How does change happen?
We often think that problems can be solved by simply voting for the Democratic Party. This is simply not true. This is not to say that voting isn't important. It's just not how change usually happens.
People often think that politicians change things. This may be true of the rare politician, but the more typical politician reacts to the times rather than changes them.
Corporations understand this process of political change. Here's how the Mackinac Center (a corporate think tank) describes the process:
In our understanding, politicians typically don't determine what is politically acceptable; more often they react to it and validate it. Generally speaking, policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change. The most durable policy changes are those that are undergirded by strong social movements.
This is why corporations are fighting an idea fight and winning.
They're winning this war to the extent that democracy seems foreign and unusual while things like "tax cuts" have become our end all/be all even though I don't know if anyone could tell you exactly why. They're winning the war to the extent that very few Democratic politicians will even talk about democracy.
Politicians shy away from democracy because it has been made to sound unnatural and foreign. Any step towards democracy is communism or socialism so they avoid these terms for fear of offending some part of their constituency.
Politicians are the most fearful of all animals. They tend to tell you what you want to hear because they want your vote.
I say this not with any malice towards politicians but rather because it's important that we not think politicians change things.
Politicians respond to social movements. Change minds and you move politicians.
Of both parties.
Republicans are not the problem, it's the corporate social movement.
I know you're not going to like this because you may have spent a lot of time promoting Democrats and fighting Republicans recently. That's ok. We need to do this during elections.
Hear me out for a second though.
Over the past 30-40 years, Republican politicians have won because they adopted the corporate social movement. Their politicians are terrible. How do they win?
They win because the corporate social movement has figured out the “big ideas” to make all of the policies corporate special interest groups want possible. They have developed a movement and a media network capable of promoting these ideas.
The Republican Party simply decided to go along completely with this movement.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party often puts up the best and the brightest and still loses. Even when Democrats win, they have a hard time accomplishing as much as we'd like because corporate special interest groups have changed the conceptual world so drastically.
Perhaps the biggest corporate "idea" in use is the conceptual frame of big/small government. Here is how the Mackinac Center uses this concept to talk about education:
Why do they do this?
Because if you only think along this big/small conceptual axis and believe that you're fighting for "freedom," all of these corporate ideas about privatizing schools make sense.
Outside of this cognitive world, these ideas make little sense.
This isn't just true, however, for education. Corporations use this same axis to talk about every issue under the sun: health care, energy, our social safety net, taxes, voting rights, the media, gun violence, etc, etc.
On issue after issue, corporate special interest groups win because they have convinced people that consumer choice equals freedom and that playing in the market place is the only participation necessary for a greater good that will any day now sweep across this land of ours if we can just unleash the magic of "markets."
This idea that markets always lead to a greater good can't be found in any economics textbook. Hell, markets exist now for human slavery. Markets have no opinion whatsoever on child labor or women having the right to vote or prostitution or heroin.
This is because all markets do is determine price.
If one person happens to own all the supply and can dictate price based on a monopoly, that market is functioning perfectly according to "free market" theory. The market has chosen a winner. Let all bow down before him/her.
These ideas have become so pervasive, however, that we even have “pro-business” or “third way” Democrats using this axis to win elections. It is because the corporate social movement in America is winning the war of ideas. Even after their ideas almost destroyed the world economy.
At the same time, there is no big idea movement comparable to this special interest movement. Liberals have become fragmented, our resources divided across any number of policy fights to the point where we no longer fight for big ideas.
Typically, we fight policy fights in a corporate special interest group world.
How to make policies make sense
It's really simple actually. If we want to pass liberal policies, we need to start with strong ideas. We need to change the conceptual world instead of fighting within it.
Let's look at some aspects of voting and districting within the conceptual frame of democracy. Here, I'm going to draw the axis from pure democracy, government by and for the people, to government by and for the few.
Here, I've laid out several aspects of districting along an axis from democracy to government by and for the few. Within this frame, gerrymandering is unacceptable to most people.
This is why if we win on the idea of democracy, we win on districting.
Using democracy to explain Ohio election rigging (gerrymandering)
I know this is a lot of buildup. It’s important to understand though because sometimes we fall into the traps set for us by the corporate social movement.
• Talk about policy
• Call people “low information” or worse
• Present the facts without talking about the big ideas or beliefs behind the facts
• Argue Democratic/Republican instead of winning people over to better ideas
• Fight our battles within the conservative cognitive frame
In my own small way, I wanted to help revive democracy. Especially given a platform of 100,000+ weekly Enquirer readers known for being “conservative”. I put "conservative" in parentheses because I don’t believe it.
By breaking people out of corporate special interest group thinking, I've found I can usually win 9 out of 10 people. It doesn't matter what they consider themselves. But you have to break out of the typical corporate special interest group framing.
The first thing I did was to layout the problem. I accomplished this by talking about the odds of picking 16 horse races in a row: 1 in 2 to the 16th power or 1 in 65,536.
