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"There is more than sufficient demand for reform.  And there are more than sufficient reforms under consideration.  But to our view and that of many of the hundreds of elected officials, academics, journalists, and activists we interviewed while preparing this book, there is an insufficiency of focus.  There needs to be a unifying theme that will galvanize the movement and enhance its power.  From this enhanced power -- and only from such enhanced power -- can foundational democratic reforms emerge.  This is the last great challenge in shaping the current moment for reforms into a necessary transformational politics."

-- John Nichols and Robert McChesney, in Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America

There is a lot of visible activism going on these days, and I am heartened to see it, but I agree that we need to connect all of our seemingly disparate activist efforts into some larger cohesive whole.  Heck, this was a call I made five years ago at a speech I gave at the final plenary of the 2008 convention of the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace, and the Environment.  I even specified a proposal for that cohesive whole later that year at another presentation I gave in St. Louis.

Despite the passage of time, my thinking on this score remains steadfast.  We need some way to stitch together our disparate activist efforts into a grander tapestry.  And we need some unifying theme as a means to do so.  And we need some way to figure out and reasonably judge which theme to use.

Read more after the fold.

Figuring out which Grand Unifying Theme is an effort that should be more widely discussed and more urgently addressed -- perhaps as pressing a discussion or  elaboration as any topic under the sun at the present moment (for reasons I'll explain in a moment).  

A Grand Unifying Theme should subsume under a single theoretical tent as many issues as possible with as many clear and concise connections as possible.  The longer it takes to draw those connections, or the fewer direct connections made, the less effective a Grand Unifying Theme would be.

The more ground that can be covered with a single theme, the easier connections can be drawn, the more alliance can be won, the more people involved.  And with more organized people, the better the odds that challenges to power will succeed.

In panels, or constellations, or blog posts, or social media conversations, in coffee clatches, in every place large and small, the conversation should widen and expand.  And it may be that the theme (if such a thing can be said) may not come from a conversation (just ask Occupy Wall Street, whose second anniversary is today).  Nevertheless, I think it's a useful criterion to judge whether or not we have the "right" Grand Unifying Theme, or for that matter any Grand Unifying Theme.  

We need to figure this out fairly quickly -- as things go, we don't have a lot of time to address some of the most pressing issues of our age: Climate scientists tell us we have maybe a couple of decades before we exceed the climate Rubicon of 500 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, beyond which no effort to reverse climate change will succeed.  What's more, when it comes to "critical junctures", those rare opportunities maybe once per generation when social change can occur at a far more rapid clip than normal, we are probably in the granddaddy "critical juncture" of them all right now and for maybe the next five years.  

John Nichols and Robert McChesney (whom I saw in person last month) offer their own proposal for a unifying theme:

To our view, the focus must be on the act of voting that underpins any sincere democratic experiment.  Not on the vote as it has been perverted, dumbed down, and diminished into a merely political act, but on the vote as Walt Whitman understood it when he wrote, "Thunder on!  Stride on!  Democracy.  Strike with vengeful strokes!"
Nichols and McChesney outline the reasons why "the vote" should be the Grand Unifying Theme in their book Dollarocracy (which you should buy and read).  

In my presentation in 2008, and my current thinking still, I think that the Grand Unifying Theme should be the challenge and eventual abolition of the institution of markets.  That's as heretical an idea as any in current intellectual life, and I intend to defend vigorously the idea in posts to come.  

Of course, it's possible that neither of these themes would be the Grand Unifying Theme for political activism and those interested in positive change.  Fair enough.  But the discussion is long overdue -- and I will elaborate on this theme more in my next post.

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Comment Preferences

  •  If this means that... (0+ / 0-)

    ...your Grand Unifying Theme should take precedence over human rights for transgender people, I'm afraid I am required to object.

    •  Yes, by all means, let's split (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      isabelle hayes

      into a thousand interest groups. I think that's called identity politics.

      When big change occurs it can sweep everything along with it as did the Civil Rights movement and then the Anti-war movement.
      Many other people fighting for rights can be inclusive.

      What about simply demanding Restore our Civil Rights  — and the first is our right to vote and to have simple compact districts.

      Get rid of Markets? That really makes no sense. Do you mean Wall Street?

      Kickstarter is a great idea — to raise even up to a few hundred thousand dollars by donations IF your project becomes a favorite but its use is limited to what the owners will allow,

      How do you raise millions to bring a new drug to — whoops I almost said market — to those it may help?

      I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

      by samddobermann on Wed Sep 18, 2013 at 03:25:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  How about? (0+ / 0-)
    To build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

    Not mine I am afraid but from the preamble to the UK Liberal Democrat Party constitution.

    We will work, we will play, we will laugh, we will live. We will not waste one moment, nor sacrifice one bit of our freedom, because of fear.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 07:18:35 PM PDT

  •  We've Always Had a Unifying Theme Till Recently. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    isabelle hayes

    We had a government conceived in Enlightenment values and we've always had considerable forces in private and public sectors that shared some interests of the masses, however incompletely, and admittedly keeping some demographics out of the deal. Especially in the New Deal - Great Society period that created our only large comfortable middle class.

    Labor could fight for workers' rights; suffragettes could fight for women's rights; the civil rights movement could work for Blacks' rights. All these movements were about extending established concepts of fairness and justice --in many cases established practices of fairness-- to blocks or circumstances that were left behind, at odds with the best of our philosophy.

    Not so today. Both political parties are rightwing enough to support and pass policies that degrade the masses to the benefit of ownership. Almost all institutions public and private find their interests' advancement requires imposing decline on the people.

    There is no working good deal today for mainstream people that any group struggling can petition to be let into. Instead we have catastrophe for, Black employment for example, wishing it could join the more gradual decline of whites.

    What We The People need is for the entire society to be remade, government, economy, culture. Even our founders only mostly had to liberate us from an offshore layer of governance in the reasonable expectation that domestic government and economy were significantly on the side of the people.

    It seems that almost everyone who understands how our culture, system of government and economy actually operate are on the rightwing, while almost everyone who understands the highest principles behind our system are on the leftwing and lack understanding of how to make things work --or to be fair, maybe mostly lack allies of sufficient power whether individual or institutional.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Sep 17, 2013 at 08:19:35 PM PDT

  •  When Martin Luther King, Jr. embraced the anti-war (0+ / 0-)

    It was a seminal moment, that speech he gave recognizing that a disproportionate number of black men were being sent to Vietnam, and poor men in general, it became time to take him out.  There was much justifiable fear that these two huge movements, Civil Rights and Out Of Vietnam, would become uncontrollable if they embraced common cause.  This was a unifying of activists that simply could not be tolerated by those in charge.

    We haven't had anything that approaches the potential power of that combination since then, or even the intensity that each of those groups represented.

    Courtesy is owed. Respect is earned. Love is given. (Unknown author, found in Guide to Texas Etiquette by Kinky Friedman)

    by marykmusic on Wed Sep 18, 2013 at 08:05:00 AM PDT

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