RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Time to Provide the Muscle Behind the Vote

“This is what democracy looks like!” If you’ve marched with the unions or peacemakers or anyone else in the last years, you’ve heard this chant. If you haven’t, march around the neighborhood and say it out loud to get the feel: THIS is WHAT de-MOC-racy LOOKS like.

Now, that you’ve got that in your head, think about what de-MOC-racy can do to change the future. Think about tackling the big issues — peace in the Middle East, global climate change, forcing multinationals to label GMO products. Compared to the challenges of the future, all the conquests of the past — moon shot, end of polio, purified water — are small potatoes.

The days after the Obama election, as I heard the voting numbers parsed out, crediting women and people of color, union members from Ohio, with sending Obama over the top, the de-MOC-racy chant rang through my head. Finally, we can imagine, everyone is voting, and the politicians have their orders.

I had felt it earlier, as I rang doorbells in Columbia, Mo., days before the election. The neighborhood was similar to those I’d worked in past years, mostly poor working-class folks, but the attitude was different. In the past, they’d been surprised to be asked if they were going to the polls. This year, tromping up and down the streets as people were coming home from work, I found them eager to talk, eager to vote. They were even encouraging each other! Imagine that! A neighborhood getting organized!

Also, the campaign was more organized. We had a list of questions to ask, whereas before we’d just passed out information about the candidates.

Do you know where your polling place is? I’d ask and they’d tell me what time they were going and who was providing the ride. Back in 2008, I felt like having the polling places in big white churches and intimidating courthouses was a detriment to people feeling comfortable, but in 2012, people felt like it was their right to go there and cast their ballots. This is huge!

And, within a couple of days after the election, it seems that even Congress and the TV pundits were getting it. Even the Republicans, everyone except Rush Limbaugh, were distancing themselves from Romney. Romney’s phoned-in comment about huge benefits promised by Obama, a comment that must have been written by Clint Eastwood’s speech writers, was being criticized.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see the Rs fail, although it’s hilariously offensive that Rush’s statue was positioned in the Missouri capitol building last year. We need at least two parties, and it would be great to see three or four strong contenders on each ballot, but the Rs better figure out how to become relevant. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Meet the Press Nov. 18, “When you find you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

I also don’t want to see the Rs pretend to be relevant by window-dressing their outmoded ideas of American corporate power and world dominance. These ideas, if you haven’t noticed, are dangerously rampant in both parties (and come from our own stupid consumer behavior) and must be curbed.

But it’s going to take all of us, in what we might call the Human Race. It’s time for collective actions that put the power in the institutions we want to support. That means communities working toward goals that we’ve set for ourselves. Promotion of local foods, local arts. Collective action does not mean banks and county governments setting up Enhanced Enterprise Zones and working to attract more corporate jobs or government dollars. It doesn’t mean conservatism working to protect big business.

Let’s begin by working toward really clean and safe energy. We’re addicted to central heat and hot water, and we don’t want to turn off the lights when we leave the room. But climate change has shown the weaknesses in our present delivery system. Downed wires and days without electricity are just the start. We don’t have a clue about the final damages on the simmering nuclear reactors in Japan. We need the very real community alternatives of photovoltaic and wind collectors on every emergency shelter—hospitals, churches, schools, courthouses—and, then, on every home.

Obama has the right stuff to move communities forward, and his recent rhetoric — about global warming, for example — show that he knows how to express it. He might even have the right stuff to bring us together to curb our own bad behavior. He can do it by setting the example. In the first term, the Obamas planted vegetables in the White House lawn.

His actions in the second term — whether it’s a million more farms or solar hot water collectors on the White House — are up to us. We are the muscle behind the vote.

Let’s get busy.

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

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2012

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