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Call to Action

It’s just a word.  That’s the main thrust of many of the comments on my last blog entry, several e-mails, and a lot of tweets.  The other side of the same argument is that words can be very powerful, so what’s the point in using that power to scare people?  If we call it a Depression, a Recession, or a Banana it doesn’t really make any difference except the potential for panic.  Why do I want people to panic?

Just as the power of words leads many people to think we might as well avoid the incendiary word, taking away its power, the goal of using the word Depression for me is to actually avoid panic.  I want to confront this thing head on.

Community organizing always forms around an issue of some kind.  Either you want to make something happen or stop something – it’s the issue and the work that brings people together.  Where it gets interesting is when there is a systematic disempowerment of one class by another, the leading cause of civil unrest.  Let me say that again in English – people who are totally dissed tend to rise up and make serious trouble.  The divisions in our society, especially along class lines, are very deep.  When otherwise honest people find they have to steal to survive, they’ll be in a rather nasty mood.  That’s the way it always goes down when it’s really hard.

It doesn’t have to go down like that, of course.  Starting with Johnson’s War on Poverty through Reagan’s War on Drugs to our latest War on Terror, Presidents have deliberately used incendiary language in an attempt to mobilize people.  Think of it as community organizing on a grand scale.  It doesn’t work very well, but the basic idea of calling people together to fight the problem is critical.  In an period where we don’t have a lot of money, what we have is people.  I want to start from the power of people and what they can do.

Mobilizing all of us to work together to cure a common problem is only one reason to use the hard language.  Community organizing always forms around the work that needs to be done, and in this downturn there is a lot of work.  More of our elderly will not be able to afford care.  More families will be homeless.  More of us will be looking for jobs.  We are going to have to help each other, across lines of race and class, like we haven’t done in a very long time (if ever).  The call to arms fighting the Depression is a call to action, and through that work we organize.  We no longer see a need to fight each other because we have a common enemy – the Depression itself.

What I’m asking is that we all take a moment to realize we’re in the same situation, together, and we have a lot more to gain by working together than by fighting each other for the last scrap of bread.  Yes, I think it’ll come down to that if we aren’t careful.

I’ve been slow to name exactly how we can get out of this situation for the simple reason that the government response will have some effect, but I’m not sure what.  As time goes on, it’s becoming clear to me that if it can be solved with money our Feds are on it, and that’s great.  What’s left behind are the things that are not going to be solved with money, or at least not entirely.  The secret, as our President should know better than many people, comes in organizing people around specific problems in the community.

That isn’t always a lefty social program.  Investment pools dedicated towards building jobs locally, rather than pissing the money away in a distant Stock Market, can not only kick start the local economy but provide a good return.  Throw in a few veteran small business owners who are retired to mentor the process in direct, hands-on quantity time, and we have the potential for a real winner.  Money doesn’t make money anymore – it takes money plus brains plus some hard work.

There’s no one answer to getting us out of this situation.  There are, at my last count, about 300 million different needs and the same number of people to organize.  What can you do to help?  It might surprise you.

By picking a label to get people thinking this way, the problem ends a lot sooner as surely as more hands make lighter work.  More critically, we can be sure that our old demons of race and class divisions don’t come back in ways we are also unprepared for.  What we need is a call to action, a sense that while our government is doing all it can it still needs us to join the fight.  The word Depression might give us a visceral sense of panic, an empty feeling in our guts that freezes us to the spot.  It shouldn’t.  It’s a call to action, a call to bravery, and a call to be our best.  We’ve been through this before, after all, and came out stronger.

Denial doesn’t help us at all right now.  Bravery in the face of danger, however we can put it together, is what we need.  I want to issue the call and see who really is brave, who is willing to do the work.  That’s the leadership we need today.

For some reason, I really like this joke:

As the ship was preparing for battle, a Midshipman saw the Captain walking the deck in a bright red coat.  He steeled himself to talk to his Captain;

“Sir, about the coat.  Won’t the enemy see you clearly?”
“That is a risk, as always.  But it’s very important.”
“Why is that, sir?”
“Should I be hit, should I bleed, no one will see I have been wounded.”

Just then, the watch atop the crow’s nest called down,

“Enemy sighted!  Not one, but a dozen Frigates, bearing down on us!”

The Captain, very calmly, turned back to the Midshipman and said,

“Beat to Quarters and prepare for battle.  Oh, and bring me my brown trousers, too, please.”

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19 thoughts on “Call to Action

  1. Good essay. May be a little lofty for me. Two minor quick notes; it was Nixon who declared war on drugs as part of his law and order campaign. Reagan’s wars were more defense build up, anti communism/ anti soviet, and continuation of Carter’s war on inflation.
    I’ll write again but I’ll start with a little Dakota state(s) history. The plainsmen are often accused of being conservative but they had regulated banks, flour exchanges, and a state owned cement plant to help with federal missouri dam projects.

  2. Start aggregating and republishing (tweets, etc) examples of what you are saying here. Introduce people to each other. Be a plexus, dude. You have the inclination. Just gotta fall the rest of the way.

