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Monday, September 24, 2012

Why is Cousin Vinnie So Angry? (Part4)

So how can I get to Cousin Vinnie? Getting him not to reduce his anger, but to use it positively.

Not by argument, nor studies, nor debates, nor evidence that attack his conclusions, his judgment, his religion, his party or group or country. Nor would my assurances that in all my experience in poor and minority communities I never knew anyone with the stereotypes I portrayed in Part 1. (Though I am still unhappy with my neighbors shouting.)

Evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists have affirmed that reason has little to do with it.  Don't get me wrong. I think rational inquiry has an important place, but not at this stage of our politics. What is important is what Cousin Vinnie is feeling, his fears, his sense of loss, the challenge to everything he has held dear.

And I have to understand this if we are to work together to make the changes that meet the values that are important to both of us. I have to acknowledge his grief and mine and redirect it beyond the apparent to the real sources of his grief.

"Rub raw the sores of discontent," counseled a former mentor, one totally misunderstood by that great historian Newt Gingrich. Saul Alinsky was a conservative republican in the most traditional sense of that term. His core principle was "a free and open society." He taught people of all races and religions how to use their own institutions to strengthen them and their communities and fight the big institutions, including government, that were threatening theirs. He taught how to form what Hamilton called "factions" in order to have power, not dominating "power over," but collaborating "power with." He counseled that in the process you will have opponents with different interests. But "no permanent enemies! Yesterday's enemy is today's ally."

He taught both the limits and uses of government and how to keep it accountable. For him it was not a question of lesser or bigger government, but to whom it was accountable, who it was working for, whether or not it fostered power and responsibility or took it away from local families and communities. He was certainly not a friend of welfare or charity when it reduced people's power; and he bated the "liberal" mentality for doing that.

Alinsky was especially concerned with the Cousin Vinnies and pushed the churches and community groups to help them organize before right-wing or lefty populists using messages of fear and hate could. He urged that they organize themselves on positive visions for their communities on education, access to health, city services, local business retention. In Chicago he showed that those neighborhoods that organized on fear or hate of "aliens" were the first to dissipate. He indicated that this was so for nations as well.

To find the Cousin Vinnies I go through their churches, their sports groups, their cultural centers, their unions, their neighborhoods, their affiliations. I have to spend time with the Cousin Vinnies. Not talking politics, but their economic interests, their cultural values, their social affiliations--in other words, their stories. I have to connect them with people who have similar interests, values, affiliations--but questioning their solutions, their beliefs, the "bullshit" that they picked up from politicos, advertising, media, and the hidden persuaders. I have to connect them in a way in which they can really deal with their grief through collective action. And so that they can experience the joy of being in community and in action, even when there are losses and setbacks, and the joy of being connectors on their own.

Some of issues that relate to the institutions (economic, cultural, political) that are giving us all grief are:

1) Tax Reform. We all want it simpler, fairer, more progressive, closing the loopholes that take jobs from ordinary people. Tax policy provides incentives and disincentives for certain people and activities. I bet Cousin Vinnie and I could decide what and who we want to provide incentives to--if we just forget our party affiliations.

2) Financial Institutions. We all want to make sure that banks don't take the risks which put us all in jeopardy. Never again.

3) Poverty. We all know that the growing disparity in wealth is dangerous. Instead of blaming greedy rich people or lazy poor people, let's identify the ways to make our "free market" system really free and accessible to all. Public good jobs (infrastructure,

4) Educational opportunity. Reinstate the draft but with options for national service. Expand GI Bill to all national service participants.

5) Language. Press all internet news outlets to edit out all ad hominem and hate comments. Make hate and ad hominem comments taboo, a sign of imbecility. Push standards for political discourse.

6) Campaign finance. Back to (or even a stronger) McCain-Feingold even if it takes a constitutional amendment. Buying elections is what maintains party disfunction.

7) Local development. City building using sustainable standards including considering long term costs of sprawl.

8) Public health and safety. Clean water, air. Community policing.

9) Dry up jobs for illegal immigrants by making those jobs more attractive to citizens, by sanctioning employers, by economic development in Mexico. But of course a path to citizenship for those who have been here contributing to this nation just as we did for the Irish and Poles before them.

All these transcend parties. All these require community building without party affiliation through organizing through churches, neighborhoods, unions, and other voluntary networks to hold all government and industry accountable. This is basic politics which transcends liberal and conservative, Republican and Democratic, capitalist and socialist labels. This is the politics of "speak with," rather than "talk at."

Cousin Vinnie, I challenge you. No matter which party "wins" the title in November, can you commit yourself to at least dropping the hate talk, the bumper sticker labels, the stereotypes and start working on these issues for the common good? Or are you just going to keep making yourself miserable by reading and repeating internet bullshit?

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