There’s a lot of talk right now about change. Obama’s motto is, “Change we can believe in.” My favorite quote of his is: “Be the change.” But talk is cheap, as always, both because it does not cost anything and because words are, on their own, quite empty.
So if Senator Obama means not only to talk about change, but to engender it, it would be useful to figure out what this change actually looks like so we can evaluate his vision. We know that policies can change; “bad” ones can be revised, “corruptions” removed, and “special interests” curtailed. We all know that most people are frustrated with the way things are. But we need a broader and concrete sense of what change really is.
Change really means taking things back to the American public—you know, the pesky individuals who elected those dysfunctional politicians in the first place. If the people and their government are in discord, then it is the government’s responsibility to bridge the gap. After all, their single and sole duty is to serve the public good.
When you consider why special interest groups have so much agency in the current political scene, it has as much to do with organization as it does with corruption. Special interests groups are made up of individuals who organize their demands within a structure and combine their individual power under a central authority. The reason that unions are so powerful is that they speak for a large number of voters who the politicians are eager to please. As individuals, these people would have much less negotiating power than they do as a whole, which was the reason behind unionizing workers in the first place.
Regular people can be organized, too. Your block, your neighborhood, your co-workers, your fellow single parents, Latinos, homosexuals, Upper-East-Siders, and PinkBerry fiends alike—each of these shared affinity groups could serve its members more effectively than its members can serve themselves as individuals.
But wait just one second, you might say. How are organized Nascar Dads going to get along with those pesky Upper-East-Siders? They may both want change, but what type?…that will pose a problem. Change is cute, you say, a nice idea. But the word is looking as empty as a promise that offshore drilling will lower the price of your next tank of gas.
Enter: the American political regime.
Our political system allows every voice to be heard, but ultimately forces those voices to collide and interact until some sort of reasonable compromise is reached. You and your co-workers cannot single-handedly take over the world, but if you are organized, then you cannot be ignored. Even at the lowest local level, you will use your leverage to ensure that your grievances are at least acknowledged by the office across the hall. But this will only happen if you are organized. If you are mad about the new brand of toilet tissue in the bathroom that you share at work, but you keep this concern to yourself, it is unlikely that you will live to see the day of change—even if there are others on your side. But once you mention your concern at the weekly bagel brunch, and your boss has a chat with the boss across the hall, it is more than likely that the two parties can reach a compromise.
Let’s take your office global. This microcosmic picture represents what happens when Regan democrats are forced to share a sandbox with left-wing pinkos. Each organized group has the leverage to make demands on the other, but not enough so that it can ignore demands the other makes. When the voices of all Americans interact in this way, we have a well-functioning representative government, and not a group of chummy representatives trading favors in the form of addenda to meaningless bills.
In essence, change means getting out of our government what we should have been getting out of it all along: what we want. If we want something, we should be able to ask for it. We should be able to negotiate with opposing parties, and the structure of government—of checks and balances, of representation and election—should allow us to compromise.
But change requires serious organization. Not just a few manila folders, but binder clips, color-coordinated dividers, accordion files and felt-tip pens. So who’s organizing?
This summer, Barack Obama employed 3,600 volunteers in states across the country to organize local communities so that people’s interests, concerns, and ideas could be heard. Volunteers registered voters in supermarkets and on stoops, attended church meetings and soccer games, and made thousands of phone calls each night to Nascar Dads, PinkBerry fiends, and born-again Christians alike. They held town hall meetings, organized house parties, and spoke with local constituents to find out what local and national issues plagued their specific areas, in search of specific needs and ways to address them.
These Obamakins were young and old, energized, unpaid, and ready to dedicate large portions (if not the entirety) of their lives to ringing in a new generation of government for each other. And this was months before paid campaign staffers even got their toes wet.
Let me know if you meet any Republicans engaging in similar efforts. I’ll bet you my lunch money they’ll be voting for Obama in November.