Monday, May 7, 2012
John Howard Yoder
Democracy is a practice. It is an ongoing form of citizen engagement and we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into either complacency or cynacism.
The stewardship of influence is at the heart of advocacy.
We survived the Cinco de Mayo weekend so you know what that means. Summer? No, the Election season is upon us. That's right, the actual general election is not until November, but Obama officially kicked off his campaign this week (it has unofficially been percolating the past couple of months). Unfortunately, electoral politics has largely become a spectacle (as opposed to democratic) and event (as opposed to a process). Spectacles create spectators while processes birth participants. Over the course of the next year, will you commit to actively join with us in a quest to infuse justice, compassion and equality into our political system. We need people of conscience, all you with a prophetic imagination, addicted to consciousness-raising and bearing witness, to stay engaged and help build an alternative movement instead of coping with the dysfunction by hiding in cynacism, apathy and indifference. Here are 5 ways we can shift the focus:
1. Super-PACs: as a result of the 2010 Citizen's United Supreme Court Decision, corporations and unions and wealthy individuals can now flood millions of dollars of campaign contributions to either or both of the Presidential candidates (and congressional candidates). These are undisclosed contributions. We do not know who is giving, but we do know how many give (a few) and how much is given (a ton). Association breeds assimilation. Candidates who receive these funds and achieve electoral victory owe the hand that feeds them. This is the simple answer to why candidate Obama of 2008 became corporate Obama on January 20, 2009. No matter what any political expert says about the economy being the key to the election, the real factor is this enormous amount of unaccountable cash flooding into our already dysfunctional system. In order to retrieve our democracy, we must do away with this elitist kingmaking.
Act Now: demand full disclosure—-put it at the top of your list of non-negotiable issues that Presidential and Congressional candidates must address.
2. Two Equally Bad Choices: this is not Obama versus Romney. It's Obomney versus Us. There are simply too many problematic bipartisan (the difference between GOP and Dems is undiscernable) policy stances that we are stuck with in the American 2-party system. Examples? How bout the $700 billion solution to the financial crisis (the official audit actually exposed a $16 trillion bailout)? How bout the decade of conventional wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen? How bout the murder of innocent civilians at the hands of air force commanders controling drones from Nevada? How bout the failure to extend habeas corpus to suspected terrorists in Gitmo and other secretive prisons? How bout the renewal of the US Patriot Act, giving the government unprecedented leverage in listening in and looking on to our private lives? How bout the free market fundamentalism that imagines we will have higher quality and cheaper medical care, healthier food, safer roads & bridges, better education and more ecological transportation with less investment & regulation from government? How bout the record number of undocumented deportations under the Obama Administration (take that Bush!)? How bout the proposal to "broaden the tax base" to tackle the national debt? How bout neither party fighting for marriage equality? How bout the utter absence of robust solutions to eliminate poverty?
Act Now: expose the lie that the “culture war” actually exists—-the real issue is that there exists an elite “establishment” that consists of the political leaders funded by their corporate sponsors who own the media & military-industrial complex endorsed by celebrities worshipped by the people
3. But...We Still Ought to Discern the Partisan Differences: don’t get me wrong, there are differences between the 2 major political parties—-both in style and substance. It seems like just about every week that another Republican leader comes out with an expose on just how far to the right and unwilling to compromise the GOP has become (see this, this, this and this).
The Republicans have become the party of “no” since losing the reins of the federal government in ’06 and ’08. Consider the public option (a blend of government and free market competition) and the individual mandate in the Obama’s health care reform package. Several leading GOP politicians have flip-flopped on both of those issues. And most GOP leaders continue to cling to ideological arguments defending climate-change denial, “traditional” marriage and supply-side economics that have been more-or-less blown out of the water by studies and events on the ground. On policy, the two parties have significant differences on many issues ranging from immigration to abortion to health care to education to deficit-reduction. We ought to seek out and tell the truth about these different positions over and over again.
Act Now: Refuse to go along with the false hypothesis that both parties are equally the problem in regards to the gridlock and complete lack of creative energy in DC. And refuse to carry on a poliical dialogue that is rooted in emotionalism rather than actual policy proposals. In other words, don't vote for someone baed on which one you'd more want to get a beer with or who has more experience in the business world.
