( - promoted by Teddy Goodson)
Today is the day we celebrate the achievement of American independence and assess how well this 233-year-old experiment is going. And personally, I am more hopeful today about the state of American democracy than I can ever remember having been before.
The Founders well understood that the vibrancy of our system depends upon how closely and how well the citizenry is engaged. As Thomas Jefferson once put it:
If once [the people] become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.
Yet for most of my life, I have watched the public - the drivers of democracy - essentially asleep at the wheel.
|I first became aware of the world around me in the seventies, a time when the most positive legacy of the sixties - the Martin Luther King-inspired philosophy of civic activism - seemed to be giving way to the least positive aspect of the sixties - the self-centered, drug-addled attitude of "Tune in, turn on, drop out."
As progressive-minded people dropped out of the public sphere to focus on their weed and their karma, citizens with a very different agenda increasingly dominated the public sphere, from Nixon's angry hardhats to Reagan's born-agains to Gingrich's dittoheads. Conservatives had figured out how to engage their base, but, paradoxically, in service to a message of disengagement - one that disparaged government and the public sphere. The right wing organized in order to be left alone to their McMansions, SUVs and Wal-Marts in their sprawling, soulless suburbs.
The Democratic party and liberal organizations during much of this time fell into a more corporate mode, during which most people's only interaction with them was as a recipient of endless fundraising letters written in phony tones by unimaginative consultants. We were usually neither asked nor expected to take the streets - to the contrary, that was about the last thing that our political bosses wanted.
And then with the dawn of a new century, a funny thing happened. With remarkable new technologies that allowed individuals to congregate and make their voices heard spontaneously, without corporate or party sponsorship, a new wave of web-based activism began to emerge. Groups like MoveOn.org sprouted up virtually overnight, demonstrating once again that civil activism can influence the public debate.
While the conservative movement was running its course - indeed being run into the ground by the likes of Bush and Cheney - the new progressive activism continued to spread like wildfire. It would focus its energies on this or that candidate - Dean, Clark, Kerry, Gore, Obama - yet never surrender its genuine, grassroots independence.
Like many progressives, I was roused from my torpor by frustration at the incompetence and cynicism of the Bush administration, to jump more actively back into the political sphere. Inspired by Lowell Feld's terrific Raising Kaine blog, I began to add my voice to a movement that has had astounding success in turning Virginia from the state of Gilmore, Allen, J. Warner and Bush to the state of Kaine, Webb, M. Warner and Obama. And we're not even done yet!
I'm hopeful this July 4th because, with a former community activist inspired by Saul Alinsky in the White House, and present-day activists engaged throughout the country, we have the greatest chance I have seen in my lifetime to make progress on the issues that have stymied this country through my lifetime and beyond - energy, health care, income inequality, the proper use of American military force.
We have a chance because we, the people, are taking the initiative to make that chance real. We are the fireworks lighting up the sky, and as long as we keep those activist flames alive, the future of American democracy will continue to be bright.