One of the essential maxims of politics is that we must pick our battles.
Yes, we have ideals and passions, but we all live and work in the world that we walk out into when we leave our front doors every day, and that world has rules and realities and history.
No matter our ideals or our end goals, then, we have to be effective when the rubber hits the road, when the ink hits the paper or the pixels hit the screen. To do so is to be reality-based; we in the netroots take pride in that.
Like many of you, I believe that we are at a turning point in world history, a kind of "ready or not" opportunity to make a lasting difference in the structures, laws and ideals of human society in ways that will affect both our planet and our descendants long after we have left the stage.
In that light, I'd like to take a second tonight and start an ongoing conversation here on dailykos about the levers and fulcrum points involved in picking our battles, starting with my 50,000 foot answer to that age old activist question, "What is to be done?"
Taking the 50,000 foot view, the most critical issue facing humankind is the issue of sustainability.
Sustainability includes, front and center, the global warming crisis and our human impact on the Earth's climate through the burning of fossil fuels. Sustainability is, however, a much larger issue in scope and dynamic. Sustainability involves population, agriculture, disease, environmental toxicity, access to water, energy supply, access to renewable and non-renewable resources, and issues dealt with under long-term planning and economic and political philosophies. Ultimately, sustainability encompasses issues of war and peace, economic justice, migration and refugees, the massive power of the state in the nuclear age and the possibilities of international cooperation and law. It encompasses the ultimate "long term" view.
At its core, there is one reality that anyone dealing with issues of sustainability comes back to: we are in this together.
That is the first fulcrum point. We need to leverage the self-interest of the majority of citizens on this planet, our fellow human beings, around a simple and fundamental understanding: when it comes to sustainability, eg., human sustainability on Earth, we are in this together. We, the people on this globe, are irretrievably inter-connected in ways and networks of inter-dependence that grow deeper and more profound every day. Those who would pretend otherwise are ostriches and fools.
Given our inter-connectedness facing the deepest and most profound issues of the day, the current practice of domestic politics within present day nation states (case in point, the current state of our United States Congress) or, alternatively, the world of multi-national corporations as they are currently governed and regulated, are not particularly effective vehicles for addressing the reality and shared challenges we humans face. Given the war in Iraq, international neglect of Darfur and the DRC, the AIDS epidemic and rampant inequalities in health and wealth worldwide there is much to be cynical about. However, it need not be so.
We are living at a tremendously hopeful moment.
I am hopeful because I see, in ever more decisive ways, that the logic of progressive human ideals: social justice, economic and environmental development and human rights have become, essentially, pragmatically charged. Given the realities that we face together, idealism meets pragmatism every day. We are connected and we know it, and, more than that, we must do something about it. What people do with regards to fossil fuels in India and China is extremely important to everyone on the planet. (The largest source of the particulate matter in Los Angeles air is from China.) Disease control and rainforest retention in the Congo is enormously important, not just in Africa, but to all of us. That is a powerful fulcrum. In an inter-connected world where globalism is more than a catch-word, we must take action together or suffer the consequences.
Where Thomas Jefferson wrote, in 1776, that "all Men are Created Equal"...we now see that reality in pictures every day. We also see, clearly, that we humans are living in an ever-more-connected yet distinctly inequal world. An understanding of this reality forces pragmatism to temper our ideals as we work to chage the status quo. The internet allows us to see every day the inequality of outcome visited up the world's children simply by chance of birth. We can also see that when the ocean rises, it rises equally for humankind. When the Earth's temperature rises two degrees, it does so with out regard to social class or background. Those two realities are interconnected; the one plays off the other. No one can persuade India or China to burn less coal without taking account of basic facts like the quality of life of their poorest citizens.
Globalism and rampant multi-national corporations in tandem with the free flow of information and ideas on the internet mean that, every day, more and more, we humans are one. We can see each other. We can see each other's poverty and wealth. And even though we in the U.S. have long had our heads buried in the sand..."lead-painted toy" by "lead-painted toy"..."tainted bag of pet food" by "tainted bag of pet food"...we are also learning in concrete ways that we are one in our regulatory environments, too. In fact, we are one in ways that most people never anticipated or expected.
And it's happening now. Not tomorrow.
When I work on ad campaigns for global corporations here in San Francisco, we will sometimes shoot ads with three separate casts of models. One for East Asia, one for South Asia and one for the rest of the world including Africa, Latin America, Europe and the United States. I would invite readers here to think about that fact and mull it over a bit. The world's largest middle class resides not in the United States but in India. Few know this in the nation at large.
Extremes of inequality in wealth and the increasing prospect of the effects of climate change have created a head-on collision between the purported national ideals of the world's democracies and the international outcomes of our economic policies. The question is what we will do about it.
We need to account for this new reality in our political and economic philosophies; we need to get out of our tired mindsets and create powerful fulcrums for change. We need to work in the realms of international law and regulation to revitalize our democratically-elected bodies with a wave of progressive legislation that governs the world's corporations to go beyond mere profit and take account of the true global bottom line. We need leaders who understand how to negotiate solutions in this new global climate. We progressives need to leverage every ounce of our newfound powers of communication on the internet to build bridges with our fellow citizens....in Beijing and Cape Town and Buenos Aries and Mumbai.
We are in this together. That is the very first, and the most critical, of fulcrum points. Whether we rise to the challenge by changing our household practices, or through influencing municipal legislation, or changing our State regulatory environment, or lobbying to change federal energy policy or through influencing international treaties or, internationally, through local actors working with not-for-profits or NGOs...the essential fulcrum point stays the same. This will take effort on all of our parts.
At the time of our nation's founding, Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal not to express something unique about American citizenship but to express something essential and global about our founding ideals.
We are, indeed created equal, though billions live in squalor and subject to the capricious whim of disease and poverty. We are also in 2007, where sustainability is concerned, now deeply and pragmatically inter-connected...every last one of us...from the hunter/gatherer in the rainforests of the Amazon to the advertising writer in a loft in SoHo. That is the first and basic fulcrum point for progressive activism in the 21st Century: we are one. There is no getting around that fact. The more we let that inform and deepen our politics the more we will leverage a profound reality that we all know inherently: when it comes to sustainability, we humans are in this together. That overriding reality will be the story of the 21st Century. That is no less true in Mumbai or Cape Town or Buenos Aries or Beijing than it is in Los Angeles or Baghdad. The longer we ignore this reality and delay taking it into account, the more we stick to our silos, the more we are simply kidding ourselves.
The choice is ours. The fulcrum exists. It's actually quite simple when we get down to it...to paraphrase Auden...we must cooperate with one another or die.