Sunday, August 06, 2006

Operation "Preaching To The Choir"

This is something I've been thinking about for a while. I'd like to know what you think.

I have always been a Democrat, but I have not always been involved in politics. I, like many people I know, didn't think I needed to be. Since 2000, but especially since 2004, I have become, perhaps not an activist, but definitely aware and active politically.

Until 1994 and Newt Gingrich's so-called 'Republican Revolution', although I disagreed in principle with Republicans, I did not feel attacked by them. When Reagan took office and they started gutting arts programs, that bothered me, as a member of a family involved in arts education, but politics was still on the periphery for me, something that other people were involved in. I figured people would get sick of Reaganomics and do something about it, and I went my own way, with my own life. I was a musician, not a politician. Let the people who 'did politics' take care of it. I stood on the sidelines and occasionally watched as others debated the issues of the day.

When Bush I took office, I didn't care for him but I was not afraid of him (shows what I knew!). The Gulf War was, by the war standards I remembered of Vietnam as a child, watching on television at dinnertime, over almost as soon as it had begun. It was hard to take it seriously as a war. Then Bill Clinton was elected, and I rejoiced. It seemed that we had a President that cared about the things I cared about, and had the political will and wiles to implement them, unlike Jimmy Carter, whom I loved but felt was too good a man to be an effective President. Then came 1994 and Newt Gingrich's 'Contract On America'.

That shook me up a bit. Were the American people really going to buy that crap? The blatant disrespect, hostility and opposition that Newt's Republicans exhibited towards the President took me aback. I could not recall any Congress with one party so openly antagonistic towards their political counterparts. The glee with which the Republicans attacked the Democrats was shocking to me. A line was crossed then, when we ceased to be the 'loyal opposition' and became the enemy. Instead of two parties who had different ideas about how to achieve the same goals as Americans, we Democrats were depicted as evil, immoral, unpatriotic, enemies to be vanquished, conquered, silenced, and if possible, eliminated altogether from the political process.

The hounding of Bill Clinton shocked me, too. Watching him being hunted down by the 'vast right-wing conspiracy', as then-First Lady Hillary Clinton so aptly put it (and was roundly ridiculed for doing so) was disturbing, mostly because of the fact that the rest of America just sat back and watched it. That was when I first got a twinge of fear. That was when I said to myself, maybe I ought to start paying attention here. A personal attack by what seemed to me rather extra-legal means, perpetrated by a small group of radical right-wingers, who were guilty of far worse in their own personal lives than what they were accusing the President of, was being allowed to derail our country. Not an attack on Clinton's policies, but his personal life, brought with obvious personal hostility, regardless of the cost to our country in not only dollars but Presidential effectiveness, and by extension American security - to jeopardize our standing in the world because of a personal loathing. Nevertheless Bill Clinton managed to stay in office, and he left the country in better shape than when he took office - no mean feat.

When the Residential Selection of 2000 occurred - when the most completely unsuccessful, incompetent, unfit-for-public-office candidate was handed the Presidency by clearly unconstitutional means - I began to be really afraid. The rules were changing. The processes by which Americans chose their leaders was no longer something you could count on. However, I thought to myself, "How bad can it be? This bumbling idiot, this smirking frat-boy who failed at everything he set his hand to, even when rescued from each disaster by his powerful family - what harm can he do? He'll do his term, the public will see at once what an idiot he is and he'll be out on his ear in '04." I had no idea what was ahead of us.

As he and his handlers (the real perpetrators) rampaged through this country like (dare i say) a mad elephant, I grew more and more concerned. There seemed no way to stop the carnage, both literal and figurative. I started paying close attention, learning as much about what was going on as I could. Leaving politics to the politicians started seeming less like a good idea and more like putting my head in the sand. The more I learned, the more worried I got.

But it was the Debacle of 2004 that galvanized me into doing more than worrying.

When I woke up on November 3rd, my head was spinning. I felt as if reality had been pulled out from underneath me. I began a political blog as a way to deal with the depression and frustration which had settled on me, and started reading, writing and talking politics. It became clear to me that sitting back and hoping for other people to fix things was not going to work.

But what to do?

I felt so helpless, so hopeless, so small. How can one person make any difference? Especially a person who is not rich, influential, high-profile in any way? I am not in a position to run for office. I am not a particularly persuasive speaker. My writing audience is not a large one. I can't even change the opinions of family members - how can I expect to change the minds of millions of Americans or counteract the giant propaganda machine?

The conclusion I have come to is that, however small the action I take, it is worth doing because to not take action is giving active support to those people and positions I wish to fight against. Not only is it worth doing, but imperative, or I will not be able to face myself in the mirror.

