RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Pay Attention to People for a Change

Without even knowing your hometown or state, I have some guesses about how the mid-term elections turned out for you. You had some losses, some gains, and some results that come as complete unknowns.

And, I predict, in your state, there have been a dozen or more demands for re-counts.

Now here’s the question: Who cares?

None of the parties — the Ds, the Rs, the Ls, the Gs or the Ss have the answers. Instead, it’s up to us to work for the programs we want. Call us the Ps. The people.

So, no matter who the winners were, we the people need to define our issues carefully, hunt for organizations to work with, and move ahead. This goes for every issue, from sustainability to health care to jobs to gun control to women’s rights to the future of social security to you-name-it.

We’ve never had an administration of federal, state or local government that was with us in the fight against corporate power and even when Presidents have had majorities in Congress, they’ve failed to get things passed. Instead, we’ve made our meager gains by bringing together and supporting the few voices of reason we find. If we go to visit our lawmaker, call him Senator Bob Boughtoff, and he’s on the polar opposite of an issue, we seek out and support those that agree with us, no matter where they’re from.

Our support gives them cover. They can tell our rep, “Hey, Bob, one of your voters stopped by my office the other day to complain about you,” and, while Bob may laugh, he’ll wonder who else he’s missed.

Sometimes the smart guys’ voices are reasonable on one point but completely off-the-wall on another. Occasionally, I even find myself agreeing with one or two points from the tea party contingent, whatever that is.

We find allies on one issue, hoping they’re not too co-opted by other issues to be blind; we ignore our differences or we help take the timber out of their eyes.

Bottom line: There are good guys and bad ones in each party. It’s our job to make sure the good ones are not co-opted by the corporate interests that want people dependent on the giant corporations.

So, as soon as you know the outcome of the elections in your area, you have work ahead. Here’s what you do.

1. Put your issue into words as well as you can. Write your statement down and tape it to your bathroom mirror to read every day. Edit it occasionally if you need to.

2. Search for folks that agree with you and ignore those that don’t.

3. When you get an e-mail from an organization that deals with your issue, read it carefully and look up the issues they talk about, evaluating them in terms of your personal statement. Learn their arguments so you can make your own arguments stronger.

4. Go to at least one meeting a month with people that agree with you and bring in other likeminded people.

5. This year, attend a lobby day on your issue. At these days, organizations inform citizens about how to talk to legislators and outfit you with buttons and stickers to wear as you go down the hallways. It’s the most important thing you can do, whether you’re wearing a button that says, “Raw Milk Yes” or “Taser-free Forever” or “Support Family Farms”. Even if you’re too shy to speak, you’re being a witness for your issue.

Last and most important, when you’re in a presentation, ask questions. And more questions. One chilly evening last January, petitioners appeared on the streets of our major college town asking us to sign petitions asking for a constitutional amendment on alternative energy. Sincere, clean-cut and outspoken advocates for alternatives, they had videos, brochures, lots of answers. Good-hearted people were lined up to sign the petitions. Who the heck paid for this? I wondered to myself.

When I asked, it was interesting to learn that these honest young people didn’t know who was paying them. I’m kind of touchy about changing the constitution, however, so I read their petition, looking for a definition of “alternative.” There was none. Some vague words about solar and wind power, but there was nothing excluding biodiesel, ethanol or nuclear power…nothing.

Obviously, I didn’t sign. Instead, I questioned them loudly, drawing a bit of a crowd. The kids, embarrassed by the attention, or maybe shivering in the cold, packed up their clipboards and left town.

Maybe these kids were the good guys, and maybe they went back to their bosses and asked questions, because their issue never got to the ballot.

A little victory, maybe, so let’s celebrate. No matter who won in your area, there are powerful lawmakers that agree with you.

Enjoy the hunt!

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2010

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