22 03 2008

I don’t know who Sam Smith is, but he sure nails it…

One of the reasons that change is so hard to come by these days is that the things that make it happen have increasingly been forgotten, replaced, dismissed or ignored. .Just as urban migrations have caused tens of millions to lose simple but critical skills of rural survival, so the tens of millions of Americans who have migrated into the purported sophistication of post-modern politics have left behind many of the habits, technique and skills that created democracy in the first place and then sustained it.

Who needs community when you have television commercials and the Internet? Who needs serious conversation when you have tracking polls? Who needs the grass roots when you can afford to lay Astroturf anywhere you want? Who needs local organizing when you have huge national groups that can raise more money in a few days than a nation of precincts once could have in a whole year? Who needs the skills of a community organizer when you can go to the Harvard Business School?

Except for one problem: the corporate based system that has seized control of our politics lacks the interest, imagination, integrity, capacity and soul to produce positive change. Whatever the sign on the side of the political machine says, whatever the TV commercial claims, how ever many times the candidates chant the word “change,” we have, in fact, systematically been destroying the means by which we once achieved what it is we say we want.

This fact is hidden because of the language used by our leaders, the media and ourselves – and our acceptance of it. We happily applaud a politician promising to bring change without demanding to know what the hell the candidate is talking about. We accept hope as an objective though devoid of detail, dimensions or even simple description. We have become a nation mainlining comforting nouns and adjectives as a substitute for the social, economic and physical improvements that used to be the goals of a good politics.


I put it this way once: “We have lost much of what was gained in the 1960s and 1970s because we traded in our passion, our energy, our magic and our music for the rational, technocratic and media ways of our leaders. We will not overcome the current crisis solely with political logic. We need living rooms like those in which women once discovered they were not alone. The freedom schools of SNCC. The politics of the folk guitar. The plays of Vaclav Havel. The pain of James Baldwin. The laughter of Abbie Hoffman. The strategy of Gandhi and King. Unexpected gatherings and unpredicted coalitions. People coming together because they disagree on every subject save one: the need to preserve the human. Savage satire and gentle poetry. Boisterous revival and silent meditation. Grand assemblies and simple suppers.”

We need to do this because, as Lau-tzu said:

Of the best rulers, the people only know that they exist;
The next best they love and praise;
The next they fear;
And the next they revile . . .

But of the best when their task is accomplished, their work done,
The people all remark, “We have done it ourselves.”




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