I’m very aware that our current political and economic realities are so awful, so shocking, so surrealistic, even given our nation’s checkered past, that it’s all enough to render us immobile – not just unable to act, but convinced that there’s no point in acting. It looks like the bad guys have won, and all we can do – all we want to do – is stay beneath the radar and focus on our personal lives, reaping whatever purpose and satisfaction we can.
I can’t argue with this, especially when I know that most people are busy with jobs (or job hunting), families and friends (if they’re lucky enough to have them), and the myriad details of maintaining daily life – sometimes with major obstacles and burdens to bear.
Admittedly, as a single person who doesn’t work, I have more time than many people (if not most) to vent my spleen on this blog and advocate social/political action. Ironically, my chronic depression and ongoing agoraphobia have made it very difficult for me to do more than run off at the mouth. However, the budget-2011 debacle we just endured, as well as the thought of what comes next, have convinced me that I must do more, do whatever I can, and encourage others of like mind to do the same. I don’t plan, nor do I propose for others, to turn my life upside down, endanger my home or personal freedom, or, in general, get into trouble with the powers that be. That said, action is still necessary. The following is a summary of my current activities and plans; I hope it inspires you to devise an action plan of your own, if you don’t already have one.
First off, I try to be as aware as possible of what’s going on politically. I eschew the Big-3 (or 4) network news programs in favor of the nightly PBS NewsHour, both on air and online and Charlie Rose, arguably the best roundtable discussion series on TV. Other PBS programs also in my viewing repertoire include Washington Week and Frontline, as well as other documentaries, among them those from American Experience and anything by Ken Burns and Hedrick Smith. I also watch the three main cable news networks – CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews – with an occasional visit to the BBC. I rely on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher for both comic relief and important commentary. I peruse an assortment of newspapers, magazines and blogs each day, making sure I get the facts and not media pulp. And I contribute comments on blog posts and press articles, whether it's a quick sentence of agreement or a cogent message of disagreement.
I also enjoy independent documentaries and fictional features that touch and inspire. At the moment, I recommend Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, a two year old film that I’ve only recently seen, and for reasons I’m not sure of can be seen in its two-hour entirety, for free, at the link above. Second is The American President, also an older film, but extremely pertinent to today – most especially a five minute speech by the president (Michael Douglas), the essence of which I wish we would hear coming out of Barack Obama’s mouth.
Thirdly, I’m very big on signing petitions and writing letters/making phone calls to my Senators and Congressional representatives. I can tell you for a fact that these missives are taken very seriously, that it is assumed that for every letter received, hundreds of other people hold the same views but just didn’t bother to write. I know there are folks who dislike doing this, because they fear getting on some Nixon-style enemies list. This may be a reasonable concern – but I contend that speaking out in this way is not likely to have dire ramifications and, one way or the other, it’s worth the risk. Also, when I can, I practice a little checkbook liberalism. I don’t spend much; a $10 contribution to whatever organization(s) resonate with me is meaningful. Think what it would mean if all of a sudden, hundreds of thousands of people began sending in $10 apiece to a broad range of liberal enterprises. That’s serious bucks.
I vote each and every time any sort of election comes up. Another way of voicing protest is changing one’s party affiliation. I plan on dropping my lifelong Democratic allegiance and re-register as an Independent. It’s the only way I know how to tell the Democrats that they can’t take me for granted. If, suddenly, thousands of people dropped those donkeys, they would be very curious and very concerned; really give them something to think about.
Perhaps the most important thing any of us can do is talk about serious political issues with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, the guy in the deli, your hairdresser; anybody and everybody. In the final analysis, it’s word of mouth that creates a buzz for and of change. Even though we’re all going through this, it often, sadly, feels like we’re going through it alone. Empathy, togetherness, a sense of shared purpose are enormously valuable because they’re incredibly strengthening.