(Note: Originally written in 2017, this post seems even more relevant today, in 2019).
By Dan Franco, Oakland, California
It seems to be necessary to clear up confusion and doubt. Around the nation today, many are dismayed to see the shabby state or our Republic. Not only that – they believe this situation will not get better. They fear it is only going to get worse, and they are powerless to change it.
They are correct. And that’s the good news.
We’ll get to the bad news in a moment. First though, how could this possibly be good news? Well, simply put, because defeatism is a huge drain on the energy of those who are actually trying to win. It’s good news because those folks will take them selves out of the discussion, and sit on the sidelines while ideas are contested in the arena.
Is this you? Do you feel fatigued, weary? Do you think the Right Wing and their craven business cadres will run this country into a sewer? Are you giving up on pushing back? Good.
I’m not. Outta the way, ya lump! Don’t need ya, kvetching and harrumphing but ultimately not lifting a finger.
As you may have guessed, this note will contain no small amount of ‘tough love’. I aim to ruffle your feathers, but will also offer some perspective and insights that may snap you out of the fugue that likely has been dogging you for months now.
I’ve been around long enough to know that this moment in history isn’t the end of anything; neither is it the beginning. I’m “tanned, rested, and ready” as they used to say in politics before a Cheeto got elected to high office. I’ve got all my tools and weapons prepared, and am motivated for the coming campaign to return America to sanity and fairness. By the end of this letter, I hope you will be too.
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California-based activist Gary Snyder once said, “Don’t feel guilty. If you’re gonna save the world, do it because you love it.” He was right. Activism is hard, and boring. There are endless setbacks and complications, negotiations and surprises. It’s also totally worth it, because often enough you eventually win.
A fundamental problem today is that too many people confuse ‘the world’ with ‘the present situation’. The present situation sucks, and most folk don’t actually think it’s worth trying to save. No really, despite all the hype in the media, the vast majority of people have been tricked, cheated, or plain old beaten down too many times to keep trying. Those who are talking and engaging are a tiny few, they merely seem to be magnified by our 24-hour / 7-day news cycle.
But the World is still very worthy, and our mission needs to be to show people the difference between the two. Then we can present a better example of what can be. We can activate those folks, we can build a nation that finally works for all it’s citizens. You see I was just trolling you in the opening paragraphs, because I know something really important that get’s overlooked all too often.
The people in this land are good people.
They really are. They maybe don’t vote the way you do, don’t embody their faith traditions as you might like them to. Yet they have, for generations, set down roots and built communities and done the tedious but necessary work of creating the towns and cities we call home. Sure, they are often badly misinformed. We can do something about that – and we’ll discuss that in my next letter. What we need to deal with first though is YOU. We need to get you re-vitalized, so you will understand how much power you have.
To do that, we ought to start with some history. I said above that this time we live in isn’t the end of anything, and I meant it. Every generation tends to fall into a trap. I’ve seen it at least three times in my lifetime – the 60’s hippies, the 80’s yuppies, and now again today. It’s the ‘Last Generation’ fallacy, and it’s a dangerous delusion. In the 1970’s all the idealists saw their efforts crash and burn against a tide of indifference and hostility, largely because they’d ‘dropped out’ of society but found out the hard way that they were not free, they had merely moved to a different part of the prison yard.
In the 80’s the Nukes were going to drop on us “any day now”, and so the masses concluded the best thing was to say “I Got Mine” and go out with a bang. Obviously they were wrong, because decades later we are still here. And for a great many Americans, life got steadily better during those 4 decades. How did that happen? Because some folks quietly worked in meetings, on city councils, and at conferences to find solutions where they could.
Now here in 2017 and it seems the only things getting done are protests and demonstrations. Well, those were going on too all throughout those years, and they were as vital then as now. They raised awareness, and then folks set about fixing problems. So from both ends – policy and public awareness, things got done. As they say, ‘good news never makes the front page’ so it’s easy to overlook the thousands of tiny achievements. Instead the ‘big bads’ suck up all the ink – healthcare, a border wall, etc.
Perspective! We cannot let weariness and fatigue at all these scandals and outrages cause us to give up. Because in the face of those, I offer you decades of examples of progress. We cannot defeat ourselves just because the cops are still doing horrible things, or because Wall Street robs Main Street every chance it gets. The problems we face today are solvable; have been already greatly remediated in many cases (compared to decades ago).
Hubris is a concept that comes to us from the Classics, and most folk know about it as the traits of Pride, Vanity, or Arrogance. The current President is a fine example of Hubris demonstrated on a daily basis. BUT – Hubris is not only those traits. Defeatism is also a part of it. So when I hear someone tell me that the problem is too big, or the battle is already lost, I know they too are displaying hubris. And Hubris in all it’s forms is a characteristic each and every one of us should seek to root out and remove from ourselves. It is a mistake for any one of us to presume we have all the facts, that we alone hold “truth”. This is because it often leads one’s thinking to one end of the spectrum or the other, away from the middle where the truth often lies.
