The substance of democracy is us. To keep it we need to work for it everyday..

    I’ve written two posts recently that I thought I’d tie together. The first was a post about the occasional resurfacing of the “minimalism” or “simple living” trend or meme especially as it exists as phenomenon in the US. The second was a response to a recent article in the Guardian about Trump’s authoritarianism. The common thread between the two is fairly obvious but still worth calling out in its own post and it is this: in 2023 America finds itself in a deepening crisis of identity as a failed democracy.

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    How and why did the US get to this?

    Trump’s talk of seeking “retribution” against foes, including some he’s branded “vermin”, has coincided with plans that Maga loyalists at rightwing thinktanks are assembling to expand the president’s power and curb the DoJ, the FBI and other federal agencies. All of it has fueled critics’ fears that in a second term Trump would govern as an unprecedentedly authoritarian American leader.

    ‘Openly authoritarian campaign’: Trump’s threats of revenge fuel alarm | The Guardian

    The answer is in front of us. For decades we’ve allowed ourselves to be redefined from citizen to consumer. Whatever interest in self governance we may have had in the past has been drained away as we’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted by entertainment, shiny things, comfort, convenience. Our planet burns, people starve or go without medical care, children are shot in their schools. And yet we go about daily life, prioritizing our own happiness. We’ve forgotten how to be active citizens.

    There should be no such thing as “activism” or “activists”. Those words are fucking ridiculous. They exist because most citizens don’t want to do the job of citizenship. “We the people” is a fucking farce and has been for a long time. Our “democracy” was broken from the start (designed by the privileged for the maintenance of priviledge) but it’s only gotten worse. And now here we are, divided, frustrated, angry but still unwilling to do the work of participatory, active citizenship.

    Look in the mirror if you want to see why we are at the threshold of authoritarianism. What have YOU done to stop it? Oh, me? No, what can I do? Nothing I can do. 

    Our attitude is always that the problems are caused by others. Corrupt government. Greedy corporations. Welfare recipients that don’t want to work. The list goes on. There’s always someone to blame. But it’s never us and our lack of commitment to citizenship. 

    The truth is most Americans don’t actually seem to want democracy.

    We like to pretend we do. We allow ourselves to think America is the “home of the free, land of the brave” blah, blah, blah. But that’s just nonsense in 2023. It’s arrogance, hubris and lazy patriotism. 

    The truth is we don’t want to do the work of democracy. And no, not just voting. That’s the most minimal expression of what is a fairly hollow politics. I’m talking about the day-to-day practice of self governance. Of being a part of neighborhoods, communities, towns. Of being connected.

    Democracy is going to city council and school board meetings. It’s calling your county commissioner to express concerns because you’re taking an interest in the happenings of your community. It’s noticing a problem on your street or in your neighborhood and taking an interest in fixing it.  A broken sidewalk, dangerous intersection, a lack of bike racks, a neighbor in need. It’s being a part of community and caring about it the same as we care about ourselves or our children. Community is home.

    Being an active citizen means extending and practicing empathy outside of ourselves and our tiny bubble of family. It’s understanding that our lives and well being are intertwined with those of our neighbors. Our neighbors are next door, down the street, in the next town over, in the next county over and the next country over. Next door or across the planet, we are all connected and this truth is increasingly obvious. What we and our government does impacts the planet and our fellow humans.

    Being a citizen means taking personal responsibility. It means making a point of noticing problems and taking charge as though we are the only ones on the scene. In some cases our actions are individual and are not the immediate solution but are symbolic at least, an expression of care and making an effort to do ones part. But our individual actions as citizens can and should be followed with social actions when we ask for help to do the job. Citizenship is collective and cooperative.

    We are the problem and cause of authoritarianism because we’ve forgotten what it means to take full responsibility for our freedom. 

    “Freedom is something you assume.Then you wait for someone to take it away from you. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.”  -  Utah Phillips

    While I love that quote I would argue that freedom is intertwined with responsibility and we don’t assume it. We practice it, live it in our daily lives. It has to be renewed daily.

