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Practical Democracy

On Personal and Social Change

The Last Page

The purpose of this blog was to show much of the thinking that went into founding Progressive Omaha. That effort, publishing jottings that covered a little over a year and ended in January of 2006, is now finished.

Further thoughts will be continued in real time in a different blog also appearing in this space.

January, 2006

January 6, 2006

So if we are going to have a moral code, we need to live by it. This political moral code takes many of the same things that we learn in our churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and philosophies and applies them to politics.

One of the things we learned in the past 40 years is that the personal is political. George Lakoff tells us that the reason the Religious Right has been so successful is because they proclaim their Strict Father moral code in word and deed. A frequent comment in Frank Thomas's book "What's the Matter With Kansas?" is that these grassroots Radical Right activists are, for the most part, nice guys - ordinary lower middle class people who would make good neighbors.

We need a core group of democrats (with a small 'd') who exemplify the Nurturing Parent morality of Progressives in word and deed.

To live this moral code, we need practical skills. That is where Practical Democracy comes in. Since the Progressive moral code is a morality of nurturing and partnership, the first step is nurturing ourselves.

December, 2005

December 26, 2005

There is no need to focus on control freaks:

1. You become who you focus on.

2. The vast majority of Progressives are decent people who recognize human values. They will not be unduly influenced by the control freaks.

3. Focus on open process. Control freaks cannot operate in an open environment.

December 27, 2005

The Religious Right is a heretical Christian sect (Manichaeanism) found primarily in America.

November, 2005

November 2, 2005

Corporations and their owners are the new aristocracy. Estate taxes no longer have the intended effect of deterring the hereditary transmission of wealth, since that chore is largely taken care of by corporations.

November 12, 2005

Our job is to change the temper of the times (the 'mores' of de Tocqueville) so that a new Supreme Court could declare corporate personhood unconstitutional - or that a constitutional amendment so declaring could be passed.

November 16, 2005

When aristocracy was in bloom, people could no more envision ridding themselves of dukes, barons, lords and ladies than most today can imagine ridding ourselves of corporations.

So the strategy for the near term is probably just to whittle down the power of the corporation - greater transparency, fair taxation, more review of corporate charters for social accountability, more criminal prosecution of boards of directors and top management for corporate wrongdoing.

Power Structure Studies

October 8, 2005

Discussion on the Value of Power Structure Studies

The Upside:

Knowing who are the local Powers That Be and how they are connected helps in deciding how to counter them - what their weaknesses are, how they might be guided into more constructive actions, why they do what they do, whose interests are being served.

The Downside:

This info is highly desired by the business class. It is
used by ambitious business people to further their own interests. In making it public we are also helping businesses profit.
People who become knowledgeable about the local power structure can more easily join it. Our people who do this research may be targeted for bribes or, more likely, tempted to scrap their thankless working for Democracy and join the dark side. Tempting opportunities may open up, and wealth and power can often erode principles.

September 2005

September 22, 2005

Since the Right is proposing various governmental changes that will restructure the country into a hereditary aristocracy (1), a confessional state (2), give the military local policing power (3), and jail Americans indefinitely without charges at the discretion of the President (4), it seems that small-d democrats need to be equally bold.

Being bold means not only countering the above issues, but also addressing the deep national wounds of racism, inequality and injustice.

In short, the remedy for a beleaguered democracy is More Democracy.

Democracy is an evolving, not a static, concept. Revolutionary America's version of democracy was based on several hundred years of experience by European businessmen, the descendants of whom then managed to escape to the New World. Although wise and learned in the narrow world they lived in, their democratic vision had no room for women, Indians, Blacks or even landless European immigrants.

(1) Alexis de Tocqueville, more familiar than we are with European hereditary aristocracies, saw the Estate tax (what Conservatives call "the Death Tax") as the necessary means of preventing the rise of a hereditary aristocracy. See Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Harvey C Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 47. (11/19/2011) My apologies. Someone recently questioned whether the U.S. had an "estate tax" in the early 1800's. When I went to re-check the reference in de Tocqueville, I realized that he had been referring to a different change in inheritance laws, not an estate tax. Here is a history of estate taxes in the U. S. - jjd) Just because corporations are the modern means of hereditary aristocracy does not mean we should abandon an old tool that that still has some use left in it.

