Our Dream ~ a Robust, Sustainable American Democracy

by faithgibson on August 9, 2017

Our Dream ~ a Robust and Sustainable American Democracy

Originally posted on August 9, 2012, which was the 21st anniversary of my arrest and prosecution by the Medical Board of California for the non-medical practice of midwifery under the California religious exemptions clause while practicing as a Mennonite midwife  {See link at the bottom for explanation}

 

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Like most Americans, I have a dream.

I dream of a democracy that is robust and sustainable, with free and fair elections, well-intentioned, well-informed representatives who have a strong moral compass and are guided by the best interests of the American people.

Historically, America had always been a deeply divided country, with many strong, often opposing opinions about almost everything.

But when it comes to living in a civil society, we all want the same thing: a system that is able to reliably provide the necessities of normal life, such as living indoors, electricity, running water, breathable air, a successful economy, groceries, healthcare, reasonable public safety and perhaps most important in the 21st century — dependable WiFi. But whatever our political affiliation, I’m certain the great majority of Americans share my dream of a functioning democracy.

However, our super-sized version of partisan politics focuses almost exclusively on elections – raising money and conducting election campaigns. As soon as the election is over, its minions begin planning re-election campaigns for the winners.

Gaining and Retaining Political Power0-14

As a result, the American public – We, The People – no longer have any opportunity for a ‘normal’ relationship with our democratic government, as there is no role for ordinary people other than just “SEND US YOUR MONEY!” During the last several decades, election campaigns have become longer and longer, having morphed into a full-time, non-stop partisan process-in-perpetuity.

The electioneering tail is now wagging the dog.

The contentious and divisive campaign process that used occupied our television sets for just a few months once every four years has instead become a permanent all-pervasive feature of public life that goes on around the clock, every year, all year long. Less than 12 hours after a national election, the in-box of my email is being filled up by newly elected politicians, pleading for campaign contributions, each with some version of a “hair-on-fire” story to pointing out how critically important my campaign contribution was so they could ‘get the jump’ on their evil opponents.

Politically active people find themselves a political ‘dead-zone’; the Theory of Diminishing Returns has taken over our political system so that large amounts of effort (time and money) yield very little in return. While working harder and harder, we find ourselves either standing still or losing ground.

There must be a better way for Americans to experience and express their support for our representative democracy.

So I am proposing a totally preposterous new idea — an inclusive, non-electoral and non-partisan political coalition built on the idea of a robust participatory democracy that puts principles before policy and defines citizen participation as a present-tense active VERB.

We, The People would include Republicans, Democrats, Independents, third-parties (Libertarians, Greens, etc), as well as the politically disinterested, and those who could not or did not vote for whatever reason.

In this kind of participatory democracy, the activities of citizens would first and foremost apply to our local communities, and only then go up the chain to regional, state and finally federal level.

‘People Farming’ ~ a new idea for being politically effective

Lady Liberty_2009I am suggesting that we reclaim our American democracy at the level of average Americans who are individually committed to helping our country and one another to thrive. The maximum “We all do better when we all do better” is spot on. [1]

Participatory democracy is based on garden-variety common sense and ordinary nonpartisan values that most of us experience on a daily basis. It includes a pattern of regular participation in acts of good citizenship in both big and little ways that are compatible with our values and the realistic demands of our families, our jobs and our personal life.

Participatory democracy acknowledges the value of ‘seasons’ — a time to prepare, a time to plant, yet another to harvest, and a time for each of us as individuals to sit back and enjoy a whole season to ourselves. Citizenship as an active verb provides us with the opportunity to become ‘people farmers’, personally tending to the garden of democracy that we find in our neighborhood. As political ‘gardeners’, we can personally help our country be a place that makes us all proud to be Americans and part of a vibrant global economy.

A little background about me

Let me say up-front that I don’t have any formal credentials for what I am proposing. I have no degree in political science or sociology, and except for knocking on a few doors, I never worked for a political campaign or run for elected office. My only relevant experience is an ‘interesting’ life and being passionately committed to the well-being of our county.

This included two and a half years as a VISTA volunteer (‘Volunteers IService to America’ or the domestic Peace Corps) in a community development project in a farming area of North Carolina. For the last 30 years, I have provided midwifery care in an intensely midwife-unfriendly healthcare system.  I have many personal and professional experiences with the profoundly dysfunctional nature of our healthcare (actually a sickness care) system and maintain websites on both of those topics. In fact, today, August 9th, is the 18th

In fact, today, August 9th, 2012, is the 21st anniversary of the day that I,  as a Mennonite midwife practicing lawfully under the religious exemptions clause of California’s Medical Practice Act (section 2063) was arrested by agents of California’s medical board. They claimed the exemptions clause did not apply and therefore my non-medical practice of midwifery was actually an illegal practice of medicine. After $5,000 bail, 16 court appearances and additional $30,000 in legal expenses, the criminal charges against me were finally dropped 20 months later, accompanied by a public statement by the prosecuting DA to the San Jose Mercury the maternity services I had been providing were actually lawful.