    The support for Trump and authoritarianism is an expression of our decades of complacency and our lack of attention. It’s the accumulated frustration of people who know the government is broke and even an awareness on some level that capitalism is a fundamental part of the problem. And that frustration, intertwined with a lack of knowledge of our history, of working people being used and turned against one another, it makes for powerful mechanisms for control and manipulation.

    Angry, frustrated people who have lost sight of the larger context of their role in the process of creating the collective good. Alone and separated rather than connected in community. That’s what he’s given them. He’s given them a connection, a feeling of empowered. And combined it with people to be angry at. We all know the idea of divide and conquer. He embodies the largely negative, back-stabbing reality tv show culture that put him in people’s homes and helped him got to this point.

    He’s given his supporters a mission, something to thrive in. They feel necessary, useful, powerful and connected. 

    Connected. His movement overlooks his criminality and authoritarianism because they feel like they’re a part of something greater, a collective belonging. The fact that that something is based on authoritarianism goes unnoticed is, in part, due to the lack of historical understanding of authoritarianism. 

    The counter is a movement that promotes active citizenship in daily life.

    This morning I shared a post about the importance of the US and its citizens taking full responsibility for the genocide happening in Gaza right now. In response Tuban_muzuru on Mastodon asked: "Perhaps you have some ideas what we as ordinary Americans might do. "

    Perhaps you have some ideas what we as ordinary Americans might do. Washington DC has become a congregation of whores.

    I suspect the smart move is to take all that wonderful advice we're given, up stakes and leave the outside world to its fate. If the last Serb chases the last Croat through those hills, if the Russians recolonise Ukraine, if the Strong Men oppress the weak - why on earth should we care?

    There is no quick fix to the host of problems we have before us. No one-size-fits-all prescription. The problem in the US is decades in the making as are many of our global problems. And of course such problems are never just political. The various crises of our time span borders, cultures, economies and ecosystems. But for the moment I'll be writing specifically as a US citizen, focused on my experiences and observations here.

    As the problems are not just political, the solutions cannot just be protests or voting which are the two choices people most often think of first when they think of fixing problems. The solutions are not necessarily new laws or new legislators or even new parties. The solutions are long term, deep changes to culture, political process, media, economics, education and on. Democracy should run deep and it should more deeply define us. Of course I say all this knowing that many of our planetary problems have reached the level of emergency or crisis and require swift action. The same too could be said of wars that are happening right now.

    What to do? What is the action to be taken?

    It's long, long past the time that Americans stop yelling at and past one another. We don't change or build anything with that. It's just venting rather than communicating. If we want to re-engage any kind of meaningful democratic process we have prioritize meaningful communication and discussion of problems as well as possible solutions. To do that we'll need spaces. Local, face-to-face space as well as spaces online. Where do we go to learn and practice democracy? Historically it was the town square, street corners, newspapers, shops, schools, parks, libraries all served as a patchwork of public life. It's easy to see that in 2023 many of those spaces no longer exist as they once did. We've spent 80 years building roadways, strip malls and suburbs, all around fast, private transport via the automobile. Our community spaces have been replaced by highways and shopping centers populated by big box stores so that's going to be an obstacle, especially in suburbia.

    I live in a small town and we have a library that can serve as a public space for speaker events, classes and workshops. We also have several parks, at least one in the middle of town that has several covered pavilions. I suspect many small towns have spaces like that and many urban areas too.

    Let's assume that, to some degree, people can find spaces in their communities to make face-to-face gatherings happen. What can be accomplished at such gatherings and what do they look like?

    My suggestion is that we begin by simply creating small local events that can take on a variety of forms: potlucks, workshops, teach-ins, study groups and speaker events can be held by small groups of friends and neighbors or larger if space is available. There's nothing new about this suggestion and such gatherings already happen in some communities. They can be organized by individuals, friends, organizations that have shared concerns and might take place weekly, monthly or at any schedule at all as needed.

