special computer knowledge. Ernie, who has his own website, The Online Gadfly, was our webmeister (with some editorial help from his English professor-wife Elinore) and bore the full brunt of the technical tasks associated with keeping a website updated and looking sharp. For several years, on upload nights, I would have gone to bed at midnight, but Ernie might well still be working until 4 or sometimes 6 in the morning.

Clearly, this pace couldn’t be maintained forever, even with volunteer help we sometimes got from friends and loyal readers. We were two aging leftie professor types, burning out fast.

We finally realized that as a once-a-week site, no matter how solid our content was, our ability to attract and keep visitors was self-limiting. (Our numbers spiked on Tuesdays, our update day, but trailed off as the rest of the week went by.) We needed to spread our wings, so to speak, and somehow break into the daily internet.

We couldn’t do this by taking CP daily -- Ernie and I already were burning out just doing the once-a-week dance -- but perhaps we could forge an alliance with an established liberal daily website. As it turned out, Democratic Underground, a popular daily site, which had been publishing our essays for several years, was open to the idea. Not just open, they were actively seeking more and regular good content, knew us and liked what we were doing. So when they got our querying email, it was an instant marriage. We wanted their hundreds of thousands of daily readers, they wanted two Ph.D. political junkies who knew how to write and relate to their audience.

The arrangement was that DU would post our essays at the same time, on Tuesday mornings, that we published them on Crisis Papers. We promised that we would not send our new pieces to other websites for a full day. For this exclusive privilege, they were happy to provide us our own logo, put our new essays automatically on their home page, and house our pieces in a special Crisis Papers file.

As we had hoped, Ernie and I picked up a whole new demographic of readers -- younger, hipper, more politically involved -- thus raising the Crisis Papers profile, and Crisis Papers’ own numbers, since many of the DU crowd came by to visit our site on a regular basis. It was a win-win for both DU and CP. And our new essays were still being re-posted by many of the other lib-rad websites who were interested in our work. (After seven or eight years, DU shifted its focus and look and the alliance melted away.)

Though we once, briefly, took on a few Google Ads -- basically yielding pennies when we needed dollars -- we survived on our own sweat-equity and occasional donations from our loyal readers. When we first started out, our pleas for donations yielded enough to pay our bills and purchase more toner -- checks for $5-to-50; once we got $15 in coins and small U.S. bills from a poor sailor in Norway -- but after awhile, we gave up the quarterly begging appeals, as they weren’t bringing in much anymore. Which meant that Ernie and I, despite our protestations that we would never do so, financed the website out of our own wallets.

BURNOUT AND KEEPIN' ON KEEPIN' ON

Something had to give. We both wanted to close up the site on several occasions. We thought we had a good shot in 2004, but through Rove-ian chicanery and outright vote theft, Cheney/Bush were back in the White House for four more years, and so we hung in there to carry on the good fight. In 2006, the Republicans were turned into the minority in Congress, and once again we thought about retiring the website and getting back to all the personal projects we had put on hold for so many years. But the Democrats were so timid and confused, leading to the Republicans still possessing enormous agenda-setting power, that we decided to keep on keepin’ on until the 2008 election.

With the victory of Obama, a centrist liberal, in the White House, and CheneyBush pushed away from the levers of power, we eased off a bit but still held Obama’s feet to the fire when his policies called for correctives.

POLITICAL DEPRESSION AND HOW TO FIGHT IT

I didn’t, couldn’t, stop myself from following the news and even cogitating on possible solutions, but I didn’t feel compelled to write anything along these lines for public consumption; besides, there were fine, dedicated, activist writers out there carrying the fight forward. I did write a least a half-dozen essays on the theme of political depression and what one can do about it.

Speaking of which: A good share of this much-reduced publishing schedule was due largely to that political depression both Ernie and I (and so many of our activist compatriots) were undergoing, feeling that the country was well and truly fucked by the forces of mean-spirited reaction and conservative Republican willful ignorance, and there wasn’t much we could do to change the situation.

The installation of Donald Trump as president an ignorant, reckless, dangerous, demagogic authoritarian definitely qualified as an “extraordinary event” requiring our attention. So back we went into the fray, but on a much-reduced publishing schedule.

We two aging warriors have some serious thinking to do about CP’s future. The current political situation is desperate enough to convince us to keep on keeping’ on. On the other hand, serious health and other concerns seem to indicate that it may soon be time we call it quits.

As always during the past 15 years, readers' ideas and suggestions and instincts have been much appreciated. We’re certainly open to your thoughts now.

More news as it develops. Stay tuned.


Copyright 2017 by Bernard Weiner

 


 

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government and international relations, he has taught at universities in California and Washington.  A poet/playwright/photographer (www.bernardweiner.org), he was the San Francisco Chronicle's theater critic for nearly two decades.  He is co-founder and co-editor of The Crisis Papers.  To contact: yonwax2@aol.com.

 


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances