Sunday, November 02, 2014

Major Rethink

Thanks to my friend Nicole for posting the article linked below on how to rethink progressive progress at the political level. It is an engrossing read on the eve of elections across the U.S. where excellent people are exhorting their friends and neighbors to vote using language like "if you don't vote, don't complain", or "your only chance to speak up is this Tuesday" which always strike me as the same type of empty warnings as moms and dads threatening to cancel Christmas or turn the car around three miles from Disneyland. Let's be clear: Voting is a privilege we have in this country that should be exercised by all, but people retain the right to agitate no matter what they do or don't do on election day. And why should they only speak up on Tuesday and only to choose someone else to work on these issues? Can some not care and work on these things the rest of the week, month, year too if they so choose?

Here's my own deal: I vote but only in local elections and initiatives and only when there is a measurable difference between the candidates. I stopped voting in statewide and national elections after 2005 actually, when my city went underwater and the politics played with it on both sides sickened me. I decided that my time and interest to work on real change had been long sapped by my extensive work on electoral politics, which had included working on races at the local, state and national level, even paying my own way to work on GOTV in Florida during the 2004 election. That even while I saw the amount of money and influence wielded by corporations on all manner of political candidates, I worked and voted for them because (I thought cleverly) I saw ahead to the chessboard moves that might lead us to a stacked Supreme Court, a president with jingoistic fears and adept administrators behind him or to congresspeople with unyielding corporate connections without any desire for lifting all boats. I feared the "opposition" gaining control of one of the apparatus of government, even as I saw both sides becoming closer in ideology and more importantly, almost identical in those that they allowed access as influencers and advisors.

Well to no surprise to me those things happened anyway and continue to happen because of some of the very ideas that Don Hazen points out in his article, especially because of the money controlling elections and the revolving door of politicians turned lobbyists. Culturally, is it a huge win that a African-American president was elected? Absolutely, and I was moved by the connections that I had after that historic day, especially with people of color who exhibited a type of hope rarely seen in our country, but let's be honest-what we elected was a centrist Democrat with starter policies and no plan for a lasting peace or any how to handle the ecological apocalypse ahead. The next election promises to offer an even more hawkish Democrat with more status quo friends than Obama, but since it's likely a female candidate and former first lady at the helm of one of the two parties for the first time in U.S. history, we're supposed to hold our noses and vote. 

Maybe we should only vote for people we believe in? (I remember Nader suggesting 20 or more years ago that we add a "none of the above" on ballots. Under Nader's proposal, if "none of the above" as a choice on the ballot obtains a majority or plurality of the votes cast in an election, the election's results would be invalidated. The losing candidates would be dismissed. A new election would then be called, possibly within 30 to 45 days of the first election. New candidates would have to be nominated, and those defeated in the first round of balloting could not stand for election again.) 

And maybe we should take some of the regular decision-making back on our own shoulders? Bring organizing back?

Maybe we should recognize that most politicians - even "good ones"- do not forward ideas out of their own good hearts and brave minds, especially at any level past local, but instead savvy politicians of all stripes sense which way the stream is flowing and jump in with a boat to be carried along when it can assist their next election. (See the Grace Lee Boggs quote over to the right of this page.)

We need to remember that culturally, this country has shifted in profound ways: first with the sexual revolution in the 1970s (people often talk about the 1960s but that was the "counterculture" part of it, the 1970s was when our moms and dads adopted these freedoms and truly made it a shift), and then a frightening shift to a "greed is good" glee which allowed trickle down global capitalism to gain a cultural hipness or demonization (depending on where you sat) that it had never had before, and then with the recent explosion of social media and computer technology a shift to a no holds-barred, no gatekeepers discourse that is never-ending and often childish, sometimes hateful but also oddly democratic in cultural terms. The deal is that all of those shifts and more continue to weigh on us and to influence us; the new does not wipe out what came before. Those shifts, once noticed and accepted as real were then adopted by politicians, often resulting in weak political gains that could have been much more robust if they had not been handed off at too early to the bureaucratic behometh of Congress to solve for us.

The younger generation in this country are entirely connected to the world and to each other 24 hours a day while comfortably living amid a jumble of family types and dizzying numbers of popular trends. Yet, the hardening of the economic strata is apparent to them, seen in the increasing number of them that believe that owning a house or even a car is not necessary to their well-being. It is also important to note that for the first time in human history, the majority of people will live in a city and that means that more of us will have to come to terms with having diversity of neighbors within sight and sound as well as the necessity of weighing in on decisions on aging infrastructure and new regional opportunities.

The sharing and conditional ownership (call it an Uber/airbnb/popup world) shift seems to be next, even as politicians and their sidelines scramble to understand who is who and what is actually going on. Trust me, officials will "allow" these new economies to grow, which I believe is a good thing even as I understand that the few that control the bulk of the ideas will just be replaced by others just like them-people chiefly interested in commodifying this sharing impulse or in gaining an unfair advantage by manipulating a weakness in entrepreneurial activity regulation. Since this is as true in this economy as it was in the Gilded Age or in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, social critics and trade unionists remain necessary to agitate to get a balance so that whatever new technology is at hand, it is not only the few that gain.
The reality is neither banning nor allowing unchecked activity is the appropriate answer to getting to the best version. The decision on which of these ideas plays out to be the most useful will be made by users and means therefore they will exist as long as they are useful and without deep penalties that are evident to those users. Most people do not operate in a nihilistic framework, but instead will accept information about the positive and negative impact of their decisions. When we do see a selfish agenda among our neighbors, we should recognize that they are operating from fear where they feel they will be ostensibly left behind. I recently heard the author Marilynne Robinson term the reactionary strain in the country as people using fear to make themselves the hero in their own narrative while pitting everyone as against them to strengthen that narrative. That struck me as accurate and if so, could be breached by showing our neighbors that their narrative will be more resilient with others involved and if no one is left back.
So the hope is that it these technologies and ideas are also used by those with empathy and innovative ideas for reducing inequities, as they have been already by thousands of organizers on climate change, violence against women and authoritative regime overthrow among many other issues.

So, I really appreciate his article and feel that this along with George Packer's "The Broken Contract" and Rebecca Solnit's essays especially The Case For Hope are some of the necessary readings for anyone determined to be an clear-headed active citizen in the US in these days.

Here are two excerpts from Don Hazen's piece that I especially agreed with:
..."I wrote an article, " The 4 Plagues: Getting a Handle on the Coming Apocalypse," about the four especially powerful and pernicious overarching economic and political mechanisms operating in our country that are fundamentally responsible for the situation we are in. They are privatization, financialization, militarization and criminalization, which together are producing a steadily creeping authoritarianism—a new authoritarianism—to fit our times....
.. We need to get more radical, and more self-supporting, both financially and emotionally. I am not advocating for despair or for dropping out. But we absolutely need to work more locally. The old adage that "all politics is local" is still very true. It is clear that very little can be accomplished on the national level of law-making."

Alternet essay

Don't defer post

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