On Political Involvement in the US

We’ve been invited to a political fund raiser tonight, one at which the organizers will probably want us to do something significant (beyond making the already requested financial donation).  The funds raised will contribute to the election campaign of a local Democrat running for US Congress (Martha Robertson).  I find myself reluctant to go, despite my approval of the candidate and my support for involving more women in formal politics.

The saying, “Think global, act local” is an admirable sentiment that I’ve spouted for decades.  Yet now that I have the option to do that, I find myself reluctant.  When I lived in Indonesia, I wrote and talked of much that had political implications.  But I always felt somewhat constrained; I recognized that this was not truly my own country, no matter how much I cared about the place.  Sometimes, having lived in several countries, I’ve felt like a ‘global citizen’.  But the conventional ‘rights of citizenship’ have also been in my mind, creating a certain unwillingness to impinge on the rights of others to determine their own destiny.

Now I’m in a situation (in my own country) where ‘acting local’ would really, fully make sense.  I no longer have the excuse that acting locally on any significant, formal political scale would be a form of neo-colonialism.  So, what is the source of my reluctance?  Part of course is the shyness I’ve fought all my life.  I don’t look forward to being at what will probably be a cocktail party without the cocktails, circulating and chatting with people I’ve never met before.  I know that some will be interesting, some boring.  Optimistically some discussions may be stimulating.  But I may also become trapped listening to someone spout an enthusiasm I do not share or seeking funds I do not have.  Political campaigns often involve making phone calls to lists of random people, disturbing them at their leisure, asking for money or sometimes urging them to vote—another task I abhor and could be asked to do.

A more fundamental part of my reluctance has to do with my disapproval of the way politics is conducted in the US (perhaps everywhere?).  That political success—the opportunity to shape policy—is built first on the candidate’s ability to secure the funds to run a costly campaign is simply wrong.  This opportunity to make policy, and the responsibility to do so, should be driven by the desire, the commitment, of the person concerned.  Money should have no role.  But here, access to money is the first decider.

Shouldn’t politics be closer to what Margaret Mead has, perhaps idealistically, maintained (“…[T]hat a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”)?  I had believed that American ‘democracy’ included important elements of this notion, and surely it does on a very local level.  But the impression I’ve gotten, living here for the past four years (and admittedly not yet having gotten very involved, beyond voting, sometimes reading countless political emails, signing an occasional petition, and making an even more occasional contribution), has been that on a national or even state scale, American politics is most fundamentally run by money. 

Are there other, better ways to scale up?  To what degree does the internet provide us with a tool that could allow us to dispense with this glaring need for huge sums of money to run campaigns?  The Republicans reportedly partially managed by mobilizing church groups at one point.  The Democrats are working through endless emails to already committed party members and other sympathetic citizens willing to subject themselves to this deluge (like myself).  Committed as I am to many of these latter causes, I now simply delete most—who has time to read all those emails?    Neither of these approaches brings the country together, anyway; neither involves shared problem-solving; each builds on communicating only with the like-minded.  The apparently most effective way to affect policymaking has been through the political donations of industry and the well to do—a mechanism that almost by definition encourages inequity and corrupt practices.  Unlike the current political practice (churches, emails), Facebook [and presumably Twitter] does, or can, provide access to different points of view—in truly democratic fashion.  My own family and circle of FB ‘friends’ include people of various mind-sets.  The FB ‘News Feed’ function exposes us to all sorts of perspectives—though admittedly when I’ve commented diplomatically on a right wing perspective based on inaccurate information, the antagonistic responses have not been conducive to either reaching a shared understanding or collaborative problem solving.  Still…social networking might be used effectively to improve the political process.

In any event, I will go to the Democratic fund raiser tonight, and see if my fears are realized.  Perhaps it will be that ‘small group of thoughtful, committed citizens’ I seek.

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One Response to On Political Involvement in the US

  1. Rich Stewart says:

    Carol, I glad that I found your blog and especially this article. Many share your disapproval that the ability to become elected is your ability to raise money. Many also agree with you on the goal of "Think Global, Act Local"

    The last congressional election, where a dedicated newcomer Nate Shinagawa, who was out spent 3-1 against an incumbent nearly defeated the incumbent, showed me that money is important,but the message is also important. 

    That election lead me to my “Think Globally, Act LocalIy” activity.  I left my comfort zone and started a political blog, the New NY 23rd (http://newny23rd.com ); the name refers to our congressional district. I wanted to keep the campaign conversations flowing. I also wanted to lean more about how our government actually works. I have connected with two others who wanted to stay politically active, and we now have three active writers on the blog. Others have participated by adding articles and comments. We keep tract of our congressman, Rep. Tom Reed. Like all good politicians, Rep. Reed tells his constituents what he wants up to hear. He seldom explains the whole side of the political issues. His votes are all over the republican political spectrum. He walks the political tight rope between the Tea Party Patriots and  moderate wing of the GOP. A goal of ours is to inform the district residents of the side of the issues that Rep. Reed neglected to do. We are starting to promote letters to the editor of district newspapers by providing links to their sites, and email addresses to send the letters. We have also started a facebook page to promote the blog. 

    We are pleased with the number of unique monthly visitors. We were really active in September and October because of the government shutdown and debt limit crisis. It has slowed down a bit between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I expect it will continue to be slow until 2014 when congress comes back into session.

     I would invite you to visit the blog. You might be interested in returning every now and again and join in the conversation. 

    I am also requesting permission to copy your article and re-print it on our blog. I will give you full credit and link it to your blog. I feel our readers would enjoy reading your comments. You can contact me at stewartr@roadrunner.com.

    Thanks for the article.

    Rich Stewart (“pystew”)

    Penn Yan, NY.

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