It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Campaign 2020: Prescriptions for the Democratic Party

These prescriptions carry with them a dramatically different way of looking at the United States and its people.
·       The times, the succession of plagues we’ve been experiencing (the latest being Covid-19), means we won’t, we can’t, go back to the way things were.
·       The old “normal” is history, and a new normal is aborning. Fresh eyes are critical to helping clarify what that new normal is going to look like and then leading us into it.
·       Like it or not, the old days are gone for good, and it is impossible, even suicidal, to stay in the middle of a road that is veering sharply into the future.
The Democratic Party has within it and available to it the people, ideas, and resources needed to help the nation on its journey along that road never before traveled. Will it heed the call?
Above all, the intention here is to ensure a landslide, up-and-down-ballot victory in November 2020 for the Democrats, for democracy, and, more importantly, for the American people as a whole as we go forward into the 21st century.
Note that nothing is new here. I’m not claiming authorship of any of it. Though I give only a few references, others in the U.S. and around the world have been and are writing about one or another of them, promoting their adoption, and even beginning to put them into practice.

1.      First and foremost, be more than merely anti-Trump – much more.
·       No Democrat should run with that as the only or even main reason to ask for voters’ support.
2.      In order to win swing states and swing voters, the Democratic Party and its up-and-down ballot candidates must present a platform and campaign that inspires all people from across the political spectrum, not just a traditional base or party “tribe”.
Let’s move the country not left or right or back anywhere but rather forward. Or let’s even heed Michelle Obama’s call to go high.
·       We must aim to win much more than a bare majority, minimally necessary to get legislation passed and nominees confirmed. Rather, we must go for an overwhelming mandate and broad buy-in to an inclusive, visionary program. That way, whatever we accomplish once in office will be truly sustainable – immune from backlash because there will be no backlash.
·       To do this will require listening respectfully and with empathy to all sides.
·       Let’s present a vision of not only what could be but of what is already taking shape across the country and around the world. Elements of such a vision will become apparent in what follows.
·       Let’s show how that vision could make our lives better, and demonstrate clearly how it can be (and indeed is being) made manifest pragmatically.
·       We can do this through our campaign messaging in the social and traditional media, campaign appearances, national advertising, etc.
3.      The Democratic Party must return to its traditional dedication to protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of people, all people, including to stand for the worker.
Sadly and critically, workers, particularly those in dying industries, were left behind as party emphasis drifted more toward politically correct identity politics. While there has been and remains justification for the latter, inattention to the former cost the loss of the industrial swing states in 2016.
·       Place high priority on investments in infrastructure development, labor force training, and private sector incentives targeted on transitioning the economy and its workers from dying, 19th century, fossil-fuel-based industries to the more sustainable 21st century, Third Industrial Revolution economy that is already coming on line. See, for example, Jeremy Rifkin’s 2011 book The Third Industrial Revolution as well as many other academic and media sources out there.
4.      The Democrats must redirect their reliance on government, mainly Federal, programs and burdensome bureaucratic regulations to accomplish their noble ends. 
This history has justifiably earned them a reputation as purveyors of the “nanny state.” It’s not so much that we’re over-regulated, however, but rather mis-regulated. Thus:
·       Rethink and redesign programs and regulations to be…
o   …more carrot and less stick, more about incentivizing socially responsible behavior on the part of individuals and businesses than about punishing improper behavior
o   …more nuanced in recognition of local particularities, even devolving implementation responsibilities to local authorities
o   …more about establishing goals than prescribing in detail how to get there.
·       Go glocal! That is, at this time of epochal ecological and social change, encourage and support the development of resilient, adaptive, local communities that are networked globally with other resilient, adaptive, local communities. Thus we’ll have both micro resilience at the local level and macro resilience globally, with communities helping one another when capacities are stretched. For example…
o   …distributed, decentralized electric power generation
o   …distributed, decentralized engines of economic activity (manufacturing, agriculture, food processing)
o   …distributed, decentralized political and governmental authority, responsibility, and accountability; that is, nurturing bottom-bottom and bottom-up flows of political power and public decision making. 
5.      Our culture needs an attitude adjustment lest we blithely consume our way to oblivion.
This is a two-fer, about how we relate to Earth and how we relate to ourselves and one another.
a.       Our social, economic, and political institutions are all man-made. Nothing “natural” about them. Yes, I realize women have had a hand in it, too, but I am loathe to pin that rap on them. The systems and processes embedded in those institutions reek of masculine energy and ways of seeing the world. We need to introduce more feminine archetypal ways of being into the urgent task of redesigning how we engage with one another and with Earth in a life-affirming way.
A lot is already going on toward this end. For example:
                                                        i.      British economist Kate Raworth, in her 2017 book Doughnut Economics, makes the case that we don’t have to have never-ending, unsustainable growth to achieve economic well-being. Instead, we can design our institutions to maintain a sustainable, dynamic balance within a zone bounded on one side by ecological principles and Earth’s life support capacity and on the other side by the socioeconomic goal of ensuring that everyone has, at a minimum, their basic needs met of adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and meaningful livelihood.
