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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/25/13

Against Duopoly's "Twin Towers," Democracy's ONLY Defense Is Full-Court Press

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In America's more unperturbed days before 9/11, the words "Twin Towers" did NOT evoke images of terrorism or horror. Unless, of course, you were on the wrong end of a business deal fabricated in those same World Trade Center towers, or were an opponent gaping up slack-jawed at the Towers' human equivalents on an NBA basketball court. It's the term's basketball meaning I plan to use, before switching my court to U.S. politics.

Tim Duncan approaches bench
Tim Duncan approaches bench
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Mike, Author: Mike)
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Tim Duncan approaches bench by Wikipedia

Now several tall, dominating basketball duos, generally a center and power forward, have earned the term "Twin Towers," but none sticks in my memory like the justified hype initially surrounding San Antonio Spurs "dynamic duo" of Tim Duncan and David Robinson. A combined fourteen feet plus of height, mobility, athleticism, and finely honed basketball skill, as ready (especially in Duncan's case) for a needle-threaded pass or perfectly set pick as for a thunderous dunk or bleachers-clearing block. How could opponents NOT feel their stomachs tied in knots long before the opening tip?

Now of course, especially if having nothing comparable in talent, opponents could simply admit defeat from the get-go when facing such long arms and odds. Or, if sufficiently gifted for self-confidence, they could start devising strategies for pitting their own strengths against the imposing height and skill of the Towers. For example, if they made up in athletic, agile, defensively gifted guards and small forwards what they lacked in dominating height, they could employ the special genius of their own talent to the task of denying the Twin Towers the ball. For the ball has to travel a long stretch of court before big men like centers or power forwards ever get to touch it. And if your team's lucky or skilled enough to strip and steal the ball before it passes half-court, you very likely won't need to worry about the Towers getting back across court to defend before your team gets off a shot.

The full-court press is, among other things, a strategy tailor-made for pitting the speed and agility of limber basketball Davids against the hulking height of hardwood Goliaths--a strategy aimed at simply never letting the ball reach the Goliaths' gargantuan hands. And where the "other things" are concerned, it's also a strategy for desperate--or fiercely determined teams--to show they intend to put relentless pressure on their opponents every inch of the way. As such, it's a strategy NEVER used for an entire game, for applying defensive pressure the entire length of the court is utterly exhausting, a real strain on the energy and bodies of a team's ablest defensive players. And--importantly for our political context--it puts these players at far greater risk for committing costly fouls. (Like fines and jail time for the "fouls" of   activism or civil disobedience.)

Buoyed by this brief exposition of the full-court press's benefits and risks, we're ready to turn our attention to the unyielding hardwoods of current U.S. politics.

What should be clear from my discussion of the full-court press is that it's always in some sense an urgent, desperation strategy. To employ it constantly every game would place one's players at serious risk of physical injury, as well as greater jeopardy of early foul trouble. So its even moderate use is reserved for extreme scenarios like the David-versus-Goliath battle painted above. Or for moments when a team, in imminent jeopardy of losing, MUST prevent its opponents from scoring. Or for times when a team, hell-bent on "getting inside its opponents' heads" and "sending a message," uses the press's vast uptick in risk and expended energy to signal its savage determination to win. I would argue that all three uses of the full-court press are relevant--indeed, scarily relevant--to current U.S. politics.

Intriguingly, my inspiration for a political full-court press derives not primarily from legendary basketball gurus like Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson, but from political philosopher and longtime political activist Michael Walzer. In my fledging days an anti-fracking activist--my first real involvement in activism--a philosophy prof friend did me the immense favor of sending me Walzer's 1971 book Political Action. Now I guarantee receiving just any book from a philosophy prof (especially of the ivory tower variety) at such a time would NOT have been a favor, but Walzer's book was different, coming from someone with both activist experience and orientation. Even its size--a mere 125 pages if I recall--made it a manageable read for a crazily busy activist. And its subtitle, "A Practical Guide to Movement Politics," hinted strongly that his approach was NOT distant theorizing untested by practice.

Forgive me if I muff Walzer's exact wording, but my take-home summary of his message--surely faithful to his meaning--is a distinction between movement and ordinary politics. Quite simply, movement politics--the kind generally referred to as "activism"--is the type that's needed when ordinary politics FAILS. In other words, voting or writing or telephoning your President, Congressperson, or governor is NOT enough since, for whatever reasons, the politicians are determined to turn a deaf ear to significant portions of their constituency. Historically, the deaf ear has involved a single issue or set of related issues; this was surely the case with Walzer's early activist experience, which involved the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and it was my own experience with fighting fracking in Pennsylvania.

Now, one insight for which I'll always be grateful to Walzer is his recognition that activist, movement politics is a response to an abnormal, unjust situation; it is a sign of political system dysfunction, and NOT a model for what an ordinary citizen's life should be. In a healthy, functioning system, simply informed voting should produce a socially livable result; a system that demands activism is a system out of whack. In this way, movement-related activism is very much like a basketball full-court press--an exhausting level of exertion for "teams" facing a desperate situation. And this applies even to activists facing only single issues, just as it might to a team facing imminent defeat in the last few minutes of a game. But what if you have to face the "Twin Towers" every single game of the season?

If we think of today's Democrats and Republicans as the "Twin Towers" of our politics, that's exactly the desperate plight we're up against. Whatever their widely reported quarrels in the locker room, it's clear that where anything deeply concerning the well-being--and very future--of U.S. citizens is concerned, these politically muscular "teammates" could not be more united in the common purpose of winning yet another championship for their corporate owners and annihilating us. And dysfunction of democratic governance--its desire to "defeat the people"--is no longer a matter of single issues, but of EVERY issue where corporate and plutocrat profit is at odds with the well-being of our society. Only a relentless full-court press can save us, and the numbers of citizen teammates involved must be enormous, if only to provide "fresh legs" for citizen activists physically exhausted from applying the press.

And I'll note in closing, ALL the basketball reasons for applying a full-court press apply to American politics. Where the standard politicians of the "Twin Towers" parties are concerned, it's very much a question of getting the ball out of their hands, and into the hands of pols who'll play for us. It's also a question of a desperate, frantic effort to stave off defeat, for any further defeats on questions of responsive governance could permanently mean "season over" for democracy.

And finally--perhaps above all--we must use the full-court press to get inside the Twin Towers' heads. It will take some time before we can replace them with players for the people's team, and with their remaining time on the political hardwood, they have immense power to harm us. Their brazenness in doing so grows scarier every day. An example is convicted serial liar Obama now planning to blather on about correcting climate change; to me, this simply signals his offer of false, distracting comfort prior to approving the XL pipeline. Politicians like Obama--indeed, like MOST Democrats and Republicans--need a constant, relentless popular voice inside their heads, telling them how close we've come to hating their guts and wishing a prompt, preferably painful, end to their playing careers.

Only a mass movement like Occupy Wall Street--but with an electoral strategy--can provide democracy with the needed full-court press. But for those who'd like to discuss democracy's playoff strategy in the meantime, consider visiting these two Facebook pages:    and =ts.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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