Time to Rattle 'Dem Bones'

A reader recently advised me:

"Sleep-walking through the gray ocean of information fog cannot provide the shock needed to bring cultural revolution ... Rebel against this negativity and write something to rattle our democratic bones."

... as in "Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around"?

I'd like to rattle "dem bones" - our democratic bones - and I'd like to think that rattling would connect them so they'd walk around and change the world. For too long Bush & Co have been rattling our bones, systematically disconnecting them and selling them off to the private sector to finance an unjust war, while we've been sitting on our ... er...assbones.

The song analogy fails, of course. We don't need to "hear the word of the Lord," as much as we need to hear one another and make democracy work for us.

Actually, dem bones here in Portage County walk around doing democracy pretty well, connecting our foot-bones, hand-bones, head-bones and jaw-bones to hold picnics, forums, voter-registration drives and candidate's nights; to write letters to newspapers and elected officials; to go door-to-door with leaflets, circulate petitions and help people get to the polls.

Portage County has a little over 150,000 people, 56,000 households and 40,000 families. Fifty-three percent of the voters are registered as Democrats.

As well as being Democrats politically, Portage County is democratic culturally, committed to making government work for people, and with a high rate of voter turnout (71% in 2004) People also work for the government in Portage County: the largest employer is Kent State University, next-largest the county government/county hospital, followed by several large school districts. Educationally, only 14% of the population over age 25 lacks a high school degree, and 46% have had at least some college. A big boost to making democracy function in our community is our daily newspaper, the Record-Courier, which reaches about 20,000 households and has local editing and reporting.

Grass-roots activists in Portage County have worked to create an outstanding county-wide recycling program, to restore the Cuyahoga River to its natural health and beauty while preserving a historic dam, and to assure a safe cleanup of the Ravenna Arsenal. "Freedom House" for homeless veterans was sparked by local volunteer and veterans' groups, and is now expanding with help from the federal government. And just this weekend nearly a hundred people including KSU students, canoeists, kayakers and senior citizens went right into the mucky roots of the Cuyahoga River to pull out tires and trash.

Portage voters are generally well informed about current events and fairly au courant with computers and the Information Revolution. Many Democrats are involved with MoveOn.org,, read sites like www.CommonDreams.org and www.dailykos.com, and write in progressive blogs; they watch Bill Moyers on PBS, look for the best TV news they can find, and criticize its shortcomings.

Labor Day weekend close to a hundred Democrats shared a pot-luck picnic of food and politics sponsored by the Portage Democratic Coalition. (www.pdcohio.com ) People spoke passionately against Bush's plan to attack Iran and about the non-responsiveness of Congress to calls for impeachment of Cheney and Bush; they talked anxiously about the desperate need of people for universal health care, about global warming, energy costs, and the destruction of mountaintops, about the manipulation of information and subversion of justice by the White House, and the challenges to infrastructure all over our nation.

At the picnic a straw poll of favored presidential candidates gave Edwards 25 votes, Clinton 17; Obama, 10, and Kucinich, 9. "Waiting for Gore" and "I'm Clueless" each got three votes. (n = 73)

Not everything is smoothly articulated among Portage County Dems. There are tensions among several Democratic organizations, the party is still recovering from a corruption scandal. This summer, the volunteer webmaster of the Portage Democratic Coalition suddenly turned on the group, removed all web page content and replaced it with his own "Progressive Defense Council."

Shortly after Labor Day, a few Portage Democratic Coalition members turned out in support of Kevin Egler at his arraignment on charges of littering - with an 'Impeach Bush' sign - along State Rte 59 in Kent. The charges were dismissed by Judge John Plough, to the satisfaction of Egler and his attorney, Bob Fitrakis. who both believe that the best place to start with the issue of protected political speech is at the local level. Egler plans to start with Kent City Council, asking them to draft a littering ordinance that reflects the will of the people of Kent with regard to political speech.

That's a wise move, and an important one. Democracy is nothing if it doesn't start and finish on the ground where people live.

Yet I'm deeply pessimistic. While we know how to do democracy pretty well at the local level, I don't see how we-the-people connecting with our neighbors on home ground or through Internet organizations and electronic media are going to reconfigure democracy to work in global imperial economy controlled by the madmen in the White House.

I don't know how our frail bones, however connected, can deal with the monstrously inhumane, unjust and unwise programs of war, terror, torture, fear, deprivation, deforestation, resource depletion, greenhouse gases ... the list is daunting.

The specters of expanding war in the Middle East, nuclear accidents or attacks, vast sums spent on weapons, climate disasters, infrastructure decay and political repression should have rattled our bones long before now. And even if we're not sleep-walking, the "grey ocean of information fog" is rapidly limiting our vision and our ability to walk confidently toward a better future.

This September our best hope is ourselves, and whatever ways we can invent, imagine or gin up to take matters into our own hand-bones and jaw-bones and say to Congress: "Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around/Now hear the words of the people."

No more war. Impeach those responsible for crimes against humanity. Restore our Constitutional government and our Constitutional rights. Work with us to provide health care for all. Help us sustain one another and our planet."

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