Friday, September 01, 2006

The Psychology Of Micro-Activism

As I've been ruminating on this concept of 'Preaching To The Choir', I've been thinking about how we get inactive progressives to step up. One way could be micro-activism. Instead of coming up with the biggest donation you can muster, just stick a drop in a bucket.

That's what I'm talking about with the Hooterville For Habitat project - you don't have to be George Soros to make a difference. If you come across something that sparks your interest or you feel is deserving, kick in $10. Or $5. Any donation, no matter how small, is better that none. Not only that, but it gets you into the feeling of participation, which is the main purpose. Instead of throwing yourself full-time into someone's campaign, just phone bank for one night, from your cell phone. Or offer some other skill you have - for a couple of hours.

The point of micro-activism isn't the amount. It's involvement versus non-involvement. I kicked in $20 to DownWithTyranny's Blue America project. That's not going to send the accountants into a tizzy, but it means I'm supporting it with my action. It's psychological more than financial, really.

If you want to talk about a war, the war in question is a psychological one, being waged against us by the powers that have a vested interest in our capitulation, our passivity. And so far they've been winning. Look at what they've been able to do to this country (and the rest of the world) because we haven't stopped them.

This is the ultimate in Psy-Ops, and we've been trying to fight fire with wood. We have to learn and understand their methods so we can fight them effectively. The majority of Americans may not be gung-ho activists, but if we can get them to just stick their toes in the water, they'll at least be present and accounted for, which can change a lot of things. Remember, this is psychological, not logical. We have to understand that before anything can get better.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Second Guest Post - DivaJood

This next post is from someone who is special to me. The way we met represents what's great about the Internet. We met on a newsgroup, found out we lived close to one another and had a lot in common. Our paths would not normally have crossed, but thanks to the Web, DivaJood of 'Journeys With Jood' is a part of my life, and I value her friendship very much. I love watching her grow as a blogger, and seeing the ripples spread out, inspiring other people.

I have always been political. I grew up at a time when people became polarized over Viet Nam and it made me very, very political. My leanings in college were radical activist, but I tempered them when I joined my first political campaign - I was one of the "Clean for Gene" McCarthy supporters. I recall a bus trip to Scranton to identify McCarthy voters. After I dropped out of college, I moved to Israel, and lived on a Kibbutz for a year. I got married, we moved back to the States, and I became active working for former Congressman Abner J. Mikva in some of the closest Congressional campaigns imaginable. I remained active, but in lesser capacities, until I moved to California and found myself living in the Beach Cities where I was surrounded by Republicans; some wealthy, some skin heads, some just too confusing. After 9/11 I found myself unable to speak my fears because of the people who surrounded me.

Then I got an email from my friend Alicia about her experience singing on Neil Young's Living with War album. I started tentatively to blog, and found more people who shared my fears, and voice. Now, Alicia has done it again with a new blog, Operation Preaching to the Choir. Here is her comment:
"I have come to understand that there is a large segment of the population that, because of their emotional need, will follow this administration wherever it goes; that there is nothing awful enough that would change the minds of these people, if they have chosen to believe in these self-appointed authoritarians. If George Bush says black is white (and he does!) then that's what they'll believe. Facts, logic and reality have no place in their worldview. As Richard Pryor once said, "Who are you going to believe - me or your lying eyes?"

But I also understand that this segment is not the majority, and I am not going to attempt to change the minds of these people. The ones I'm concerned with right now are the people like me - the ones who believe in peace, in social justice, in America as it was intended to be, but are not active because they don't understand that it is necessary. I want to 'preach to the choir'."

This is so simple - one method she suggests is to carry around whatever book you are reading as a way to open conversation. That's so non-threatening, but it also makes people aware. Already, I am seeing changes and inroads. My formerly Republican friend was just back east for a wedding - she just called me, we're meeting tonight for dinner. Her big news? She went, with her Republican sister-in-law, to hear Al Gore do his presentation. She said they both walked out energized, convinced they have to take action!

One person talking to another, in conversation, to find solutions. Let's get out there! Let's preach to the choir that hasn't found their voice.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

George Lakoff

Wow - y'all weren't kidding, were you?

I just finished reading my first (but definitely not my last) book by the Berkeley linguistics professor and social scientist George Lakoff, 'Don't Think of an Elephant' after being recommended to me by Commandante Agi, ae and Crabbi. What an amazing guy. He lays out the description of liberal values and framing in the clearest way imaginable.

When I read some more, I'm going to try to put as much of his work up here as I can. Till then, those of you who, like me, were not aware of him can go to his Rockridge Institute page and read some of his articles.

