If We Could Change The World

There’s been a lot of talk around the internets about the state of the national Democratic Party, the future of the Tennessee Democratic Party, yada yada. Clearly progressives are disappointed that nationally we’ve received very little for all we did to bring Democrats the majority in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Meanwhile, our state party is filled with “Democrats” like Doug Jackson of Dickson, known for his rabidly pro-life, pro-gun, anti-gay positions, including a bill that would ban gays from being foster parents. And really, TNDP: was Ty Cobb, someone quite possibly more conservative than the Republican who ultimately won the seat, the best we could do?

We are not happy, and now we even have liberal activists from Berkeley and L.A. wanting to primary some of our least heinous Congress Critters. The irony is, the Republican Party is facing the same problem: its rabble-rousing Tea Party base is threatening to purge the GOP of its moderate members, sending folks like Arlen Specter over to my side of the aisle, which frankly doesn’t please me one bit. I get the concept of the “big tent” but when that tent grows so large as to encompass members of the opposite party, something’s wrong. Meanwhile, conservative Dems like Parker Griffith of Alabama have jumped ship to the Republican Party.

So what the heck is going on here?

It all looks like so much shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic to me. While it’s endless fodder for the Sunday morning gasbag shows and folks like Chris Matthews and Politico, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past decade it’s that ultimately, it’s all meaningless. I hate to get all super-cynical here but let’s face it: in terms of really addressing the problems people face–lack of jobs, lack of access to things like a college education for their kids, affordable healthcare, etc.–politics amounts to very little.

The bottom line is, politics won’t fix our country’s problems. We’ve been told by both political parties that politics can change things, and maybe we bought that line for a while, but ultimately regardless of your political persuasion, you must have emerged from the Oughts realizing that’s a BS line peddled by people trying to raise money. The Bush years were a big fail for conservatives, who didn’t get the small government and fiscal restraint they wanted. On the left, Clinton gave us NAFTA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and welfare “reform,” while Obama, though in office just a year, has already escalated a war and failed to deliver the healthcare reform we need. Yes there have been a few, modest little blips of positive news here and there (mostly on the environment), but our country is sinking faster into the abyss, and it’s members of both parties who are responsible.

So, for people who really want to change things, make them better, who still idealistically believe in changing the world, what do you do? It seems our votes are meaningless. Our government is too broken, the system too corrupted to be fixed the old fashioned way. Our media no longer informs, and now we can no longer even agree on the basic facts of an issue like climate change or healthcare. Everything is just a mass of white noise, with people hollering about “socialism” and “fascism” and “government-run healthcare” and “liberal scientists” and stuff that’s so far removed from reality so as to make the debate meaningless.

I have friends who still believe in the old-fashioned boycott, who are calling on people to do things like dump their health insurance in the hopes of bringing about reform. But I’ve questioned the efficacy of boycotts for years now. We’re just too splintered as a society now.

I have my personal boycotts, I don’t shop at WalMart or any of Lee Beaman’s businesses, or any of Dale Inc.’s businesses. They’re all major contributors to Republican Party candidates and PACs and, in Beaman’s case, wingnutty groups like the Club For Growth, English First and the Swift Boat smearmongers. I don’t want to support that so I don’t do business with those folks but calling for a boycott is going to be as effective as the religious right’s failed boycott of Disney. All it did was make the AFA and Southern Baptist Convention look foolish.

Nothing is black and white anymore (if it ever was); everything is shades of gray. I remember shopping at Whole Foods the day after progressives called for a boycott because of CEO John Mackey’s Wall Street Journal op-ed. The store was as packed as ever. I didn’t join the calls for a boycott because frankly I thought it was stupid to punish a company that supports organic farming, fair trade, local agriculture, etc. because you disagree with the CEO’s position on health reform. But if that’s a boycott you personally want to support, more power to you. We all have our own personal standards, we have to wake up and look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning, so do what you’ve got to do. But making someone feel like a dick because they won’t put their family at risk by dumping their health insurance? Nah, I’m not going to sign up for that.

If voting doesn’t work, and boycotts don’t work, what will? Increasingly I’m convinced that the only thing that will change the world, indeed the only thing that ever has, is the creative arts. Music, literature, art, film: these things hit people on an emotional level, they can transform one’s view of the world and engage people in a way that politics does not.

(To the conservatives rolling their eyes at me right now, let me remind you: Ayn Rand still has a movement today because of her books.)

So I’m going to challenge all of my liberal friends to get creative this year. Now is the time to take an idea and put it to music, movement, poetry or canvass. Take your view of the world and write a short story about it and put it out there. The mass media has changed, the gatekeepers are gone. Anyone can put their work on the internet, on a blog, on YouTube or iTunes. Now is the time to express yourself. Enough with the electioneering and fundraising and petitioning. Now is the time to touch people where it will do the most good: in their hearts.

And to my creative women friends, I’d like to call your attention to the Tennessee Women’s Theater Project’s 2010 call for entries for its spring Women’s Work showcase. All sorts of creative arts are represented, not just dramatic works. Check it out!

So my liberal progressive friends: Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is simple. Express yourselves.

Now get busy.


