Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seething Discontent Revealed at Syrian Anti-War Vigil

I had the privilege of attending a September 9 vigil in a nearby Pennsylvania village to express opposition to the planned U.S. attack on Syrian military sites.  About 30 grey hairs and millennials joined together with candles at dusk near a Friends meeting house.  After opening the remarks, the organizers had us break into small groups and discuss why we were there.

Several spokespersons from each group shared with the gathering their motivation to give up an evening to join in a candlelight protest.  Groups like this were held in thousands of locations all over the U.S.A., as reported by Move-On and several other cooperating organizations.  I don't know if others had the same experience I witnessed but the outpouring of frustration was remarkable in our group.  In doing political organizing for the past several years I attended many group discussions and focus groups about the state of affairs of America, hearing activists and fellow organizers lament the state of our union.  But I was stunned to hear the outpouring of frustration from a random collection of non-activists.  Some identified themselves as professionals, partners at big three accounting firms and others workers at places like Wal-Mart. It was a cross section of the l% and 99 %ers.  Though the demographics were diverse, the statements made and the reactions of listeners was strikingly uniform.  The best descriptor I can come up with is disillusioned with their political leadership and condition of the country's institutions.

Very quickly after the first speakers expression of concern that the peace movement was being gamed by all our political leaders for the benefit of their own reelection or political legacy, this group of mostly idealistic liberals quickly bought into that assertion and the discussion expanded way beyond  Syria and impending attack.  It addressed the economy and education and political failure.  Clearly, from their comments, few came from backgrounds of political organizers or campaign workers.  They simply did not have a clue as to how to fix broken politics, international relations, public education or the economy which was not meeting the needs of their families.  The leaders they had elected or were stuck with through electoral loss they believed had the responsibility to know how to fix America were failing miserably.

The words flowed spontaneously and the frustration spewed out with amazing force.  One poor desperate soul said prayer was her only answer to deal with America's failure.  My spouse urged me to restrain which she knew my atheist reaction to that would be.  I did.  She was enough pain not to be amplified by some jerk like me.

My professional life has taken me to literally scores of focus groups.  I've run some myself.  I know how difficult it is to encourage a group of strangers to open up about their feelings and views.  This was a spontaneous explosion I've never seen before from a group of strangers who clearly were all on the same page.  And the book they were reading from wasn't just about yet another war to punish some nation unilaterally.  It was about the further deterioration of trust of our governmental leadership and a general feeling of helplessness in securing solutions.

So, how is this erosion of trust in the promise of America to be resolved, as expressed by these good people moved by events to gather in vigil and protest to yet another potential insult on our democracy?

The barriers to resolution are enormous.  And the solutions not implemented quickly.  But we know what the repair list is:
1. Short term, drive the Republican House leadership out of control now, retain and increase      
    the Democratic majority in the Senate and shift to liberal control of the Supreme Court. 
    Reelect a Democrat to the Presidency in 2016,  organize state Democratic Parties to take
    back most of the blue and purple state houses and governorships and reshape the leadership
    of the DNC to address the longer term tasks below.
2. Get money, especially corporate money, out of politics.
3. Mobilize and create grassroots activists from youth and the older upper and middle classes
    in blue and purple states to in turn mobilize.  As voters lower income people we know are
    too time deprived to do much more than get to the voting polls.
4. Reform our redistricting process and configurations of state and federal legislative districts
    to eliminate locked in, guaranteed career Republican and Democratic seats.
5. Reform the officeholder/lobbyist system to eliminate the revolving door and fund citizen
    lobbyists on basic issues of healthcare, education, consumer protection and the environment.
6. Support and drive to actuality the Move to Amend reformist agenda.
7. Overturn Republican voter suppression measures in key blue and purple states and fund
    massive voter registration, education and turnout to activate the huge share of
    non-participating citizens.
8. Restore civics courses in middle and high school curriculum so that all citizens have a basic
    understanding of  local and national government, its function and value and the imperative
    for citizen engagement.

Yes, I know, the above is virtually impossible.  But what is the alternative?  Incremental change hasn't worked. So, I guess the next option is a non-violent, peaceful revolution to transform our society into one that actually functions for the 99 Percent or at least something close to that.