    In my own experience I've been a part of numerous weekly study groups where participants, week-to-week read and discuss books, essays, articles, topics/ideas and so on. The possibilities are limitless but what's most needed is for people to begin getting together, to take the initiative to educate themselves and one another on issues. To move forward citizens in a democracy have to be proactive in being better informed about the important problems of their community at a variety of scales. Such community initiatives and processes have been lacking in American life for decades.

    Consider that commonly the American Dream is also described as "The Rat Race". That's quite a different version of life here. But both apply. A successful life is often characterized by a good job, good money, nice car, nice home filled with stuff. In other words: work and consumption. Days are filled with commuting and working. Nights are squeezing in food, entertainment, household chores and then sleep before repeating the same again. And weekends are spent alternating between recovery, entertainment, more chores, etc. But no where in this cycle do people set aside time to get together as citizens. I can hear people laughing at the suggestion. "You want me to use my precious time away from my job and commute to read about US foreign policy in the Middle East? You want me to go to a county or town council meeting? You think I'm going to spend a few evenings this month so that I can organize a workshop at the library three Saturdays from now? That's a waste of my evenings and a Saturday!

    But we need to ask ourselves, what is this "democracy" thing we pretend to value? What is its substance? We cry and complain that "government is corrupt" and it is. It's been taken over by monied interests. That happened years ago. We don't like it and yet we refuse to do anything about it. We refuse to take even a little responsibility. We refuse to even think what our role as "We the people" IS.

    And then, when crises happen we don't know what to do. Why is the world on fire? I'll just scroll my Instagram feed. Genocide being perpetrated with MY tax dollars? Huh, I wonder what's on Prime Video tonight. We brush off our responsibilities. We make excuses about how this or that is too complex to understand. It's much easier to just watch a video.

    So, I'd characterize much of the above as community education. Taking a proactive role in better understanding what's happening and why it's happening. Learning and teaching ourselves and one another. And in that understanding, also, as communities, thinking more about what it is we actually want. If democracy is the process by which we manage our lives, a part of that never-ending-discussion is its expression in real-world actions, organizations and material projects.

    WE have to do more than vote. Back in the early 1900s the more militant labor unions, exemplified by the Wobblies of the IWW, were known for phrases like "Don't mourn, organize!" They held firmly to the idea that the world could be made better by working people when they were willing to stand up together and help one another through direct action on the job, and in their communities. Sometimes that direct action took the form of education efforts. Sometimes it took on the form of striking or strike support. It might be taking the time to protest or cook meals for those in the middle of struggles. It was mutual aid and solidarity. Many gave their whole lives to these efforts and it's a part of our history we would do well to reacquaint ourselves with.

    What can we do to build the world we want? While steps of building community-based spaces and processes for communication and discussion are critical, they are just the beginning of an ongoing process. But I would suggest that local community building is important to all of our solutions. Communication and discussion, as a part of local democracy can't really be separated out from the other work that will grow out of meeting the needs of people. They'll remain intertwined.

    But let's get onto action items. We want action, we need action. (Note: At the end of a long day I'm about to post this knowing I'd like to add more detail to this section. I hope to do that and repost at a future date).

    • As stated above, we need to immediately get busy creating educational gatherings, workshops, study groups, local, community media

    Community building - mutual aid

    • Local structures of mutual aid would also be primary. If people's needs are not being met, what are some of the most essential needs that can be met via volunteer labor and at low cost?
    • Makerspaces, tool libraries, re-use co-ops
    • Services

    Community building - local governance

    • Building local democracy. Really, this is just a placeholder for something I'm not ready to write about here.

    Immediate Response - Global crises

    Day-to-day, the two crises that most have my attention at the moment are the climate crisis and the current genocide being carried out by Israel.

    • The climate crisis is one that has guided my life. While it is immediate it's also been decades in the making and something I've been thinking about daily for 20+ years. This is the long emergency that will redefine the future of life on the planet.
    • The crisis in the Middle East, also decades in the making, is perhaps more immediate in terms of the overt violence that is being leveled against a population of civilians. Thus far the most easy to observe actions being taken in response include:
    • Organized local, individual and group efforts to call, meet with, pressure government representatives.
    • Protests in the streets, occupations.

