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Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is to be done? (continued)

Political change occurs when people come together on their own initiative to create a space for speech and action.  That is the true nature of power.  It is the event where people appear and are recognized.

I experience power.  I experienced it in the black families who formed the Contract Buyers League, the Hawaiians who developed their own enterprises, the Fresno urban dwellers who pushed their City to grow in a new, more sustainable way. I experience it in the housing, community development, and tenant organizations with which I am now working.  I experience in the union of DC and Maryland churches, mosques, and synagogues that are building an organization where neighbors can discuss and act for what is best in their neighborhoods.  I even experience it in my condo association, my neighborhood and its associations, my church congregation, my daughter's parent-teachers association.

I know that true power (the ability to act in concert) will not come from private individuals or corporations simply trying to get wealthy, nor will it come from government agencies.*  Private organizations and government agencies can help, but change will only come when people set new principles for action and then confront their institutions and hold them accountable.  When they are taken over by economic corporations or by political parties, as is happening with the Arab Spring and already happened with the Obama Change and the Tea Party, they lose their independent initiative and power.

Jefferson called on every generation, not to uphold the original revolution and its constitution, but to re-do, re-enact the foundation.  Arendt argued that the "pursuit of happiness" articulated in Jefferson's Declaration did not mean private, individual property and riches, but "public happiness."  Spaces of freedom, like the town halls or community assemblies, where people can recognize each another as equals and shape common lives are expressions of public happiness.

This of course is the communitarian republican tradition when people stand together for political freedom over economic liberalism.

So Doctor Berman, I know humanity led by American hubris is dangerously close to extinguishing itself. I agree that this extinction will not happen in some grand apocalyptic event.  Nor do I hope for the Great Leader or Prophet or Movement or Technology to save us.  But I refuse to Drop or Tune Out.  Like you, I will use solitude to think and express.  But I will also use my ability to associate to encourage moments of innovation and power.  I have confidence that good people can and will get together and use their abilities to imagine, to verify, and to organize themselves to solve problems and shape common space.

It may not happen.  But I will not go slowly, lonely into the night.


* Note:  Obama in the heat of the economic crisis said "We will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times."  Romney recently said at the University of Chicago: "when the heavy hand of government replaces the invisible hand of the market, economic freedom is the inevitable victim."

Well a plague on both their houses.  I will worship neither government, nor the market.  Having worked for both and necessary as they may be, I will rely on neither corporate or government bureaucracies to discover the meaning and power of humanity.  And I will shout that there is a more important freedom than economic freedom, a more important good than economic goods.

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