Coalition Building

Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 14:56:50 -0800 (PST)

Hello to everyone out there.

It's too early to say that election-year fervor is over, being that it looks like things might go right down to the wire on December 18th with the Electoral College. It might go further than that with Congress deciding who shall be president. So weird. So wonderful.

I want to take some time now to try to harness some of the enthusiasm shown by the voters this year in order that we have an opportunity to learn from one another and that we may continue to work together for positive change in our society and in our government and politics. It is standard after an election for Americans go right back to business as usual, paying little attention to what transpires within the bodies elected. We definitely shouldn't do that. In a democracy, the people are supposed to exert a watchdog presence over their governments in order that those governments do not become too terribly corrupt.

Many of us who are Greens or at least supported Ralph this year may feel that we will not be represented because our candidates didn't win (I can hardly call the Charlevoix County Drain Commissioner position falling to a Green against a write-in campaign a coup). We still have representatives, and their jobs are to represent us. We will need to work to effect positive change in the culture and in our governments. Many of us are already engaged in that practice by interacting with our culture, discussing personal and political beliefs, and spreading warm fuzzies everywhere we go. I advise you all to keep the wheel of progress moving right along. Don't let the chain of love and compassion end with your vote. Most of us will live here for the rest of our lives. America will become only what we cause it to become. You can only effect change through participation.

There are a few things you can do to keep those wheels a-turnin':

1. Stay informed. If no one is minding the store, the Bastards of Corruption (TM) will steal everything whether it's bolted down or not.
2. Write your representatives. Letters count. Write. Speak your mind. Strive to keep what you write topical. If possible, respond to specific legislation under consideration or suggest legislation you would like to see. Do this at the municipal, state, and national level.
3. Build coalitions whenever possible.

I would like to expand for a bit on the third suggestion. Many of us who have felt alienated in our own country feel bitter toward a majority who seem to see things very differently from the way that we see them. I want you to know that many differences are apparent differences only. Fundamentally, the typical alienated person is motivated by the same concerns as most other people. We are divided against the majority in large part because the majority does not see that we have similar goals.

Coalition building is the process of gathering allies in a common cause. The idea is to find points of agreement and act on those points. When we choose (consciously or not) to not seek the aid of others in our causes, we remain weak. The net result is that our views will not be heard, and nothing will be done about the pressing problems we observe in our society and governmental system.

The first thing you can do toward the process of building coalitions is to listen to people with opposing points of view with a fair mind. People take some strange stances sometimes. The object of examining a stance is not to agree or disagree with it. The purpose is to examine the reasons for holding the position and to examine whether the reasons are good ones. You might be surprised at how appealing some positions may look once you have tried to see it through the eyes of another person.

Let's examine a divisive issue that may have cost Gore the election. The issue of gun control is one that is heated on both sides. Many voters chose to vote against Gore merely because of his stance on gun control. I have already explained my position on gun control in a previous tirade (available on request). While I am pretty far out on the left in comparison to most people, I am a downright conservative when it comes to the issue of gun control. Many liberals resort to name-calling in order to discredit the gun lobby. Gun advocates are characterized as "gun nuts" and also as being paranoid. It appears that the division is irreconcilable between those who wish to reduce the number of gun deaths and those who wish to maintain our last line of defense against a corrupt and merciless corporate oligarchy.

This is not the end of the story. Both sides have reasonable positions, and both sides represent important concerns. Since the issue is so pressing (ten thousand deaths by guns last year), it is our duty as American citizens to examine the problem and devise a satisfactory solution. Let's start by taking the guns off the table. We'll keep them, thank you very much. Now the screaming liberal is yelling "You can't reduce the number of gun deaths without taking away the guns." Well, maybe that's true, but I think such a person is being shortsighted. The real goal is not to eliminate the guns. The real goal is to eliminate the number of deaths caused by guns in our country (and worldwide if possible). Taking away the guns may not be the only feasible solution to the problem.

