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PORTSIDE  June 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDE June 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Bring Obama Home? Civics 101

From:

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Date:

Sat, 4 Jun 2011 20:12:18 -0400

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text/plain (232 lines)

What Will It Take to Bring Obama Home? Civics 101

By Sharon Kyle
Publisher LA Progressive 
June 1, 2011

http://www.laprogressive.com/election-reform-campaigns/bring-obama-home-civics-101/

How Do We Bring Obama Home?

I care less about bringing President Barack Obama home
than I care about having a government that exists to
work for the common good - that enacts legislation and
carries out policy that serves the people, not the
corporate bottom line.

To get that kind of government, we'll need to do way
more than just bring Obama home. We'll need to initiate
a culture change.

When President Obama came into office, we were in the
midst of two wars, a global economic crisis,  were
experiencing record unemployment, runaway debt,
skyrocketing foreclosures, a healthcare crisis, failing
public education systems, crumbling infrastructure, a
political system so polarized, crony-ized, and corrupt
that few trust it and, of course, unequivocal evidence
that humans are causing runaway global climate change.
What a mess!!

Who created this mess? And how are we addressing it?

Mainstream media and the blogosphere are teeming with
articles about Obama's performance. They say he's too
progressive or not progressive enough, too moderate or
not moderate enough, too harsh on his base or too
accommodating, too conciliatory, cautious, and cerebral
- and believe me, there's plenty his Administration has
done or failed to do that I find dismaying. Yet, while
it is important to keep tabs on what's going on in
Washington, I don't know if there is much value in
debating the president's performance without also
assessing our own.

This mess our country is in was caused by more than
just politicians and none of the problems Obama
inherited were of his making. This is an important
point because it goes to the crux of this piece. The
quagmire we find ourselves in was decades in the
making. During those decades we created a culture of
politically ignorant ambivalence. It is that culture
that set the stage for power hungry opportunists to
create or influence the decisions that resulted in what
we have today.  Without changing this culture, we're
bound to end up right back here regardless of the
decisions made by this or any other president.

In 2009, at the height of the hoopla over healthcare,
Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC interviewed a woman who got
quite a bit of media coverage for her emotional
confrontation of then-Senator Arlen Spector. At one of
Spector's townhall meetings, the woman, Katy Abram,
asserted that Spector had awakened a sleeping giant
because of his support of the healthcare bill and
because he wasn't doing enough to restore the country
"back to what our founders created".

Abram identified herself as a conservative Republican
but, for me, irrespective of her political persuasion,
she came to symbolize a core problem at the root of
this nation's woes - a problem that transcends party
affiliation or political leaning, a problem that Thomas
Jefferson predicted could topple our system. The
problem: we lack accurate information and as a result
lack the will or motivation to get sufficiently
politically active.

In recent times, Americans have typically stayed on the
sidelines as observers until they personally experience
the negative impact of political decisions then maybe
they'll show up at the polls. This "spectator"
mentality is even spreading within the two major
political parties where activists once played key roles
but now often see most decisions made by party insiders
and monied interests behind closed doors.

In response to Katy Abram's confession that she had not
taken an interest in politics until the healthcare
townhall debates of 2009, Lawrence O'Donnell asked why
now? "You said in your statement that you are 35 years
old and nothing has gotten you interested in politics
before now," O'Donnell asked. "What's interesting to me
about that is that means you, as an adult, lived
through 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraq
War, you lived through all of that and were not
awakened into an interest in politics?"

When he asked why those events had no impact on her
political involvement but learning that the Obama
administration planned to provide healthcare to people
who would otherwise not be able to afford it, ignited a
fire in her,  Abram responded that, in the past, she'd
always had faith in the government but also went on to
say, "Honestly, I didn't really care".

Perhaps Abram didn't care about the plethora of ills
afflicting our country because she couldn't see that
they would eventually impact her and her loved ones.
Maybe she thought of them as someone else's problem.
Perhaps we can attribute her lack of civic engagement
on pressing issues such as the encroaching economic
crises, global warming, the military-industrial
complex, or the prison-industrial complex, to a lack of
knowledge.

The interview doesn't give us enough clues to
understand Abram's admitted political inactivity but I
think we all know someone like Katy. Studies, conducted
by respected institutions, suggest that Katy Abram,
with respect to her lack of civic engagement, is a
typical American.

In 2005, Georgetown University conducted  a study of
American civic engagement. According to the study, when
compared to countries in northern and western Europe,
the United States ranked among the lowest in civic
engagement.

Of the 14 countries studied, the U.S. ranked 13th only
second in inactivity to Austria, a country that was
incorporated into the Third Reich and ceased to exist
as an independent state until 1945.

We fared moderately better in the category of political
activity, ranking in the middle. But in the same study,
the United States ranked #1 in TV watching.

What the study found was that the population of the
United States has, for the past three decades, become
increasingly inactive in civic organizations while its
participation in various forms of entertainment has
increased.

Civic organizations that serve to both educate and
support the interests of common people are often so
poorly supported that they are struggling to survive.
Organizations such as labor unions, environmental
groups, civil rights organizations, political parties,
human rights groups, consumer rights organizations,
peace or animal rights groups and other interests can
barely sustain themselves today for lack of
participation.

In the early stages of this country's development, it
was this type of civic engagement that served as the
cornerstone of America's successful democratic
experiment. Our high levels of civic engagement are
what  Tocqueville attributed to our success, but today
we've become a nation of spectators, not activists.

Taken in isolation, this wouldn't be a recipe for
catastrophe but when you combine the lack of civic
engagement with the lack of civic education in schools
and throw in the misinformation fed to the masses on
TV, you get a populace that isn't equipped with the
knowledge necessary to fully participate in democracy
in a meaningful way - a way  that ensures their
interests are protected.

All too often, we just don't know enough about
politicians or issues to vote in a way that is in our
best interest. Thomas Jefferson said, "Whenever the
people are well-informed, they can be trusted with
their own government." Can we be trusted with ours?

Looking back to the 2008 presidential election, one
can't help but revel in awe at the unprecedented voter
turnout. Record numbers of first-time voters, African-
Americans, Latinos, independents, and young voters put
Obama in office. But that's as far as most of them
went. They put him in office and went back to watching
"American Idol."  They walked away at one of the most
pivotal times in American history.

Imagine the power of an administration that had the
same awe-inspiring numbers that came out to vote for
Obama - this time supporting the progressive agenda
with activism, pushing for change by phone banking for
progressive candidates in the 2010 election, or writing
to Congress about prison-based gerrymandering, or
marching en masse to protest the Citizens United
decision, or forcing Congress to hold BP accountable
for the clean up in the Gulf of Mexico, or supporting
the Administration on any number of the pressing issues
it confronts.

The monied interests in this country have a
clear set of goals and a roadmap for achieving them.
Yes, Wall Street gets what Wall Street demands. I
contend that a mobilized progressive movement
continually pressuring the Obama administration can
also get what it demands. But as long as Katy Abram and
the many varieties of Katy both on the Left and the
Right continue to dominate the political landscape of
this country, we'll continue to have this debate.

As did his predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
President Obama has challenged his supporters to
"force" him to make the tough, progressive decisions
they want. With a precious few exceptions, we have
failed to do that. Until we do, we need to worry more
about the home we have made than about bringing Obama
back to it.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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