Paul Cienfuegos’ January 6th, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News
(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org, or subscribe via ITunes.)
Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.
This is my first commentary of the new year 2015. I thought I would begin by talking a bit about what democracy is. It’s a word that is incredibly overused in this country. We are told by our corporate media that our government is exporting democracy to other countries, which usually translates as forcing corporate capitalism on other sovereign nations. In fact, it has become normal for our corporate media and government to use the words democracy and capitalism interchangeably, which just blows my mind.
This nation was founded in revolution. Virtually all of the revolutionary language that originated at that time has been stripped from our laws and constitutional structures. But there are a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is the opening paragraph of each of our state constitutions. Very few Americans know anything about that paragraph, and that’s a real shame.
Our Oregon State Constitution was approved by a vote of the people in 1857. Here’s how it starts:
Natural rights inherent in people. We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.
Them’s fightin’ words!
What would change in our country if We the People started acting again as if we believed those words to be true – that all power is inherent in the people, that all free governments are founded on our authority, and that we have at all times a right to alter, reform or abolish our government when we deem it necessary.
Those words pretty much sum up for me what real democracy would look like and feel like. The word democracy itself has a very powerful definition. It comes from the Latin words demos and cratia, and literally means “rule by the people”, which, if you think about it, pretty much matches the opening paragraph of our state constitution.
If you are out there listening to my voice right now, I want to ask you a question: When’s the last time you reflected on what it might look like if you yourself participated in your community not as a single- issue activist, and not as a consumer who votes with your dollars, but as a member of the collective body known as We the People, who together have the authority to govern ourselves.
Democracy – rule by the people. Most Americans have become so profoundly cynical about our country’s so-called democracy that they’ve pretty much entirely tuned out and turned off. I don’t call this apathy. In fact, I think it’s a quite rational response to a system that was in fact designed to appear as if it was a
functioning democratic republic, when it was actually designed to serve the wealthy elite, which it does quite well.
Real democracy, unlike the democracy theme park we now inhabit, would engage all of us. We would know it was the real thing because of how we would feel participating in it. My work in the Community Rights movement is all about engaging the citizenry to start acting again as if we really do have the authority to govern ourselves, because in fact we do, if we think and act like we do. To get there requires real effort – not just pushing keys on our keyboard to support the latest online petition to some power- holder somewhere.
Douglas Lummis, author of the amazing book Radical Democracy, describes real democracy as a state of being, the art of the possible, a state of public hope, a performance art. He says that real democracy is a very scale-sensitive process, very place oriented. It thrives where people are close to each other and living in place. It is a belief in ourselves, he says.
Our nation’s so-called Founding Fathers were terrified of real democracy. They placed trust in autonomy and in individual rights, not in connection or collective wisdom. They sought stability and security through the ownership of property, rather than through people’s relationship with each other. They valued liberty, but linked it to property rather than to relationship. Freedom was defined as the freedom to do what you want with what you own. So it’s no wonder that we ended up in the mess we are in today.
How do we dig ourselves out of this deep hole? By moving away from this rugged individualist version of liberty, and moving towards collective action that is place-based and scale-sensitive. Imagine the residents of each city and town across this huge country choosing to organize themselves in this way. Imagine what might naturally occur in every city and town if The People took the language of their state constitutions to heart, and started to act as if they actually believed it to be true – that all power is inherent in the people, that all free governments are founded on our authority, and that we have at all times a right to alter, reform or abolish our government when we deem it necessary.
This isn’t Marxism or Communism or Socialism. This is our own revolutionary history, and it’s time we again started acting as We the People.
How would we arrange ourselves? What kinds of institutions and strategies would yield the goals we are striving for? What skills would we need to learn to practice the arts of democracy? We have real work to do.
You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News, and a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.
You can subscribe to my weekly podcast via I-Tunes or at CommunityRightsPDX.org. You can follow me on twitter at CienfuegosPaul. You can sign up for my newsletter at PaulCienfuegos.com. THANKS FOR LISTENING! And remember: WE are the people we’ve been WAITING for!