Filed under art, politics, rants

18 responses to “If We Could Change The World

  1. >Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

  2. >Good for you! Yeah, I'm as mad as anybody that our activism hasn't really changed things that much, but what else can we do? There are those that want us to give up altogether (Republicans mostly)and stay home next election, effectively voting for Repubs. Yes, we're disappointed, but sitting home or investing in 3rd parties is giving the Republican party, who will be out in DROVES, at least 2 Supreme Court judges, and here in Tennessee, a Republican majority again will cause further redistricting. Here in Upper East TN, where Ron Ramsey, Jon Lundberg, Jason Mumpower, and Williams all live, we have seen the effects of redistricting already in the loss of Nathan Vaughn.A few songs would be nice, or a play that tells what happens to people who have no health insurance.

  3. >Please tell your progressive friends to try and express themselves using logic and facts to buttress their positions.

  4. >And now I hear Madonna singing Express Yourself!! Oh I can't get the song out of my head!I do hear where you are coming from. I am tired of donating time and money only to be forgotten. We are not their priority, their wallet is. In the 6th Dist we have Bart Gordon who voted for an amendment that prohibits federal funds for abortion services in the public option and in the insurance exchange. Then he voted against the overall health reform bill, only to then announce he was retiring. Unbelievable.

  5. >SoBe, I understand and share your frustration, but it is a mistake to think that America has a functioning democracy.Time to face facts: Democracy in America is dead. Elections are mere window dressing to mask the fact that Corporate America holds the real power in Washington and controls every facet of life in this country. American government is central to American-style capitalism. Government works to advance corporate interests and lavishes huge subsidies and concessions on all fronts. Recently, we have witnessed massive transfers of the nation’s wealth on bailouts and the funneling of taxpayer dollars to prop up corrupt and/or incompetent businesses while working class interests languish.Globalization has resulted in trade deals and other concessions that make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate world economies without having any obligation to the people of those nations. Meanwhile, our corporate news media and the PR consultants of K Street have a central role in providing the “necessary illusions” that make the system appear democratic. This is fucking bullshit in extremis.How can songs, poems, and the arts counteract such a monolithic malignancy? If you really want to make an impact, focus on the bad actors in Corporate America and their paid Wormtongues in Congress.

  6. >How can songs, poems, and the arts counteract such a monolithic malignancy?Go back and listen to the music of the sixties. Artists help bring about the end of the Vietnam war.My only quibble here is the idea that we can't shape younger minds by engaging them, and yes, creatively so. But the hate that fuels today's politics may not be as acceptable to those behind us.

  7. >but it is a mistake to think that America has a functioning democracy.That was my point. That's why I say politics has failed. We need to change people, not politics.

  8. >The way they defeat you is to break your will to fight.Don't let them break your will. Obama was never the most liberal guy in the Senate and certainly not the most liberal person running; his substantive positions have always been more conservative than much of America. He was just the better alternative, AND he really encouraged people to get involved in the process. Now he's running things more-or-less as he promised, except that a lot of people are quitting because one election didn't change everything.Now I certainly agree that the arts are really important. Avatar is better than a dozen speeches explaining what's going in Afghanistan. So let us keep pushing there. The trick is to convert that energy developed in the arts into political action.Most great artists succeed with years or decades of practice practice practice. The Beatles played thousands of hours in German whorehouses before getting their big break … and when it came, they were masters of their craft. Politics is no different … why should it be?

  9. >Try another party for once.Say one that doesn't take corporate donations. Or start your PAC support progressives regardless of party while going after the corporate owned politicians. But for all our sakes don't drop out.We also need to under stand that there is more to the political spectrum than left/right. Political Compass">Political Compass explains why there isn't much real difference between neo-conservatives & neo-liberals.

  10. >How can songs, poems, and the arts counteract such a monolithic malignancy?I wonder how many kids who went to see "Avatar" this weekend will walk away with an emotional as well as intellectual understanding of how wrong our resource wars and imperialistic treatment of indigenous peoples is?

  11. >Great blog post! I agree that the system is to total, to gigantic and to powerful to vote out. I think that powerful art is a great idea in combination with all the traditional forms of activism. I wish we could get some more wealthy liberal/progressive people to sponsor leadership development, art and writing projects, research and the like. I would hope people see the irony of Avatar (that our society is based of practices depicted in the film), but who knows? Thanks, and you have a new follower.

  12. >SB,One major reason that our political system is so broken is that even reasonable people like you who represent the best of one ideological side or the other cannot help but dismiss the other side in such a way that there is no room for compromise or even understanding. All that we need for a full collapse is for the ideologues of the Left and Right to eliminate the remnants of the centrists who share some ideas and have problems with both sides. No wonder so many people give up on politics when not being pro-life or pro-environment enough for the extremists gets you treated like a traitor or a fool.

  13. >but it is a mistake to think that America has a functioning democracy.Hate to break it to you, but America is not a Democracy. It's a Constitutional Republic.

  14. >mike w.:Oh, thanks for the history and civics lesson. It's folks like you that make me understand that voting is a complete waste of my time/s. Do you ever say anything that wasn't a cliche the first time you heard it from somebody on FoxNews?

  15. >Demo – If that's the case then I wholeheartedly support your choice to abstain from voting.Some of us actually believe in free choice.BTW – Get workin' on those facts.

  16. >How is my statement a "cliche'?"It's a statement of fact, but of course we all know how much you hate those pesky little things.

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