Then, I picked the 16 races. In a democracy, this shouldn’t be possible. "But don’t believe me," I said, "cut out this article and check after the November election."
Now members of the Republican tribe might be happy about this situation so I needed to address the issue outside of Republican/Democratic thinking. This is where the idea of democracy comes in.
The problem here is that a couple of people in Columbus decided our congressional races, all sixteen of them. Not “we, the people.”
This is a problem no matter who is in office. And yes, I would be saying the same thing if I lived in Illinois or Maryland.
Our representatives don’t represent the voters in the states. They represent the people who vote in the primary for a certain party that we already know will win the district. This allows ever more extreme candidates to get elected who represent a very small minority of Ohio.
Notice how all this makes sense when you’re thinking in the cognitive world of democracy.
The other thing that happens is that big versus small doesn’t matter as much anymore. The far more important point is that our government is by and for the people. Of course, corruption is still an issue but the solution to corruption is to put checks and balances in place to eliminate corruption, not to wage eternal war against a government by and for the people.
Look at all the policies that suddenly make sense within the democracy frame:
- Eliminating money in politics
- Voting rights
- An economy that works for everyone
- Free and independent media
- Public education
- Campaign finance reform
- Repealing Citizens' United
We believe in all of these policies and ideas because we believe our country should be by and for the people.
Unfortunately, we often forget to talk about democracy in our haste to get to our recommendations. If we start with democracy and ask people about their beliefs in democracy, it opens up the discussion and naturally leads to all of these recommendations.
What happened when I spoke about my belief in democracy?
People started coming out of the woodwork.
I posted the online version to a couple of places on Facebook and pretty soon over 500 people had shared. A long discussion took place online in which even the conservatives agreed we should end election rigging.
Only one person continued to argue that elections have consequences and that one of these consequences is ending democracy in Ohio. No one took him seriously.
Rick Smith, candidate for the 54th state congressional district, spoke about the issue on one of our local TV stations.
The next day, several people had written letters to the editor including this one from Dorothy Weigel in Springdale urging people to vote: Even with rigged districts, voters can make a difference.
And this one from John Stainaker in Terrace Park: No easy fix for gerrymandering.
Terrace Park. To put Terrace Park in perspective, it has a population of about 500. Terrace Park is known for two things: one of the worst speed traps in Ohio and Rob Portman, Ohio Senator and former Bush appointee.
Good for David Akadjian for drawing attention to gerrymandering as a large and growing threat to democracy. "Rigged elections" are exactly the right words. Because all politicians in office in both parties have a powerful interest in perpetuating this rigged system, it is not easy to fix.
Even my mom (a Republican who lives in John Boehner's district) was talking about the issue. "I didn't know," she said, "that it was so bad."
Why did this work?
Because I changed the conceptual landscape. I spoke about my belief in democracy and talked about what it meant.
Because I broke people out of the liberal/conservative fight we're all so used to having and because I really don't care who works towards democracy.
If Republicans put an independent commission in place to draw Ohio districts I would be all for it. Hell, even Jon Husted, Ohio Secretary of State, has written about gerrymandering as a problem.
If we want to build a big movement, pick a big fight
While I was proud to see my name in print, what I kept emphasizing to people was the importance of them speaking about democracy within their own circles.
Corporate special interest groups get it when it comes to ideas and they use their influence with corporate media outlets to shift the idea space. I don't believe liberals have the same media influence.
The advantage we do have, however, is numbers. I see these numbers all the time in the comments, in the letters to the editor, in the editorials, and on the message boards.
Here, we should be owning the idea space and pushing the media outlets to talk about ideas like democracy. If we win on democracy, we make it that much easier for our politicians to propose democratic legislation and pass policies that benefit the people of our country.
Now corporate special interest groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may not like this, but that's even more reason to keep it up.
You see, I also believe a different story about the Occupy movement than most people.
I believe the Occupy movement won. They changed the conceptual world by reintroducing democracy to America (and beyond). They introduced the idea that our economy and our corporations should benefit the majority, the 99%.
This suddenly made it easier for every politician in existence to talk about policies that would benefit people.
This was also why the opposition kept asking them for an action. What policies do you support? What do you want done?
Occupy won when they simply were about reintroducing democracy and raising the issue of who should benefit from our society: all of us or a select few. The smartest thing they ever did was to focus on ideas, not policies.
Let the politicians and policy wonks worry about policies.
Occupy won by reintroducing a big idea to America: democracy.
We can do this too. Whether we realize it our not, we have political conversations all the time. Unfortunately, many of these conversations neglect the big ideas and fall into the corporate special interest group traps.
I know most of us are worried about elections now and that's good. When we get back to our normal lives, however, remember the big ideas.
Remember that the process of change looks like this: social change -> political change -> policy change.
Remember that big ideas and social movements make it easier for politicians across the board to work for people.
We're not thinking big enough if we only want to influence Democratic politicians.
I want to move everyone.
To do this we of course need to vote now (political change) and then we need to revive democracy.
David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy.
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