It would be great, of course, if we could be guaranteed that by following a certain course of action, we would achieve the desired results. It would be nice to know that if we called Senator X, signed Petition Y and marched at Protest Z, that our troops would come home, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. would resign en masse, that we'd get universal health care. The reality is, in spite of our best efforts, we may not be able to achieve these objectives. But it does not mean that we are morally exempt from making our best efforts. If we really believe the way we say we do, then we have no choice but to work for what's right, even if we don't see a sure and smooth path to success. That, to me, is what morality is. So, to say, "I'm not going to do anything because it won't change things, or my vote doesn't count, or the process is corrupt" or any other excuse, is beside the point. We don't do what's right because we'll get what we want. We do what's right because it's right.

We know in our hearts what's right. We know in our hearts that it's right to care for those who need care. It's right to stop killing. It's right to work for peace, for justice. Whether we get peace and justice doesn't matter. There is something for everyone to do, whether we see it making a difference or not.

So here is what I'm proposing.

I have come to understand that there is a large segment of the population that, because of their emotional need, will follow this administration wherever it goes; that there is nothing awful enough that would change the minds of these people, if they have chosen to believe in these self-appointed authoritarians. If George Bush says black is white (and he does!) then that's what they'll believe. Facts, logic and reality have no place in their worldview. As Richard Pryor once said, "Who are you going to believe - me or your lying eyes?"

But I also understand that this segment is not the majority, and I am not going to attempt to change the minds of these people. The ones I'm concerned with right now are the people like me - the ones who believe in peace, in social justice, in America as it was intended to be, but are not active because they don't understand that it is necessary. I want to 'preach to the choir'.

When I was discussing this with Maryscott O'Connor of My Left Wing, she said, "What you're talking about is evangelizing." And, you know what? - she's right. That's exactly what I'm talking about.

The word 'evangelize' comes from the Greek word ("eu-aggelos") for 'bringing good news' (εὐάγγελος). It is used mainly in the context of Christianity, but it also can means bringing other kinds of 'good news' to people. If we can bring this discussion into the open, with our friends, our family, our co-workers - not the ones who already have their minds made up that whatever George Bush wants to do is just dandy because he's 'keeping us safe', but the ones who are disaffected, who are disgusted with politics and politicians. The ones who think that, since their vote will be stolen anyway, there's no use in voting. The ones who think that things will get better by themselves - that someone else is going to take care of it. These people aren't going to hear the truth from the traditional media, which is all most working people have time to pay attention to these days. So we need to bring the news to them, one person at a time. I carry around whatever book I happen to be reading - John Dean, Greg Palast, Kevin Phillips. When someone asks me what I'm reading, it's an opportunity to start a discussion. Most of the time, I've gotten very positive responses. I've found it to be a way for people who feel like we do to connect, to relate, to realize that they're not alone in feeling this way and that there is a network of people out there working toward the same thing. I can give them suggestions on ways to get active that are within reach, like volunteering on a local level, with whatever they have to offer. Perhaps phone banking for one night for a local candidate whose positions they support, perhaps making a call to a Congressperson about an issue they feel strongly about. Perhaps standing on a corner for an hour on a Friday night with some local peace activists. It's simply about getting involved on some level. Nothing earth-shattering or life-changing; just simple action. Any action at all is preferable to inaction.

There's no doubt that evangelizing is the way the right-wing religious conservatives have been able to solidify their base and bring about political change. Why shouldn't we do the same? We don't have to change our lives - just carry our values around with us and share them if we find an opportunity. Not only that, but it is a way to combat that feeling of helplessness, of paralysis in the face of the daunting task in front of us.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! I hope you'll join me in "Operation Preaching To The Choir".

(many thanks to Amit at Anything Else for the code to expandable post summaries!)


Thespis said...

I tried to ping back this article.


Thespis Journal

DivaJood said...

Operation Preaching to the Choir - I'm in. I'm currently reading John Dean, so I will take it with me wherever I'm going, to open the conversation. Til the next book.

Good idea.

Alicia Morgan said...

Yay, Jood! I may set up a new blog for it. Marcy winograd is going to put this up (edited, naturally!) on her blog on Tuesday.

See you Saturday!

Crabbi said...

I'm in, too.

I've been preaching to the choir since I was young, mostly in relation to the religious right. Perhaps it's my ornery nature, but I've been butting heads with those lunatics since adolescence and they've always scared me. I knew that if they ever got any real power, we'd be effed...

Great post, Alicia!

Alicia Morgan said...

Yay Crabbi! I've just started the new blog 'Operation Preaching To The Choir' but it's not quite ready for the public yet. I reall y think we need to stop the futile arguing and takl to the people who may listen.

Crabbi said...

Yay, Alicia! I couldn't agree more. Some people are hopeless--what is it about 25%? I believe that's the percentage of hardcore authoritarians according to Dean.

BTW, while I was reading Conservatives withot Conscience, I made a point of holding it up, instead of laying it my lap as I usually do.

I should blog about that book--especially the story about Frist and the cats.

Alicia Morgan said...

I know - that was pretty creepy. That book knocked me out. I want to find that study he was talking about. I've been interested in the nature of authoritarianism for a while now, and Dean makes a lot of sense about it. That's part of the reason I've backed off on the dialogue with the opposition - it just is not fruitful. There are some people who make the switch, but not many.