Sunday, October 26

The New Populist Uprising

David Sirota has a new book out called "The Uprising" which spells out the new battleground in our country between grassroots movements from the right and left. Both of which are vital to the Democrats and Republicans, The conservative right has championed low taxes, anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-immigration, and pro-gun agendas with great success. Perhaps John McCain's struggle for the White House can be seen best through the filter of having to appease the right and, at the same time, attract those moderates and independents who are skeptical of those extreme views. Similarly for Barack Obama, he has to contend with the left grassroots who want nationalized health care, equal rights for gays, anti-globalization policies, labor protection, pro-choice, pro-feminist, anti-poverty agendas. His success can be seen as a "perfect storm" between an economy that is in the tank and those moderates and independents who are now hurting.

But the new uprising comes from an electorate that believes its views are ignored by the very people they elect to represent them. The main parties understand that the key to their survival is by a)gerrymandering voting districts and b) also gerrymandering the electoral process to their favor. The hubbub about ACORN and voter suppression is largely about who acquires and maintains power. The vote matters to the parties, but does it make for a robust democracy for the rest of us?

I think that at the root of all populism is the desire to feel like we have some control over how our lives go. When the government reaches too deeply in our pockets, we feel some of our independence taken away; and similarly when our government doesn't do enough to help us take care of ourselves when things are going poorly, we feel disrespected. The natural pull of democracy is a disequilibrium between the power the government thinks it needs and the power we are willing to give it.

In the times we live in, it is hard to know how things are really going because of all the external information we receive. And I am not arguing that information is not good for us to have, it just makes our own situation harder to bear. Because we live in a consumer driven society, we are filled with ideas that having more stuff is a good thing--in fact, we think the lives that people lived in earlier years are quaint and small. Probably we would not be in the jam we are economically if we weren't sold on the credit-driven American Dream.

And yet to hold the sway we do in the world, our government and its corporate partners want to grow our economy and this creates dependencies between us and nations that could be a threat to us. As we grow, so does the rest of the world.

For those of us living on Main Street, we don't see the connection between the interdependent nature of national interests and our own lives as easily. People tend to be much more parochial, focused on their lives and taking care of their families. When things are thrust upon us suddenly, we feel resentful.

This is why I think that invoking fear is such a powerful tool in getting people on your side. If you don't have a job, its because of fill-in-the-blank. If only there weren't so many fill-in-the-blanks, we would be safer. Since the dawn of time, we have always been cautious of people who are different from us and, yet, in times of danger, we band together because of our basic humanity.

Wrapping this up, it is when we rise together, that we are at our best as a nation and a people. If this time we are in teaches us nothing, it will help us to decide if our government is responsive enough or if we need to break up the monopoly. It is my hope that we rise together from the middle.

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