(2) http://www.beliefnet.com/story/154/story_15469_1.html

(3) http://www.towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/911/ That this development is not appreciated by Libertarian Conservatives can be seen from this article http://www.cato.org/pubs/handbook/hb105-17.html from the Cato Institute. The original impetus for writing this was http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1008-02.htm

(4) http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1008-02.htm


September 23, 2005

This website presents some ideas for securing new areas for Democracy as well as re-taking and strengthening old areas that are currently under attack.

A good part of these suggestions are based on the principal that defending American Democracy can only be done by people who are committed to Democracy and to each other.

The vast social and economic forces that are arrayed against us do not respond to the plight of the isolated individual. They begin to take notice, however, as people join together with each other in common cause across boundaries of class, religion, race, etc.

We can do this.

And we can turn our daily lives into a witness for Democracy. For instance, simply being respectful of others witnesses for Democracy. Democracy is based on respect for others.

A democrat knows the history of our country - the good and the bad; acknowledges the bad and grieves with those who have and continue to suffer under it; and celebrates the good and does our best to further it.

June 2005

June 3, 2005
In fifty years, if there is a human race left, it will be as different from the human race of today as Golden Retrievers are from Dachshunds. Genetic engineering and nanotechnology will elevate our offspring to something that we cannot comprehend. The people alive today will be remembered as the Last of the Classical Human Race.

June 22, 2005
For people to organize themselves, it seems to me that a major issue would be opening up public space - space for debate/ideas/info.

Improving the finances of the lower 2/5 of the income spread would help a lot by reducing the need for secure buildings, gated communities, or working two jobs.

Making malls public spaces, as opposed to private property, would help too.

Otherwise, one of the few places to organize is in churches.

June 28, 2005
To be effective, grassroots political activists from the Professional-Managerial Class need to go thru everything implied by a cross-cultural experience - sensitivity training, learning a new language, culture shock. They have to re-evaluate all their dearest beliefs and attitudes: that facts and figures are the way to persuade people, that what is lacking for people to act is simply that they understand the gravity of the situation, that people are unaware of the lies of the government, that political discussions are a normal way to while away an evening, that keeping up with the news is important...

May, 2005

May 18, 2005

Beginning with the FDR administration, the Democratic Party moved from being the fitful supporter of White workers to a more inclusive and more class-based working person's party. For a dozen years or more, the government did things that actually benefited working people and was rewarded by huge electoral majorities in national elections.

But all things change, even class structure. With the end of World War II, the U.S. dominated the world militarily and economically. Big business needed managers and professionals to run expanding global commerce; <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Americans_and_the_G.I._Bill">returning White veterans</a> could improve their future earning power by taking advantage of generous GI bill benefits (this also kept them out of the workforce, a significant concern in those early postwar days when no one knew if the country would just slip back into the Depression.)

In particular, conservatives had the bejeebers scared out of them by the launching of Sputnik, the Soviet Union's (and the world's) first orbiting satellite. They willingly voted to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars in additional education funding under the rubric of defense spending.

At the beginning of the 50's, there were four times as many medical doctors as college professors. By the early 60's, that figure had reversed.

The Professional-Managerial Class grew larger and larger.

Universities and colleges expanded. The college campus, once the private reserve of the ruling class, now oversaw the messy birth of a New Class. And at many colleges, the New Class looked in all directions on campus and saw nothing but more professionals and managers. And the New Class saw that it was good.

But not THAT good, since there was a little matter of the draft, which could pull an unsuspecting student out of the classroom and plunk him down into a hail of bullets in a rice paddy.

They began to be plucked from college graduation classes by ones and twos, then by tens and twenties. By 1968, the roar of dissent from this new born class shook the windows of the White House.

It's not that the Professional-Managerial Class is unpatriotic exactly. It's just that the reference group for professionals is other professionals and they are scattered all over the world. Reflexive patriotism has never been a strong suit of the American Professional-Managerial Class. Or, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld when replying to a question about why he never volunteered to serve in Vietnam: "That wasn't one of my priorities."

