We have made big strides in setting up our membership group, the FDL Association. As the Chair of the Association, I have high hopes that it will provide opportunities for active participation in FDL’s efforts to push progressive ideas into practice. Democracy demands nothing less than our best efforts to participate in the life of our society at all levels.
Commenter Knut puts into words a feeling I have, and which many others have expressed:
I have thought for a long time that people like me abdicated our responsibility from the mid 70s until the early 2000s. There were a lot of reasons: career, family, just better things to do. We voted, but we did not do the nitty-gritty that takes time and emotional toll. And when we laid off, the dark forces took over the vacuum we left.
Now that we are desperate to participate, the vehicles that our ancestors set up have withered away. What good is it to send money to national groups (name your favorite example), when they are more interested in raising money than in pushing the policies you support? For me, the blinding revelation came when I saw that national pro-choice groups were utterly unprepared to defend abortion rights in the health care debate. It was as if they shut their eyes to the certainty that the anti-women groups would use the legislation to further their own goals, and they had prepared no defenses. Instead, we all got fund-raising messages, using the Stupak Amendment as a hook.
Democracy demands more of us than just giving money, whether as a long-term support or in response to the crisis of the moment. As John Dewey says in his short essay, Creative Democracy — The Task Before Us:
Democracy as a personal, an individual, way of life involves nothing fundamentally new. But when applied it puts a new practical meaning in old ideas. Put into effect it signifies that powerful present enemies of democracy can be successfully met only by the creation of personal attitudes in individual human beings; that we must get over our tendency to think that its defense can be found in any external means whatever, whether military or civil, if they are separated from individual attitudes so deep-seated as to constitute personal character.
At the time Dewey wrote, 1939, the enemies of democracy were totalitarian states. When they were defeated, it seemed as if we and our democracy were safe, and over time, we did what Knut says, we retreated to our private lives, preserving the forms of democracy by voting, but putting less and less of our time and emotion into active participation. The institutions we inherited which brought us into that participation withered. New institutions sprang up to deal with the issues of the day, the environment, nuclear arms, women’s rights, and quickly fell into the same pattern, focusing on fund-raising instead of activism. People thought that electing politicians who campaigned on their issues meant that those issues would be solved. They weren’t.
Dewey explains that when people are confronted with a problem, they get together to figure our how to solve it. He calls that group a “public”. It includes those directly affected by the problem, and others they bring in to help them find a solution. That public works out a solution and works with government or private institutions to actualize it. That might mean that parents in a school district organize to make sure that kids have a music program or after-school care. It might mean that miners organize to protect themselves from collapsing mines. In each case, they face off against those who want to preserve the status quo, usually because they profit from it. The collapse of the institutions we used to push for our solutions means that those forces will win every time.
The internet gave us the ability to find people who wanted to work on solutions to problems, without regard to the poisoned politics of the last 30 years. That is what we try to do at Firedoglake. We say that good policy is good politics, and we mean it. Look at the backgrounds of our contributors and diarists, and you will see a vast amount of practical intelligence. For example, when Jared Loughner was arrested, we got diaries from a death penalty lawyer, explaining the legal procedures, and how the defense lawyer would cope. Right now, we have coverage of the disaster in Japan from people with backgrounds in the electricity industry. You can’t reach solutions if you don’t know the facts, and if you don’t have practical experience.
Firedoglake proves that the wisdom of democracy isn’t in Washington DC or the villagers, whose pay comes from talking to each other. It shows that the practical wisdom of democracy exists across the country, in men and women who spend their lives working with customers, clients, and suppliers, in the US and around the world. Solutions don’t come from think tanks, they come from smart people who live the problems every day. That is what you get here at Firedoglake. I hope you will join us in this task, through participation and by becoming a founding member.