                                                      ii.      Jeremy Rifkin, in his 2014 book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, describes the process, already underway, that is leading to the eclipse of capitalism and the rise of collaborative commons. It’s not the end of capitalism but rather putting it in a non-dominant place along with other forms of economic activity, notably the “collaborative commons.”
                                                    iii.      Rifkin, in his 2019 book The Green New Deal, demonstrates why our fossil-fuel-based economy and culture will collapse within the next 10 years and describes steps to take toward the consequent socioeconomic transformation, called the Green New Deal (a term and program originally proposed in Europe 10 years before being introduced here).
·       A few prescriptive notes:
o   Let’s encourage local initiatives to demonstrate the feasibility of a doughnut economics approach, such as explorations already underway in Amsterdam, Portland (Oregon), New Zealand, and increasingly others.
o   Replace, or at least supplement, measures such as Gross Domestic Product with others that truly do measure social, economic, and environmental welfare. Two examples are the Genuine Progress Indicator and Gross National Happiness.
o   Embrace and develop the Green New Deal as a starting point for the bold socioeconomic transformations that are essential for an economy that is both ecologically sustainable and socially compassionate.
o   When the unexpected or threatening happens, let’s replace what seems to be our culture’s go-to reactions of hate and fear with actions of caring and compassion. For example:
§  Education reform – investing in and supporting (i.e., putting our money where our mouth is regarding the importance of education!) quality public education, including appreciation for the arts, critical thinking, and encouragement of each student’s particular gifts and passions.
§  Criminal justice reform – from a focus on retributive punishment and “lock ‘em up” to restorative justice and community healing.
§  Immigration reform – from a binary choice between closed or open borders to compassionate borders.
§  Healthcare reform – affirm that everyone has a right to quality, affordable healthcare, and institute and encourage a variety of ways to accomplish that end so people have a choice.
§  Democracy reform – a ensuring everyone’s right to vote and to have their vote counted (e.g., redistricting by nonpartisan commissions rather than partisan Gerrymandering, removing voter suppression measures, campaign financing reforms)
b.      And, of course, the question of how are we going to pay for all this. The U.S. economy is so huge and creates so much wealth that this question is more one of priorities than of affordability. It’s definitely worth a national conversation along some of these lines:
·       So, what are our priorities as a society? Which gets us back to values and acting out of caring and compassion rather than hate and fear.
·       Ours is a society drowning in fear. And yet we call ourselves “the home of the brave”? It seems the only way we can get things done, even things that “appeal to the better angels of our nature,” is to take a military approach and cast the effort as a war – War on Poverty, War on Drugs, even war on a virus. With that mindset, it’s not surprising that the United States spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. How much do we really need in this age of cyberwarfare and disinformation campaigns? Are there ways to redirect some of that money to other priorities without sacrificing national security? It may mean even redefining what it takes to be secure.
·       More broadly and profoundly, what’s the meaning and role of money, anyway, in a future increasingly characterized by the collaborative commons, the gift economy, and the sharing economy? The Next Systems Project has done a lot of work trying to answer such questions. See, for example, their Elements of the Democratic Economy.
6.      It is time to pass the torch on to a next generation, i.e., a Gen X, Gen Y Millennial, or, as they even now are just coming online, Gen Z.  
These prescriptions carry with them a dramatically different way of looking at the United States and its people. Like I said at the outset, “Fresh eyes are critical to helping clarify what that new normal is going to look like and then leading us into it.”
Joe Biden, as likable and honest a person as he is, has not demonstrated that he has those critically necessary fresh eyes. Yet Biden has clinched a first-ballot nomination victory. His primary victories, however, were largely influenced by rival candidates bowing out and throwing their support to him in an effort to unite the party behind a candidate who seemed most likely to defeat the current occupant of the White House. Biden was the “safe” choice, the “back-to-the-nice-old-days” choice, the “middle-of-the-road/offend-the-fewest- across-the-political-spectrum” choice. I’m deathly afraid that strategy is not going to cut it in November, however.
Under the circumstances, therefore, we nevertheless really do have to give Biden the support and encouragement he’ll need to follow Tom Friedman’s advice about pre-picking a national unity cabinet of younger, more forward-looking “pragmatic visionaries”, and then carrying them with him right into the White House. 
Echoing Where We Started
Like it or not, the old days are gone for good, and it is impossible, even suicidal, to stay in the middle of a road that is veering sharply into the future. The Democratic Party has within it and available to it the people, ideas, and resources needed to help the nation on its journey along that road never before traveled. Will it heed the call?
Michael Abkin currently serves as a founding trustee of the National Peace Academy, having previously served on its board of directors. He is past president and current advisory council member of the Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace, on the Leadership Council of Elders Action Network, and volunteers with Nine Gates Mystery School. Mike also served with the Peace Corps in Nigeria and earned his doctorate in systems science at Michigan State University. He can be reached at mike@thegreenpen.org.

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