1970 was also the year that a new group of Democrats, largely Professional-Managerial Class, took control of the party. This group made little attempt to appeal to the working class other than an uneasy relationship with major labor union leaders.

May 19, 2005

There have always been professionals and managers. Except possibly in Mandarin China, they were never numerous enough to justify calling them a separate class.

The Professional-Managerial Class had been growing slowly in the U.S. Growth accelerated at the turn of the 20th Century when the Progressive movement assaulted urban political machines.

Prior to this time, government jobs were filled by patronage. In big cities, political bosses organized immigrants along ethnic lines, turned them out to vote right and made sure the local ward-heelers were able to distribute goods, services and jobs. Whoever won the election had an army of loyal, happily employed supporters.

Progressives, largely at this time the underemployed educated or their parents, pushed thru civil service reforms in governments everywhere. No longer could a worker whose only credentials were party loyalty be sure he or she could find a good job. Now you had to have an education as well. The educated were well pleased with this result; the less well-educated, not so much.

This not only broke the back of most city machines, but raised up a new army of supporters now loyal to the Professional-Managerial myth of Meritocracy.

However, up through the 1940's, many members of the Professional-Managerial Class supported the cause of labor and working people. Labor was the only other major class capable of taking on Capital. Cooperation between the Professional-Managerial Class and Labor was a no-brainer for many on both sides.

With the explosive growth of the Professional-Managerial Class after World War II, the situation had changed substantially.

Under intense business pressure, big labor unions agreed to eliminate any trace of Leftists in return for better wages and benefits. The Leftists were by and large the more educated members of Labor unions, the ones who could help bridge the gap between the two classes.

With Capital focused on digesting the world economy, Labor was no longer in nearly as bad shape as in pre-war days. Although Labor struggles still happened (and the 1950's were full of labor unrest), Professional-Managerial idealists tended to get involved in different battles.

The Civil Rights movement was formative for many. The Civil Rights movement in turn legitimized Feminism, a largely Professional-Managerial movement.

Labor became the cause of choice for few Professional-Managerial Class activists. On the one side, PMC activists had a wide range of causes to choose from - Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the Environment, Nader's Raiders, Women's Rights, Animal Rights, Gay Rights, Nuclear Power, Nicaragua, El Salvador. On the other side, McCarthyism had vanquished most Leftists from the ranks of Labor, but Labor, on the whole and especially in the established industries, was doing pretty well.

The PMC began to rethink the need for Labor's help in challenging Capital, nor did it seem that Labor was very interested in challenging Capital outside of basic wage and hour issues.

Once they no longer seemed to need each other in a common battle, the underlying antagonisms began to surface.

The problem with this scenario is that classes and class structure continue to change.

The classical Working Class is going the way of the Farmer. One hundred years ago, most people in this country were still farmers. As recently as the 1950's, big city newspaper editorial writers railed against "The Farm Bloc," the states where farmers demanded parity (a living wage), crop subsidies and protective tariffs.

Today <a href="http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/c/census_bureau/index.html?query=FARMERS&field=des&match=exact">the Census Bureau no longer counts Farmers</a>. There aren't enough of them. All that is left is the Agricultural Industry.

And with things like computerized expert systems making medical diagnoses now, the PMC is probably not far behind on the road to extinction. What is left of Labor and the PMC once again face a common challenge: How to channel the "creative destruction" of Capitalism into something that benefits the people as opposed to turning us into serfs.

May 20, 2005

Unfortunately, for the past 30 years it has been the extreme Right Wing that has been reaching out to the Working Class.

After the romance between the Working Class and the PMC cooled, the extreme Right began a lengthy and assiduous courtship.

The Right's intellectual appeal is to tradition (a past that never was), defense of helpless (unborn) children, and a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Moral-Politics-Liberals-Conservatives-Think/dp/0226467716">strict father led family/nation</a> with clear rules and roles.

The emotional appeal is to a sense of community (especially in churches) and class resentment (against limousine liberals and other Professional-managerial types).

