Timothy Terhaar: The New Activism
The New Activism has been around in some form for years. Precisely how many I don’t know. It’s a label meant not to sew an ideology from whole cloth but rather to give some unity of purpose to seemingly disparate grassroots social projects and political causes.
Because of the diversity of its manifestations, it is tempting to give a disjunctive definition of the New Activism, a laundry list of exemplars. One of those items would be a suggestion made on this website December 29, 2009 by Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson that U.S. citizens transfer at least some of their savings from monolithic to local banks. Some other New Activist projects are Kiva, CouchSurfing, and the Freeconomy Community.
It is hard to define the New Activism without listing its manifestations because it is a rising spirit, not a dogmatic, codified set of political beliefs. It is not as concerned with questions about how involved a government should be in the lives of its citizens as much as it is that the government should be democratic and not oligarchic.
Beginning with what Eisenhower recognized as the then-incipient military-industrial complex, the U.S. government has steadily ceded more of its power, functionality, and agenda to vested interests. We the citizens still vote for representatives, but it is less our interests than those of multinational corporations and other rotting institutions of habit which are represented.
Lobbies have eroded many citizens’ trust in the ability of our government to design policies favorable to us. In betraying our hope and patriotism, this corruption of the honesty of representation has produced in us a deep political apathy and cynicism. We have been narcotized against the possibility of real political action.
Cynicism is inimical to a well-functioning democracy. The New Activism is user-driven and necessarily participatory. In order for common citizens to reclaim their political prerogative, we must take responsibility for the allocation of our resources. From that which is blighted, we divest; into that which is vital, we pour ourselves.
The fundamental change, as the Great Recession has shown us, must occur at the level of the structure of our government. For decades the system has reproduced exploitation and corruption. We must refuse to be robbed. We must re-imagine the possible modes of production and distribution. We must not depend on an ossified government to transform itself; we should instead seek to enact on the local level a system of empathic and voluntary cooperation.
What then is the New Activism? It is not revolution; revolution is a dialectical move in the debate between tyrants. Rather than employ violence or other direct antagonism and thereby imbue a failing system of veiled oligarchy with an aura of legitimacy, we should simply withdraw. An evolutionary political change enacted through the investment of time, money, and faith in businesses and institutions we actually appreciate: this is the New Activism.
Of course, as adumbrated here, the label “New Activism” could apply to diametrically opposed projects. I do not think this a failure of the scheme. Rather than think of it as a set of policies, it’s best to think of it as the political application and expansion of communitarian social values. A nation without community is a nation without patriots.
Indeed, mobilizing the Youth Vote has often proven prohibitively difficult precisely because there has been little honesty in politics and U.S. social organization has appeared uninspired and unjust. It is a hard thing to do, to take responsibility for the generation of community, but if we can understand that the deep-rooted capitalist process of social isolation and exclusively self-serving individuality is a prime cause of the current, rather bad state of U.S. economic and political life, we will have come a long way as Americans.
Mark 12:31: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than [this].
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