Sep 30 2012
“My Vote Doesn’t Matter”: Helping Students Surmount Political Cynicism
Co-authored with Alexander Astin and Parker J, Palmer
You’ve heard it again and again. “My vote doesn’t matter,” students too often say. Others complain that politicians are “all the same and all corrupt.” How do we overcome this cynical resignation and encourage students to register and vote despite their conviction that the game is fundamentally rigged?
Dec 27 2011
If You Care About Keystone and Climate Change, Occupy Exxon
It seemed like the afterthought in the payroll tax cut extension fight, a small consolation prize to the Republicans on what should have been the easiest of bi-partisan votes. But the two-month clock is now ticking on whether Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s environmentally disastrous tar sands. If we want him to make the right decision and deny the permit, maybe it’s time to Occupy Exxon, with creative protests at local Exxon/Mobil stations. Of course we need to keep pressuring Obama. The bill’s deadline precludes anything close to the kind of comprehensive environmental review that he called for after rallies and civil disobedience at the White House led him to delay approval for a year. But why not also go after the oil companies whose influence led the Republicans to hold the rest of the unemployment and payroll tax bill hostage to the fast-track requirement. Exxon/Mobil has long been the dirtiest of the dirty among these companies. This makes them a logical target.
Dec 09 2011
Burying Your Victories: What if Obama Taxed the Rich But Never Told Anyone?
Did you know Obama’s health care bill contained a $20 billion a year tax on the richest Americans? I didn’t until I stumbled onto a mention of this the other day, although writing about politics is my life and I knew enough to be angry at the gutting of a national public option. I asked a dozen other friends, half of whom work in health care or health care policy and most of whom are fellow political junkies. None of them knew either. If those who follow these issues intensely don’t know about something that all of us would cheer as a step toward getting the wealthiest to pay their fair share, most American voters sure aren’t going to know either.
Nov 10 2011
From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy the Neighborhoods
The Occupy movement has done something amazing, getting Americans to start questioning our economic divides. It’s created spaces for people to come together, voice their discontents and dreams, creatively challenge destructive greed. It’s created powerful political theater, engaged community, an alternative to silence and powerlessness.
Jun 07 2011
Glued to the Weather Channel While the World Burns
Following the weather is beginning to feel like revisiting the Biblical plagues. Tornadoes rip through Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma — even Massachusetts. A million acres burn in Texas wildfires. The Army Corps of Engineers floods 135,000 acres of farmland and three million acres of bayou country to save Memphis and New Orleans. Earlier in the past year, a 2,000-mile storm dumped near-record snow from Texas to Maine, a fifth of Pakistan flooded, fires made Moscow’s air nearly unbreathable, and drought devastated China’s wheat crop. You’d think we’d suspect something’s grievously wrong.
But media coverage rarely connects the unfolding cataclysms with the global climate change that fuels them. We can’t guarantee that any specific disaster is caused by our warming atmosphere. The links are delayed and diffuse. But considered together, the escalating floods, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes fit all the predicted models. So do the extreme snowfalls and ice storms, as our heated atmosphere carries more water vapor. So why deem them isolated acts of God — instead of urgent warnings to change our course?
Apr 28 2011
Three Cups of a Flawed Hero: The Limits of Greg Mortenson’s Model of Change
It’s tempting to expect perfection from those we admire, but we romanticize lone heroes at our peril. A few years before one-time supporter Jon Krakauer challenged the truthfulness of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, a professor asked me my thoughts on using the book as a reading for first-year students, to encourage them to become more engaged with global issues. I hesitated. Mortenson was doing valuable work, I said. The book was a great read. I admired his creativity and courage, and the leap of faith he took to begin building his schools without the slightest guarantee of success. I admired how he persisted through seemingly endless obstacles to sow seeds of hope. His approach seemed a powerful rebuke to Bush administration assumptions that if the U.S. just bombed enough of the bad guys, the region’s problems would disappear. Mortenson also appeared to respect local Pakistani and Afghan culture in a way that seemed to offer key lessons for America’s broader relationship with the world.
