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August 24, 2008

Movie Lecturing to Change the World

I just watch Lions for Lambs, which was accurately described by the critics as a lecture looking for a movie. I couldn't tell you how to make it a better movie, but on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, I find it worthwhile to ponder how to move from pontificating to action.

There are many things that bother me about society, but to start with the basics: there's a continental divide between well-informed citizens and the masses. The masses only hear about the horse race of politics, whereas the well-informed have some knowledge of policy issues, current events, and philosophical differences.

The blogosphere allows those informed citizens to connect with one another, and offers a glimpse at "the informed everyman" for the 24 hours news cycle to ponder.

And yet, the entire paradigm exists within rules. The people involved take for granted the notion that an Electoral College is a legitimate, democratic way to elect a leader. Many believe that free trade capitalism gave US citizens the freedoms we enjoy and that our society - from private health insurance to credit card oblivion - is the most advanced civilization in the world.

Like Lions for Lambs, I don't have the answers that will change the world. What I do know is that nothing will change without a fundamental shift towards real democracy - one person, one vote. Abolishing the Electoral College is the first step to real change. It's a joke to think that being "of the people" is a credential for winning the presidency. The vast majority of people are silenced because they live in major cities; it is the small, rural, majority white states that make a difference in who becomes president. Forget about making a difference in that race if you live in Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. I'm constantly amazed at the number of engaged citizens who pay no attention to the fact that their votes are swallowed by the great appeasement of slave-owning colonies at this country's founding.

So not only are political debates silenced by the oppressive two party system, a simple vote between two men for the most important job in the world is at the mercy of ethanol farmers in Iowa and bison hunters in Montana.

This country is afraid to see that the emperor has no clothes. Don't talk to me about healthcare unless you're committed to cutting venal insurance companies out of the process. Don't mention the economy if you can't recognize the connection between corporate greed and the ever-diminishing average U.S. paycheck, ballooning individual debt, and utter lack of fiscal security in retirement caused by the demise of real pensions.

The fundamental flaws in our society cannot be changed with slogans or even by choosing a particular candidate for president. We need to begin with better education, not just of our school-age children, but of our voting-age citizens. Instead of nattering about poll numbers and describing lusty oratory, we need reporters to explain policy issues and the differences between the candidates' perspectives.

We need cultural touch stones to be more than a surprising performance in Tropic Thunder by a great actor with a penchant for cult beliefs. Fine art should not be relegated to the playground of Russian oligarchs who made their millions by raping their fellow citizens of the natural resources rightfully owned by the people as a whole. Work days should not leave us so deprived of mental space and physical time that a black box full of "reality" programming and ridiculous competitions is the only reprieve we have from chasing the almighty dollar.

This paradigm shift can only begin when we make civic engagement a priority. We need to build citizen advocacy institutions. We need to do more than supporting the paid activism of professional abortion protectors, queer rights advocates, and bloggers. We need to work to build institutions that allow us to be involved in the process - not just by signing the next online petition, but that marry the experience of professional activists with the passion of volunteer citizens. Only by combining the power of the individual in community with the insight of full-time peace and justice workers will we change the fundamental demons plaguing our world.

When I graduated college, I made a commitment to embody this ideal by continuing to be an active member of Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF). Eight years later, after two terms on the national board, I am often disheartened by the lack of real progress made in connecting the real challenges faced by ordinary Americans with the country's political discourse. Nevertheless, I am determined to continue my support for issue advocacy by ordinary citizens within this country and citizen diplomacy on a global level as the only way to create the social upheaval needed to create a the more just society we should pass on to the generations to come.

Thus ends my rant inspired by Redford's 90 minute civics lesson.

Posted by cj at August 24, 2008 3:32 PM


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