A Truly Preposterous Idea ~ day 1, post #1

by faithgibson on September 16, 2012

Garden Party Patriotism:
~ a non-partisan, non-electorial political party

I am proposing a totally preposterous idea — a new, non-partisan, non-electorial political party (already seems like an oxymoron!) built on the idea of a robust participatory democracy and citizenship as an everyday active verb.

My definition of ‘partisan’ applies to the Democratic and Republican parties as well as the Libertarian, Green, Tea Party and other groups organized around backing or promoting a candidate for elected office who is affiliated with their specific party. This also includes the category of independent or ‘swing voters’ who depend on the highly partisan political process to convince them to vote for a particular candidate.

Unfortunately for most of us, the idea of a normal, life-affirming relationship with American democracy has recently been usurped by a non-stop partisan electoral process. The tail is now wagging the dog. The highly contentious, divisive campaign process that used occupied our television sets once every four years for a few months has instead become a permanent all-pervasive feature of public life.

National Public Radio now starts each of its 5-minute top-of-the hour news update by quoting politicians and partisan spokespersons who are themselves reiterating the talking points of their parties. Echoing partisan opinions doesn’t seem (to me) to qualify as national ‘news’, even if the person being quoted is running for president.

I am suggesting that we reclaim our American democracy at the level of average Americans who are individually committed to helping one another thrive as an act that also makes the country prosperous. 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 seed and weed, yet another to harvest, and finally 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 a ‘people farmers’ — people who personally tend to democracy as if it were a garden or small farm — thus helping our country be a place that makes us all proud to be Americans and  successful participants in a vibrant global economy.

Credentials from the School of Hard Knocks:

Let me say up-front that I don’t have any formal credentials for what I am proposing — I didn’t grow up with politically famous or influential parents, I don’t have any degrees in political science or sociology. Except for stuffing envelopes and knocking on a few doors, I never worked for a political champaign or run for elected office. My only relevant experience is an interesting life and a passionate commitment to the well-being of our county.

This included two and a half years as a VISTA volunteer (Volunteers In Service to America or the domestic Peace Corps) in a community development project in a farming area of North Carolina. My work with the domestic Peace Corps was preceded by a career as an L&D & ER nurse and followed by 30 years of providing midwifery care in an intensely midwife-unfriendly healthcare system.  Regrettably, I’ve had many personal and professional experiences with the profoundly dysfunctional nature of our healthcare (actually a sickness care) system and since 1994, I’ve maintained websites on health and maternity care topics.

Last but not least, I read a LOT of books about social and political topics. My Kindle currently has more than 50 such titles, including Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”, the US Constitution and books by the preeminent political wordsmiths of our day, Frank Lunz and George Lakoff.

Pearls of Great Price: True Patriots and Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanuer

Out of this great tide of edifying information, I was moved to action by two contemporary authors – Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer — in their books “True Patriots” and “Gardens of Democracy”. Liu and Hanauer have a compelling vision for American democracy that identifies its most pressing problems and provides a simple and truly inspiriting model for a functional democracy based on citizenship participation.

It is a ‘can-do’ philosophy reminiscent of the WWII  “Rosie the Riveter” posters.

I call this human-scale can-do ‘Garden Party Patriotism’, an idea and a website that starts by proposing a new narrative for the idea of patriotism.

Certain segments of society promote a highly-militarized definition of patriotism that focuses on defending the country from “enemies foreign and domestic”. This seems to also generate a harsh vocabulary that turns the idea of ‘partiotism’ into a weapon for shaming or excluding others. In this war of words, people defined as ‘true patriots’ are urged to hate those they don’t agree with and affix labels such as ‘unpatriotic’ to anyone who believes or behaves differently.  In the name of American democracy, stigmatized groups and individuals are seem as ‘unAmerican’.

Those who promote bipartisanship or support a stigmatized group are like accused of being unpatriotic. At a practical level, this punitive definition of patriotism makes us afraid of each other and  does not further the ideals of our democracy.

This popular but uncharitable idea of patriotism needs to be re-examined, which is what authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer have done in their book “True Patriots”. By relieving the word ‘patriotism’ of useless baggage, they pave the way to reclaim its more inclusive and magnanimous meaning. True patriotism has very little to do with political parties or winning elections.

For a country invented in the name of justice and devoted to betterment of self and society, the “original patriotic tradition” describes a shared pride in what our American democratic freedoms have enabled — a pride in being part of a world-changing experiment that starts with the simple precept of putting country (i.e., the American people) above self. Simply put, 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.

Boots on the ground ~ the practical meaning of these ideas:

So what does this mean to us as ordinary but nonetheless ‘patriotic’ Americans?

Liu and Hanauer use the familiar example of gardening to help define the work of citizenship at a practical level. Gardening is an active verb that depends on mental attitudes and behaviors. Anyone who has ever run a farm, grown vegetable, landscaped their own yard (or built a barn for that matter), knows it takes a certain kind of consistent and persistent effort. Gardeners are willing roll up their sleeves and do the work, however long it takes. They cultivate the art of being fully present, paying attention to details and devoting themselves to nurturing something delicate in order to facilitate its growth.  The reward is a healthy crop of tomatoes or a flower garden full of beautifully blooming roses.

When this metaphor is applied to the human condition, people farmers need to cultivation requires both seeding and weeding — that is, nurturing feeding what is good, diminishing what isn’t helpful and taking the time to figure out the difference.  It also means respecting and working with the fundamental realities of human condition, which include patiently tending to our need for encouragement and approval, providing useful information and listening respectfully to the thoughts 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 different for a working mother with 3 kids than a college student on summer break, or a healthy retired person with lots of time and energy to spare.

Next post ~ People-Farming in the Gardens of Democracy

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.

^@ personal note @^

PS: I choose today to publish the first post on the Garden Party Patriotism website to honor the 21st anniversary of my being arrested in the living room of my own home and held as a political hostage to organized medicine during a 20-month criminal prosecution.

If the only ‘revenge’ a “good Christian” is allowed is living well, then I not only prevailed but have triumphed.  From being led away in handcuffs in front of my youngest daughter by medical board agents on August 9th, 1991 to having my name on that very same state agency’s letterhead as Chair of the Midwifery Council on March 1, 2007 was quite a ride and a worthwhile contribution to democracy.

My version of ‘citizen revenge’ was to roll up my sleeves and use the process of democracy — however imperfect — to make things work at every level for everyone, from the state agency itself, down to the midwives and families they served. With perserverence and the help of many loyal supporters and activists (including the staff of the state agency), I was able to turn a personal injustice into a win-win for everybody.

Having succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, I thank G*D and that small army of faithful, generous, and inventive supporters of me and of midwifery, who helped me set things right for myself and for traditional midwifery in our state.

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