Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Power is In the Street

More political power lies in the street than is ever acknowledged by the media, or by politicians.   This is the context in which we should be seeing the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston and Occupy Washington.

By "the street", I mean people turning out with their bodies to make a political statement in a public place.  They don't have to be "ordinary" people, in the sense that they were previously not politically active to be very effective.

People turning out in the public square have had a great effect on our politics for the last twenty years.


Weren't the days of the big demonstrations over in the 60's?

Some recent history:

1. 1994:  The Clinton Administration planned a bus tour to rally uninsured people to support the health care reform bill he had submitted.  The bus tour was to start in Seattle.  By the second stop, GOP activists had turned out in the street to meet the tour in opposition to what they called Hillarycare.  Their opposition was so fierce that the bus tour was abandoned.  (What would have happened if more people had turned in support of health care reform?)

2. In 2000, the GOP turned out people to oppose the Dade County recount in the Bush-Gore battle.  They were fierce enough to stall the recount, eventually running out the clock so that the Supreme Court could deliver the election to Bush.  (what would have happened if the Democrats had been as willing to mobilize people in the streets instead of relying solely on lawyers.  What if Democrats had followed the lead of Jesse Jackson and Florida's African American leaders and pursued the missing overvotes in GOP counties with large African American populations.

3. In 2009, the Health Care battles again.  The GOP and the Tea Party turned out people for the Congressional Town Halls to oppose Health Care Reform.  The narrative shifted and Democrats on Capitol Hill started getting cautious and the final passage was delayed of a weakened bill.  The Town Hall mobilizations set the narrative that culminated in the 2010 mid-term elections.  The Town Hall mobilizations gave reality to the Tea Party.

Not all history is on the other side:

1.  Cindy Sheehan camped outside of George Bush's pseudo-ranch and wanted to know why her son died in Iraq -- why did we invade Iraq?.  I count the end of the Bush administration from that moment.

2.  Madison, Wisconsin 2011.  Need I say more?  People occupying the Capitol broke the narrative of the Tea Party and began to create another story: working class people fighting back against GOP plans for austerity.

What is the main narrative right now in our politics?  The story in the news media is the story of the GOP trying to escape the extreme demands of the Tea Party and nominate someone who might be able to beat Obama.  The President proposes a jobs bill and Congress stonewalls him, but the news media is entirely focused on the ever growing collection of oddballs that might be persuaded to run for the GOP nomination.

Those that Occupy tell a different story: the 99% are standing up.  The real issue that the political class will have to deal with is that people are mad, not about deficits and spending and "illegal" immigrants and evolution and vaccines against HPV, but at foreclosures, and service cutbacks, and lowered wages, and declining benefits, and massive unemployment.  They are furious at the further abandonment of the poor and the impoverishment of the middle class.  They are mad because the political elite believes that the poor have too much money while the rich have too little. They are enraged that the elite believes the ordinary people feel "entitled" to too much security while the wealthy are beset with crippling "uncertainty."   They are angry at Wall Street, the finance capitalists who rule this country, channel investments toward companies that eliminate jobs and destroy small businesses for paper profits.

The only place that this new story is being told, the only place it can be told, is in the street.  And when it is told, it will change our political discourse.  It will have power.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Justice GA

Reports from those planning the 2012 Justice GA in Phoenix are positive.  It seems that planning groups are meeting productively, resolving differences, avoiding errors and producing a good plan.

This is a testament to their interpersonal skills and wisdom, something I have grown to expect from almost all UU leaders at the Association level.  People work well together, hear each other and make decisions with sensitivity and wisdom.

Our collective decision making process is not so good.  From what I can tell the decision to go to change the regular Phoenix GA to a new-style Justice GA was not made from a clear strategic vision.  Some felt bound by financial interests to go to Phoenix as we normally would have.  Some felt we should boycott Phoenix.  A compromise was reached that did not have any particular content and about which many have been skeptical.  The chances of failure have been pointed out numerous times.

But groups of leaders are in the process of making it work.  Who knows it may even be very important, in the end.  It may even be transformative of our faith and of the entire political climate around immigration.

I would rather have a bad strategy but leaders with great interpersonal skills than a great strategy and leaders with lousy interpersonal skills.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Class Talk vs Political Post Modernism

Our current political discourse is dominated by a kind of "political post modernism" which cannot evaluate the truth of anything, just report that "some say that..."

Is there global climate change?  Some say "yes"; others say "no".  Who can tell?

Will cutting back federal spending revive the economy?  The House GOP says "yes"; every major economist says "no".  Who can tell?

It IS hard to tell.  Climate change deniers and House Republicans have a wealth of facts, data and anecdotes that support their position.  The argument can be endless and always inconclusive and intimidating for those who are not similarly equipped.

But Class Talk does start to get at a truth behind all this seemingly multiple truths.  It asks "who benefits?"  "Who is paying for this research and this advocacy?"

Who benefits from minimizing climate change?  Well, the big oil companies for a start.   Who benefits from lower capital gains tax rate?  Well, the biggest beneficiaries are the people who make most of their money as capital gains -- finance capital firms, wealthy investors.

Oil companies and hedge fund managers have a perfect right to advocate for government policies that benefit them, even at the expense of other groups.   So do teachers, autoworkers, and poor people, as well.  And everyone has the perfect right to argue that other people share their interest.

Wealthy investors can argue that if you lower our taxes, after we get done pimping our lifestyle, and then making capital investments to eliminate as many jobs as possible, we might get around to creating a few more jobs.  But is that in your interest?

Big oil can argue that it's not only better for them, but for all of us, to drill for oil now while it is cheap than to leave it in the ground for later, when it will be even more valuable.  Let's eat the goose now!  Do you want global warming and roast goose now?   Is that your best interests?

Each of us can make our own choices about where our self-interest lies and with whom we share interests, who are our political allies and who is working against our interests.

The reason why the right rails against "class warfare" is because they can't survive the political consequences of people honestly evaluating their own interests in politics.  There are too many of us and not enough of them.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Class Talk Is Honest Talk

"Class" talk would be an improvement in the country's political life.
Right now, everybody talks as though we all agree on the end goals, when we don't, in fact.  Everybody wants "to get the economy moving again."  The phrase is meaningless.  Actually, it has so many different meanings, it might as well be meaningless.  Does it mean getting housing prices up?  Does it mean reducing the government deficit?  Does it mean lowering the unemployment rate?  Does it mean increasing lending by banks?  Or does it mean some impossible combination, like improving banks' balance sheets while lowering housing prices?

We live in a very unequal society: the inequalities of wealth and income are very real.  The differences of power in the society are very real.  The differences of role are very real.  People who hire people have a different interest than people who are looking for work.  The people who own a mortgage on an overvalued house have a very different interest than the person living in it.

Instead of hiding beyond vague generalizations, like "getting the economy moving again", let's have people actually say what they want.  Wealthy people want to keep more of their money by paying less taxes.  Middle class and poor people want the security of a pension and a health care when they are no longer working.  Poor people want help buying food. Unemployed people want jobs.  People in Louisiana and Texas often want the oil industry to be very successful.  Some of these desires are in conflict and that is why we have a political process, legislatures and elections.

Let's have people advocate for the governmental policies that they think are good for them and good for others.  

Class talk is honest talk and honest talk is good for the culture and country.   A democratic society can handle it.