Friday, October 24, 2008

"Real Change Trickles Up"

I was both challenged and inspired by an Oct. 18 post on Huffington Post called "Real Change Trickles Up", by Eugene Jarecki - (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eugene-jarecki/real-change-trickles-up_b_135822.html)In the post, Jarecki opens by writing:

"I'm compelled to remind myself amid this economic emergency that crises can indeed be therapeutic. When the body politic of the American system takes a shock like that currently affecting the country, pain, as it were, can lead to gain. But only in the right circumstances. What are these? And what can we do in November and beyond to reap any benefit from the problems we face?"

He further writes:
"...we all implicitly know that real change - like economic prosperity -- is not trickle-down; it comes from below, requiring massive investment and sacrifice by everyday people that goes far beyond the effort of casting a ballot. Don't get me wrong. Voting is essential. But unless we see our vote as part of a commitment to involve ourselves consistently and unrelentingly in the political process, our vote is wasted."
(Read Jarecki's full post to find out more about why).

I confess that for many, many years of my life, I pretty much saw "voting" as the biggest thing I could do to participate in the political process (aside from running for public office, which I never did).

Jarecki further writes:
"To be fair, modern life is hectic and leaves us little time to attend to even the most basic elements of health and survival, let alone the kind of far-reaching effort needed to reform a nation from below. Yet I would argue that we all have our own version of spending amounts of wasted time watching American Idol, NFL highlights, or aimlessly surfing eBay. And so long as we have the time for such pursuits, we don't have the luxury at this critical historic crossroads not to take the time to devote to the health of our republic. Our survival as a people and as a majestic idea in the history of the world is at stake. But what can any one of us do?"
(Again, read the full post to find out what his answer is).

For my part, I'd say that what Jarecki writes is really "where the rubber meets the road" for any of us, myself included. It's not that no one should take time out for relaxation, fun, etc. There is a legitimate place in our lives, I think, for just "wasting time" as part of refreshing and re-charging ourselves. Having said this, I am in the process of taking a hard look at my own life to ascertain how I can help contribute to CHANGE in my country, and assessing how much time investment that will take, after legitimate, reasonable needs for spending time on relaxation are met. I dare say every American should make this same self-examination. Jarecki is, I think, exactly right in what I think he's trying to communicate: most Americans, on most days, do little to nothing to educate themselves on what's going on in their country --in terms of social and/or political challenges-- much less take ACTION about these. I myself spent the vast portion of my life up until now in the same condition.

I have found that it's very important to take the necessary time to first educate myself as a necessary pre-condition to talking to others (to influence or change their views). Sometimes, this can take many hours. A few examples: trying to figure out not only whether the United Nations Security Council did or did not authorize the United States' invasion of Afghanistan, but when? (Can I just call or email the UN?) Or, understanding the S.O.F.A. (Status of Forces Agreement) in Iraq, and what that means for America's future; learning how the way the US military is conducting it's "war on terror" in Afghanistan affects civilians in that ravaged country. I have found that even with the internet, educating myself about these things takes time and patience. After becoming educated comes the necessary task of trying persuade my legislators to do the right thing and to persuade my fellow Americans to persuade THEIR legislators to do the right thing.

If any of us who are average citizens who care about influencing the way the public thinks, and then influencing how politicians act, cannot or will not take the time for stuff like this, I don't know how we can expect to see real, lasting "change".

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