As we envision a more progressive future, how are the voices of We the People going to be heard as we try to reclaim American democracy from the inner circles of political power, corporate domination, and profit-focused mass media infotainment? Everyone reading this has figured out the value of looking to the Internet for alternatives to the mainstream media and the punditocracy. But how many of us writing on blogs and posting our videos think of ourselves not only as individuals, with our own opinions, but also as representatives of others like ourselves?
These thoughts came to me as I was reading one of the periodic communications of Harry Kelber, editor of The Labor Educator. Kelber clearly knows he’s speaking for large numbers of working men and women in his communications. He says to Obama:
In past presidential elections, unions never received proper recognition for the money, volunteers and their tremendous voter turnouts. Their leaders rarely appeared at public functions with their candidates, either during the campaign or its aftermath. They were not invited to speak at major press conferences or political forums. They were not called upon to participate in high-level meetings where the key decisions about candidates, issues and strategy were made.
Unions have been reduced to political vassals of the Democratic Party on the assumption they will not switch to the anti-labor Republican Party or build a party of their own.
Senator, you now have a golden opportunity to draw millions of blue-collar workers and union members into the battle for democratic change, since they are among the ones who need change the most and they will be its chief beneficiaries. But you must find ways to involve them locally, as well as nationally, in every aspect of the campaign.
The prize is enormous. Organized labor, with its 16 million members, who live and work in virtually every city and county in the United States, has millions of dollars and an army of volunteers for the candidates its supports. Within the labor movement, you’ll find all the experts the campaign needs, both for the election campaign and after (as we hope) you’ve won the presidency.
Kelber speaks of the unions’ exclusion in the passive voice: “never received”, “were not invited”, “were not called upon”. He’s asking Obama to take action: “…to draw millions.into the battle”, “you must find ways to involve them locally…”, “…you’ll find all the experts the campaign needs…” These statements may be true, but they also convey a frame of passivity, of unawareness of the power that union members themselves potentially have.
While many union members may be unaware of their own personal power, SEIU’s new Accountability Project shows that organized labor is flexing its muscles to affect elections. Commonweal Institute fellow Dave Johnson on Huffington Post calls attention to the need to make this progressive movement action a continuous process:
My view here of movements creating demand says that a lot of the work of getting things done has to be outside of the election cycle and long-term year-round, because it is about building broad, popular support for ideas, not just for candidates.
“Movement consciousness” is not just a historic phenomenon, limited to blacks in South Africa or American women in the 1960s. It is what we as progressives need now – an awareness of all the ways in which we are indeed all in this together. How can we build that movement consciousness? What can we do as individuals?
Reclaiming the power of the voice of We the People means that each of us, individually, should consider all the groups that our voices represent. For example, I am a taxpayer, an American, and know what hard work is like. My grandfather and my husband were union men. And, among other things, I am also a woman, a doctor, a mother, white, from immigrant peasant stock two generations ago. I can speak personally to the realities of life for all of these groups.
The diversity of backgrounds of bloggers suggests that bloggers as individuals have the potential to speak for many others, if we think about it – if we are conscious of all the others who are like us in our various aspects.
As each of us writes and speaks about the changes we feel are important for coping with the environmental, economic, political, and demographic challenges of our time and the future, our voices will be stronger if we recognize that we speak not just in abstract terms, not just for ourselves, but also for the many others with whom we have much in common. We speak with and for our communities and constituencies, not just to them. Between us, we can give voice to the hopes, fears, and aspirations of We the People.