Posted by: MC | May 18, 2012

Turn Around — Another Take on 99%

Last night I got to have a long phone conversation with my friend Barbara Gutkin.  Barbara and Terry have known me more than half my life.  They also happen to be two of the Americans in 100 Voices – Americans Talk about Change.

Barbara and Terry are experimenting with retirement.  Barbara retired for a while, then decided to go back to work a few days a week because she missed being active as a speech therapist.  Terry was my major professor when I did my doctoral work.  He’s been at the well-earned distinction of awesome scholar for a while and lately has started cutting down slowly from full-time faculty work.  That means these two inspiring people are doing things like writing songs that become inspirations (and e-transmissions) of Move On  and participating in more public demonstrations in support of truth in democracy.

Barbara was speaking about one such demonstration in opposition to the seeing corporations as people and money as free speech as supported by the now infamous US Supreme Court Decision of 2010 (Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission).   There was conviction and energy in her voice.  I felt the passion of her words and the ultimate kindness of her intent.  I found myself, as I often do these days, speaking about my experiences on the road.

“This idea started coming to me at the end of the trip,” I said.  “The only phrase I have for it doesn’t feel adequate, but it’s something like ‘Turn Around.’”  I went on to tell Barbara about mentioning this in my classes and with friends over tea. 

I always start like this —

“One fact of the matter is that both of us woke up this morning.  We woke up, put our feet on the floor, got dressed.  Just that fact indicates that something is working.  Then we made it here to spending this time with one another in this quite wonderful conversation.  All of that couldn’t be so unless from the moment each of us was born plenty of things have been working pretty well.”

As I write this right now I’m remembering one of the first times this series of thoughts came to me.  I’d been invited to be live on Michael Clish’s radio program in Fort Atkinson, WI (streaming on WFAW weekdays 9:00-10:00 a.m. CDT).  There we were chatting along about the book and its ideas when I said the thing about both of us waking up this morning.  Mr. Clish jokingly (or maybe carefully and deliberately given the real threats to public figures of gossip and spin) jumped in to say, “but not in the same place.”  We laughed, me saying, “right, right.”

Undaunted, I went on.  “We have a real habit in this country of looking at what’s wrong.  The media and most of our leadership thrive on conflict and feed the habit to retain the power in grabbing and holding our attention.  But the fact is that all the while dawn continues to turn into day; goods are produced, delivered and consumed; children are born and raised; meals are prepared, roads are repaired, business is carried out, services provided; and evening turns to night when some sleep, some play, some work until the next dawn.

When we stop and turn around, this is what we see – the 99% of human thought and activity that goes to keeping the whole of society going.  The 99% of human thought and activity that prepares, sets and  maintains the stage across which we all move.  The dramas of media and leadership take up a comparatively small space on this stage, but command the most attention.  We rarely look at what the vast majority of us are doing day in and day out that works.

There is actually a great deal of power in the fact of so much working.  The power is in the relationships that are already in place to support our ongoing sub-threshold success.  We get along far better than we thing and inordinately better than our media and public leadership lead us to believe.

So I suggested to Barbara that the most radical thing activists can do at this point is to draw the communities into collaboration based on what we already do.  Democracy is at the fingertips of we the people, but it is up to us to see and enact it.

I got email from Barbara this morning.  This is what she wrote.

Dear Mary,

When Terry came home, I told him about our conversation and your conclusion that our biggest hope as a country is for the people to cooperate to get things done.  He told me that he had listened to a wonderful discussion on the radio between Alan Simpson (Retired Republican Senator from Wyoming) and Robert Reich (former Secretary of Agriculture in Clinton’s administration). 

Alan Simpson came to the exact same conclusion as you.   Robert Reich told of being on a TV program and having a very productive discussion.  During the break the producer told him that he had to seem more angry otherwise people who were listening would turn to another channel. 

The media are such a destructive and divisive force and the political system is so powerful and so corrupted by money that it is hard to know what to do to make things better but things have to get better for the sake of the country and the children like my grandchildren and my students.

Yes. Yes.

And again I find myself thinking many of our answers are to be found simply in turning around.

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