There’s a little New Year’s ritual I do. Before midnight, I write on two pieces of paper: one lists all I wish to leave behind in the old year, the other all that I hope will manifest in the new year. Before the old year ends, I burn the first paper down to ash and discard it. After the clock strikes, I do whatever will anchor my desires most firmly in the new year: sometimes I’ve burned that paper too, releasing the ashes on the wind; other times, I’ve saved it along with other objects embodying my intentions, returning to them during the year to refresh myself.
I have plenty of wishes for myself, chiefly true love and enough money to buy a few months of my own time to finish my new book, which is demanding to be born, and which I know can have real impact.
But like so many people, my wish for our nation Occupies a lot of mental disk space.
I am so grateful to have witnessed the uprising of conscience and refusal to submit to illegitimate demands (whether from public- or private-sector tyrants) that has swept the planet since the Arab Spring commenced, nearly a year ago. And so challenged to find a way that such formidable energies can now be directed into constructing a new reality of justice tempered by love. Even if all that Occupy were to accomplish was to open a space of public discourse about things that had so often been deemed taboo before—the polarization of wealth, the abuse of corporate power, the imprisonment of democracy in a cage of gold—that would be enough.
But still, I want more.
This week, I spoke at length with a friend in publishing, who is contemplating a series of practical books on topics like consensus decision-making, thinking they may be of use to the emergent movement. This is one of the topics I know quite a bit about. My 2004 essay, “Don’t Do It: Organizational Suicide Prevention for Progressives” focuses on key issues that are still relevant, I think. For example:
[O]ften, progressives are so suspicious of structures of constituted authority that they have been willing to forego continuity and growth to inoculate themselves against the charge of power-mongering. These attitudes are not altogether unfamiliar to a 60s-era activist like myself, but I find their persistence dismaying. To be fair, I suppose it could be said that the escalation of such suspicion in the last four decades has been proportionate to growth in the abuse of power and authority in both government and commerce. But bending over backwards to avoid the sins of power, progressives tumble to the ground. Those without a positive image of power wielded in the service of freedom and justice are certain never to have any real-world power with which to be tempted.
How can we embody positive power? What can we rally around? As I wrote in the previous essay of this series, Annals of the Culture of Politics:
I’m convinced that one policy change can be the uniquely powerful lever to unleash the cascade of needed changes: getting private money completely out of the public electoral process, depriving entrenched interests of their primary instrument of public-sector control, the ability to dominate elections and legislative processes with money.
But I am told by a friend who works with progressive political donors and campaigns that this idea is deemed too abstract—too much about process rather than outcomes—to gain traction with a movement grounded in direct action.
I would really like that to be wrong, and so would Michael Moore, whose entire ten-point program for Occupy is well worth consdering. (It was rejected by the group charged with a “vision statement,” evidently on the grounds noted, above, a kneejerk refusal to be influenced, for fear of co-optation).
Moore is not my guru, but he’s hit it on the head lately, and I join him wholeheartedly in the conviction that getting private money out of the electoral process is the linchpin for any meaningful reform of our political system or economy.
Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ted Deutch have created companion amendments to the U.S. Constitution with key steps to help bring this about. (I’d like to see total public financing, which would be even more of a change, but this would help a great deal.)
No matter how corrupt the system, we the people still have constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, and access to a full array of tools to bring about democratic change. My New Year’s wish is for this change—divorcing money from politics—which can make possible a resurgent American democracy that brings the spirt of the streets into the statehouse. I don’t know with certainty that people will succeed in resurrecting true democracy if corporate wealth’s enormous thumb is removed from the scale; but without that change, I am deeply skeptical.
Happy New Year, everyone! May we all have reason to rejoice in the coming year. And just to be sure we start out as we mean to go on, eye candy!
Look in the mirror on this last day of the year. Gaze into your own eyes:
and all my instincts, they return
and the grand facade, so soon will burn
without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside
in your eyes
the light the heat
in your eyes
I am complete
in your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
in your eyes
the resolution of all the fruitless searches
in your eyes
Peter Gabriel’s great song, “In Your Eyes,” a delicious duet with Youssou N’Dour.
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Happy New Year for you, Arlene!
Ripsa & Leo
It is amazing that your friend thinks this is “too abstract.” It is the keystone upon which everything else rests. Well said!