A week ago today, I woke up into shock.
The same email arrives a hundred times: "What do we do now?"
Throw out our TVs and take a nap for the next 4 years? Move to another country? Stop talking to neighbors and relatives who voted for Bush? Give Texas back to Mexico? Secede?
No. We stand up every day and defeat this mugging of our democracy.
But it's like doing the laundry, or cleaning the house, if we don't take care of it on a regular basis, it'll definitely get out of control. To stop our country's slide toward some right-wing theocracy, we have to take the offense, and each pursue an activism of our choosing, as an essential, ongoing part of our lives. We can't sit waiting for the mythical "liberal media" to inform the public or frame the issues, we have to reach out directly, organize further, and frame the issues ourselves.
This is how it works on the other side, where the core components of Bush's coalition get together regularly, casually, around some passion: Evangelicals in their churches, corporate leaders in their board rooms, NRA members pursuing their hobby, anti-abortion activists to picket Planned Parenthood, anti-gay activists to support constitutional amendments, upper income brackets at their country clubs, lobbyists to pool money and advance pet legislation, etc
These groups have hot, unambiguous issues that bring them together, and their eventual inclusion in the Republican coalition, as wedge issues, is almost a by-product.
It is truly disheartening that millions of people who voted for Bush (as much as half of them) did so thinking that "we invaded Iraq because they attacked us first." But it does demonstrate that people aren't exactly getting their information from the New York Times. We can whine about it all day long, call them ignorant, scream at the Republicans for exploiting and promoting ignorance, but let's face it, this is hardly the first time that ignorance has shaped our national politics, and unless we invent new ways to transform it, it won't magically fine-tune into some form of enlightenment on its own. The "system" is not interested in an enlightened populace.
If you've ever split wood, you understand exactly how wedge issues work. You drive a pointed wedge into a tiny fissure in a chunk of log, and after a few clobbers, the log suddenly splits in half. The political right has successfully employed this method, with a mixed bag of activist groups that split off clusters of people from their own self-interest, by getting them roused up about a handful of easily oversimplified issues.
We can reverse this, but our efforts have to be ongoing. "It's hard work." It's not good enough to get busy a few months before the next election.
And we don't all need to squeeze under one umbrella. Instead, by each acting on the issues we feel most passionate about, we can create many such wedges. Because their coalition is not nearly as free of cracks and contradictions as they'd like to project.
Environmental groups, labor unions, progressive women, peace activists, racial, religious and sexual minorities, educators and parents, universal healthcare advocates, communities of disabled, stem cell research proponents, prison reformers, promoters of consumer safety and corporate responsibility, champions of economic justice, separation of church and state monitors, liberal theologians and churchgoers, domestic violence education projects, election and campaign finance reformers, supporters of gun safety, progressive artists, writers, academics, lawyers and filmmakers -- to name a few -- should plant a thousand different flowers, NOW.
Right and wrong is not some distinction that stops at the church door.
Impure water, dirty air, global warming, declining wages, outsourcing, diminishing employment benefits, the right to choose, sexism, inequitable wages, the war in Iraq, young Americans dying for global corporate interests, religious intolerance, perennial racism and anti-Semitism, intolerance of gay people, undermining of public education, the healthcare crisis, unaffordable health insurance, skyrocketing co-pays, empty lip service to people with disabilities, anti-science zealotry, corporate greed and the public risk it creates, the broken criminal justice system, growing poverty, the semi-poverty of minimum wage jobs, crusades to re-establish a "public faith," violence against women and children, electronic voting without paper backup, gun violence and too "liberal" gun laws, etc., these also are MORAL ISSUES, and we can expose the hypocrisy of those who try to define morality and ethics to serve reactionary policies.
If you were ever passionate and active around some "cause," now is the time to re-energize that cause by getting together with like-minded people to make the issues you feel passionately about into the issues that everybody cares about.
"Politics" is not just an abstraction. It all begins on the ground, in real circumstances, where government, church and corporate policies have real effects on real people.
We need to "own the issues" we feel passionate about, and in the end, those passions will fuel positive change.
There are 207 weeks left until the next presidential election. But it's not what the Democratic Party does between now and then that will decide that election. It's what the rest of us do. Our job is to transform America itself, every day and in every way, and the votes will follow.