“What do we do now?” A 2017 Call-To-Action!

From way back I’ve been interested in politics. Actually interested may be an understatement. I remember being consoled while crying by the principal in 1968 as a 4th grader in North Dakota. It was the day after the Humphrey/Nixon election and I couldn’t understand why the black constituent in the South side of Chicago didn’t turnout to vote as Democrats expected. If they would have; Illinois would have swung to Humphrey, no one would have had a majority (George Wallace was also in the race) – and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives. Having a Democratic majority, the House most likely would have voted in Hubert Humphrey as president. And at the time that was a big deal to me … for some reason.

It wasn’t that I liked one party more than the other – I just seemed to like Humphrey. I hung around at the campaign headquarters for both parties that year, pretty much every day after school. My room was so full of campaign paraphernalia that I had to move yard signs to even get in bed at night. When you’re nine, reasons for doing things don’t seem to make as much sense looking back. Regardless, the event was permanently imprinted in mind and started me down the path of political obsession.

Well here we are in 2017 … and it was another of those: “What the hell happened?” But this time I need to add: “Why the hell did they vote like they did?” Only the it’s not just the south side of Chicago – it’s a good portion of the whole damn country.

Tell me why 42% of women voted for Donald Trump. This is astounding since the proof is overwhelming he seems to have only marginal respect for the gender. And then we have the recipients of Obamacare who because of financial hardship or pre-existing conditions had previously no access to health insurance. While receiving heavy subsidies often enabling them to be insured for the first time – they chose to vote for Trump even though a cornerstone of his campaign was to repeal Obamacare. What gives?

alice-in-wonderland

It’s been a few weeks since the election and I’ve been trying to write a piece that will help me understand this whole political craziness that seems to have overtaken us in America. Yet again I feel like Alice in the rabbit hole. I’ve probably started and stopped more times than I can count. I have five drafts going in different directions only to metaphorically rip the paper from the typewrite and crumple it up.

Maybe I was going through the stages of grief with each draft being a stage I progressed through. That might a bit strong since I had no real affinity for Hillary Clinton even though I did vote for her. But for the sake of the metaphor, let’s say I arrived at the acceptance stage. Now since I’ve accepted the fact that a guy known for “You’re Fired” will be president of the United States – this is me coming to grips with it. So here is my 2017 Call-To-Action.

But first …

The election is over and it’s time to spend our collective energies, Democrats and Republicans alike, building up America – not tearing it down. With a Republican congress, and considering politics trump (pun intended) civic responsibility and even basic human decency … there’s no hope of Donald Trump of not taking office – and probably little chance of impeachment either. Plus there was a hell of a lot of problems that needed fixing before Trump. How much more self-inflicted damage can the country take.

And I’m not in favor of protests and civil disobedience for the sake of protesting what might happen. You wouldn’t know it but Trump hasn’t done anything yet. Will he? That remains to be seen. What comes out of Trump’s mouth is not a good indication of his future behavior. The monumental barriers to getting anything done in Washington will likely be his biggest obstacle, not protests. Right now the last thing we need is to risk further division. And living in Montana, further division will not be a pleasant thing. The people doing the pushing back are well-armed and are pretty excited about Obama not being in the White House. There’s not a day that goes by when there’s not letters to editor in the Billings Gazette hating on Hillary Clinton … still. Anything to temper this euphoria won’t be met laying down. Plus, time spent protesting is time spent away from building your community, which is positive regardless of who the president is … especially Trump.

We can all obsess over our country’s government and its merry band of narcissistic lords and ladies climbing all over each other to be the first up the stairs to the top of the ivory tower. Their actions are little different from a meth addict “chasing the bag.” And as with the addict, where the only thing that matters is the drug … most of them are motivated only by the psychopathic drive for power. Nothing we do is going to change this.

This behavior is not limited to Washington D.C. either. Let’s look at North Carolina. Successful efforts by a Republican governor and a Republican legislature has gerrymandered the state into a farce of inequity. According to recent report by Electoral Integrity Project, the state can no longer be considered a democracy with an electoral score falling next to that of Cuba and Sierra Leon. In fact North Carolina is not only the worst state in the Unite States for unfair districting – but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project. Chalk one up for our system of checks and balances.

