In my travels, I've heard many cries of despair from you good folks about the timorous Obama presidency. On issue after issue, it's been go-slow and don't-rock-the-corporate boat. "Where's the 'audacity of hope?'" people are asking. "Where's the 'change you can believe in?'"
The answer is that in our country's democracy, audacity and change are where they've always resided: out there with you and me, at the grassroots level. For some reason, the guy who was elected by running from the outside is now trying to govern from the inside - which is where change is taken to die.
The good news is that the American majority is with us on nearly every issue, so the chance for change remains strong - if we can push it. Now is the time for us to be more aggressive, more demanding, more active than ever. Many of you have asked, "Fine - but how?" Here are some suggestions:
1. Start by considering what's reasonable for you. Few of us can be full-time activists, and the list of issues and problems is long and complex. So, just take one bite, choosing an issue that interests you the most, then start contributing what you can (time, skills, contacts, money, enthusiasm, etc.) to making progress. Every little contribution helps - it all adds up. As a young Oregon woman said of her half-day-a-week of volunteer door-knocking in a legislative race: "I was only a drop in the bucket, but I was a drop. And without all of us, the bucket would not have filled up."
2. Inform yourself. A little effort can quickly connect you to accessible, usable information and insights on any given topic, helping you gain a "citizen's level" of expertise so you can talk to others about it. Read progressive periodicals, tune in to progressive broadcasts, get information from public-interest groups and plug in to good websites and blogs.
Don't know how to go online? Nearly all public libraries not only have computers, but also librarians and volunteers who'll help you find the info you want and teach you how to use the machines.
Or, find a youngster (maybe your granddaughter or someone at church) who'll help you. Yes, you can do this!
3. Democracy belongs to those who show up. Join with others. Everyone feels better when they're part of a group, a movement, a community (whether real or virtual). In your own town or neighborhood, many others share your progressive outlook and are either already working together or willing to help form a group - seek them out, maybe at bookstores, book clubs, coffee shops, events, churches, blogs, websites or other meeting places.
4. A community is more than a collection of issues and endless meetings. Get to know each other by combining the serious with the social. Remember the Yugoslavian proverb: You can fight the gods and still have fun! So discuss your issues and strategies at potluck suppers, throw an annual festival of politics, establish sessions of beer-mug democracy at local taverns or political coffee talk at the coffee shop, etc.
5. Become the media. Create a local newsletter, blog, online bulletin board (or, a real one), an Internet radio broadcast, etc. Just as importantly, enlist high school or community college speech and journalism teachers to help others learn how to do radio and TV interviews and how to get local media to cover your issues. Also, get them to train you and others in public speaking, so you can have your own speakers' bureau to address clubs, churches, schools, etc.
6. Hold your own "what to do" sessions in your community. National progressive groups haven't figured out a cohesive strategy for focusing people's anger about the meekness of the Washington's Democratic leaders, so don't wait on them. Instead, have your own discussions about what should be done nationally - if anything - and start zapping those ideas to other communities, heads of national groups, progressive media outlets and so forth. Let the ideas/discussion percolate up from a thousand localities!
If you're looking for genius, don't look up, look around where you are, and trust you're the wisdom of your own community. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Common sense is genius with its work clothes on."