Let's think about the causes of violent crime. Poverty has been decisively shown to be a significant factor in violent crime. So is mismanaged anger. Why don't we work together to reduce poverty? Why not work together to help people manage their anger? These are worthy social goals, and acting on them is likely to reduce the number of gun deaths as well as a lot of other societal ills. The anti-gunners don't have to be happy that the guns are still around, but they can still partially accomplish their real goals by creating a coalition with the "gun nuts" (like me). What I am suggesting is that we take the division to be found in the issue of gun control, examine the situation, and devise a partial solution that is at least tolerable for both sides. This is called compromise. Our system, representative of 270 million unique human beings, is largely based on this principle. By building coalitions with those who oppose us in order to reach our common goals, we will be enabled to effect positive change in our society while acknowledging the importance of the positions of all citizens concerned.

Of couse, it will be difficult for us to organize against poverty being that the Bastards of Corruption (TM) have been really good at smearing the poor, explaining that all people who are poor are poor by choice because they are deadbeats lacking the initiative to just go out and earn the wealth that is lying all around them. This is, or course, a tactic designed to lead you away from the fact that the Bastards of Corruption (TM) stole just about everything in the eighties and Americans are working their asses off just to get a few crumbs of it back from them. This is another area in which they have been pretty good at keeping people divided on an issue where unity could lend enough strength for us to overcome some compelling societal problems. I have to wonder about poor deadbeats and other unmotivated poor people who observe members of their communities who work very hard only to become tired and poor while white-collar deadbeats become rich by having other people do their work for them. Let's put the shoe on the other foot once in a while and see how it looks. We have to do this, or they will continue to divide us even when we have the same or similar goals.

When you meet someone who seems to have views different from yours, don't give in to impulses to smear or otherwise alienate that person. I have associated with people from many walks of life including the conservative racist rednecks who populate the rural portions of Michigan. Ostensibly, they tend to be a little scary, but the fact of the matter is that most of them aren't even misguided. They have pretty much the same values that I do, and when pressed on their bigotry, the fact is simply that they are uncomfortable with and a little afraid of people who seem to be different from them. They have also been watching too much TV and can't do the statistical math necessary to show that crime in most urban areas really isn't that bad. They just jump at the high crime numbers from urban areas thinking that they are safer at home because of their lower raw crime numbers when they haven't examined the rates. They are being manipulated just like everyone else. The big difference is that they have fallen for so many artificial divisions that as a group they have become as weak as everyone else. Actually, that's not much of a difference. Most bigots I have met really do judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Additionally, most of them really do believe in the principles of liberty and self-determination. You would be surprised at how many of them think twice when I explain that oppressing their fellow Americans works contrary to the principles of liberty and equality they hold dear. Divisions often aren't a matter of disparate values. The fact of the matter is that many people simply muddle through life believing what they are told to believe and not really thinking about much of anything. What might be a seemingly obvious fact to you may have never occurred to your conversational partner. Unfortunately, a few bigots are really die-hard hate-mongers who make building coalitions amond disparate populations extremely difficult. Bear in mind, however, that by working together, the negative impacts of those people can be minimalized. If you are willing to find a friend in the face of an enemy, a surprising number of them will lay down their arms and work with you for the common good.

I think that once you take time to listen to people and examine what appear to be fundamental differences, in many cases those differences will at least begin to dissolve as soon as a mutually satisfactory compromise solution has been conceived and expressed. Let's go back to the gun issue before I end this. Would anyone be screaming for the abolition of guns if noone died from them? Well, hemp is still illegal here for some really horrible reasons, but we're slowly getting smarter. The fact of the matter is that if we can find an alternative solution to a pressing problem that appeases both, most, or all sides of an issue, we will be far more incined to act on that solution than we will be if we continue to believe that we are permanently at odds with one another. So the next time you meet someone on either side of the fence, work to build a coalition. Point out to that person that the goals of both sides can at least partially be achieved through reduction in the amount of poverty in America. Point out that the gun issue is a mistake caused by confusing the means of violence with its causes. There are other issues with similar feasible solutions. Be mindful and watch for them.

Alan Wescoat

Sometimes I need to stop and wonder about the prejudices of bigots and hate-mongers. They are participating in a divide-and-conquer strategy. Unfortunately, they are conquering themselves as well by playing into the hands of their own enemies who wish to weaken everyone who might be capable of uniting against the incumbent powers. We need to spread a message to people: "We're all in this together."