Giving in to defeatism is EXACTLY what the opposition wishes for you to do. They have planned and executed a multi-decade strategy, with nearly endless funding, specifically to suppress your voice, to create the illusion that they are right and they are undefeat-able. THEY ARE WRONG.
So, yeah sure, Trumpy is a narcissistic hubristic fool. But so too are far too many on the other side, and that needs to change. Because folks who are unaware of their failings will fall prey to those failings.
So too are those who have said over the last six months that ‘things are not normal’. If only that were true! Things are not ACCEPTABLE, but that is very different. In 240 years we’ve veered back and forth, back and forth, from extreme to extreme in our politics. At every turn there were the same teeth-gnashing and recriminations as we see today. So, sad but true – this is the norm. We got lucky, and for about 30 years it was tamped-down, so that has allowed many to forget that this is the normal pattern. But I need you to focus on the fact that the present situation is not Acceptable, not the suddenness of it. Again, no letting your fears get the better of you.
Having this much naked corruption is wrong; and as we have done before it must be stopped. Having theocrats and sycophants meddling in the affairs of government is wrong; and as we have done before they must be turned out.
We routed the Robber Barons. Twice, technically, if you count both the Great Depression and the Great Panic of the late 1800’s. We enacted strong Civil Rights laws, and seem to be on the cusp of doing so again since it’s become clear that the last round wasn’t sufficient. We cleaned up our air and water. We took a tiny and long overdue step towards fixing our healthcare mess. Nothing about the present regime is new, or goes further than previous ones, let’s get that straight. It seems new and shocking but it’s not. We have so very many resources to draw from, when engaging them in the war of ideas.
So, yeah, sure, if you choose to believe you are powerless to act, then you are correct. “Argue for your limitations, and guess what you get to keep them!” – Richard Bach.
I don’t believe I am powerless, I don’t believe you are powerless. I have witnessed the Occupy protestors go on to organize themselves and quietly get taxes passed for building bike lanes. I have witnessed them get engaged locally in their home cities and cause those places to move steadily leftward and become more progressive. I see that globally we are somewhere in the middle of a vast ‘sea-change’ that began in the 1990’s and is only just now coming into common awareness in the US. I know you, reader. I know that you care deeply, or you would not have read this far. YOU CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS, and the time is coming soon to do so.
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And now for the bad news.
Yeah, sorry, I’m going to talk about the Democratic party now, and how they have every potential to blow it. Not “take us over the cliff”, because as I mentioned above that kind of thinking is a fallacy. But they (at this moment) could screw up so badly that these cretins will solidify their hold on power for generations. That would be a pity, to say the least.
There has been too much ink shed already about the DNC and their heart-rendingly wrong-headed election strategy in 2016. I have to add some more, regrettably, because it’s so important to this discussion. By and large it is far too soon to be taking any lessons from this election cycle. History offers us valuable lessons, but in almost all cases history has been vetted and checked and reconfirmed dozens of times over decades before we safely draw any conclusions.
So I will merely point out that once again Hubris was at play here, and that is such an obvious fact that we don’t need to wait for the academics. The Dem’s by their own admission suffered from a gigantic case of arrogance, and they realized it far too late in the game to alter course. Many in their leadership have not yet accepted this, actually, and *that* is the Bad News of which I speak. Because part of our task is to convince them to climb down from their high horses and start listening to the people on the ground. More than Russian meddling, more than an insurgent Bernie Sanders campaign… more than anything it was their overweening certainty that turned the electorate against them. This too, is not Acceptable. This can never happen again, if they wish to exist as a party. Because their leaders do not seem to realize that this is their last chance. We-the-people have endured their compromises and collusion with Wall Street long enough. We don’t believe in them because their Integrity has become so tarnished.
The Democratic Party is at a crossroads. It must move to the left, far to the left, and it must do it today. Because the people all across this land have already done so. Or, it can be eviscerated in the next election, and my earlier prediction will come true – – it will then break into 2 weaker parties. (The GOP faces a similar crossroads, and similar fate, but I’ve no desire for them to do anything BUT implode so let them go ahead and do so).
All around the world the message is clear – Centrism and Austerity are ideas whose time has passed. They may once have been winning ideas, but no longer. So as you go along be mindful of this fact. The future of this country belongs to those who seek to restore Integrity to the processes of our government. It belongs to those who understand that the next economy will be the one that retires Capitalism and replaces it with a better system.
The past is a useful teacher, and it can teach you many ways to remain enthusiastic about the work to be done in the coming years. Yet it’s also true that the solutions of the old days only go so far. We need not bring them back as creaky scaffolds to build upon. Instead we can invent a more solid foundation by avoiding the mistakes of days gone by. It will not happen quickly, but as you will see in future letters it is indeed already underway.
And YOU can choose to be a vital part of this change – that’s the best news of all.
Push back: where you can, when you can. Get even more engaged locally. Take over your local Democratic party and then stick around for the long haul. Be kind to yourself. “Each one, teach one.” When you can do nothing else, study history, (recent and ancient). Better days lie ahead, for you and yours.
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