Sunday, September 18, 2011

Issue #25- September 18, 2011 Keep on Fighting, Beer, and American Values

Issue #25- September 18, 2011

In this issue:

*Keeping the Fight Alive

*Beer and the Movement

*American Values, Democracy and Free Markets

I occasionally feel the need to justify the time and money used to get my undergraduate degree in political science.  While political theory isn't on the top of most people's list of favorite topics, it is important to remember that our displeasure with the Walker agenda is grounded in a historical and philosophical context.

Staying Engaged…

Progressives feared a letdown as we moved away from the early protests and the recalls over the summer.  Conservatives hoped that people would lose interest in political issues.  However, the movement is alive and well.  Here are a few ideas that can keep you involved in the fight.

*Build routines- Make political action a part of your daily schedule.  A few minutes here and there can make a difference. 

*Shopping/Donating- Be a carful consumer and use your money to support businesses or individuals who are positive influences in the community.  If you have money to donate, look for organizations or actions that are making a difference in the struggle.

*Stay informed- Find reliable sources for getting news about what is going on.  Also get connected to sources that keep you updated about upcoming events or ways to influence events. 

*Writing letters- Take a few minutes and write a letter, email or phone your legislator, the media, etc. and let your opinion be known. 

*Solidarity Sing- This has been an ongoing event for months and continues during the day.  They have started holding a Thursday night sing in the late afternoon/early evening for people who work during the day.  It's a great place to get reconnected and rejuvenated.

*Attend meetings- The more people who attend meetings, legislative sessions, etc. the better.  It may not seem to make a difference at the time, but every person who is present is another representative of our dissatisfaction with the current process.

(Un)Happy Hour…

I strongly believe that the progressive movement has the upper ground in terms of rational, well reasoned positions.  I continue to look for conservative arguments that change my perception, but haven't found any definitive responses that counter progressive thinking.  That being said, the conservative movement currently controls the government here in Wisconsin.  This circumstance provides lots of reasons for frustration, fear and anger as more and more policies and laws are implemented that run counter to progressive ideas. 

We are faced with a dilemma.  How are we to advance our cause?  Is it through legal and political action?  Is it through mass demonstrations, strikes and other more aggressive actions?  Somewhere in between?  I think back to February and the discussion among MTI members about whether to stay out of work to make a statement or to return to school.  It is so difficult to know just how far to push and still keep the movement progressing in a forward direction.  Too cautious and the movement loses power and potentially dies.  Too aggressive and the movement becomes a fringe action that doesn't make any substantive changes.  It's a real balancing act and one that can cause friction within the movement.

This article does a nice job of expressing these ideas.  I totally agree with the tone and the message that we all need to be working together to advance our ideas.      

I'm operating under the assumption that our goal is to not only undo the damage done to our state's progressive heritage and to return balance to our government.  It is also to make these restorations as permanent as possible and advance the progressive agenda beyond past efforts.  In order to do this there needs to be legal and political action that leads to real reforms and legislation.  For this to happen we need to build support across social, political and cultural lines.  We need to find ways to express our opinions, but still work to get "independents" on our side.  The "independent" voter relies heavily on media and sound bites to formulate their opinions and this makes us vulnerable when the media portrays our movement negatively.

So, how does a movement as diverse as ours keep a united front and build support for itself.  In my opinion it is this diversity of thinking and action that allows for us to move ahead.  I don't condone violence, but beyond that I find it difficult to speak against those who are consciously trying to make a powerful statement.  Civil disobedience is an important tool to use when faced with an opponent who controls the government and also heavily influences the media. 

For example, the individuals who have been arrested for videotaping the legislative sessions provide a powerful message to the general public.  Their actions start a discussion about the way our legislature is currently operating and bring the inconsistencies, irregularities and illegal nature of the current climate to light.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for individuals who are willing to put themselves on the line for the cause.  Each of us needs to continue to look for ways that we can be an active participant in making lasting changes here, politically and socially.

As far as dumping beer on legislators?  While I certainly can understand the frustration behind the action (for example, who hasn't had a "strong conversation" with their computer, TV, radio, newspaper in recent days), it is difficult to see how this will build support for us.  It will certainly build unity within a segment of the movement, but doesn't generalize well.  Part of "Solidarity" means channeling our frustrations into actions that make a difference. 

One huge part of the problems we are having in Wisconsin is the fact that there isn't any way to have a real dialog with someone of the opposing viewpoint.  The beer dumping incident becomes a rallying point for conservatives, much as the assaults on the singers at the Solidarity Sing galvanize progressives.  Neither provides a basis to move ahead and develop lasting solutions to our problems.  If this is what we are becoming it doesn't speak well for our future.  It is the "Us vs. Them" thinking that leads us to administrations like the Walker regime.

Maybe it's the elementary teacher in me, but I believe that with enough education we can convince the majority of citizens that our cause is correct.  The problem lies in the time that it takes to educate people.  How much damage will be done in the short term? 

I saw some recent statistics that 75% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  I had no way of verifying the stat, but even if it is slightly exaggerated it's an incredible number.  This means that the potential for economic disaster looms in a majority of families in our country.  Given the current state of our economy we could see even more suffering in the near future.  People faced with crisis often respond in highly emotional ways.  This leads us back to our problem of how to act to counter the wave of conservative actions which undermine safety nets and damage the economy. 

