Sorry, no resting after the election

Published 12:03 am Sunday, September 21, 2008

By Staff
This election season we will be going to the polls to vote for our favorite “agent of change,” or so that’s how each campaign would have itself cast.
And, as in so many local, state and national elections, the campaigns have attempted to out-jockey the other for the mantle as the most “anti-establishment,” “outside-the-beltway” and “outside of the ivory tower.” Regardless of where voters fall in evaluating the candidates’ credentials in these terms, the compulsion to frame the election in terms of “change” is undeniable.
This is an acknowledgement that facing today’s economic, health-care and environmental challenges will require a change in course. But the stirring for change gets at something far deeper than the differing policy solutions of these two candidates and their parties.
The reason voters have such a disaffinity for “the way business is done” in our nation’s capital is not about policy choices. It is about the way business is done — the system that allows “one dollar, one vote” politics to trump the “one person, one vote” foundation of our democracy.
Now, each candidate has spoken in no uncertain terms about his willingness to challenge the strongest special interests — the transnational corporations, trade associations and corporate decision-makers that too often steer our political process.
But whether the rhetoric matches the record or not, it is disingenuous to deny that each has built a career with significant help from these powerful contributors and campaign backers. It would also be disingenuous to claim that both will not make future judgments based on these relationships.
And perhaps we should not fault them too much for this. The cards are stacked mightily against those who do not play by today’s rules of political economy. For an “agent of change” perhaps it is better just to find a seat in the Capitol or the White House at whatever cost or compromise than to be marginalized — to be forced to advocate change from the outside looking in.
This supposition, however, belittles the American ideal that our democracy relies upon an active and informed public. These candidates are instruments of change only if we make them so. Advocating from outside the halls of Congress or the White House does not constitute marginalization; in fact, it’s what offers so many candidates their popular appeal.
This is the essential failing of so much of the discourse around this election and elections at large — the supposition that one man or woman, group of advisors or political party, by virtue of their ascension to higher office, will change the way business is done.
Yes, these candidates can have a lasting impact when it comes to changing the political system from its core. If voters stay engaged in their communities and the political process beyond the election, then this impact will be for the better. However, if voters disengage when the polls close, it’s likely the impact these candidates have will be for the worse. In other words, positive systemic change depends heavily on the many on the outside looking in.
And though the governor of Alaska and a former mayor of New York City dismiss the significance and role of community organizers in catalyzing change, it may well be that they will play a greater role than anyone else in the next four years. Organizers are working to bring people together around shared concerns — to build power that is responsive to ordinary people’s needs, not just the needs of those who can buy the most influence and access
And if these candidates are going to offer change, let’s then use our collective power to make sure their brand of change does not stop at platitude or policy. If they are going to rail against the “way business is being done” let’s then challenge them to carry out systematic change by overhauling tax codes that give competitive advantage to major transnationals over small and family-owned businesses and overhauling our campaign financing system to rid it of loopholes that allow corporations undue influence.
Elections come and go, but the resolve of communities to hold government and corporations accountable to community interests is a precondition of a strong democracy. If we vote this Election Day for the candidate who understands this the most, we will be a step closer to the change we desire. Realizing change will require a dedication that extends well beyond Nov. 4.