George Lakoff - Rockridge Institute

First Guest Post - Kissfan

My first guest here at OPTC is the most excellent Kissfan from Truespeak, one of my very favorite bloggers. He and his wife Mrs. Kissfan are both teachers, which makes them heroes in my book.

Here's his story:

A Bystander No More

In 1992 my wife and I moved to Texas where she had taken her first teaching job with the Aldine Independent School District (A.I.S.D.). A.I.S.D. covers the northeastern corner of Houston and includes the suburb of Humble (the “H” is silent). The first year that we lived there, she taught sixth grade math at Aldine Middle School. By the next year, she had transferred to Teague Middle School where she taught seventh grade math. I, not yet finished with my teaching degree, worked as a substitute teacher for the district where I was used primarily as a long-term sub. One of the first things we did as Texans was register to vote. And in November of 1992, we both proudly cast our votes for William Jefferson Clinton. All-in-all, it was a pretty good year.

But the longer we stayed, the more discouraged we became. Not by life in the big city, mind you, but with what we saw taking place in the school systems. My wife attended school at Mankato State University (now called Minnesota State University at Mankato) and I had attended Western Illinois University. What we were experiencing there in Texas went against almost everything we had learned in our teacher training. It was very frustrating, to say the least.

At the time we worked there, Texas students throughout the state were required to take the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. It was a statewide assessment that was used to determine whether or not schools were succeeding. (Sound familiar?) As a teacher, all of our lesson plans had to be aligned with a TAAS objective - if it wasn’t on the test, it wasn’t worth teaching. All of our assignments and exams had to include sections written in the TAAS multiple choice format. Pep assemblies were held during school to get students excited about the test and study sessions were held after school to get kids prepared. The students were plied with incentives ranging from food and drinks to throwing pies at teachers and administrators. Administrators were plied with monetary incentives if their districts performed well. Teachers were threatened with their jobs if the students performed poorly. It was the mighty TAAS and nothing else mattered.

However, the teachers were given very little in the way of leverage with the students. For instance, a teacher couldn’t fail more than ten percent of his or her students. (I would hope that this wasn't a statewide rule, but it was at least the rule at these particular schools.) Consequently, only the lowest achieving ten percent of the students in each class failed and any remaining failures were given a D-. If a teacher turned in his or her grades and there was a large number of failures, the grades were returned with a note that the scores were to be adjusted. The students knew that as long as they weren’t the very worst thirty or forty kids in their grade, there was a pretty good chance they were going to be passed. So why work too hard?

Unfortunately, this was our first experience as educators. Needless to say, it wasn’t very encouraging. We had decided that when we were ready to start a family, we would move out of the state. The whole system was educationally unsound.

By 1994, we had decided that we were ready to leave Texas and head back to the Midwest. I had tried to attend school in Texas to complete my teaching degree and was having difficulty getting my credits to transfer. So we decided that I would return to WIU and my wife began looking for jobs in the area. At this same time, Texas was going through an election year. The incumbent governor was Democrat Ann Richards. A fiery woman, no doubt. Her opponent was Republican George W. Bush. He campaigned for the governorship much the same way he would one day campaign for the presidency - dishonestly. I remember one particular incident which can be seen in the movie Bush’s Brain, where Bush and Richards took part in the Texas gubernatorial tradition of dove hunting. On this particular day, Richards didn’t shoot any birds and only fired her weapon ceremoniously for the cameras. Bush, however, downed a bird. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t a dove but a protected killdeer. Initially, he attempted to place the bird in his hunting bag without acknowledging the fact that it was a protected bird. It was only after a reporter noticed the error and made a scene of it did Bush acknowledge what had happened and report the incident to the game warden whereupon he was assessed a fine of $130. (Little did I know that this was the way Bush would run his tenure in the Oval Office - he doesn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing unless he’s caught.)

At this time in my life I wasn’t a hard lined partisan, but there were some serious issues that bothered me about George W. Bush. For starters, his past was mysterious. There were rumors but nothing could be verified and he refused to discuss it. There was also a whispering campaign started about Governor Richards’ sexuality. It all seemed like schoolyard stunts. It was lowball politics at its best.

My wife and I finally moved from Texas in June of 1994 after which I made an effort to follow the Texas campaign as closely as I could. Needless to say, the outcome of the election was disappointing.

So George W. Bush disappeared from my life after that point. I finished my teaching degree, my wife and I bought a house and had two great children. We also continued to support President Clinton although politics was really no more than a passing interest in my life. I watched, I listened, but I didn’t get involved. I was a bystander.

