Saturday, December 09, 2006

Citizenship 101: What Do We Owe Our Country?

[Note: I will be addressing the various bullet-points in greater detail in future essays.]

“Some people see things as they are and ask why: I dream things that never were and ask, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw, famously quoted by Robert F. Kennedy).

Translating political dreams into reality takes a team of effective leaders in Washington and citizens back home.  Most of us have “had enough” of the Bush administration’s extremist vice-grip on all three branches of government, its complete lack of transparency, and its unwillingness to understand that it works for us.

Today, we stand poised to make an historic comeback.  We’ve accomplished the first part, winning back the Congress.  But the real comeback occurs when change begins.  Polls show that the public thinks Congressional Democrats are more likely than Republicans to provide sound direction for our country.  Bush’s handling of the war now has only a 27% approval rating, according to an Ipsos poll this past week.  The question is do we have the will to make it happen?  In particular, do we citizens have the moxy to stay tuned in and active to assure change happens?

Obviously, bloggers and activists have more than the average interest in the political world.  But it will take far more than those in the blogosphere.  In this first of a series of essays on what we need to do to keep the rest of our country engaged, I propose the architecture for our action.  Accordingly, I suggest that to succeed, we must persuade citizens all over this nation that the following are essential aspects of their citizenship.  They are.  Here's my list:

• Politics is everyone’s business.  Its how things happen in our towns, states, and nation.  Any one complaining that politics is beneath him or her, too dirty, or too ugly, should do something about it.  Political detachment and faux superiority is harmful to both the nation and the individual.

• Spread optimism, not pessimism.  Even as we are largely activated by negatives, the things that are wrong or missing, we have to make contagious the belief that what we do matters, and together we can accomplish great things.

• Believe in the message of fundamental fairness, protection from outsourcing and off-shoring, universal health care, fiscal and environmental stewardship, pension protection, balancing the interests of government stakeholders  more toward citizens, not allowing one sector of our country (or government) to run roughshod over the others.

• Be attentive.  Tuning out enables over-reaching leaders.  Too many tuning out got us in the mess we are in now.  Also, being remote so creates susceptibility to last minute attack ads, robo-calls, and bulk mailings.  Volunteer, even a little. 

• Stay engaged in the action (and never let up).  Dropping into the action two weeks before an election won’t do.  If everyone in the country worked just a little on political campaigns, we’d own the process.  As the saying goes, many hands makes light work.

• Follow legislation as it winds through the legislative process.  Follow various legislative sentry projects.  Demand that our newspapers and television news do a better job of reporting legislation.  Demand that the public gets to see legislation ahead of time and that the legislative process is fully transparent.  Speaker of the House-Elect, Nancy Pelosi vows to institute more transparency.  Support these efforts.  Under the GOP, Dems often didn't even get to see the bills before a vote was called.  Amendments were snuck in in the middle of the night. Also, votes were called in the middle of the night to reduce Democratic participation

• Learn where candidates stand early, so one is less vulnerable to the politics of personal attack.  Fact-check accusations beyond watching the newspaper or nightly news, which rarely do fact-checks any more.  Some so-called “non-partisan” fact-checking sites are still tilted Republican.  Be skeptical when learning to trust a site.  Lowell Feld, of the Webb campaign and blog, did an exemplary job running fact-checks on the Webb campaign site.  He was the model for us to follow.  Some good fact-check sites include: http://mediamatters...., and http://www.truthout....  In coming essays, I’ll include other less-known, but excellent sites.  It goes without saying that one should not depend on campaign ads for our decision-making.

• Encourage more citizens to use the internet to their advantage (millions still don't).  Many of the less technically oriented refuse to even explore articles from reputable sites on the web.  And too many think there is nothing of value on the web, when in fact, judicious use of the web can greatly enhance one’s knowledge of current events and politics.

• Force one's self to retain what's been read.  This is crucial.  Details matter.  Too many people don’t remember what really happened in Watergate, Iran Contra, or even the War in Iraq.  They don't remember how various actors from the Bush I administration were involved in Iran Contra, and how some of these same figures are re-emerging as I write.  The failed presidency of Bush I is being elevated to distorted heights.  Failing to remember leaves an opening for revisionists to corrupt the facts and our nation’s history.  For better and worse, we own our history.  Don’t let revisionists rewrite it.  Otherwise, we cannot learn from where we’ve been.

• Resist believing negative attacks, especially when dropped into the campaign during the last two weeks of a race.  Negative campainging does not include airing facts of a candidate's record. But "facts" must be true, not "truthiness."

• Create rapid response teams in every county.  The work of these teams is to show voters that they should not limit themselves to newspapers and network news, and to provide additional sourcing.  Rapid response teams canalso provide contact information, links, and fact-checks.

• Lobby for restraint on lobbyist money in campaigns.  In the meantime, persuade candidates not to take such money.  Increase individual willingness to make individual campaign contributions.  It is powerful when a candidate can get the lion's share of donations from individuals.  Only about 2-3% of Americans give to political campaigns.  If everyone gave $100 or less to the candidates of their choice, we could save money in the long run because loopholes and lobbyist-created preferences , which cost us dearly in higher taxes, could be reduced.  For example, if there are 2 million Democrats in Virginia and each gave $10 to defeat the GOP legislature, there’s be $20 million.  Think about where we’d be if the average donation were $50 or $100.

• Donate to research collectives, grassroots organizations, and alternative media.  Some such sites do a better job of keeping us informed than the nightly news, AND a better job than PBS or NPR. They can survive if many people make a small donation.

• Use websites, pod-casts, videos and media not necessarily aired in the so-called mainstream media (MSM). 

•  Help give voice to Democratic principles by telling your friends and neighbors why you are a Democrat.  We don’t need to argue.  But it helps for others to hear that we are proud of where we stand.

• When the government tries to silence debate or pressure the population to retreat from First Amendment Rights, don’t fall for it.

• Imagine that what we do in a political context assures (or fails to) the quality of life in our communities and nation. 

Democrats have the ideas, the foresight, and today, the public support to set priorities for a better America.  We can make it happen by being aware, staying engaged, staying fully informed, steeling ourselves against disinformation, and becoming part of the process.  A better America is everyone’s business AND everyone’s responsibility!

This article is cross-posted at and at The Daily Kos