Saturday, November 1, 2008

The change we need

Whichever way this presidential election goes, it will be momentous.

If Obama wins, America will have its first black president, a highly symbolic step toward a truly multicultural nation, and potentially a progressive renaissance (if Obama can escape his handlers). If McCain wins, who knows what chaos will unfold? Even after the riots die down, we’ll have to worry about Alzheimer’s, flashbacks, and the final McCain/Strangelove incarnation. And then there’s always the potential of Ms. End Times inheriting the office and rewarding her apocalyptic cronies with important posts in the Defense Department.

Either way, there won’t be much real change from the existing power arrangements, with corporations calling the shots. “In the Almighty Dollar we trust” will continue to be our national motto, even in an Obama administration. His economic and foreign policy brain trusts are a who’s who of establishment regulars, determined to keep the spirit of Bretton Woods and an imperial America astride the globe alive. Obama will be a step in the right direction, but I don’t think we should have any illusions that he’s really the change we need.

The change we need is to completely revolutionize the way we organize ourselves politically. America’s problem is that we have, over two-plus centuries, created a system that, like its ruling corporations, has become too big to fail. But fail it must, if we are to have any hope of a peaceful transformation of the planet.

The biggest change we have to make is to localize power. We are prisoners of mass culture and the illusions of nationalism. Today, local economies are dependent on multinational corporations (as well as federal and state government spending) to provide jobs. Municipalities offer tremendous tax breaks purely to keep from dying in a globalized world, localities no longer able to provide work. Globalization has created an unnatural dependence.

To the Founders, the political freedom established in the US Constitution was dependent on the economic freedom of the white male enfranchised voters, 90 percent of whom were economically independent farmers, artisans and merchants. We will not regain our political freedom in this country until we restore our economic freedom, and return the center of our economy to local government.

To do that effectively, we need to re-establish the sense of community within local government—make it small enough that people will want to participate, because they have a sense of their own power. This is not possible when you are dependent on a global food distribution system, which can always be tightened in the event of an outbreak of democracy, and render localities powerless to prevent starvation. The centralization of food production into less than 2 percent of the population ensures that government and corporate power (the same in our neofascist system) will also be centralized.

We also need to establish a “new federalism,” where there is a more direct connection between federal and local government entities, and states are left to govern common regional concerns, like watersheds. Local governments will also need intermediate judiciary oversight, human nature being what it is. Local officials can easily be the most corrupt, as we’ve discovered recently in our own county. Local communities have a tendency to let people cut some slack for their friends, which has both a positive and negative effect. Sometimes, people will try to take advantage of others’ good nature. So you need whistleblower protection, and auditing of local decisions (some should be done by federal government and some by the state).

Under a new federalism, the federal bureaucracy would be moved to the local, even the neighborhood, level. So every neighborhood would have a health clinic, where providers would be familiar with their patients’ medical histories, and which would essentially serve as a triage unit, filtering out emergencies from the general community health needs, and as a primary care unit, referring patients to specialists organized at a higher-poulation level. And every neighborhood would have a magistrate, and a sheriff, to sort out local judicial affairs, and keep kids out of serious trouble with the law. Appeals courts and law enforcement coordination could be established at the county level.

Under a new federalism, county governments would have much more voice in how local affairs are administered (including the production of food, to make the necessary change from a global distribution system to food independence; this doesn’t mean the end of trade, which will inevitably continue, but hopefully at a more humane level). Localizing government power can enhance the local economy, by allowing local governments more control over corporate practices in the community. Protecting local businesses from multinationals will allow a community-based economy to flourish. We need to decentralize government power.

In Hampshire County, where I live, we’ve been trying for five years to make our county more democratic, by increasing the size of the county’s ruling body, and giving people representation at the district/neighborhood level. We have been fought at every step by the ruling status quo. It will not be easy to devolve power from the federal and state governments back to local hands.

I believe that the way to effect this change that we so desperately need, if we are going to rescue Earth from the ravages of corporate destruction and undemocratic capitalism, and return true democratic power to the hands of individual American citizens, is through the state legislatures. State legislatures are granted enormous power in the US Constitution, including the power, under Article V, to call a Constitutional Convention, and rewrite the contract under which we are governed. My local delegate has a constituency of about 20,000. That’s a level where progressives can organize at a truly grassroots level.

We can have a new federalism sooner than we might think, with real control over our own lives, along with our many connections to the very land on which we live, restored to the community level, if we resurrect the community organizing skills that Barack Obama seems to have so deftly mastered in this election.

Restoring democracy to the community—and thus resurrecting our true sense of community, inseparably attached to the land—is the change that we really need.

1 comment:

statusquobuster said...

The ultimate path to true and profond political reform to revitalize American demcoracy is through the nation's first Article V convention; learn the facts at and become a member.