We need strong leadership and organized efforts to give dissatisfied citizens an outlet to express their feelings.  We also need to organize to provide hope for these struggling families and individuals.  In this way we can also win over the majority of Americans and restore our progressive ideas to their rightful place in politics and society.

American Values?…

What are "American Values"?  What does it mean to be a patriotic citizen?  These are highly contentious questions in the current climate.  Unfortunately, because of the nature of defining and teaching history, answers can be quite different for different individuals.  For some, American values mean protesting and speaking out, while for others it means following the rules and obeying leaders.  Is it flying the flag, or burning the flag?  For many these values aren't articulated, but are just a general impression that is shaped by current events or the media.  Whatever your individual beliefs are, "American Values" are a powerful tool used to gain support for a cause (or to attack a different viewpoint).   

However, just because there are multiple ways to define a concept, it doesn't mean that all definitions are equally valid.  There is a difference between understanding another person's beliefs and recognizing how those beliefs drive a  person's actions and accepting those beliefs as valid.  If we operate under the assumption that people's values and beliefs can change with experience and education we can be hopeful that our efforts will be beneficial to our nation. 

Remember that governments form as a result of individuals collectively deciding to give up some of their rights in order to improve the situation of all.  Political philosophy speaks to this and helps define what a good society looks like.  The more widely accepted views on government in the United States draw a great deal from the works of the Liberal thinkers of the 1600's and 1700's.  These thinkers called for changes in the way governments derived their power.  Changing the source from a centralized source (often God) and moving the power to the will of the people.  Of course the "citizens" were a specifically defined group, but I believe that these philosophies are living ideas which can grow and change to accept new thinking.  Therefore the definition of "citizen" can expand beyond the original intent of the authors. 

One central idea that many of these political philosophers advanced was that if the government becomes unjust then the people can enact changes.  Just think about where the current government of Wisconsin is leading us.  Because of the nature of our current administration we need to take action to defend our values.  The list of ways that our true values are under attack are too many to list here, but one is the right of citizens to vote.  Here are some opportunities to learn more about how to get everyone registered to vote. 

The question remains, what kind of "civilization" do you want to live in?  The current conservative movement glorifies the individual and calls for each person to take what they can and hold on to it.  In my mind that is not a civil society, it is a collection of individuals who resemble toddlers involved in "parallel play".  They may look like they are working together, but in reality each person is out for their own interests exclusively.  Here's an extreme example, but shows some of the callousness in the conservative agenda.


This is what Democracy looks like?…

One of the biggest safeguards that keeps our society stable has been the trust that a majority of citizens place in the idea that they will be represented in the legislative process.  Current partisan politics have undermined this to the point that many of us feel like we have no voice.  Here's a piece that truly demonstrates the fact that there is no compromise in Republican.

Is the Market an American Ideal?…

There is no doubt that many American families are struggling.  This leads to growing discontent and division between groups.  When combined with the ideal of a "rugged individualism" offered by conservatives it is no wonder that we are seeing a breakdown in our political process.  One huge problem with our current situation is the fact that Republicans would like to base much of our economic policy on the illusion that the "Market" can resolve all problems. 

Listen to their suggestions for reforming education, solving our budget issues, reforming health care, etc.  Each solution centers around removing government controls and safeguards while letting business have free rein (or reign).  By removing these regulations the conservative movement would have you believe that business will create an environment that benefits everyone.  This is an assumption with no grounding in reality either in the present day, the past or in the future.  Just look at the conditions that most people lived in during our history before government regulations were put in place.  For another example, look at the history of regulation and the banking industry.  From the founding of our country, through Andrew Jackson, and on to the present day it is clear that the financial industry is one that needs some controls placed on it.    

This idea of deregulation is also put forward in the labor market.  Conservatives want to extend their laissez faire ideas to the relationships between employer and employee.  This concept can never work for the simple reason that there is an inherent inequality in power between the parties involved.  As a result the outcome is unequal distribution of wealth on an increasing scale and a loss of power for the laboring classes.  Conservatives would have you believe that labor unions (especially public labor unions) create an imbalance of power that favors the workers.  The reality is that the unions simply stabilize the relationship between employee and employer by reducing the disparity in power that exists when workers bargain individually.  

Here's the next step in their attack on Wisconsin workers.  It is also interesting to read the comments following this article.  They clearly show the divided nature of our community and the lack of ability to have a civil discourse.   

We clearly need to take a closer look at where we stand regarding the government's role in the economic interactions at all levels of our society.  We also need to clearly recognize that business and government exist for different purposes and can not be directly compared.  Business exists to make money by providing a good or service.  Government exists to protect the people's safety and rights.  These are not money making activities and can't be treated as such.   

As a nation we have been able to avoid some of the struggles that have happened in other parts of the world because of our country's wealth in resources and great amount of usable land.  When I was in college I wrote a paper called, "Scarcity and the End of American Democracy?".  This paper dealt with the growing stress placed on our country as we use up the resources that are available to us.  For years the United States has operated on the premise that there is always room to grow and new resources to tap into.  What will we do as these assets begin to become more difficult to attain?  Will we be able to share the resources for the betterment of all, or will we become a nation made up of 2 classes the haves and the have nots?

Education News…

We can take pride in this ranking, while still recognizing that there is a great deal of work to be done to make sure all our residents reach a high level of education.   We also need to keep working to make sure we stay educated, even as our access to educational opportunities are being taken away. 

No comments:

Post a Comment