    As it pertains to crises such as these it should be assumed that "our representatives" do not, in fact, represent us. With that assumption, it will be no surprise that they will not be immediately responsive to our opinions, calls or demands. We should be prepared for long-term protest similar to those seen with Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

    It's time that US citizens remember the general strike as an action. The changes we need will absolutely require mass disturbance and disruption of business as usual. Citizens should get comfortable with not being comfortable. Shutting down the normal operation of cities should be become the norm. If these things seem too radical then I'd suggest people do not understand the foundational, systemic problems.

    I expect that most "mainstream" Americans will show little to no interest in any of the above until the chickens come home to roost. The problem with our apathetic culture is that, well, it doesn't want to be disturbed or bothered. Americans have proven themselves to be not just unconcerned but deeply disconnected from reality until it affects them directly. While it seems that there is increasing concern of the various crises that just won't go away on their own, most notably the climate crisis, most are not concerned enough yet to actually commit to anything of substance. Sure they'll switch to EVs as those become more available and affordable but ask them to commit to rail and cycling and you might as well be making the request of a fence post.

    And the current genocide against the Palestinians, which is in part the result of US foreign policy, well, that's half a world away. It's easy to just "be confused because it's so complex" and walk away. Sadly, tragically, many won't acknowledge their complicity as tax payers that just quietly go along. History repeats itself.

    This genocide is yours too Americans. We need to own it. And not just this moment but the past decades leading up to it. That’s critical. Stop, take a long, deep breath. Look in the mirror and own it.

    In general it seems US citizens are ignorant of how their tax dollars are put to work around the world. And, not just ignorant but uninterested. There’s a fundamental disconnect and lack of concern that the US supports violence with its foreign policy on a regular basis.

    Even now, as genocide is being carried out with their tax dollars, most seem to just shrug in their comfort and allow themselves to be puzzled, making no real effort to understand.

    We are so casual about violence and so ignorant of our foreign policy and practices. This genocide being carried out by Israel is also being carried out by the United States. It’s our genocide because Israeli conduct is rooted in the long historical and ongoing support of the United States.

    This is our genocide too.

    Democracy? No. What will it take for the citizenry to act like citizens again?

    Tennessee’s Republican-dominated state Legislature is still facing public outcry over the state’s permissive gun laws…

    Earlier this week, Republicans imposed new penalties on lawmakers believed to be too disruptive and banned visitors from carrying signs — a ban that has since been challenged by the ACLU for violating the First Amendment. Amid the new rules, visitors can still carry guns into the building.

    Reelected Tenn. State Rep. Justin Jones on GOP Silencing of Critics on Gun Control - YouTube

    The futility of words on a screen

    Another shooting followed by frustration and anger being written on keyboards, displayed on screens.

    We must show our outrage.

    But give it a day or two. That’s right. Take a deep breath. Go ahead, treat yourself to that episode of Ted Lasso. Mmmm, feel better?

    Settle back in. Sure you’re still angry and frustrated but just save that for the next shooting. Your next post will be even more expressive of your severe disapproval. Get to bed, you’ve got work tomorrow.

    It’s going to be okay. Surely with so many people in agreement, THIS time will be different. We can rest easy knowing that THIS time lawmakers will have a moment and fix this problem.

    You’ve shared you post and even a few links. You’ve done your part. Nothing else you can do but wait.

    Just wait, they’ll fix this.

    Whether the problem is gun violence, the climate emergency, denial of healthcare and access to abortion, attacks on the LGBT community or any of the other crises we are facing, the majority of citizens in the US refuse to leave their homes to protest or strike. We’ll go out to shop, watch a ball game, work or any number of things. But most still refuse protest.

    If you’re angry and frustrated with things as they are ask yourself, with the evidence of dysfunctional government in front of you, really, how much do you care? What would it take for you to help organize or, at the very least, join, repeatedly, in organized protests for social change?

    This isn’t Democracy.

    New analysis finds that 465 billionaires had pumped $881,000,000 into the 2022 federal midterm elections by October.

    3/4 of that $881 million is coming from just 20 billionaire households.