Last but not least in my puny resume as a non-partisan political activist is that I read a lot. At least 50% of my Kindle and Aubidble.com apps are books about social, political and philosophical topics. A sampling of my library includes works by or about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, The Art of War, The Prince, the History of Philosophy by Will Durant, and the Dover edition of Marcus Aurelius ‘Meditations’. Books written in colonial times about our democratic ideals and way of life include  Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense“, the Federalist Papers, and (of course!) the US Constitution.

Modern and more topical books that i highly recommend include “Genghis Khan & The Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford,  “The Science of Liberty” by Timothy Ferris,  “Intelligence Governance for the 21st Century” by Nicolas Berggruen, et al, George Soros’ lectures, “The Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb, “The Tyranny of Ideas”  by Matt Miller, “Words that Work: Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear” by Fran Luntz (Republican operative) and “Googled — the end of the word as we know it” by Ken Auletta.

My favorite books on American non-partisan politics

But I am moved to action by two contemporary authors – Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer in their books “True Patriots” and “Gardens of Democracy“. They have the most compelling vision — one that identifies the problem and provides a simple and truly inspiriting model for a functional democracy based on citizenship participation.

we-can-do-it-rosie-the-riveter-wallpaper-2-abTheir ‘can-do’ philosophy reminiscent of the WWII  “Rosie the Riveter” posters.

I call this “Garden Party Patriotism” and it starts by proposing a new narrative for the idea of patriotism, one that that examines and ultimately rejects the current popular definition of the word — a form of patriotism that accuses many segments of our society as ‘unAmerican’.

This hard-edged, often militarized definition of patriotism focuses on defending the country from foreign enemies. Unfortunately, it generates a vocabulary of ‘fighting words’ that labels those who believe differently as ‘unpatriotic’s and sets us up to hate people who don’t agree with us.  Anyone who dares to participate in a bipartisan endeavor or cooperates with any of these stigmatized groups risks being accused of ‘consorting with the enemy’. At a practical level, this harsh policy doesn’t further the ideals of our democracy or serve our us as individuals or communities.

Authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer are proposing that we believe the word ‘patriotism’ of this useless baggage by reclaiming the original, more inclusive and magnanimous meaning. True patriotism has very little to do with political parties or winning elections. For a country that was invented in the name of the representational government, justice and the betterment of self and society, the “original patriotic tradition” describes a shared pride in what our American democratic freedoms have enabled.

Pride in being part of a world-changing experiment starts with the simple precept of extending our concerns for ourselves to include a present-tense concern for American democracy and its people, both as cultural groups and as individuals.

As my Mennonite and Amish ancestors and relatives know so well, rugged individualism is no way to get a barn built. Liu and Hanauer describe this as “a revival of a civil religion” that rests on public morality as a coherent moral framework within which our public policy position fit.

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My brother, Roger Grunow, who is a Gardener Extraordinaire!

Boots on the ground: the practical meaning of these ideas

So what does this mean to us, as ordinary but nonetheless ‘patriotic’ American citizens?

Liu and Hanauer use the familiar example gardening to help define work of citizenship at a practical level. Anyone who has run a farm, landscaped their own yard, or tended a vegetable garden knows it takes a certain kind of activity to succeed — that is, to harvest a healthy crop of tomatoes or enjoy the beautiful blooms in one’s rose garden. Success in gardening is based on certain mental attitudes and behaviors.

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This includes committing an adequate amount of time for the work, cultivating the habit of being fully presentpaying attention to details, and carefully nurturing something delicate in order to facilitate new growth.

When this metaphor is applied to the human condition, it means both seeding and weeding  — feeding what is good, eliminating what isn’t helpful, and taking the time to figure out the difference.

 

It also means respecting and working with our fundamental human nature and patiently tending to our human need for physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual sustenance. This includes providing information and listening to the ideas or feelings of others.

These ‘active verbs’ of citizenship take both time and the right ‘timing’. What was done and how it was achieved would be quite different for a working mother with 3 kids than it would for a college student on summer break, or a healthy retired person with lots of time and energy to spare.

No matter how novel or high-minded, ideas aren’t worth anything until they are translated into active verbs. This requires a process to turn the ‘theoretically-possible’ (good ideas) into a practical reality, in this case,  a plan that is just, compassionate, internally consistent and able to be applied to large groups (politics!) as well as to individuals.

So stay tuned as this “Garden Party Patriotism” site provided a forum for developing a ‘plan for action’. I will start off that process by posting my thoughts and suggestions from my friend and family and soliciting your suggestions and feedback.

Fatih_GGBridgeA Personal Note ~ arrested, prosecuted, persisted, prevailed –  August 1991 to October 1993

How these events convinced the state chapter of the AMA to finally, after 17 years, to not block legislation that created the Licensed Midwifery Practice Act of 1993 — professional licensing for the community-based practice of midwifery in California.

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