The political appeal is to the <a href="http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1142_reg.html">unspoken Social Compact</a>, that as long as the Working Class stays out of politics, pays their taxes, keeps their nose clean and supports the wars, the government will not interfere in their lives; and their lives and their children's will be tolerable.

It seems to be time once again for the PMC idealists, social reformers and organizers to reach out to the 75% of the country that works for a living: and this most emphatically includes the White Working Class as well as all minorities.

When Socialists ran Milwaukee they were called "Sewer Socialists" because their focus was day-to-day issues of street maintenance, water, sewers, parks, etc. They were hugely popular and remained in power for decades. These are the kinds of issues that interest everyone including the White Working Class.

They tied local issues to the economy by such tactics as refusing to fund city improvements by passing bonds (bonds mainly serve to enrich the banks). Instead, they began a city improvement fund that they kept in the bank and drew from as needed and which earned interest so that the banks paid them.

Drawing connections between state and local issues and the national political economy shouldn't be that hard for the Professional-managerial Class. It is the kind of work that class enjoys. The hard part is convincing the PMC that this is the only way to win - by winning over even the White Working Class.

April 2005

April 2, 2005

Notes from the Labor Conference (The UNO William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies Sixth Annual Labor Community Conference)

Keynote Speaker: <a href="http://www.thenewpress.com/index.php?option=com_title&task=view_title&metaproductid=1246">Frances Fox Piven</a>
The theme of keynote speaker Frances Fox Piven's talk is that war is a device for the elites to plunder the U.S.
There are <a href="http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0115-08.htm">6000</a> military bases just in the United States.
War holds the Republican base together; otherwise the amalgam of Libertarians, deficit hawks, true conservatives and Religious Right have little in common.
War unites the electorate.

April 5, 2005
Most people are not particularly political; they just want to have a decent life for themselves and their family and to be good people. Foreign policy, even small wars, do not figure greatly in their lives.

Of course, this is at least partly because people do not feel that they have any way to make their opinions heard on the colossal scale of the federal government.

The Left generally addresses only political, structural, policy and intellectual issues. To reach the people that these issues have less resonance with, progressive organizers can expand our approach to include personal issues: How do I be a decent person, how can I make my world - my petty day-to-day life - be a better world? How can I do the best for my spouse and children and raise them to be good, responsible people and citizens?

These are issues that most folks believe to be within their power.

To rule out these issues is to deny the lessons of the past century, that The Personal Is Political. And if we cannot speak to these issues, if the issues that we care so desperately about are out of reach for the average person, perhaps our approach is too rarefied, too abstract.

So how do we expand our approach to include personal issues?

My proposal is to redefine Democracy as simply a way to operationalize love, to put love into daily practice; loving ourselves, others and making sure that, insofar as we can, our political and economic institutions express love and respect for all.

The only new part of this idea, perhaps, is calling the transformative movement "Democracy".

Gandhi started the first modern political mass movement that required personal discipline of its members along with a strict code of conduct (non-violence).

His example was taken up in a number of other countries, including <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/culture/articles/eav051002.shtml"> Afghanistan</a> and the Civil Rights movement in America.

The Second Wave of Feminism subsequently coined the term "The Personal is Political".

Various anti-nuclear power groups began in the early 70's and used non-violence and consensus decision making: the Clamshell Alliance in Seabrook, NH, The Abalone Alliance in California.

Another movement from about the same time was Radical Therapy, which insisted that there must be a personal and spiritual component to any political vision.

Radical Therapy started in California in the 70's as an amalgamation of several trends: a newsletter called "State and Power" from the East Coast which opposed forced mental health treatment, another newsletter called "Radical Therapy", which began as a project of a couple of psychiatrists in Minot AFB in Minot SD. (These psychiatrists got tired of putting pilots back together emotionally so they could go out and drop bombs on more Vietnamese peasants.) The third influence in Radical Therapy was a group of politically active psychotherapists and therapy-wise political activists from San Francisco led by <a href="http://www.emotional-literacy.com/">Claude Steiner</a>.

The most recent example of a movement using consensus decision making and non-violent resistance (essentials of "the personal is political" approach) has been the anti-WTO actions in Seattle, Italy, Mexico, etc.