Then came 2000. Much to my dismay, there was George W. Bush again. I remember telling my wife, “There’s no way this guy will get the nomination. There’s too much wrong about him.” Little did I know the depths that he and his campaign would stoop to in order to get the nomination and eventually the highest office in the land. I was sickened. And horror of all horrors - Bush’s signature issue was education. The same education system that we had fled Texas to get away from six years earlier. It was a disaster just waiting to happen. But happen it did.

I was furious. Sure, the public school system in America has had its problems over the years, but that was nothing compared to the problems that were going to be caused by this so-called “No Child Left Behind Act.” And to top it all off, Bush appointed Rod Paige from the Houston Independent School District (a neighbor to A.I.S.D.) as the Secretary of Education. He was a known cheat in Texas. I couldn’t imagine anything worse happening to education in America. (Just before the election, the RAND Corporation released a study showing the inaccuracies in the Texas model that Bush was using as the basis for NCLB. Unfortunately, it was almost completely ignored by a media that was too busy making jokes about Gore’s “woodenness” and his “invention of the internet.”)

At that point I knew I had to become more involved. I couldn’t stand by a watch as America’s education system was about to be flushed down the toilet. But what could I do? I spoke to as many people as I could and expressed my displeasure with what was taking place, but after September 11, 2001, anything critical of George W. Bush was considered unpatriotic and roundly ignored. I felt defeated. Living in a small town that is probably three-quarters Republican, I felt overwhelmed and outnumbered. And my list of grievances with the Bush administration kept growing longer.

By 2004 I had had enough. It was then that I started my own blog, Truespeak. I wrote letters to the editor of my local paper. I attended functions of the local Democratic party. My yard had so many Democratic signs in it that it was a running joke in town. Everybody knew my position. There could be no doubt. I could not be quiet any longer.

As everyone can tell, the election of 2004 was a disappointment to me. But that hasn’t stopped me from being an advocate for my party. I continue to be active and make my voice heard. I am beyond the point where I can be an idle bystander. There is too much at stake. Maybe not for me, but for my children. I want my children to grow up in a better America than I did. I want my children to have all of the opportunities that I did and then some. But with the Bush administration’s disastrous education policies, rising college tuition, and cuts to financial aid, I’m worried that the opportunities may not be there for my children and the children I teach. In George W. Bush’s America, money and opportunity go hand-in-hand. Without money, the opportunities are scarce. But I can’t and won’t be a bystander while that happens. For as long as it takes, I will fight against the corporate takeover of my country. This is supposed to be the land of opportunity and I will be damned if I’m going to let George W. Bush and his schoolyard bullies hoard those opportunities for only the wealthy and well connected.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Are You In The Choir?

Are you one of us?

Are you increasingly uncomfortable about the direction this country is going in, but don't quite know what to do?

Are you reluctant to think of yourself as one of those 'political' people? Would you rather just get along with everyone, and leave religion and politics out of the discussions?

Are you disgusted with politics and politicians in general?

Do you feel as if there's no use to your bothering to vote, because it won't make a difference anyway?

Does it seem as if world events are spiraling out of control?

Is your voice being ignored by those in power?

Do you wish there was a way to stop this madness?

Would you help if you thought it would do any good, but you're afraid it won't?

Then you're one of us.

Who are we?

We are the choir.

I've spent the past couple of years trying to find a way to have discussions with conservatives about what's been going on since 2000, but I have been disappointed time and again. The animosity and name-calling has been so bitter ever since Newt Gingrich re-framed the debate that right now I don't see a way to find common ground.

What I've come to realize is that it might not be possible in today's polarized climate. It astonishes me that people with ostensibly the same goals and values - as Americans, as parents and spouses, as people of faith, people of integrity - can look at the same set of circumstances and come to completely different conclusions. But it's obviously true.

How many of you, like me, have the family members who you simply can't talk to about national or world issues without it devolving into a shouting match? And these are not strangers. These are people who we have grown up with, known all our lives - people we love. But many of these people have decided to place their faith in leaders who have promised to keep them safe (even though they have manufactured the danger to begin with), and anything that threatens that is terrifying.

This is not something that can be argued logically.

After a while, you decide to quit hitting your head against the brick wall. So what next?

Conservatives like to accuse liberals of operating in an 'echo chamber', of 'preaching to the choir'. By this they mean that we all sit around and echo each others' opinions instead of thinking independently, of only talking to people who agree with us. Then in the same breath they accuse us of having no common values, of being in disarray.

