Individually we feel impotent and insignificant, unable to check the forces arrayed against us. Individually! As individuals, we are divided and conquered; it’s an ancient and effective strategy. United we stand and together we can keep power honest and push back against the more egregious infringements of our liberties. But what can we do?
In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grass-roots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness ofvictoryand want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?
Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something—and every bit helps….
What this means is to be actively, creatively, engaged with your world instead of being a passive consumer chasing after the next big thing. Remember, we get the government we deserve. If we’re sitting watching sport, drinking beer and eating pizza, caught up in the latest celebrity scandal, or fascinated by the latest Weapon of Mass Distraction then we’re not watching what is being done in our names in shadowy back rooms off the less frequented corridors of power.
Through being inattentive, we are shocked to discover that our land has been seized through the legal stratagem of eminent domain, allowing a corporation to lay a pipeline, pollute the water and destroy the ecosystem. Inattentive, we discover that a public park that was purchased with public money is to be sold in a sweetheart deal for commercial development at nominal cost to the developer. Inattentive, we discover that an international trade agreement has been negotiated in secret and passed into law thus subverting our sovereignty, allowing global corporations to have more rights over the way we live than we do.
But what can we, each of us do?
Seek refuge in community: a church, a lodge, a cooperative association. Involve yourself helping others. Find something that you are comfortable doing. By turning up and being present, you will eventually find something that you can do to help us all. Once you are comfortable working with others, there is the model for organizing social movements developed by Bill Moyer, who spent his life as
a full-time theorist, writer, organizer, consultant, educator and participant in social movements focused on a wide variety of issues on three continents. He created the Movement Action Plan (MAP), which he turned into a handbook with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer; it is published by New Society Publishers at www.newsociety.com under the title Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements.
Doing Democracy is a valuable book. MAP assumes:
A chief cause of social problems is the concentration of political and economic power in the few elite individuals and institutions that act in their own self-interest.
Participatory democracy is a key means for resolving today’s awesome societal problems and for establishing a just and sustainable world for everyone.
Political and economic power ultimately rest with the majority population; the powerholders in any society can only rule as long as they have the consent or acquiescence of the people.
The most important issue today is the struggle between the majority of citizens and the individual and institutional powerholders to determine whether society will be based on the power elite or people power model.
For those actively interested in social justice, Doing Democracy describes a plan of action for the four roles of social activism, and the eight stages of social movements:
Stagnation: It is a time of standstill and decline. The political and social environment is corrupt, insights or ideas from people of principle will be met with apathy or rejection, but they must remain true to their principles.
Difficult Beginnings: The birth of every new venture begins in some confusion, because we are entering the realm of the unknown. It is our duty to act, but we lack sufficient power; we must take the first step.
Assembling: This is a time of gathering together of people in communities. Strong bonds must be maintained by adherence to appropriate moral principles. Only collective moral force can unite the world.
Critical Mass: It is a momentous time of excess of strong elements. One takes courageous acts not by force, but by seeking true meaning to accomplish the task, no matter what happens. Maintain alliance with those below. It is like floodtimes, which are only temporary.
Retreat: You may now be suffering from an inner conflict based upon the misalignment of your ideals and reality. It is time to retreat and take a longer look to be able to advance later. Vengeance and hatred could cloud your judgement and prevent the necessary retreat.
Changing: The forces at work are in conflict, leaving the path open to change. Far-reaching clarity about the future and great devotion are required. The transformation should be made gradually, nonviolently, without discordant and excessive behavior. The results lead to a progressive new era but are not evident until the change has already occurred.
Success: Victory seems to have been achieved. Everything looks easy. Just there, however, lies the danger. If we are not on guard, evil will succeed in escaping and new misfortunes will develop. You cannot fight for righteousness with corrupt motives, self-serving interests or deceit.
Continuing: Success now comes through long-standing objectives, traditions and enduring values. Apply just enough consistent force to affect the situation. The movement turns into a new beginning.
At each stage, Moyers summarizes the status of each facet: the movement, the power-holders, the public, the goals, the pitfalls, the crisis, and the conclusions reached at that stage.
Finally, Doing Democracy explains why you can believe in the power of social movements, supporting its arguments with analysis of each stage of five of the most recent major social movements in the form of case studies:
- The U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
- The Anti-Nuclear Energy Movement.
- The Gay and Lesbian Movement.
- The Breast Cancer Social Movement.
- The Globalization Movement.
Moyer draws attention to an important corollary
that human society is made up of three interconnected and interdependent parts: individuals, culture, and social systems & institutions—the
it. They are different aspects of the same whole; consequently, one can’t be transformed for long without the requisite changes in the other two. Therefore, even if a society’s social systems and institutions were transformed to the peaceful paradigm, the change would not last without a parallel transformation of that society’s individuals and culture. Similarly, the good society is unlikely to develop without individual change because, outside of dictatorships, social system and institutional change usually follows personal and cultural change on the part of at least some of the population.
In short, our government and cultural institutions are a reflection of our collective selves. We must lead by example.