4. The Role of Faith: all eyes are on Romney and his ability to convert conservative Evangelicals to his cause. We ought to have zero tolerance any time Romney is demonized for being a part of "a cult" and any time it is even insinuated that Obama is a Muslim. These are largely fear-based attacks. We we should, however, be massively concerned about is how the Bible is used to advocate for which policies are important and which are not. Rick Warren famously published his 5 non-negotiables and sent it to every member of his congregation in '04:
1. What does each candidate believe about abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children?
2. What does each candidate believe about using unborn babies for stem-cell harvesting?
3. What does each candidate believe about homosexual marriage?
4. What does each candidate believe about human cloning?
5. What does each candidate believe about euthanasia - the killing of elderly and invalids?
Warren was emphatic about the prioritized "biblical" nature of these particular 5 issues:
To me, they’re not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues. In order to live a purpose-driven life -- to affirm what God has clearly stated about his purpose for every person he creates -- we must take a stand by finding out what the candidates believe about these five issues, and then vote accordingly.
Bold. Here are 5 non-negotiables that, in my humble conviction, are more thought-provoking and at home in the biblical narrative of a God who created the word and is absolutely determined to redeem it through all those who hunger and thirst for justice:
A. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes LIFE
In the womb, from the bomb and in the slum, God cares about all of creation, from humanity to plants to every creature on every hill. We are finding more and more that this life-stance often confronts "the bottom line" head on. Sometimes, we need to intellegently regulate the marketplace in order to protect vulnerable and oppressed life.
B. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes limiting the POWERS
Like Jesus, we go to battle with forms of government, media, business and, yes, religion that go beyond their God-ordained vocations. When these powers seek more and more power, they become god-like, a form of idolatry that inevitably leads to the de-humanization and destruction of our world. With the Tea Party movement, we say "amen" to less taxes on the poor and middle class, as well as lowering the national debt, and with the anti-war movement, we say "amen" to less spending and power for the "military-industrial complex" (so coined by GOP President Eisenhower).
C. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes THE OTHER
Some people, in different pockets of our globe, hate the United States of America, not because of our freedoms and our Christianity, but because we have used these freedoms and faith to grow our wealth at the expense of others. We have systemically dominated "the other," both at home and abroad. The immigrant, the homosexual and the Muslim often attest to the stripping away of rights and dignity under the guise of security, sanctity or suspicion. These are not the marks of a country that believes in the humane treatment of all God's children. We need a new brand of diplomacy and a new definition of patriotism.
D. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes FAITH as a vital contributor to democratic living
Various faith movements and organizations have led the charge during this 200+ year American experiment. The sick have been healed, racial minorities and women have been given rights, diseases have been cured and children have been educated and protected when religious communities have thrived. Faith should be encouraged and freed to do what it does best: join God in the redemption of the world
E. We represent a spiritual-political movement that vigilantly promotes TRUTHFULNESS in a political environment of sound-bites, self-interested agendas and outright lies.
The truth shall set us free. Enough said.
Act Now: hold faith leaders accountable by calling out (with love and gentleness) biblical interpretation and policy stances that forsake peace, justice, the poor, the oppressed and lack the courage to confront the establishment. And let's hold secular leaders accountable by insisting that faith certainly ought to be a robust aspect of socio-political dialogue (while, of course, being sensitive to our non-religious brothers and sisters).
5. The Progressive Dilemma*: where do we go from here? Both political parties have moved to the right, advocating furiously for the status-quo (something Jesus, King & Gandhi would have never imagined). As Bill Maher said recently, "The Democrats have moved right and the Republicans have moved right into a mental hospital." But seriously, this is going to be a tough year for us. Obama the candidate was more progressive and more courageous. We'll naturally have a lot of skepticism this time around. We ought to be skeptical and we ought to voice it. With our friends, neighbors, co-workers. Eloquently. Passionately. Gently. Always stating what we are for as much as what we are against. Committed to a personal lifestyle (which, by the way, is always political) of simplicity, sustainability and sincerity. We have a vital stewardship of influence and who will be influenced without actions that back up our message? After all, as Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "Our life must be our message."
Act Now: refuse to settle for a broken 2-party system and join up with movements that are committed to building a better world...for everyone. Join this, this, this, this and/or this.
*See this for a deeper articulation of what it means to be "progressive."