Struck a Nerve

Ever since broaching the idea of a nationwide Voter’s Strike, I’ve had people vehemently tell me how wrong I am — without offering any reasons why. “It’s so wrong, I can’t even talk to you about it,” said one person, who is actually informed and passionate about such things. Another person has worked on election campaigns for years and was similarly enraged at the thought — yet offered no actual rebut (I believe it’s pending).

So, I ask: Why are you voting? If you feel strongly about one of the candidates this year, I can’t argue with that. Or, if you’re engaging in some the defensive maneuvers Fred Hiatt discussed (as we linked on our Facebook page), I can begrudgingly see your side. But, so many people talking about wanting revolution, wanting a huge seismic change, wanting “someone” to do “something” — yet, to the polls we’ll go, neutering the actual power of our vote by essentially trying to stop a deluge with a pint glass. If people want something revolutionary to happen, well, something revolutionary has to happen! As one of those people, I realized you can’t hope to radically transform the system by buying into it. I’d love to be proved wrong because I’m not at all excited about Striking. But, no one can offer any coherent reasons why.

So, I ask you: Why are you voting?

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Voter Strike

What if an election were held and nobody came?

I’m sure if you talked to most people paying attention to this year’s presidential election, most would claim to be frustrated, exhausted, or just plain bored by the whole shallow enterprise. Who can blame them? There is a palpable, very real feeling that this country is teetering; or, worse, on a collision course toward…something. Something cataclysmic. Yet, there also is no sense of urgency on the part of our leaders, or those who want to lead, to identify, address, and start solving the problems contributing to a general feeling of dread in America. Only the most blind, obnoxiously nationalistic citizen can claim with a straight face that this country is still as strong, respected (even within our own borders), or forward-thinking as we once were. From the extremists on both sides of our political spectrum to centrists and independence attempting to hold onto a decaying middle, there is a sense of impending doom. If that’s the one thing many of us collectively feel, regardless of where the finger is pointed, isn’t there some truth to it?

Do you feel that your government is beholden to you? Answers to you? Address your needs, concerns, or values? Functions with a focus on the best interests of you and your fellow citizens?

There really is no possible way to answer yes at this point. The reasons why are so entrenched, so OLD, so much a fabric of our life now that mentioning them is to speak in clichés: the role of big money in government and campaigns, the politics of division, elected officials with an eye toward the next election rather than the future, vilifying/demonizing opponents/dissenters, etc.

I’ve always held a profound belief in the responsibility and power of my vote. I’ve defended myself against Gore supporters for voting for Nader in 2000 (no regrets) and for believing this country would be best served by having more voices engaged in the political process and, occasionally, voting to back up that view. I still believe in the power and responsibility of voting. This is why I’m striking. The idea of participating in the fatally flawed, corporately usurped, painfully cynical political process in this country sickens me. I can only hope to help destroy it or, at least, contribute in some way to its upheaval. I’ve come to believe the opposite of that old voting responsibility adage: you can’t complain if you DO vote. You are participating and supporting a political class that shallowly answers to you every few years in November and then proceeds to do what’s best for the wealthiest and the most powerful.

When I announced this realization to a close friend of mine, he rightfully told me, “you can’t exercise radical politics in the voting booth,” meaning that, just sitting out an election or voting third party is not enough to protest/change the current system. You must work toward that change. So, this is the beginning of my protest. I’m not completely sure what other avenues I’ll take, but this is definitely a first step.

Imagine if you woke up November 7 to a new president elected by a minute percentage of this country’s eligible voters. A president without a country. Business may continue as usual, but the silent protest of a country fed up will have been deafening. This would not be the inaction of a slacker citizenry, lazy, uncaring, or uninformed. You can use the sole, powerful tool you have as a citizen – your vote – to say, this is no longer good enough; I demand more. You can refuse to be a willing pawn in the process that happens both to you and in spite of you, but not for you.

I’m still debating this stance within myself. I may cave into years of that prior belief in the necessity of participation. But, I’ve felt more strongly about this than I have about any candidate who’s gotten my vote. This isn’t an act of ignorance or indifference; it’s an act of defiance.

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Occupying the Fence

So, a couple of the Commonfolk here (namely Angry Joe I. & Belluzzi) spent last weekend Occupying Wall St., a grand and necessary exercise in democracy and basic frustration with the state of America.