Partisan behavior at the expense of the people is not limited to Republicans either. As they come to the realization that Trump is the leader of the free world – how will the Democratic party react to his administration? Will they follow the example of the Republicans after the Obama election and take obstructionism to even higher levels, putting the American people they are sworn to protect, directly in the crosshairs? That’s the tactics Elizabeth Warren, a probable 2020 presidential candidate, wants to use. With the old battle-ax Nancy Pelosi still firmly planted on the throne of the Democrat party in the House — it’s a safe bet that delegation will do the same. Being a long time adherent of the party of supposed progress and new ideas, saying this gives me no pleasure.

Over just last week I’ve pruned over 100 people from my follow list on Twitter; not Trump supporters (there wasn’t a whole lot there to start with), but people I love. Unfortunately they’re avid (and sometimes rapid) Clinton voters who can’t let go of the election. “The election was stolen by Putin” or “Trump voters aren’t smart enough to know what’s good for them.” Whether that’s the case or not isn’t their’s to say – nor mine. In many cases they weren’t even voting for Trump. They were voting against Clinton – and that’s a Democrat problem. Regardless, I shutter to think what the streets of America will be like as Trump’s verbose campaign claims fail to materialize, and Democratic obstructionist policies are made out to be the reason why – regardless if they are.

But enough of the doom and gloom. I see little value in this masochistic exercise that results in little more than depression, anger or worse. I’m already close to the tipping point.

A few of days ago I had a Twitter exchange with a buddy of mine from Oregon, Christina Bowen. She suggested I put together a list of action items people can do locally as a response to the upcoming Trump Armageddon (my word, not hers). This conversation dovetailed with my own official realization that “we are where we are” and “it is what is.” I’ve worked through my personal stages of grief and “where I’m at” is angry and very motivated. I’ve been beating this “government isn’t the answer” drum for years now so this Trump thing really shouldn’t surprise me. What it’s done though has ratcheted up my sense of urgency.

Build Your Community With Direct Action

Building a playground accomplishes a lot more than just raising money to pay a contractor or expecting the government to do it. It’s yours. You and your neighbors built it. It’s a point of connection, a commonality – something we need desperately right now. The act of coming together and working together with those of opposing views, political and other, is a greater benefit than what you built. Now you’re looking at your neighbor as exactly that, a neighbor – not a Democrat or a Republican. He’s not just a label reduced to a single polarizing characteristic. He’s a person. He has kids that go to the same school as yours and play together. He’s a person who has hopes and dreams like you. And none of it have anything to do with who he voted for in 2016 presidential election.

Helping a family inflicted with cancer goes a lot further than participating in a cancer walk where who knows where the money ends up … except probably not where you were walking. While I applaud the camaraderie of cancer walkers, and runners and bikers – the same can be accomplished by directly helping those inflicted by the disease, and family members alike. Having recently gone through chemotherapy and likely having to face it again this year, cancer’s tentacles of horribleness do not end with the patient. Being a pseudo-caregiver to my elderly parents – I know.

These situations exemplify why I built the Community 3.0. When I began, Obama was president and Clinton by all accounts was up next. At the time the need for direct civic action was important … but now local civic action and volunteerism is an imperative if we expect to hang on to any semblance of a developed nation, let alone one like the one we’re accustomed to. And a case could be made that the very survival of the planet lies in the efforts of us in our cities and neighborhoods. Our cities are us – not the city council, the county commissioners or the mayor. 

Our work in the streets must be arm and arm with our friends and neighborhoods – no matter if they’re conservative, liberal, progressive or libertarian. The unemployed miner in conservative Wyoming and the minimum wage hotel worker in liberal Los Angeles will have to deal with the same government action and inaction. We have to resist the urge to hate and be vindictive towards other of the opposite political party. We must be the antidote for the unbridled narcissism of our politicians hell-bent on the retention of power at any expense … including ours.

Jennifer Lawrence’s turn as Katniss has come and gone but I fear the Hunger Games may very well be upon us in a real sense if we don’t band together and mend the social safety net and change our expectations of civic responsibility. How far away are we from literally fiction become reality. For some – we may already be there.

“What we need is a an entirely new world of possibility that transcends the insane politics and diminished leadership of our times.” – Andrew Markell

In the piece What do the genetics of a Bengal Cat and the evolution of economics have in common? I concepted an alternative governance model birthed from the union of the David Hume philosophy of “spontaneous order” and our inherent benevolence, and Elinor Ostrom’s “opportunity of the commons.” Government will still exist in its present form but relied upon less, economically, psychologically and sociologically. It would be augmented by pragmatic community-based action originating in the locally owned business community. The Norwegians have a name for this type of civic calling – dugnad: Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.

