Recently, Greece’s radical leftist party Syriza claimed victory in their national election. The party vowed to break ties with the European Central bank and roll back the EU’s neoliberal economic agenda. True to their word, they are already implementing some of those changes. From the birthplace of democracy, excitement is spreading across Europe and revitalizing the hope that real change may still be possible through the electoral arena.
The news from Greece also energized progressive circles in America. For many, the question arises: Can this rebirth of democracy happen in the U.S.? After Obama’s absolute betrayal of his promised “hope and change”, the Occupy Movement began in lower Manhattan as a response to the rigged system that has been creating economic inequality approaching the level of feudalism.
This was an awakening to a broken system of checks and balances and it pushed people outside of the electoral arena to find solutions to these problems. Yet, by 2012, with massive coordinated police brutality around the nation, the demise of Occupy became apparent and the movement lost momentum. Now it seems that the Greeks are doing what it appears Occupy intended to do and failed. What about Americans?
The recent wave of whistleblowers from Chelsea Manning to Edward Snowden exposed the wrongdoing perpetrated by the U.S. government against its own people and around the world. The NSA mass surveillance alone indicates a massive constitutional crisis. The rot at the top is becoming increasingly undeniable as the public’s distrust of elected officials and the system itself deepens. One can only hope that the 2012 Obama campaign was the last sock puppet trick that the corporate masters could pull in this lesser of the two evils game.
Poll after poll shows most American now despise the two party political charade to the point that 60% are open to the idea of a third party candidate for 2016. After being fooled by oligarchic manipulation for so long, perhaps Americans are finally ready to tackle the reality of the corporate takeover of virtually all aspects of their lives. Is it possible to revitalize the enthusiasm of this nation and occupy the electoral arena itself?
In Each Other We Trust
A spark was lit in the wake of Occupy. The movement inspired a completely different structure of organizing society; egalitarian and autonomous in the form of general assembly and horizontal decision making processes. Under the banner of the 99%, people from all walks of life came together. Libertarians, anarchists, socialists and capitalists -even the apolitical tried to work together. Despite differences in political ideologies, people were willing to commit to finding a new way of organizing society.
This willingness to dialogue and work with those who have different agendas and perspectives is at the core of democracy. A truly democratic society is possible only through cultivating trust in ones fellows. This means to have faith in each person’s capacity to determine what is right for themselves.
Can we build politics based on the idea of 'In Each Other We Trust'? Long time presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader answers this question in his new book Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. For over fifty years, Nader has fought the corporate takeover of American democracy on behalf of the American people. He is now back with a proposal to create political alliances between progressives and conservatives and fight against corporate hegemony.
First, Nader reveals the real opposing force against the insurrection of networked trust by dismantling the charade of politics and pretense of democracy that makes the people in both parties lose. He sheds light on how those in power obstruct people from generating bottom up consensus power and how they achieve their objectives through employing the old tactics of divide and conquer. The corporate media’s obfuscation and sensationalism highlights differences rather than commonality and locks people into a framed debate, with prescribed discourse and rigid party lines.
The corporate masters behind the curtain of the grand illusion of American politics want us to create ideological hostility and polarization. They manufacture individual identity in opposition to the other and condition people to see issues from the prescribed lenses of a left-right divide. Democrats need Republicans to justify their existence and vice versa and capitalism needs socialism to bail it out. This creates identity politics, which are divisive and combative, where we are sucked into trivialities of candidate personalities and engage in name calling to freeze autonomous thoughts into labels such as 'conservative', 'progressive' or 'socialist'.
A virus of vice toward our fellow citizens has become infectious and people not only lose interest in each other’s views, but harshly judge the perceived opponents without much examination. When we meet differences, we are trained to react and defend our identity and shut out possibility for dialogue. We can say we agree to disagree, but this is disingenuous because what is happening is we are not willing to see each other's views on their own merits, in the manner of putting oneself into the other’s shoes. By enacting this hostile debate, we join the assault on a fundamental principle of democracy. We have become complicit in breaking the bond of trust that is foundational for generating the power of consensus. Furthermore, we close ourselves to perspectives and solutions that are outside of our familiar modes of thought.