Mar 04 2011
Go to Wisconsin, President Obama
Dear President Obama,
I’m glad you’ve opposed the attacks on Wisconsin’s public workers, but you need to do more. You need to go there and speak out, or at least speak out again and more strongly, because Americans need to understand what’s at stake, and those who are standing up there and elsewhere need to see you standing beside them. If you speak out powerfully enough, you might not only help stop Scott Walker’s raw power grab and the similar actions of Walker’s compatriots in other states. You might even help revive the long-demoralized spirits of those whose volunteer efforts carried you to the presidency.
You could talk, if you went, about the value to America of the teachers, nurses, firefighters, crisis counselors, and other public sector workers who are under attack, and of the hypocrisy of a governor whose corporate tax breaks launched this supposed fiscal crisis to begin with. You could make clear the stakes for all of us–that if Walker or other Republican governors can end the ability of public workers to join together for a common voice, ordinary citizens will end up with far less power to shape the course of our democracy, and predatory corporate interests will have even more. You can talk in your in style. You can be calm and reflective. You don’t have to scream. But you have to show the American public and your discouraged supporters just how high the stakes are. You have to do your best to draw the line.
Nov 30 2010
Seeking Republican Patriots: How Reining in Anonymous Attack Ads Can Help Save Our Democracy
Does Olympia Snowe really want to be the target of waves of anonymous attack ads in support of some conservative primary challenger? Wouldn’t a retiring George Voinovich prefer to leave some shards of our democracy off-limits to being sold to the highest bidder? Could John McCain remember why McCain-Feingold was once of his proudest legacies and acknowledge how profoundly the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision damaged everything he was trying to do to safeguard American democracy?
Nov 02 2010
Ten Reasons Why I’m Spending This Election Day On the Phones
I admit it. 2008 was a whole lot more fun. We were riding a wave of change. We had the political momentum. We reached into states and districts we thought we could win and turned them with our energy and commitment. If felt like we just might be launching a period like that of FDR or the peak of the Great Society and Civil Rights movement, when America really would move forward, when hope and history, in the words of Seamus Heaney, would finally rhyme.
Oct 29 2010
The Republican War on Reality
Everett Dirksen is one of my heroes. The Senate Republican leader from 1959 to 1969, he pushed strongly for Vietnam escalation and took conservative stands that I’d have strongly disagreed with on economic issues. But he joined Lyndon Johnson in going to the mat to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills, and for that I admire him immensely.
Oct 25 2010
Suppose Your Actions Swung the Election
Imagine if your actions made the difference in electing a Senator, Governor, or Congressional representative? Suppose the phone calls you made, money you donated, doors you knocked on, and conversations you initiated helped swing a critically close race, or two or three. Suppose the friends you dragged to the polls helped America reject the anonymous corporate dollars that threaten to drown our democracy?
You’d feel pretty good, I believe, at least about your own efforts. So why aren’t more of us doing everything we can from now through the election to ensure the best possible outcome? In 2008, millions of people reached deep and then deeper to stake our time, money, and hearts on the possibility of change. We knew it was a critical election, and helped carry Obama and the Democrats to victory. Now, too many of us feel burned and disillusioned, with dashed hopes. We’ve lost the habit of being engaged. The election seems someone else’s problem. We doubt what we do will matter–for this round or in general.
Oct 15 2010
‘Will They Get What They’re Paying For?’ — the Best Election Flier I’ve Seen
As campaigns and volunteers hone their final electoral messages, the best flier I’ve seen asks a simple question — “Will They Get What They’re Paying For?” Created by the Washington State Labor Council, and proudly bearing their name, not that of some shadowy front group, it portrays a check from the US Chamber of Commerce to Republican Washington State Senate candidate Dino Rossi. Notes in the memo field remind us of Rossi’s positions: Lower minimum wage, repeal Wall Street reform, offshore U.S. jobs. Below the check is a field of corporate logos: BP, Fox, JPMorganChase, Walmart, AIG, Philip Morris, Citigroup, Pfizer, McDonalds, Comcast, AT&T and more. The relatively conventional back contrasts Rossi and Senator Patty Murray on key economic issues, stating “Dino Rossi works for them. Senator Patty Murray works for us.”