The part about not having values I reject utterly. The part about being in disarray has a crumb of merit. Liberals are, well, liberal. We believe in freedom. Not just freedom for ourselves, but freedom for other people as well. The kind of freedom we were promised as Americans in the Constitution. We are not anarchists. We believe in the rule of law. We respect authority when it deserves our respect, but not authority for authority's sake. And what that means is we don't 'march in lockstep'. We don't take orders from above. This results in a less-than-unified Democratic party, as compared to Republicans.

But we are the majority party, and we tend to forget about that. If we can bring in the people who are not ordinarily political, but who share our values, we have a chance at tipping the balance back toward sanity.

We need you desperately, fellow choir members. This is one of the points in history where every person is important. It's not enough anymore for the usual suspects to make all the noise. To have a good choir, you need a lot of voices, not just a few screeching as loudly as they can. That's not singing.

If everyone sings, no one has to scream.

In the following days, we'll have a list of little things you can do to get involved. Links to all kinds of resources. And guest posts and articles by people who have gone from passive to active - from watchers to workers. They'll tell you what made them decide to get involved. And maybe you'll recognize something of yourself in their stories.

Lift up your voice and join us.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Operation "Preaching To The Choir"

This is something I've been thinking about for a while. I'd like to know what you think.

I have always been a Democrat, but I have not always been involved in politics. I, like many people I know, didn't think I needed to be. Since 2000, but especially since 2004, I have become, perhaps not an activist, but definitely aware and active politically.

Until 1994 and Newt Gingrich's so-called 'Republican Revolution', although I disagreed in principle with Republicans, I did not feel attacked by them. When Reagan took office and they started gutting arts programs, that bothered me, as a member of a family involved in arts education, but politics was still on the periphery for me, something that other people were involved in. I figured people would get sick of Reaganomics and do something about it, and I went my own way, with my own life. I was a musician, not a politician. Let the people who 'did politics' take care of it. I stood on the sidelines and occasionally watched as others debated the issues of the day.

When Bush I took office, I didn't care for him but I was not afraid of him (shows what I knew!). The Gulf War was, by the war standards I remembered of Vietnam as a child, watching on television at dinnertime, over almost as soon as it had begun. It was hard to take it seriously as a war. Then Bill Clinton was elected, and I rejoiced. It seemed that we had a President that cared about the things I cared about, and had the political will and wiles to implement them, unlike Jimmy Carter, whom I loved but felt was too good a man to be an effective President. Then came 1994 and Newt Gingrich's 'Contract On America'.

That shook me up a bit. Were the American people really going to buy that crap? The blatant disrespect, hostility and opposition that Newt's Republicans exhibited towards the President took me aback. I could not recall any Congress with one party so openly antagonistic towards their political counterparts. The glee with which the Republicans attacked the Democrats was shocking to me. A line was crossed then, when we ceased to be the 'loyal opposition' and became the enemy. Instead of two parties who had different ideas about how to achieve the same goals as Americans, we Democrats were depicted as evil, immoral, unpatriotic, enemies to be vanquished, conquered, silenced, and if possible, eliminated altogether from the political process.

The hounding of Bill Clinton shocked me, too. Watching him being hunted down by the 'vast right-wing conspiracy', as then-First Lady Hillary Clinton so aptly put it (and was roundly ridiculed for doing so) was disturbing, mostly because of the fact that the rest of America just sat back and watched it. That was when I first got a twinge of fear. That was when I said to myself, maybe I ought to start paying attention here. A personal attack by what seemed to me rather extra-legal means, perpetrated by a small group of radical right-wingers, who were guilty of far worse in their own personal lives than what they were accusing the President of, was being allowed to derail our country. Not an attack on Clinton's policies, but his personal life, brought with obvious personal hostility, regardless of the cost to our country in not only dollars but Presidential effectiveness, and by extension American security - to jeopardize our standing in the world because of a personal loathing. Nevertheless Bill Clinton managed to stay in office, and he left the country in better shape than when he took office - no mean feat.

When the Residential Selection of 2000 occurred - when the most completely unsuccessful, incompetent, unfit-for-public-office candidate was handed the Presidency by clearly unconstitutional means - I began to be really afraid. The rules were changing. The processes by which Americans chose their leaders was no longer something you could count on. However, I thought to myself, "How bad can it be? This bumbling idiot, this smirking frat-boy who failed at everything he set his hand to, even when rescued from each disaster by his powerful family - what harm can he do? He'll do his term, the public will see at once what an idiot he is and he'll be out on his ear in '04." I had no idea what was ahead of us.

As he and his handlers (the real perpetrators) rampaged through this country like (dare i say) a mad elephant, I grew more and more concerned. There seemed no way to stop the carnage, both literal and figurative. I started paying close attention, learning as much about what was going on as I could. Leaving politics to the politicians started seeming less like a good idea and more like putting my head in the sand. The more I learned, the more worried I got.