I have been meaning to get over there, but have not yet been able. This encapsulates my ambivalence about the movement. Firstly, let me emphasize that I’m excited by the Occupation. If nothing else, I think it’s proving that a good chunk of the citizenry is no longer content staying home and complaining–they are demanding to be heard and making themselves heard, and that is a monumental first step. The occupations are a start, something we haven’t had for years in this country. It’s exhilarating just to hear about and see people taking to the streets. (I hope to experience it first-hand soon.)

The message and target of Occupy Wall St., though, does not move me. I recognize the gross imbalance of wealth, and consequently power, in this country, yet, the idea of targeting the moneymakers seems like a self-indulgent exercise. I think–nay, I know–I stand alone among the Commoners here in not finding satisfaction, or even value, in attacking the wealthy; they’re an easy target–and, ironically, a worthless one. Government as we know it–the willingly helpless babe to Wall St.’s prodigious tit, the inert institution serving only its own ends, the well-oiled machine insatiably powered by the working man and woman–is the primary problem, and the only solution.

You want to get the money out of politics? You will collapse a lung screaming at the benefactors. It’s time to turn this vitriol to the beneficiaries. Demand something more substantive than 2-party politics in which passionate bases are manipulated, centrists are coddled then promptly ignored, and the powerless are trampled over–always. Break free from the idea that person who can best lead this country can only be found in one of two camps.

There is No Hope in two-party politics. To really throw a wrench in the works, let’s crystallize this (righteous) anger into IDEAS that will CHANGE the country, and then attack those in power. Shaking your fists at the opulent among us won’t help; shaking up the political establishment will.

If we limit campaign spending by politicians to a mere 7 figures, let’s say, we can start eliminating corporate influence over our public servants. (After all, if a candidate can only spend, say, $5 million on a campaign, why would he or she need that $20 million contribution from, say, General Electric?) Without the concentrated, corporate donorship buying access and influence, politicians–reasonable people that they are–would have no reason to return favors in the form of supporting or opposing legislation, or being lobbied. When politicians no longer need massive amounts of money to run for their jobs every 2, 4, or 6 years, campaigning can start later, work can actually be done, and the wealthiest among us can join their rightful place among the rest of us.

Most important, however, is that a less costly campaign season will allow less established and less wealthy politicians to break the two-party stranglehold. We desperately need to support and engage those people and organizations running outside the current system, and not write them off as can’t-win causes. This isn’t horse racing, people. We’re not betting on who wins, we’re electing who best to lead us. It’s the most important exercise we have as citizens. When the short-sighted among us slight voters for supporting any candidates outside the Beltway, they perpetuate a DEAD system.

As we stated previously here: our generation is on the brink of Occupying power. We need to be at the forefront of opening up access to that power. Without new ideas and thinkers, this country goes the way of the dinosaur. The Occupation movement is a fantastic start; however, the system can and will only change from within the halls of government, not the Stock Exchange floor.

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We want to know what you think…

We met this weekend, and we’ve got a few coals in the fire to torture you with. But before we do, we want to know what your interested in reading–not to mention your weak spots. So kindly respond to the quotes posted below.  They’re all  random thoughts of those of us at America in Common, and some are questions that you can actually answer.  Take a look at the “pearls” that come up in our conversation…

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We’ll write it! And we’ll do it live!…Again.

Soooo, a funny thing happened on the way to the funny farm. We were plugging along as citizens of literacy, trying our best to comment on, mediate, and effect changes in our America(in Common)n Diaspora. And—we think— our weakening wills realized something before our intellects did: We can’t write about the America we have in common, because we just don’t have very much in common anymore. Wow! All of that happened since the spring?—Yeah, it did. So what of it? Now shut up and pay attention.

Despite the media’s simplistic attempt to identify every political posture, every point of order, and every notion as either liberal or conservative—the latter of which has been so brutally battered by a radical ideology that its philosophical face is no longer recognizable—the divisions in our country have multiplied into a chaos that a two party-system and a two-idealogy zone just won’t cover.

So we did what we admit we do best: we got depressed and took the summer off. Admittedly, we weren’t sure why we couldn’t find anything in the news cycle worth writing about.

But over the last couple of weeks we’ve forced ourselves to engage in some self examination—both as Commoners and Americans (and as the creators of this forum). And even though we are critical of President Obama’s half-hearted new economic plan, we must thank him for one thing: He made us realize our problem. Here we are trying to write a blog based on common ground and there he is, barely trying in tug of war against a Tea Party on steroids, and leaving the center of the rope to be yanked into right wing oblivion. The center just isn’t the center anymore when a Democratic president has to convince Republicans in congress to vote for economic policy that they practically invented.

