Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fallon: Activism, Not Cynicism

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
That quote by Gandhi is one of the biggest reasons I teach, pay attention to politics, recycle, and buy locally. If I don't try and do something then who will?

This email from Ed Fallon and I'm For Iowa explores this same idea and really gets to the heart of the issue.
Dear Friends,

This morning, I'm sitting at Sargent's Garage in Des Moines' inner city, waiting for an oil change for the van. Graham Gormley, one of the owners, is particularly hot under the collar. He's talking to me and reading big business and big government the riot act. "Corporations and Congress are like one entity anymore," rails Graham.

It�s early and the gears operating my cranium haven't yet fully engaged. But Graham's energy and scathing critique of the state of affairs act like an additional jolt of caffeine. "It's really our fault, the people's fault, for letting this happen. What percentage of Americans doesn't vote? How many people are spending so much time with their cell phone, ipod, tv and computer that they don't even take the time to figure out what's going on?"

A lot, I offer. In fact, the largest political block in America today is not Democrats or Republicans. It's not even those registered "No Party." The most potent political block in America is non-voters, a force that could change the direction of our nation in one election if people would choose to engage.

Somehow, we have to get beyond the ridiculous, popular notion that all politicians are crooks. Heck, even my favorite folk singer, Don McLean, said as much from the stage as he performed the closing act at the Iowa State Fair earlier this month, calling all presidential candidates "liars." Do some tell lies? Sure. Big ones. But if McLean would choose to pay attention, he would hear a lot of truth in what some of the candidates have to say. In fact, some campaign rhetoric follows the same themes McLean so poetically expresses in his music.

I don't know how to put this any more emphatically, so imagine that the next sentence is highlighted, bold-faced and underlined (this e-mail program only allows caps): WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT. IF POLITICIANS ARE CORRUPT AND ACT ONLY IN THE INTEREST OF BIG BUSINESS AND THE VERY WEALTHY, IT'S BECAUSE WE LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT!

The solution? DON'T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT!! (See last week's Update, challenging YOU to run for office. And while I'm at it, mea culpa for failing to remind you to vote in the upcoming school board election on September 11.)

WE need to become the experts on the issues, or at least on one or two issues. You won't get it all from the corporate media. There are great sources of information on-line and in independent newspapers, magazines and journals. Locally-owned radio stations and community-access television are occasionally helpful. The best source of quality information for me as a state lawmaker proved to be rank-and-file constituents I had come to know and trust over the years. They had a grasp of information that put any lobbyist to shame.

WE need to donate time, money and ideas to those who run for office: providing they aren't corporate or partisan lackeys. How to sort out the good from the bad? Well, perhaps it's not unlike reviewing the cast of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. At first blush, it may be hard to tell the real from the fake. I can even think of candidates who I thought were great; I helped them and later regretted it. At a minimum, ask these questions: What have candidates done to show that they care about their community? Can they think clearly? Do they have a good heart? Do they have a stiff spine, a strong stomach?

Finally, WE need to be the ones running for office.

Back to Sargent's Garage. As my van neared the end of its oil change, Mike Pingel, the other owner, told me how his business, like nearly 99% of Iowa's small businesses, gets no handouts from the government. In fact, after sinking $20,000 into improving the business, Mike and Graham were rewarded with an assessment that raised their property taxes by $1,500. Meanwhile, Principal gets its insurance premium tax cut in half, Allied gets tax abatement, the Register gets TIF, Michael Gartner's I-Cubs get nearly $1 million from the Vision Iowa board (which he chaired), and Wells Fargo cashes in big on the Iowa Values Fund. And that�s just the local scene.

Yup. It's hard not to be cynical.

Don't be.

The alternative to cynicism is activism, and we're a society of activists, thinkers, dreamers, self-starters, trouble-makers. Heck, we got our start throwing British tea into Boston Harbor and we've been acting out ever since. Now more than ever, we need an active, engaged, fed-up populace.

Share your own ideas. What are YOU doing or going to do to turn this mess around? What do YOU think others should be doing? How are WE going to recover our democracy from those who would exploit and destroy it. If we hear from enough of you, those stories will help write the next UPDATE!

Thanks for reading. Onward!

Ed Fallon

No comments: