November 19, 2004

Roll Up Your Sleeves

Every holiday, my family gets together and plays Monopoly. We have some dessert, spread out on the dining room table, and have a good natured round of cut-throat faux capitalism. I think I won one of these games once upon a time. In the end, winning is only incidental to me. I just like communing with my family.

Recently, I realized that, my brother Harold and my cousin Billy seem to always be among the last people standing towards the end of the game. Consequently, they tend to win more often than anyone else. Consistently. And I started thinking about why.

Typically, we'll start at around 8PM, and, with close to 10 people playing sometimes, the game can go well past 1AM on a Saturday night before we all have to drag our turkey-infused bodies to church the next morning. It's fun, but, after a while, it becomes draining. We all get a bit punch drunk and, slowly but surely, begin to mentally check out of the game. It's become a marathon and, consequently, no longer fun. Which is, of course, the whole point of playing.

For most of us.

Only then did I realize why Harold & Billy keep winning. It's because winning is FAR FAR FAR more important to either of them than simply playing or communing or having a good time. As I watch them, I can see both of them becoming more energized as the night goes on. As other people begin to fall away, Harold & Billy smell blood. They know that, with each bankruptcy, the win that they crave so much becomes that much closer. They work harder. They become more creative. They want it.


It's all that matters.

And why these guys and not, say, my mother or, even me?

Billy was a finance major in college and is a few steps away from being a licensed stock broker.

Harold is a Republican.

The moral of this story?

The Republican Party has won the last few election cycles because they never sleep. I'm reminded of a scene in "The Insider", where Russell Crowe can see the office building of his old employers: it's night and the building is dark except for the 10th Floor. The legal department.

They don't sleep. They spend every waking hour trying to find a way to advance their agenda. Think tanks. Newsletters. School boards. Letters to the editor. Meetings. Calling in to talk shows. Writing their congresspeople. Going to city council meetings. Financing candidates. Boycotts. Protests. Lawsuits. Petitions. Bills.

By any means necessary.

The point is, the GOP shows up every time. They contest EVERY open elected office, right down to school librarian. And they've been doing it for years. Even those who aren't political operatives do their small parts where they are to effect the things that are important to them.

Not just complaints. Consistent, continuous action.

Democracy is a full-time job. It requires, at the very least, active information gathering and engagement in the issues. But, it's a bit silly to know all and do nothing.

We may call ourselves Progressives, but this is really the first election in a generation when we actively pushed forward in a coordinated effort. Yes, they won. By two points. And one of those points went to Ralph Nader.

We matched them in fundraising, and we very nearly matched them in voter mobilization.

But now the election is over. Now, that same work has to be devoted to the day-to-day operation of actually governing. And that requires daily, active involvement of SOME kind.

We don't all need to run for office (although some of us definitely should). But we can all do something to create the America we want.

Rev. Tillet is in total agreement with me on this:

It's Time To Step Up

In the world of sports, whenever there is a big game or a critical situation in the game, the players and coaches will often say that, "it's time to step up." The more there is on the line, the more imperative it is that the team and its coaches "step up and bring their A Game." It is such a time for the African American community in the "United" States of America. If what is past is truly prologue, then the election results from November 2 should inform us that we can no longer have any reasonable expectation of assistance or even a sympathetic ear from the Federal government. History has also taught us that the less sympathetic the Feds are, the less support we will find at the state level, either.

So here we are, on the cusp of reaping the whirlwind from George W. Bush's first actual election to the White House, in 2004. Armed with a self-proclaimed "mandate," the courts are going to be damaged by the appointments and rulings by ideological jurists for the next generation. The government, designed to provide a Balance of Powers, won't be balancing anything. Even if the Democrats reclaim their progressive voice in 2008, it will take decades to undo the damage wreaked by these judges with lifetime appointments.

In the face of all this bad news, what are African Americans to do? I would suggest, hold ourselves accountable, set some standards and expectations in our own communities, and stop looking to government to "deliver" us. No matter who is in office, until we learn how to be producers rather than consumers, and become financially self sufficient by harnessing the power of our collective one-half trillion-dollar buying power each year, we will continue to be beggars. In a nation built on the backs of the enslaved labor of our foreparents, we continue to look for help that's not going to come from outside our own communities.

Are you unhappy with the schools? Support them with your time, presence and expectations. Better yet, open your own! But even our own schools will fail unless we have our children turn off the TV, the radio and the video games, open a book, and insist upon respectful performance from our children. Expectations begin in the home and are enforced in the home. Parents shouldn't look to "the schools" to do our job! Even if you are a parent who feels ill equipped, there are community programs, churches and mosques that will provide parenting assistance.

Are you tired of banks and insurance companies and their prejudicial loan and policy practices? Open and support honest and efficient Black banks and insurance companies. Weary of disinterested, businesses profiting on the African American community? Support honest and respectful African American businesses and stop asking for a special discount price. When "the man" comes to your house and quotes a price, you don't bargain, you pull out your checkbook. Do our own businesses deserve to be treated differently?

Perhaps you feel like the inner city and your neighborhoods have been abandoned? Start by cleaning up your own yard and your own block and hold your neighbors accountable to do likewise. We have seen the power of negative peer pressure in the decline of our communities. Positive peer pressure can also galvanize change. It's time to step up!

At this point, we have no reasonable expectation for help from those in power, who demonize us for campaign advantage and stand guard at the polls to try to keep us from voting. By managing our own schools, neighborhoods and families, African Americans can begin to take some baby steps toward self-sufficiency. No matter who is in the White House, the Congress or the courts, our destiny largely resides with us, where it belongs. It is time to stop looking for help from others when we won't help ourselves. It's time to step up!

Wondering what you can do? Here are some places to start:

Democracy for America (formerly known as Dean for America, one of my favorites)
MoveOn - they even have a manual...

New Democratic Network

Or just look for ways to infect the populace with new, progressive ideas:

There's work to do.