Therefore, this weekend, in an attempt to avoid Facebook’s coverage of the 10th anniversary of September 11th and NFL announcers’ awkward segues from flag waving to bone crushing (though we did have the Giant game on with the sound off), we decided to retool our revolution. And this is what we’ve begun to discover.

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Our New Mission Statement: Rethink…Again.

There’s something you should know about us: We only know how to communicate by talking over one another and refusing to let one another finish. The benefit of this process is the sheer volume of idea-laden carbon dioxide that fills up the room. The drawback is the obvious disorganization that plagues our endeavors. But because we’ve been so disorganized for so long , we know how to make chaos work for us. We’ve learned how to focus a room full of competing ideas into a functioning vision. In other words, we practice democracy on a personal level.

A few moments ago, we got embroiled in a little CO2 hotbox over how best to proceed in (r)evolutionizing our vision. NickAD didn’t even want to read our old “Rethink” statement aloud because he was embarrassed about what it said. (It is terrible, and has since been archived. — ed.) After a good, long look at our purpose, and significant contribution from our new friend and contributor, Angry Joe I, we realized why we were so unhappy with our old statement and direction, and how best to fix it. Joe asked us a simple question: Who’s our audience? Here’s our answer.

There is a generational influence at work in America today. To speak of it, define it and work within it might be at first be divisive and disruptive, but we think it does influence how this country will advance—we hope. We were born in the 70s, and feel we are the last of the traditionally defined generations. Concurrent with the rapid advancement of technology and society, we are increasingly segmented as people. That segmentation does extend to generations. There are people born a mere 4-10 years after with whom we do not share experiences/feelings/thoughts/ideas about American life. The idea of a 20-year generational division no longer applies. Yet, as contradictory as this will read, we make this point not to divide, but more so to define who we are and our emerging place as leaders on the precipice of…something.

It is now Generation X’s turn to lead the country. The last of our preceding generation, The Baby Boomers, will soon be leaving behind a very complex legacy to an equally complex generation. It is now on us, the 40-year-olds and 30-year-olds, to take the reins of this beautiful, influential and perpetually flawed 235-year-old experiment in the human experience that is America.

We came of adulthood in the chilling, pervasive shadow of Sept. 11. The youngest of us Gen-Xers were just starting our careers. Our older brethren were making the transition from reckless 20-somethings to focused 30-somethings. Its effects on us in particular cannot be overstated. Yet, we were too young and too shocked to realize the opportunity created in that event’s aftermath: the opportunity to turn the country’s attention to what matters, what will advance us as a people, and what would actually represent this exceptional nation created by common people. Common People.

The thinkers and agitators behind this speck of idealism on the vast Internet look to our younger citizens, those in the throes of their tumultuous, confusing and explosive 20s. We say to these people: you, more immediately than anyone ahead of you, are seeing the decay of the American Dream, the empty promise of success in America and the hopeless deafness of our government subservient to a few. You are experiencing first-hand what us Gen-Xers always railed against, but never truly felt as adults: the cold shoulder of a corporatist society, driven by the interests of a few to the detriment of the many.

Though we are about to assume leadership and influence policy in this once-great nation, we have a short window in which to effect the societal changes necessary. We will need your ideas and energy, as well. We aim to be the first members of a generation who not only realize our own limitations in revolutionizing society but to do our very damnedest to make that very revolution an attainable goal for those after us.

Looking back 10 years on the uniquely horrific, influential and potentially galvanizing attacks of Sept. 11, we realized we missed an opportunity to reaffirm our American values. In that rapid decade, we have become a nation truly divided, betrayed by institutions that no longer serve the whole nation yet place the whole burden on the working public.

We are coming of age as leaders within a broken system, a system that we may not completely change. We are on the brink of inheritance. We do not seek to perpetuate it or breathe life into it for our short-term benefit. We will be a generation of facilitators. We will aim to hand to you a rough blueprint of revolution and upheaval. Within the system that exists, we will strive to create consensus among us to strengthen this nation and to hand to you, this nation’s revolutionary successors, a foundation on which to rebuild this nation. We may not be able to repair and recreate its infrastructure, but we will—we must—repair and rebuild its foundation. From this base, we hope for you to exact deeper, lasting change. Redefine the idea of fairness of all Americans. Restore the idea of the American dream for all. We promise to start the construction. You are the ones who complete the project and fulfill the promise of America.

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Smiley, West and Belluzzi Go Back to School

For our Educator in Common, school’s never out for summer.  Give teach an apple (or a club soda with lemon) and pay attention:

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