A trying answer to a legitimate question

When a question has been posed to you for the umpteenth time, there is only one thing you are obliged to do: answer it. And this time the bell rang as H.L. of Cincinnati, Ohio sent me this email in response to last week’s column, Beating around this Bush:

“Mr. Tanosborn: You wrote…. ‘If Americans want change, and they really mean it, they must force it at the local and state level, and forget about the people they’ve sent to the Capitol in D.C. It’s the small towns and big cities that need to make declarations rebuking America’s foreign policy and its byproduct: war, war and more war…’

“It’s really easy to say and just walk away, feeling you have sprayed the masses with immeasurable wisdom. But the fact is most people don’t have a clue about what to do, except vote on Election Day.

“So, imagine this scenario: someone walks up to you and says: ‘Mr. Tanosborn, I want to make a difference in my city (or town, or village). Where do I start and how do I do it? Give me some steps.’ How would you respond?

“Now, I hope you wouldn’t tell that person to become active in one of the standard political parties, because the level of imagination and common sense among their members is about as resilient as a drop of water on a hot skillet. The people in those groups have been doing the same things for so damn long that their minds qualify as an example of chronic inbreeding. Someone brimming with enthusiasm can walk through their doors at the beginning of a year, but by the end of the year that enthusiasm will be reduced to a drip, thanks to all the ‘party politics’ and the decisions made by those who live in the shadows.

“Again, Mr. Tanosborn, what would you tell that person other than merely saying the usual, such as ‘get involved’? Indeed, suppose that person wanted to start his own little political group, one which could subsequently apply pressure upon the large political parties. How would you tell him/her to proceed? Just thought I’d ask you the question.”

Fair enough, H.L., but with your permission let me first clear the deck. Pity me if my intent was, or has ever been, “to spray wisdom.” Perhaps my multitude of years has taught me some wisdom… but in my estimation wisdom is but a honed personal ability through which one can hope to judge what is true and right. But it remains personal, and one cannot impart it to others. At best, those of us who are long on years and experience can always try to pass such experience on to others; nothing beyond that.

Apathy in our modern industrialized world rules the day, particularly in the realm of politics. And in the United States it appears to reign supreme. That is exactly why we seem to be content… as if Tweedledee and Tweedledum truly represented both party in power and opposition; any other ideas being frowned upon. And many of us have come to realize that such is not the case… that in this country of ours, there is little formal, structured opposition; at least in important socio-economic issues that govern our lives. Although there could be a handful of individuals in one party, and perhaps two handfuls in the other, who may be legitimately interested in the welfare of the people – all the people in the nation – the rest seem to care only about the wealth and power that their privileged status brings them. Already in the 21st century yet our time seems to be not much different from those pre-Constitution or even pre-Magna Carta days.

Now to your question: If someone wants to make a difference in her/his city, town or village, where does she/he start and how does that person do it? Perhaps draw a map, or provide some steps? But wait… it’s not a labyrinth that awaits those seeking to make a difference, the path usually requiring neither compass nor sophisticated political GPS.

During the four months in 2002-3 that preceded the invasion of Iraq, there were millions upon millions throughout the world manifesting their concern and discontent for what was about to occur. Not people who had a grudge against America, but for the most part neutral or even friendly to the United States. People in the EU, with a population comparable to that of the US, were taking to the streets at a ratio ten times the crowds here at home. Ten times! Yet, the situation, given our first hand interest, should have produced ten times the anti-war demonstrators here as in the European Union.

But even in our rachitic efforts saying no to militarism, and denouncing an unjust war, enough of us pounded the pavement from all walks of life, and different ways of seeing the world, for anyone to join in search for answers. A few did, but they were very few. Those demonstrations did provide a sort of Political Career Fair for the exposure of old and new ideas in politics, including populist movements in a rainbow of colors. Our common denominator was distaste for an unnecessary war, and the politics of deceit perpetrated by Bush with the consent of both, both with a capital B, political parties.

In our democracy we tend to feel that we have little need for a Mao zhuxi yulu (Little Red Book) and that because we are protected by a great Constitution we need not resort to quotations from a Western counterpart to Mao Tse-tung. Maybe we should. Our forefathers in their collective wisdom gave us all the quotations needed to make government work for the people. Perhaps what we need is someone to collect and edit them in a “little blue book” grouping them in a similar fashion to those in Mao’s book.

No, H.L., I don’t worry about those people, young or old, gifted or plain, who’re asking how they could make a difference in our body politic. If they have found the courage of heart and mind to ask that question, they are on their way to Make-a-difference Land… three quarters of the way there. It’s not that 10 percent of Americans who might be asking that question that concerns me, regardless of what political ideology they might eventually adopt; it’s the other 90 percent who with their apathy – not just a lack of emotion and enthusiasm, but just plain indifference – empower the criminal elite to usurp power which belongs solely to an open, democratic and compassionate society.