Central to this hybrid alternative is collaboration of small businesses and the community in solving civic problems directly through the Front Porch civic gathering concept. In Minot, North Dakota where I grew up we had Charlie’s Restaurant and Elks Lodge. These were the places where the “business of the community” was done – more so than at the weekly city council meetings. These Front Porches were where ideas were hatched, risks taken and the future of Minot was mapped out … often under the influence of a libation or two. There was no formal membership or no elections – just people who voluntarily wanted to make things happen and better the town.

Make 2017 The Year Of The Front Porch

Why not make 2017 the year you start a Front Porch in your community?Don’t just include the usual suspects, but those the usual suspects pay little attention to. Find the people in your community who always seem to be new helping out – yet aren’t part of the power elite. Most of all – encourage people from all socioeconomic groupings to participate. Imagine what a single mother raising a child in a motel has to offer in perspective.

But most of all, include your community’s young people. Your local students should be your “foot soldiers of change” empowered to create a community that fits their needs and desires, not just those of their parents. They have the ideas and energy to guide your community into the future, not hold it in the past. You can’t afford to ignore this invaluable asset.

Under this model Front Porches (small businesses) will sponsor volunteer campaigns or Solutions. These Solutions can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program. Whether young or old, any community resident should be able to get involved. And on top of it helping and supporting others may be key to living a longer and healthier life, according to new research from the University of Basel in Switzerland.

I could add more action items to the list, but I’m taking the advice from the New Years resolution experts. Focus on one thing. So there you be. Go out and start a Front Porch and organize a Solution to one of your community’s pressing needs. Just imagine if everyone did the same – or least helped out with one of them. You’d have a community on volunteer steroids.

old woman posterize

Isolation, Illness … And Hate

Over the last couple of weeks several articles surfaced on the detrimental health effects of loneliness on the elderly and how it’s becoming an epidemic. And things always seem worse when we’re sick and there’s no one there to lean on for support. This is especially the case in rural areas where the sparse population adds to the isolation. This condition isn’t exclusive to the elderly either. The same can even be said when we feel isolated in our communities because our religious, social or political views.

Can these health detriments due to isolation be a breeding ground for hate? The outsized elderly vote for Donald Trump and his message of division and national isolation makes a case for it. Sadly I’ve never seen hate rise to levels of today. Why is this? Could it be the source of it is the unprecedented level loneliness and isolation in America? Maybe. Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, her chronicle on the rise of Nazism makes a parallel argument decades ago.

Terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other… Therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about. Isolation may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result. This isolation is, as it were, pretotalitarian; its hallmark is impotence insofar as power always comes from men acting together…; isolated men are powerless by definition.

Has America turned into a nation of isolated, sick and angry people -waiting impatiently for someone to ride in on a white horse to save them from their lives of misery  – no matter the consequences? Politics is killing us, literally. If all this isn’t enough to make us wake from our cerebral stupor … then what will?

I don’t remember a time when there’s been a civic Call-To-Action like this. Will we use this urgency to build a more connected society focused on doing and helping … or will we let it slip further into the abyss of intractable allegiance to political ideology and hate? No party or candidate is going to do it for us – no matter how many campaign promises.

This is an opportunity for America to wake up and create a new set of civic habits – habits that revolve around direct engagement and extreme neighborliness – regardless the neighbor.

In 2017 I challenge all of you to pull yourself away from Facebook and Twitter, go out get your hands dirty and actually make your community a better place. The United States constitution begins with “We the people…” not “We the minions under the spell of the clowns in Washington D.C. waiting passively for someone to save our asses.” If we can’t muster up enough energy and care enough about our neighbors to make an effort … maybe we don’t even deserve to live in the country our forefathers founded. Think about it.

Our true destiny is a world built from the bottom up by competent citizens living in solid communities, engaged in and by their places. – David W. Orr

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One thought on ““What do we do now?” A 2017 Call-To-Action!

  1. Thanks for this post, Clay. I know that many of us have been trying to work through these issues without much resolve or solace.
    Re: the “dilemma of our leadership” and “Nothing we do is going to change this,” it seems to me that election reform (getting big money out of our elections) would help. There are so many good, thoughtful people who would like to participate in political leadership but are unwilling to do so in this environment. It breaks my heart and compromises our future.
    Beyond that, I’m struggling with how to act in today’s reality. Like you, I live in a very rural and largely conservative community. I’m curious as to how you deal with blatant statements of hate, racism, misogyny, etc. by your neighbors. I am finding it hard to “build playgrounds” with people who express such hate. I believe that it is important to speak up against injustice, but I am searching for ways to do that without terminating opportunities for front porch work.
    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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