    Via Americans for Tax Fairness

    Talia Stroud from the University of Texas joins us to talk about her project Civic Signals, a project reimagining the Internet as a public space.

    Talia Stroud, Civic Signals - Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure

    The “democracy” is a veneer. A decoration. An illusion. Ignoring the many structural problems of our system, for decades capitalists have deeply influenced lawmaking, enforcement and everything in between. Is America a democracy or a republic? Yes it is : NPR

    Yeah, I'm not a fan of the Democrats at all. Or the two party system or the system that we have in place now. It needs a complete renovation from the ground up. Even so, this is worth a watch.


    So, former president George Bush, who was responsible for the invasion of Iraq in 2001 was speaking at an event and said this: “The decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean of Ukraine.” Of course, his assault on Iraq was brutal and unjustified. And it's a shame that more US citizens fail to account for it.


    Climate Change and Personal Responsibility

    It seems that once a year I end up writing a post about climate change and personal responsibility. It’s a repeating thread based on a long running frustration that I have with this notion that we humans are somehow incapable of affecting change. We act as though the government that we all consider broke, the government that has, thus far, refused to address the problem of our time in any meaningful way, is suddenly going to fix it.

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    2020: Ugly and Uglier

    I’ve not posted much about the shitstorm that is 2020. For that matter, I’ve not posted much about the swamp that is the Trump presidency. Here it is, short and to the point. Trump is a criminal, bully and generally of the lowest character possible. I voted against him in 2016 and again in 2020. The Republican Party has shown itself to be criminal and racist, not a surprised. The people that have come out of the cracks in the past 4 years to support Trump… well, that’s another whole discussion involving racism, white supremacy, pent of frustration with the U.

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    Coping with the downpour of lies

    An excellent thread on Twitter in coping with the constant flow of lies and the integrity of democracy. I’d argue that what we have isn’t really a democracy anyway but that’s another discussion. This is an extremely important question. We are being drenched in a Tsunami of Lies. The better people understand the goal behind those drenching us, and how to respond, the better chance democracy has of surviving. — Read on mobile.

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    Internet Growing Pains and “Social Media”

    In my previous post I spent a few minutes reminiscing about my early time on the internet and my webiversary. While I was out for my walk yesterday I was pondering how I used to think of the internet, say, in 1998. The web was just emerging and I, an anarchist activist in my Memphis community, thought it would eventually prove to be an important part of the democratic process. At the time it seemed the roadblocks to a more meaningful democracy were ignorance and apathy.

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    I Hear it’s a good read...

    Get your copy of the Mueller Report.

    Exploring the Universe Together

    NGC 4594, the Sombrero GalaxyRecently Kaleesha put up a pretty fantastic couple of posts. The first, Creation, the Big Bang or Both? is one in which she shares her current attempts to better understand the Big Bang. It has been very interesting to read about her intellectual journey since her rejection of Christianity several months ago and inspiring to see her push on in her search for truth. In her second post, Astronomical Scattershooting (what a great phrase, eh?

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    Advocating for Science Literacy and Reason

    I’ve always been a big fan of getting at the truth of things no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable we may be getting there. It’s something I’ve insisted on and many times in my life it has caused me a good bit of trouble. That said, I don’t feel I have much choice in the matter. It’s the activist and the radical in me. It is, perhaps sad, that insisting on the truth might, today, be considered radical.

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    Pondering the Future

    Specifically my personal future and also thinking a bit about this blog. I’ve obviously not been very consistent with updates. Honestly, I put some of the blame for that on Facebook. I’m sure I am not the only one who spends too much time there. While it is great for sharing I thing the downside is that much of that sharing is just reposting. I am also leery of so much content being under one roof so to speak.

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    Dumbed Down and Out

    I was getting caught up on a couple of my regular web reads and came across this comment by voxpop to a recent blog post by Jim Kunstler. …I would like to believe that Americans, when pushed to their limits, would rise up en mass against the corporate greed that holds them in check. But it seems this would have happened before now. When I survey the rape of the American psyche that transpired over the past nine years, I wonder: have We, the People, become the victims of domestic violence?

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