Friday, June 23, 2006

Living Democracy:Getting your toes wet

As an intro explaining what I mean by Living Democracy,here's a point or two to ponder before we begin:

1)Back in the day,when America was a mere baby of a country,Our Democracy was a much more participatory thing than it is now.It's sad really,that we have selectively remembered and mythologized our nation's history.(Good lord,down here in the South,people are still actively pissed off about the Civil War and how all that turned out.I mean serious grudges and stuff,it's transgenerational.And yes,it's scary when you encounter it.These folks have missed alot that's happened since then,and they're scared to death of it.)

But in a larger context,our early formative years were quite turbulent,and we've always had sometimes serious disagreements.There have always been groups of people agitating for something or another in America.Some of it's been stupid,some of it's been smart.Sometimes violent,Sometimes peaceful.We've even seen Good vs Evil come down the pike,several times.

In Early America,Europeans brought with them a sense of needed rules and various hierarchies to keep some semblance of order(American Indians,btw,were not at all uncivilized,they had all kinds of laws and social rules and ways of enforcing those.The difference is,they were not tied to possessions,they were tied to the land,their people were birthed from a place,the whole spiritual life of American Indian Nations is based on that).Some stuff has worked,some hasn't,but the idea of a Real Democracy means things are often untidy.We're a rowdy bunch of mongrels,always have been.

Back then,pretty much only white guys got to decide how things were run.As we've progressed,the system allowed more and more freedom of participation by more people.Ideally at least.But the system is still gamed to favor the few over the many.All along in our history there's been a fight against that,and mostly,we managed to keep things in check,before too much got out of hand.We've not always succeeded,but for the most part we've managed to pull back and check ourselves.There used to be town hall meetings and most everyone in the community showed up,those who were excluded paid attention and usually something would happen to respond accordingly if the right thing wasn't being done.People wrote pamphlets,spoke on the streets,many died trying to set things right,to make this country as fair as possible.

We're a work in progress,WE ALWAYS WILL BE.That's the point of the word"living"in Living Democracy.Think of it as a living,breathing entity.What's happened to us over the last 50 or so years has been a deadening of that way of relating to our country.We need National Civics Lessons.

The words "Citizen","civics","citizenship",and "civilization"need an overhaul in the public mindset.Participation in a Living Democracy is a powerful tool to reclaim your investment in your life,take back your power,and do something contructive to repair a nation that's really in trouble.It's the only way.And it's scary.And it's hard.Sometimes it's downright dangerous.And alot of the time it's also really rewarding and FUN.

2)Which brings me to Fear.
I'm convinced that Americans are scared shitless of each other.There are exceptions to this,but for the most part,we've been subtly and not so subtly had it beat into our collective heads that people are no damned good.Better to stay safe,keep to your comfort zone and be incredibly selective(if not down right snooty)about who you associate with and where you go.This always seems to bring with it a self fullfilling prophecy,and the world is often not kind or gentle,which re-affirms those fears.Caution is good,but isolation mixed with fear is not.If fear is contagious,I'd have to argue it's entirely possible that Courage is just as contagious,if not more so.True Courage is always on the side of doing the right thing,you can never go wrong by siding with that.Or at least not horribly wrong.

That means we have to weave webs with one another.Not just on the internets,but doing the hard work of sneakers on the sidewalks.Try as we might to invent all sorts of ways to communicate with each other,you can't replace working shoulder to shoulder with other human beings for forming bonds that matter.And really,at the end of the day,we all want pretty much the same stuff.Being able to provide for oneself and one's family,a decent education for us and our kiddos(if we have them),a safe little homestead somewhere,a way to retire without being a burden to others,you know,the stuff that gives us Dignity on a very basic level.We all gotta eat,have decent medical and preventative health care,and we especially need to feel like we matter,that our life counts for something.Doesn't matter who ya pray to,who ya vote for,or who ya love,we all want that.Sometimes it goes horribly awry,hence you see violent gangs or religious/ideological cults that do seriously damaged things,crime families,the rise of tyrants and other such nasty things.But other times humans get it right,and that's our reason for being here.

But we can't do that if we fear each other.It means taking some risks.But you don't have to dive in head first without paying attention.Get your toes wet first.Start Small if you're afraid.Keep your personal safety in mind of course,but trust yourself,and think before you act.You'll do fine.And if you fail,that's ok.There's more than plenty enough stuff to do to go around a few times.If you fail at one thing,there's at least a dozen more possibilities to try.We need it ALL.From the silliest bit of political street theater,to protests,to running for office,or forming a grassroots group,to working for ethical candidates,or a myriad of other things,we need writers and artists and professionals and amateurs and truck drivers and parents and singles and teachers and students.See,that's the beauty part of the whole thing,all of us are needed in some capacity in a Living Democracy.Alot of it's trial and error,and there will be disagreements,hurt feelings,and conflicts.That's how things get done,as long as we never forget why we're bothering in the first place.

The following essays I will be writing on this topic will look at problems that have had successful solutions with a Living Democracy approach and we'll also look at various things the political novice can do,as well as more ambitious goals.Our Country is in Crisis,and way too many people feel helpless and unconnected,despite us being all "civilized"and stuff.The only way to stop the right wing from being successful is to lessen the power of Fear.We do have the power to shut that down as we find our Courage,both together and within ourselves.