“People are selfish, but they can also be compassionate and generous, and they care about the country. But not when they feel threatened. That’s why this is such a crucial time. We can go in either direction. But if we don’t make a choice soon, it will be too late to turn things around. I think people are willing to make the right choice. But they need leadership. They’re hungry for leadership.” – Robert F. Kennedy
By all reports, RFK made a broad and profound political journey after his brother’s death. Whatever his political journey, he might have profoundly changed the direction of this country, if he’d lived. How did that happen? How did it become possible for such a coalition: anti-racism, anti-war, anti-poverty, how did it become possible for that coalition to be formed?
The movement, the activism, came first, and the politician followed.
Why did it fail? It failed because after the figurehead was killed, we fractured again, forgetting that it was the people who were the power.
willing to hope: Liberal Street Fighter
We buy into personality cults too easily in this country. Leaders arise, they are chosen by the people, not the other way around. This works for ALL sides of the equation. Reagan was lifted up. It wasn’t some trick. There were many people who believed what he believed, wanted what he wanted, and they lifted him up. That he and his allies cement power by withholding information, but even that is desired by his followers. Remember that: the people first, not the leaders. Bush is BELOVED by people who support them. He seems to make real the world they desire: rigid, controlled, top-down leadership.
It’s time to realize that most of the leadership of BOTH parties are tied intrinsically to the current order. It does NOTHING to yell at those on the right: this is their world, their wish. It helps some to put pressure on the Democrats; perhaps some of them can help fight the ongoing disaster, but many of them won’t. It’s too hard now to see which will, for the most part. We all know the ones who do, and the best thing we can do is to organize and keep the pressure on so that they have a well of political energy to draw on, volunteers to use. However, we need to recognize that politicians FOLLOW. They aren’t leaders by nature, though some could be, provided that there are independent sources of political will, money and energy that they can draw on SEPARATE from the party, separate from the beltway money machines.
Leadership is the ability to find those wellsprings for change and direct them, but the wellspring has to be there first. I think that we are at a point where we’re starting to drill those wells, tap that sweet water of hope, though it’s hard to tell sometimes in these dark times.
The conversation is spreading. More and more Americans are finding their political voice, though again it’s hard to hear them over the din of the media and the political establishment, but it’s there. Women, minorities, workers, liberal intellectuals and writers … those of us who hope for real community, real change … we are starting to realize that no one is coming to save us. It’s past time for us to replicate what the religious and corporate right did years ago. We’re building a network, and the strange things about these networks is that you can’t see them until after they are built.
We can build a political movement for human rights, women’s rights, workers rights. We can change the conversation away from law-and-order, shock-and-awe, but it will take time, maybe a long time. Best now to take that to heart. However, with time, we can turn this slide to the right around.
- We can have universal health care, but only if we agitate for it.
- We can only have peace, but only if we demand it, demand it in a spirit of love.
- We can have a clean environment, but only if we are willing to sacrifice a way of life that is unsustainable.
- We can have living and fair wages, but only if we are willing to look at every other worker as an equal, as necessary and not some expendable cost center.
- We can have a world where women are truly free to make their own destiny, but only if we stop thinking of women as incapable of making informed choices.
- We can educate ourselves, our children and each other, but only if we return to the center of American life a belief in human reason, and the possiblity that learning and debate can help us all to do better, to make a better life for ourselves.
We can do all of these things, but only if we believe we can, if we’re willing to believe in each other. We don’t need leaders to do that: leaders will appear when they are necessary, when someone is brave or crazy enough to focus all of this political energy we have within ourselves, if only we’d have faith in the one true real thing we share: each other.
We need to do that hard work first. It seems that the national party is all but lost to us, though we should do all we can to support those who are there fighting for our ideals. Lets not be limited to that. Work locally, in whatever way you can. Some of us are writers, some of us are activists, some of us have strong and willing hands to get dirty. All of these contributions have their place. Build new parties, new movements, but don’t forget to talk to those in other movements. To steal the one good idea the corporatists have, network. Find common ground, and work with others.
It seems dark now, but it has before. If we remember to build the connections first, perhaps the next time the Hobbsian hoards on the other end of politics kill one of our leaders, there will be more to take their place.
We can do better. We can be a true community, a true We the People, if only we’d have faith in each other.
Many have already started this work. Many denigrate it as impractical, but they say that to dreamers throughout time. At the very least, we will introduce a new voice back into the political conversation.
We can do better. We can make ourselves better. We can live up to our highest hopes.
Keep marching. Keep fighting. Keep writing. Keep the conversation going. The path will become clearer as we continue.