One of the least endearing aspects of protest movements is the whining and complaining about how to get things done. How to move forward. How to accomplish anything.
In the winter, when I was getting messages from President Obama’s campaign about providing it with money, I got to thinking about how the campaign would use that money. I felt Senator Kerry’s campaign had squandered the money I gave. Fortunately for President Obama’s campaign, the Web site for giving money also provided me with the opportunity to put my two cents in about how I thought the campaign should go. My opinion was asked. I felt a bit better about making a continuing contribution of a size reflecting my budget and my not overly zealous commitment to another four years of President Obama.
I felt better not because I thought they would listen to anything I had to say in particular; I thought the campaign could find the accumulated two cents of their donors combined all together a valuable indicator of what folks expected the campaign to look like. Apparently, a lot of folks think as I do that the President’s re-election depends on him taking an honest, open, and willing approach in contrast to the perceived disingenuous, pandering enunciations of his main opponent. One need only look at Governor Romney’s statements on the Massachusetts healthcare coverage plan in 2008 and his comments on the President’s healthcare coverage plan this week to see the soon to be official GOP standard bearer keeps changing stands.
The President has appeared more candid and direct since January. He has been interested in bold decisions that may do as much harm as good to his prospects, willing to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior for a chief executive looking for another four.
He also, maddeningly, has endorsed legislation that appears targeted at domestic activists. Unfortunately, he has not been as honest, open, and willing in his explanations for his signature on those laws. The result is that he has made it nearly impossible for people of conscience to support him right at the time that he is doing so well at everything else. He is turning people off. He is accepting the things the whining, complaining protesters find most reprehensible about their government.
How does this make a difference?
It may not matter at all. Those protesters have failed to be honest, open, and willing themselves. They have not yet recognized that they have been mostly treading water since October, doing the same things over and over and making no progress on the path to changing our political system in the ways they identified at the start. They have made a difference with actions to prevent foreclosures, working with the homeless, and other projects. They have not moved forward to realize the political reform badly needed in this country.
As one example, a group called ArticleV.org has been working since the beginning of the year practically to get things moving with a constitutional convention that they are able to show should have been called by Congress 80 years ago at least and still can be called based on applications submitted by the states. This group has several ways of trying to push Congress to make that call. The group has undertaken none of those plans, instead dithering over what kind of non-profit organization to set up as, spending weeks adopting by-laws, and playing around at the edges with interviews of people supportive of their project or making unused alliances with other organizations.
Activism does have an opportunity in Philadelphia this coming week. Occupy Philadelphia has organized Occupy National Gathering, June 30 to July 4. The aims are to work out a vision of moving forward through several days of workshops, speakers, community building, and events, culminating in a visioning process on July 4. This is all necessary for a movement that has found it difficult to coordinate its efforts. However, it isn’t quite enough.
Occupy National Gathering presents an opportunity for as many people in the Occupy movement as possible to be together at once. It provides an opportunity for activists from other movements and organizations that are not directly related to Occupy to use the event to participate and forge partnerships. This is our best chance to declare that we are all on the same page with regard for the need for change in our political system. We can work out what that change looks like as we move along, but demonstrating that the American people truly want that change, meaning they are willing to work toward it, is within our grasp and desperately needed. It requires that all activists of every stripe work together.
Be honest, open, and willing.
We must honestly accept the fact that we have no power to change our political system unless and until the American people clearly express their agreement that change is needed. Not through any polls or what the pundits say, but from an act that signals tens of millions of Americans each wants change.
We must be open to the possibility that obtaining this agreement is in front of us and merely requires activists seeking change to speak with their family and friends about the change that is needed and getting them to signal their agreement if they do agree. That agreement must focus on one document or statement that establishes this nation must reform the way political decisions are made so they reflect the will of the consenting governed and not the will of politicians, corporations or the wealthy few.
And we must be willing to take that document or statement to our family and friends and discuss it with them so they understand the change needed in this country, not in the particulars, but in the broad, visionary sense of working together to remedy the ills that afflict our state. We must be willing to talk with those around us without any sense of frustration, anger, or negativity regarding the current situation or past wrongs. We must be willing to engage the people we know in the civil discourse that enlightens, encourages, and endows them with a sense they are a part of the solution.
That is how we bring change to our political system.