“We don’t have a fracking problem. We have a democracy problem.” – Thomas Linzey, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Every week on Occupy Radio, my co-host and I discuss the issues of our times: corporate politics, economic injustice, environmental destruction, the police state, government surveillance, and more. Over the episodes, one thing has become clear: we, the People, aren’t happy with the direction this country is headed.
Congressional approval ratings are locked in the single digits. Government counter-insurgency agencies are already planning to suppress the “next Occupy movement”. Advocacy and action groups are abandoning “petition politics” in frustration. Those striving for change are reaching for more innovative and effective strategies.
As we look out onto a fresh new year, the question begs to be asked . . . if we don’t like what we’ve got, what do we want?
From reform to revolution, the proposals proliferate. Some of our guests, like Wenonah Hauter, the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, can articulate precise reforms to current policies that could make tremendous change. However, even as she dissects the current Farm Bill like a surgeon, Wenonah (like any decent doctor) makes it clear that she doesn’t want to be removing cancerous tumors from our political policies forever. She wants a healthy, vibrant democracy embodied in our populace. Her doctor’s orders for cleaning up our nation’s political lifestyle include grassroots organizing and an active citizenry. We, the People, are the white blood cells in the immune system of checks and balances.
The classic model of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government that we are taught in civics classes fails to acknowledge the full scope of the political power held by the citizens. The official, schoolbook civics relegates us to electing representatives, petitioning like political beggars, and being conscripted to juries to uphold laws that we had little say in making.
The power of the People, however, goes far beyond those limited roles. Without our consent, willing or unwilling, and our continued obedience, the authority of our government collapses. This power (the power to disobey) is our greatest strength. The resultant actions of our disobedience are well-studied in the realms of nonviolent struggle: the refusal to carry out orders, slow downs of bureaucratic processes, boycotts, strikes, blockades that cut off essential flows of supplies and communications, repudiation of the government’s authority and legitimacy . . . the list is quite extensive.
These methods are available to citizens struggling in dictatorships, democracies, and corporate-political regimes, alike. As citizens learn to wisely use the methods of nonviolent struggle, knowledge of effective political and social power is diffused into the populace, making the People the ultimate authority of a nation.
It is no wonder that we aren’t taught this in school.
While the armed insurrection of the first American Revolution replaced a unjust monarch with a small, empowered elite sitting at the helm of a Constitutional Republic (as my right-wing friends are quick to remind me), the potential of an effective, nonviolent struggle at this time points to an opportunity for a much greater democratic society than Americans have ever experienced.
A growing preference for “power with” versus “power over” has brought us to an interesting moment of reflection. Have we outgrown the rationale for representative democracy? The Founding Fathers (and their contemporary fans and supporters) feared the “rule of the mob”. At this point in time, however, it is safe to say that the “rule of the elite” is propelling the mass of the populace into poverty, sickness, homelessness, and environmental collapse.
My fellow Americans, we are an arrogant, belligerent, opinionated, and often ignorant lot . . . but I would rather share power with you than be stripped of all power by an entrenched two-party facade that serves only contending corporate interests. However, as I contemplate the realities of direct democracy (also called participatory or People’s democracy), the concept of sharing political power with my compatriots brings me to a sobering realization.
We have a democracy problem, yes, but, more importantly, we have a people problem.
Fundamentally, corruption, abuse, greed, and destruction in politics lie within the hearts of the people – both the elite who rise to power and the general populace that continues to endorse them. It is not a matter of replacing candidates. It is not even an issue of switching from representative democracy to direct democracy (though the latter would reflect societal shifts much more swiftly).
To resolve our political problems, we must engage in inner, outer, and utter revolution. Our competitive, capitalist, dog-eat-dog mentality is perpetuating enormous suffering around the globe. Our antagonistic, egocentric attitudes devolve discourse into shouting matches. Our willing destruction of the planet, our communities, our nation, and even ourselves is bringing us to the brink of species suicide. Without addressing these serious shortcomings, government by the people, of the people, will be no more beneficial that government controlled by corporate greed. The methods of nonviolent struggle wielded by a depraved and hatred-based society will ultimately be as destructive as state warfare and tyranny.
Instead, we must become people who will endure on Earth . . . a civilization based on compassion, interconnection, caring, collaboration, sustainability, respect, peace, equality, liberty, and justice for all. We must become the People of our ideals. Only when we grow in inner strength and outer compassion will we become capable of resolving the serious issues that our egotism and greed have created. Political power, in the hands of such wisdom, promises a world that human beings have yet to experience . . . a world of a compassionate, self-governing People.
Author/Actress Rivera Sun sings the anthem of our times and rallies us to meet adversity with gusto. In addition to cohosting Occupy Radio, Rivera is also the author of the novel The Dandelion Insurrection, nine plays, a book of poetry, and her debut novel, Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars.
Catch the Occupy Radio podcast with Wenonah Hauter, Thomas Linzey, and many others through the links below. Occupy Radio airs each week on Wed 7pm PST at http://kwva.uoregon.edu/listen-live/. Podcasts come out on Thurs at http://occupythemedia.podomatic.com