Principle of Consensus
With identity politics, each person is held hostage in the paradigm of “Us and Them”. In striving to change the world, one can easily fall into the logic of domination. No matter how noble or sincere one’s efforts are, this could create another centralization and point of control. By coming down off the ladder of abstraction, we can find the path of changing the world without taking power.
In his book, Nader shares the wisdom that he gained from his lifelong work in the civic arena and emphasized the importance of creating a larger union of people, not just branding everyone with party or ideological affiliation. As veteran leader of democratic struggles, he reminds us how important issues are generally not left and right, but top to bottom and that when we find a deeper area of agreement, ideologies inevitably fall away. This de-ideologizing process is possible through each person’s willingness to understand each other across artificial boundaries of identity and engage in dialogue where all sides of the stories are heard. This is the principle of consensus that was at the heart of the Occupy movement.
Scholar activist David Graeber who was instrumental in instigating Occupy Wall Street describes the principle of consensus as a “set of principles, a commitment to making decisions in the spirit of problem-solving, mutual respect, and above all, a refusal of coercion”. He clarifies how it is “not a set of rules,” but is “a set of principles” and that its underlying ethics is “all voices have equal weight, that no one be compelled to act against their will.” He characterizes it as a principle of equality and freedom in which “everyone should have equal say (call this ‘equality’) and nobody should be compelled to do anything they really don't want to (call this, ‘freedom’)”.
If we commit to the principle of consensus rather than a certain ideology or political personality, we can cultivate and develop a real bottom up civic power. This effort starts from our interaction with neighbors and in the work place to engage in a genuine conversation about what really matters in each other’s lives.
In his book, Nader points to hopeful signs for this shown in current public sentiment. He takes a hard look at where the conversations are and finds shared aspirations and frustration emerging across political lines. He lays out 25 areas of convergence that are either expressed through verbal agreements, actual legislation or efforts toward joint litigation:
- Require that the Department of Defense (DOD) budget be audited annually, and disclose all government budgets. Secrecy destroys accountability.
- Establish rigorous procedures to evaluate the claims of businesses looking for a government handout which would end most corporate welfare and bailouts.
- Promote efficiency in government contracting and government spending.
- Adjust the minimum wage to inflation.
- Introduce specific forms of taxation reform as well as push to regain uncollected taxes.
- Break up the “Too Big to Fail” banks.
- Expand contributions to charity, using them to increase jobs and drawing on available “dead money.”
- Allow taxpayers the standing to sue, especially immunized governments and corporations.
- Further direct democracy—initiative, referendum, and recall, for starters.
- Push community self-reliance.
- Clear away the obstacles to a competitive electoral process.
- Defend and extend civil liberties.
- Enhance civic skills and experience for students.
- End unconstitutional wars and enforce Article 1, section 8, of the Declaration of War Act.
- Revise trade agreements to protect US sovereignty, and resume full congressional deliberations, ending fast track.
- Protect children from commercialism and its physical and mental exploitation and harm.
- Control more of the commons that we already own.
- End corporate personhood.
- Get tough on corporate crime, providing penalties and enforcement budgets.
- Ramp up investor power by strengthening investor-protection laws and by creating a penny brigade to pay for an investor watchdog agency.
- Oppose the patenting of life forms, including human genes.
- End the ineffective war on drugs.
- Push for environmentalism.
- Reform health care.
- Create convergent institutions
* List is excerpted from Chapter 4, Page 65 of Unstoppable.
We need to recognize that democracy cannot be simply attained at the voting booth and that it requires hard work and participation of all people. If we want a democracy, we need to first start acting democratically, by cultivating trust in one another and claiming our own significance.
Malcolm X once said, “A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket”. Governments around the world are fast becoming ‘of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations’.
The Greeks are fighting to take back their country. So can Americans take back the electoral arena that is now occupied by corporate elites and crony bankers. Only then can the power of We the People become the bullet that can manifest a true governance of the people, by the people and for the people.