Wednesday, June 22, 2016 9:27 PM
I was criticizing a Brexit supporter online today, telling him that it made more sense to remain in the Union and work for change from within, rather than turning away and making the problems bigger through greater fragmentation. I suggested that they ‘be leaders’.
It wasn’t until after I made the comment and logged off that I began to think about what I meant. At first I figured I was just projecting—isn’t that how we Americans feel, that we need to lead by example? Sure, we’ve lost sight of that, or at least our government has—preferring to lead by intimidation, diplomacy, and military intervention—but our ideal is that we lead the world forward by exemplifying how much better things can be if we all get on the civilization bus.
But in considering that, I realized that there’s a more ‘boots on the ground’ aspect to leadership. We see it in the extraordinary stranglehold the NRA has on gun control legislation—and even on CDC studies of gun violence. This tiny group of followers show up for every meeting, every hearing, every vote—while the other 97% of us quietly bemoan the problem as we stare at our TV screens.
But the gun control problem is just the worst-case example of how small groups of activists can jam up our legislative machinery. The other lobbyists do equally people-unfriendly things—giving breaks to corporations, cutting off compensation for those wronged by corporations, strangling important agencies of safety regulation, turning a blind eye to Wall Street excesses, closing women’s health care centers—the list is long and daunting. Rust never sleeps.
And yet for most of us, the issue of politics boils down to ‘getting out the vote’. I think it’s clear now—voting is the first baby step. Voting only has real power when it is the end of our involvement, not the sole locus of our contact with it. When Bernie Sanders told his followers recently to run for office, he was saying something similar—just being a voter isn’t enough. There are dark forces out there—and they are doing much more than just voting every four years—they’re working all the time.
Leadership is involvement—involvement is leadership. The old analog process of town hall meetings may be passé. The NRA and other corporate lobbyists may have deep war chests. But if the Tunisians or the Egyptians, with nothing but the internet and some cell phones, can overthrow their governments, then we can certainly have some influence over our government, too. The only difference is the level of involvement. And if you think we are any less faced with demagoguery as an alternative, you haven’t been paying attention.