A Pincer Move
(image by Phillip Michaels)
Perhaps the current strident political environment is not the dysfunction that it seems, but actually a revival of democratic voices. Over the last several years I've immersed my left-wing, socialist self in the efforts of a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to improving my state's election transparency. The thing is, Missouri's legislature is roughly two-thirds Republican so for the first several years we (mostly other liberals like me) were greeted with a significant amount of skepticism. About a year ago our group crossed paths with some folks who had been with us in our unorganized early efforts to get rid of the secretive un-audit-able election equipment heavily used in Missouri's urban areas. It turned out that they had been busy in the mean time leading grassroots Tea Party and Ron Paul organizations.
The intervening years had given both groups a bit of wisdom about the political process. We learned that people who appear to be the enemy can turn out to be big supporters and vice-versa. When you boil political objectives down to their essentials, the core aspects of our governing principles (respect for others' opinions, a willingness to debate and concede where necessary, and the belief in the notion that a majority rules) are valued by both sides of the political spectrum. Given these common ways of approaching a problem and given that real people on both sides of the political spectrum believe in a government representative of the wishes of the voters, collaboration to solve our election transparency issue was a solution for both groups. We joined forces.
The results in the halls of the legislature were that more doors were opened to us. But the more important result was that, in the course of cooperation, it became clear that there were lots of areas where we thoroughly agreed with one another and other areas where the arguments for the other side's position began to sound more reasonable coming from a truly concerned citizen--not a political or media mouthpiece. At a grander scale, it might be said that over the last decade the people on the political right and left have--through the practice of real participatory democracy--begun to strengthen independent thinking skills. Since we have begun to have some practice at taking on views of the world that are sometimes not received well--if not widely disparaged--by others (even those in our respective parties), red flag issues (for either side) are not carrying the weight they used to.
Half a century ago--in my youth--as a new county planner heading a brand new county planning department (with one employee--me), I was delighted to observe how very diverse the opinions of the members of the planning board were. In the intervening decades it seemed that in our society hard lines had been drawn, reducing the opportunity for dialogue on a wide range of issues. I think that after years of vilifying one another, perhaps we are beginning to discover that there are real people on the other side and that it's okay if we agree (or even disagree) with one another. That kind of strength of thinking may not be apparent if one's only connection with governing is listening to one national media outlet or another, but at the point where political decisions are made, one should note the winds of change are blowing. Out of the decades of division the seeds of a common struggle are emerging.