The 99% and The Two Americas

(Cross posted at http://www.correntwire.com

Chris Cillizza wrote a piece on October 17 in The Washington Post called “What John Edwards Can Teach Barack Obama”
Cillizza compares the message of the “Two Americas” to “We are the 99%” i.e. that there is one America for the privileged with their lobbyists and influence and another America for the rest of us. He suggests that Barack Obama take a look at this Edwards’ theme. He also admits that Obama is not a natural populist and so donning this message might indeed turn out to be an ill fitting suit making the wearer look a bit comical.

If I tell you where the idea of “Two Americas” comes from, you will see why it’s not a good fit for the current president. The Two Americas phrase itself was coined by an Edwards’ staffer Christina Reynolds. But its roots lay in a deep held belief of the senator that something had gone terribly wrong.

In 2003 I decided it was time for me to scout around and read up on the possible Democratic candidates. I stumbled on a speech by an obscure North Carolina senator and a phrase lept out at me. I had one of those “Oh my God” moments. Here was a phrase and an idea that made sense of everything that had gone wrong since the beginnings of Friedman/Reagonomics that had morphed into Rubin/Clintonomics. The phrase was “we must honor work over wealth”.

Barrett Keizer said, in his brilliant 2006 February essay for Harper’s called “Crap Shoot: Everyone Loses When Politics is a Game”:

“The player, the wise guy, prides himself on his cleverness, but he always perishes from being less clever than he thinks. He perishes because he only knows the relentless, mindless momentum of the game; he knows nothing of the sanctifying rhythms of work and rest.”

“Sanctity”. Wow, that reminds me that Jesus was blue collar. He was a carpenter. God too worked his butt off and then rested. Those are the natural rhythms of the earth; to work and then to rest and play.

Edwards was attempting to redeem the word “work” that Reagonomics had succeeded in replacing with the so-called virtue of “ownership”. Reagan pushed the idea that you weren’t really a player unless you owned shares in America and owned property. Being a “shareholder” was preferable to be called a “worker”.

But, no, the world belongs to people who love work and not to the players in the casinos with their rigged games. It’s long past time for work to take again its dominant place over wealth. “Attention must be paid”, said Linda Loman of her salesman husband Willy. Dignity, respect, justice begins when a person is rewarded for a good day’s work and is honored for it.

Freedom demands shared responsibility that can only be achieved when all work is given dignity and all brothers and sisters are respected. It doesn’t mean we all get yachts. But it does mean that we all get boats. Right now it is clear to the young people that all they’ve got is the instruction manual on “How to Swim” while the Fat Cats speed around them churning up the waves.

The occupiers around the world are finding virtue and truth in the phrase that “many hands make light work”. They are discovering the joy of working together in their assemblies and “work” groups. And they are discovering the joy of playing and jamming after some marching and sweating. They are redefining what is valuable.

Promises have been broken and Liberty has been stolen. Fearful and hollow men seek to exclude and not include. So, it’s time to “kindly” ask those who would serve up liberty without fraternity or equality to step to the back of the bus. Our time is now.

The French got it right in their cry of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity“. “Cut to the Revolution.”

What Do They Want?

Occupy wall street

Is it about what they want? Or something else?I read a statement years ago that the 20th Century was the century of Freud. And with any luck, the 21st Century would be the century of Jung. Not sure who said it but it really resonated with me. My take on Jung was that he emphasized the idea that we are all a part of a whole, with each of us having individual gifts contributing to that whole. When we look at another, we see ourselves. In the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”, Adam Curtis explores the use of Freud’s theories to direct people away from a communal way of thinking and into rampant mirror-gazing.

The premise of the film is that the birth of propaganda/public relations/marketing began with Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays when he was hired by the Wilson administration to sell the idea of “making the world safe for democracy”. Unfortunately, that meant becoming involved in the hideous carnage called World War I and forcing your neighbors to buy War Bonds or be put in jail. After the war, he was asked by the tobacco industry to use his PR skills to figure out how to sell cigarettes to women. He branded cigarettes “torches of freedom” that would challenge male power simply by lighting up. From then on, advertising would no longer speak to people’s needs, but to their inner desires and yearnings. And freedom would now be defined as freedom of choice.

And so the transformation of the American citizen into the American consumer began in earnest. Americans were sold that they needed clothes that showed their individuality and made them sexy. Men were sold that the kind of car they drove showed who they were; powerful and, yes, sexy. The kind of soap you bought made you happier and more admired.

What we are witnessing in Zuccotti/Liberty Park with the #Occupy Wall Street could be the great turning away from the century of “me” to the century of “we”.
At least it has opened up the discussion of what we really need rather than what we want. The greatest need right now seems to have our voices heard and a need to take back the meaning of words like “public” and “cooperative” and “social”. It is a pushback against all the punditry that insist on a label, logo, banner, slogan, brand, buzzword, sound bite, pitch or demand.

No, we will no longer be defined as consumers. We will no longer be cogs in your machine. We are free men and women. We do not define freedom as the right to choose between 100 brands of cereal. Our definition of freedom is freedom from domination by corporations and their agendas. Our definition of freedom is not to be subservient to the 1%. We are taking back our humanity. We are taking back our public spaces and our commons. We are a community; a community of concerns. We care about each other and the planet we inhabit. There is no expiration date on what is happening around the world and at last in the United States.

No, it’s not about what we want, but about what we need.