Can redefining Democracy to include personal and social as well as political (and economic) components help us bridge the gap between the political activists and the rest of the population?

It certainly can't hurt.

March 2005

March 19, 2005

The problem to be addressed in a democracy is how to reduce the tendency to the "Tyranny of the Leadership".

The Iron Law of Oligarchy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy) says that all democracies end up as oligarchies, and for good and valid reasons.

Among the reasons are:

The leadership is a much smaller group than the membership.

The leadership are all known to one another and often coordinate their actions.

The leadership position often brings perks and recognition that encourage individuals to want to hang onto it.

No one understands the pressures and experiences of leadership like another leader - the leadership group tends to grow apart from the membership over time.

All the reins of power are in the hands of the leadership. It is easy to unthinkingly begin handling more and more of the decisions within the leadership cadre, without consulting the membership. Given that even well-intentioned people tend to accumulate power, someone who deliberately plans on concentrating power may not be detected for quite a while.

The membership has lots of other demands on their time and can be tempted to leave everything to the leadership.

This is not to disparage leadership. This is to acknowledge the role we all play in being leaders. No matter who we are, we can no more hand over that power completely to others than we can hand over the power to think.

So how do we minimize the risk of runaway leadership?

Develop a culture of personal power. Training programs for low-functioning adults generally include significant doses of assertiveness. Since it can happen so easily, they are taught specifically how not to be taken advantage of. If this can be done with low-functioning adults, it seems that it would be possible to do with the average adult. People who value Democracy need to promote, first and foremost, a decentralized culture of personal power and assertiveness.

March 23, 2005

We need a politics of Democracy: Democracy Studies, Democracy Support Groups, Democracy Rituals; Democracy in the family, Democracy in our personal life, Democracy at work.

Democratic politics means open government, mutual transparancy (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/fftransparent_pr.html), and laws and policies for people rather than corporations.

A democratic movement means protests, Direct Action, NonViolent Resistance, Civil Disobedience.

We need a democratic politics and a democratic movement; and the strategies, tactics and institutions that the non-sectarian left has been developing for the last 70 years or so are available and ready to propel a Democracy Movement.

So why not just call it a NonViolence Movement? Because, in my view, NonViolence is a policy but Democracy is a way of life.

Because Democracy has widespread, immediate recognition and allegiance. And it is Democracy that is being attacked and subverted, and that attack has an immediate effect on the people of the United States and of the world.

Because it is time to reclaim the word Democracy from the Right. The Right says that voting is Democracy. We say that Democracy is a way of life, that it is to be manifested in our personal, social and political/economic lives (ref prev article).

Because Democracy is an evolving term. Two hundred forty years ago it meant propertied white males.

Because while powerful control freaks are attempting to whittle away the meaning and essence of Democracy, it is our task to kick it up to the next level.

Because anyone can be an expert in Democracy. It does not require a Ph.D. or years of study. It just requires a good heart, a heart that treats others as equals, that respects self and others. This is not book learning. (Not that there is anything wrong with book learning; but over-reliance on experts and abstraction can get in the way of being a democrat.)

March 24, 2005
With the current representative form of government, there is little incentive for an elected official to follow his or her constituents wishes, and plenty of incentive from monied interests to oppose them. Only rarely will the indignation of the electorate last till the next election, and even then all the representative has to do is balance the unpopular decision with one that is popular.

One way to handle this problem is to not go away after the legislator is elected. Regular phone calls, letters, meetings and petitions help remind the elected official that their actions are being watched.

A more long term solution is to start moving the mechanisms of government to greater transparency and greater direct citizen participation (as seen in <a href="http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0745320961-0">The Porto Alegre Alternative</a>, for instance.) Simplified recall procedures, initiatives (without paid circulators), and preferential voting legislation are steps on the road to pure democracy.

Practical Democracy is not a blueprint for setting up a political party. It does not run people for office or trust people in office to make the best decisions for their constituents.

It is an advocacy group that promotes Democracy; that it, direct citizen participation in government. Running candidates for office would be a fatal conflict of interest, although the organization may endorse candidates from time to time.

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