Is it becoming as clear to you, as it is to an increasing number of Americans that truly, effective solutions to our most serious challenges in education, environmental and financial reform, job creation, healthcare, life care, and immigration are being held hostage by a political process that is seriously impaired, if not permanently broken? If so, you may believe it is time to correct this problem. What you may not believe is that the fix is easier and more accessible than a lot of us imagine. It lies in what I call, ‘the power of one.’
I know this may seem far fetched especially when our challenges appear so complex and only a few minutes spent listening to the foolish rhetoric and bombastic posturing, the partisan ranting and uncivil divisiveness that pass for news and political debate today make it clear that we are living in a very dysfunctional time; one in which Washington more closely resembles an urban schoolyard full of bullies and brats than the capital of one of the most powerful nations on earth where our legislators have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and serve the needs of the people.
We could, of course, spend hours tracing the highly suspect decisions we have made and the questionable paths we have taken to arrive at this troubling destination; and, if pressed, we could easily, and with ample justification, assign varying degrees of responsibility to big business or labor, lobbyists or political operatives, religious leaders, the media, both political parties, our educational system or our legislative representatives themselves. Indeed, there is no shortage of candidates for blame. In the end, however, democracy is a participatory and not a spectator sport, and so when the buck stops, it unfortunately stops with each of us.
Yes, in a landscape full of potential villains, we, unfortunately, may well be the greatest of them all. For it is our inattention, self-preoccupation and unwillingness to do the sometimes tedious, daily work of paying attention and taking some of the necessary and specific actions to preserve democracy that have brought us to this place where our individual rights are being reduced, the wealth and resources of this great nation are being aggregated in fewer and fewer hands and the very underpinnings of this great experiment in democracy are being assaulted.
I know some of you will find this judgment harsh. After all, we have families to care for, children to nurture, businesses to run, careers and jobs that require our attention and, especially in these times, a lot of bills to pay. So where are we supposed to find the time and energy to do all of these things true civic engagement requires? We vote, sometimes. On occasion we contribute financially or volunteer. Hell, we even take the occasional 10 or 20 seconds to sign an online petition for or against something. And, of course, some of us do a lot more than all of this!
Yes, I grant you, the pushes and pulls of daily life are substantial and pre-occupying. Of course, if I were not so trusting, I might suggest that this pre-occupation has been engineered by the same forces that are accumulating more and more of the wealth and who would rather have us trudge along looking down rather than looking up and around. But that is a whole story other and it still does not absolve us of our responsibilities as citizens – not if we want to preserve our freedom and protect our way of life.
So what do I suggest we do? And what has all of this to do with ‘the power of one’? From my perspective the answer to both of these questions and, as I said above, to some of the most series challenges we face is much simpler than some of us might imagine. Here are three examples that support my contention about ‘the power of one.’ See if you agree.
Voting With Our Money – With the exception of those who are having a literal field day raping and pillaging in the financial sector, most of us are pretty clear that the economic burdens we us face today (individually and collectively) result, in part at least, from the lack of regulation of the financial sector and the lack of moral character and integrity that is being practiced within it. Indeed, we live in a time when individual and organizational greed has reached unprecedented heights; a time when some banks and investment houses are no longer content with making an honest dollar leveraging and growing our money, but instead appear to believe they are entitled to manipulate the financial markets, gauge us with absurd costs for credit, gamble with our money in truly reckless ways and then seek and find protection against their losses through special government guarantees and the support of our tax dollars.
Nice work if you can get it and they are certainly getting it in spades these days! In fact, some elements within the financial sector are now so removed from the reality the rest of us face they have forgotten that it is our money (and not just our tax dollars) they are gambling with and refusing to lend us. Indeed, it is our money that fuels their enterprises. It is our money that allows them to take the absurd and disproportionate kinds of salaries and bonuses they now believe they are entitled to take.
And so here’s where the ‘power of one’ comes in. If we are serious about wanting a sane and successful future for ourselves and our children then each and every one of us, one at a time, need to take our money back from the ‘too big to fail’ banks and those investment houses that are out of control. We can, instead, put our money in reputable banks, and particularly in local banks and credit unions that do not play roulette with it. And instead of making investments in industries and companies that abuse us, we can invest in local businesses that we can monitor and support. Hell, considering the rate of return and the level of risk most of us are subject to in the financial markets, we might be better off putting our money in our proverbial mattresses! Not only would it be more accessible to us, but there, at least, it would do us no harm and reduce the ability of those who do harm to continuing to do so.
Voting With Our Time and Attention – Many of us claim that we are tired of the media; of all of the censorship and bias that is imposed by the large corporations that control them, and of the untruths and distortions that flow from the mouths of those who mistakenly call themselves news commentators with unfettered regularity. Yes, many of us agree, the media has become an albatross that weighs down the neck of democracy. But what do we do about it? Do we turn off our radios and televisions when the news comes on? Do we stop buying daily newspapers that distort the truth? Do we deal with our addiction to online news services, many of which never heard of journalistic integrity? No, the majority of us simply and slavishly keep giving them our attention and our money. In short, we support and enable the media sources that mislead, manipulate and abuse us.
On the other hand, if we exercised ‘the power of one’ by withdrawing our attention and money from these news sources – even a few days at a time – they will soon find themselves, like beached whales, gasping for financial breath. Yes, this kind of ‘media fast’ would send them a clear message that they need to change their errant ways or we will permanently deny them our attention and therefore, eventually, their advertiser revenues. And least you forget, this same message can be sent to those cable and digital service companies who believe they are above regulation and can charge us what they choose and decide who has access to what information.
Voting With Conscious Consumerism – Each and every day, each of us make hundreds of decisions as to what products and services we buy and use. Yes, from the food we eat to the electronics we use; from our morning cup of coffee to the drugs some of us take; from the kind of fuel we purchase for our homes, cars and trucks to the kinds of cars, trucks, clothing, household products, cosmetics and more that we buy. Get the picture? Everything we buy and use every single day is made by a company. So what do you think would happen if each of us became more conscious consumers? What would happen if we made our buying or use decisions based who the company is that makes this product or delivers that service? Do they have good values – honesty, quality, and customer service, fiscal and social responsibility? Do they treat their employees fairly and well? Do they stand behind their products and services? Do they pay their fair share of Federal and state taxes? Imagine what would happen if we only purchased things from companies who are really committed to the well being of the environment, to the health of their customers and to our economic stability! Imagine what would happen if we supported only those companies who create jobs and invest in our local infrastructure rather than exporting jobs and hiding their profits off-shore!
You see, ‘the power of one’ is really quite extraordinary and offers us a remarkable and immediate opportunity to take our individual power back and to get this country back on track. Indeed, just as most of us would not willingly do business with someone we consider criminal or someone who threatens our friends and family or endangers the health and well being of our community, we should not do business with banks, investment houses, media sources and with other companies who are more committed to their own greed and growth than to our greater good.
So at this time in our history when we all experiencing the negative impact of big money’s disproportionate influence on our lives; when our political process remains largely at odds with our needs and we are confronted with stalemates and impediments to genuine solutions on all sides don’t you think it’s time to at least consider ‘the power of one?’ After all, it doesn’t take a national vote, a legislative act or even a whole social movement to exercise your ‘power of one.’ All it takes is for each of us to make the decision to reclaim our sovereignty and to live more consciously for our own sake and for those generations who will come after us.
George Cappannelli is author of several books, including I Dream of a New America – Keys to Reclaiming the Heart & Soul of our Nation and The Re-empowering America Handbook – A Practical Guide to Oil Independence and Economic Growth Now!