  3. zeitguy: Thank, er, I think. I’m trying to determine the most effective way to get my message out. One thing I’ve learned is that I need a solid foundation, which a few 800 (to 1,000) word essays can provide – especially once linked in. Building the new upon a firm foundation of the classics is what van Beethoven was all about – as was Alinksky, frankly.

    The problem is that people vested in the Established Order feel a deep need to insult people like me who challenge them. I’ve been called “Delusional” for saying that civil unrest is even a possibility to warn against, for example. The reaction has been so strong against what I have to say that I’ve become convinced that people have used it to keep me from finding steady work.

    Yes, I’d like to get the word out a bit more. That’s my goal. Twitter is a pain in the butt, yet I can’t help but think that training myself to use 140 characters isn’t a good thing. I’m also hitting other people’s sites to add comments. As for introductions, well, I don’t know people well enough! But I’ll think about what I can do.

  4. Erik, thanks again for your writing and allowing others to comment this has been great (fun) for me. I hope you avoid twitter but perhaps I’m just an old fogey. One good piece of advice which I’ll reoffer is that you should become a free affililiate of minnpost so more become aware of your writing. I became aware of a fargo author writing about little st.vincent mn/pembina ND . Once again it is free!!

    I promised I would get back to you with some more historical rural reading and writing. [It’s my day off] well I ran across somethin’ interesting. Elias Rachie a former member of the Minnesota Legislature in the early 1900’s wrote a series of regional pamphlets the one I just got done scanning was titled “Seventeen Keys to Freedom” So I’ll quote: “In the 1920’s the New York eastern establishment acted as if they were more intelligent, with their propaganda about economy, efficiency and the supermen in finance…the great mass of people are subjugated because they allow to be developed within themselves a sort of inferiority complex which makes it difficult for them to be aroused sufficiently and to co-operate in any movement…when the middle class becomes impoverished there is a lowering of their children’s educational aspirations hence the establishment continues the old order…the people of the Mississippi, Missouri and Gulf Valley were in a position to enact almost any legislation that it pleases providing it is not vetoed by the President.
    In his 17 keys he predicted and promoted a number of tangible ideas. Emphasis on the tangible. Development of the upper Mississippi from Mpls to St. Louis. Development of the Great Lakes Seaway. Predicted cellulosic ethanol from corn stalks and wheat. Predicted the growth of the Pacific regions. Considered moving the nation’s capital to St. Louis. Development of airlines. He promoted junior colleges and pensions.
    He was also a bit of a poet. “Of birds, lillies and secret nooks. I long for fields, forests, and brooks.”

  5. Dan – I really love stuff like that. I have several books on Chemurgy just for the same reason. It’s really good. Just when I doubt we’ll ever have people who are that smart and honest in charge of things again, I’m sure I’ll be surprised. In the meantime, the engineers and seers of the 1920s are, at times, real gems that are worth reading over and over.

    I hope I can connect with MNPost, but so far they have been very stand-offish. I’m starting to see them as part of the Establishment, which is to say people who’ve seen the boat rock an awful lot and wish it would stop. They’re very white, very male, and all my age and older. I also tried very hard to convince Kramer that there was another model for making money on the internet that involves targeted advertising, but I don’t think he understood it. Facebook does this pretty well, but a local service like MNPost sure could go to town with the idea. But they aren’t interested. I think it’s sad, frankly.

    At some point, it has to be obvious that the established order is on its way to being dead before people will be willing to ask what comes next, I’m afraid. I hope that moment comes shortly. The established order has, at least lately, been pretty stupid about a lot of things. As much as I’m a city boy, I don’t think that city people have the sense of getting things done that is necessary (I’m an Engineer by schooling). I want people to really question how things happen and why.

    I could ramble for hours on this topic, but let’s just say that when I read the people who were looking at making things happen some 3 generations ago, no matter if it’s Chemurgy (and George Washington Carver, a hero!) or more ordinary infrastructure building, I can’t help but find our time seriously wanting. We have work to do, too. Let’s get at it!

  6. Thanks for response. Rachie also proposed a “Buffalo Commons” for the arid plains of Dakota
    and Nebraska.

  7. In a future article please write about chemurgy (make it simple for beginning scientists like me) did you know they made a house with cellophane?

  8. Erik, Sorry I’ll add a few more comments here rather than waiting. About a year ago I read an article in the Atlantic or Harpers about the changes our nation would go through as the baby boomers aged and retired. It had a profound impact (realistically) on me. Today I came across a similarily written book about the boomers but this covered the years from 1964-1984. Am sharing this because I think most writers are getting some of the current situation wrong by not talking about demography.
    Anyways from 1965 to 1980 the nation’s workforce grew by 40%. This provided great challenges. Amongst other challenges more women were entering the workforce either because they needed to or wanted to (due to divorce, lower male wages or increased education). No other major economy in Europe or Japan had to deal with this challenge of a huge labor pool. We had to keep demand up.
    Why this was never widely written about or dispersed may have been due to the Vietnam War, Watergate and other cultural changes that absorbed most of the country’s attention.
    Anyways in 1978 comes along this new idea of supply side economics which pleasantly promised lower inflation and unemployment. It did not center on the oversupply of labor. It was not always simple to talk about labor oversupply. Any message by a person consious of this demographic bulge would be far less optimistic. Harder to explain and sell.

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