But it was the Debacle of 2004 that galvanized me into doing more than worrying.

When I woke up on November 3rd, my head was spinning. I felt as if reality had been pulled out from underneath me. I began a political blog as a way to deal with the depression and frustration which had settled on me, and started reading, writing and talking politics. It became clear to me that sitting back and hoping for other people to fix things was not going to work.

But what to do?

I felt so helpless, so hopeless, so small. How can one person make any difference? Especially a person who is not rich, influential, high-profile in any way? I am not in a position to run for office. I am not a particularly persuasive speaker. My writing audience is not a large one. I can't even change the opinions of family members - how can I expect to change the minds of millions of Americans or counteract the giant propaganda machine?

The conclusion I have come to is that, however small the action I take, it is worth doing because to not take action is giving active support to those people and positions I wish to fight against. Not only is it worth doing, but imperative, or I will not be able to face myself in the mirror.

It would be great, of course, if we could be guaranteed that by following a certain course of action, we would achieve the desired results. It would be nice to know that if we called Senator X, signed Petition Y and marched at Protest Z, that our troops would come home, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. would resign en masse, that we'd get universal health care. The reality is, in spite of our best efforts, we may not be able to achieve these objectives. But it does not mean that we are morally exempt from making our best efforts. If we really believe the way we say we do, then we have no choice but to work for what's right, even if we don't see a sure and smooth path to success. That, to me, is what morality is. So, to say, "I'm not going to do anything because it won't change things, or my vote doesn't count, or the process is corrupt" or any other excuse, is beside the point. We don't do what's right because we'll get what we want. We do what's right because it's right.

We know in our hearts what's right. We know in our hearts that it's right to care for those who need care. It's right to stop killing. It's right to work for peace, for justice. Whether we get peace and justice doesn't matter. There is something for everyone to do, whether we see it making a difference or not.

So here is what I'm proposing.

I have come to understand that there is a large segment of the population that, because of their emotional need, will follow this administration wherever it goes; that there is nothing awful enough that would change the minds of these people, if they have chosen to believe in these self-appointed authoritarians. If George Bush says black is white (and he does!) then that's what they'll believe. Facts, logic and reality have no place in their worldview. As Richard Pryor once said, "Who are you going to believe - me or your lying eyes?"

But I also understand that this segment is not the majority, and I am not going to attempt to change the minds of these people. The ones I'm concerned with right now are the people like me - the ones who believe in peace, in social justice, in America as it was intended to be, but are not active because they don't understand that it is necessary. I want to 'preach to the choir'.

When I was discussing this with Maryscott O'Connor of My Left Wing, she said, "What you're talking about is evangelizing." And, you know what? - she's right. That's exactly what I'm talking about.

The word 'evangelize' comes from the Greek word ("eu-aggelos") for 'bringing good news' (εὐάγγελος). It is used mainly in the context of Christianity, but it also can means bringing other kinds of 'good news' to people. If we can bring this discussion into the open, with our friends, our family, our co-workers - not the ones who already have their minds made up that whatever George Bush wants to do is just dandy because he's 'keeping us safe', but the ones who are disaffected, who are disgusted with politics and politicians. The ones who think that, since their vote will be stolen anyway, there's no use in voting. The ones who think that things will get better by themselves - that someone else is going to take care of it. These people aren't going to hear the truth from the traditional media, which is all most working people have time to pay attention to these days. So we need to bring the news to them, one person at a time. I carry around whatever book I happen to be reading - John Dean, Greg Palast, Kevin Phillips. When someone asks me what I'm reading, it's an opportunity to start a discussion. Most of the time, I've gotten very positive responses. I've found it to be a way for people who feel like we do to connect, to relate, to realize that they're not alone in feeling this way and that there is a network of people out there working toward the same thing. I can give them suggestions on ways to get active that are within reach, like volunteering on a local level, with whatever they have to offer. Perhaps phone banking for one night for a local candidate whose positions they support, perhaps making a call to a Congressperson about an issue they feel strongly about. Perhaps standing on a corner for an hour on a Friday night with some local peace activists. It's simply about getting involved on some level. Nothing earth-shattering or life-changing; just simple action. Any action at all is preferable to inaction.

There's no doubt that evangelizing is the way the right-wing religious conservatives have been able to solidify their base and bring about political change. Why shouldn't we do the same? We don't have to change our lives - just carry our values around with us and share them if we find an opportunity. Not only that, but it is a way to combat that feeling of helplessness, of paralysis in the face of the daunting task in front of us.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em! I hope you'll join me in "Operation Preaching To The Choir".