Civic Engagement

Friends + Anyone who is willing to listen at this point,

With Russia’s strong influence in our last election and America’s desire to follow England’s isolationist policies, I can’t help but think of Russian-British political scientist Isaiah Berlin. In efforts to pop my elitist bubble, it may be counter-productive to name drop a European intellect, but I found his work to be germane to our current political discussion.

In his famous piece “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” Mr. Berlin believed that society can be divided into two types of people; hedgehogs and foxes. He argued, “Hedgehogs know one big thing and have a theory about the world; they account for particular events within a coherent framework, bristle with impatience toward those who don’t see things their way, and are confident in their forecasts.” He also argued, “Foxes are complex thinkers. They don’t believe in one thing that drives the march of history. Instead the foxes recognize that reality emerges from the interactions of many different agents.”

I will admit that for the first time in my adult life, I am befuddled by the direction of our country. However, I don’t want myself or anyone to emerge as hedgehogs. Here are some ways I think we can always become foxes.

Research public policy and foreign affairs at in-depth level: Our political beliefs and views are structured by where we grew up, our family, and our childhood friends. Very rarely does anyone develop their political ideology by studying Adam Smith, John Locke, and Milton Friedman or other civic scholars to discern the political philosophy of social liberalism and modern conservatism. This is mistake. I don’t discount satires role in shining a light on social inequities, but we all should spend more time reading Foreign Affairs and listening to public policy podcasts than watching clips of John Oliver. Liberals are on the right side of history, but it is on us to read the Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education. We should also be reading Bryan Stevenson’s book on racial injustice and Rachel Carson’s brilliant book on environmental injustice, “Silent Spring.”

Further, it behooves us all to ignore celebrity subject enthusiasts and research a topic independently. I would gladly have dinner with David Letterman, Al Gore, and Leonardo Dicaprio (aka the oddest trio in a kill, marry, fuck game), but it is on all of us to get a better understanding of global warming from scientists rather than the dude who Rose DeWitt Bukater purposely killed (#saidit #therewasenoughspaceonthedoor).

Be consistently active in the community: On a few occasions I feel like doing something painful, and when I get that urge I watch CNN. If you engaged in the same masochistic ritual you have probably seen interviews with former New York Mayor Rudi Guiliani or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I was confused as to how these men were elected in states where most of their constituents don’t agree with their politics. I then realized that most of these men were elected during midterm elections. Even more surprising, all these right leaning politicians in blue states spent countless years building their organization with no progressive opposition.

It has been a failure on progressives to continually be civically active. As I watch the 38 nation-wide protests taking place after President-Elect Trump’s victory, I wonder how many of them volunteered in the midterm elections, wrote their lawmakers, or participated in local grassroots campaigns.

When quinoa enthusiasts engage in their Democracy they excel at making changes. Harry Reid’s vast and effective get out the vote base was created in 1998 when he won by less than 500 votes. When Ronald Reagan cut funds for food banks, it was big liberal cities that created a better system to collect and transfer unused food to those in need. Obama’s big data campaigns roots stem from the aftermath of the 2004 election when so many millennials began utilizing the power of social networks. We should continue in these efforts to put forth creative solutions to build a better society.

Continually support organizations: If you’re a political junkie you already know that Democrats have a horrible record of voting in non-Presidential elections. You should also know that progressives also fare poorly in supporting causes when the current President is a Democrat. While NRA and Liberty University hold large coffers of cash regardless of who’s Commander-in-Chief, organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Equal Justice Initiative continually to struggle financially. This is a shame. Given Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sander’s donation totals, progressive have the cash to spend. It is imperative we spend it on organizations who are doing the heavy social justice lifting.

Try to understand (for the right reasons): One of the most common themes to emerge out of this election, is the new understanding of the “bubble.” While the efforts to understand the opposition and unknown are noble, it’s short-sighted and frankly dishonest. Having liberals suddenly realize and then quickly lecture others on partisan bubbles is the type of thinking that aggravates non-progressives. If Hillary Clinton won the Presidency while carrying North Carolina and Florida would there be such a discussion of non-college educated men being neglected or would the discussion be centered on the demise of the GOP. Secondly, do most liberals want to understand rural America because they care about their standard of living or because they don’t want Trump to be re-elected?

If one takes a look at the “I’m trying to understand” article you don’t see steps to listen and engage. On the contrary, you see articles, by liberals, conjuring up the worst stereotypes of rural American and asking their imaginary conservative friend to debunk such myths.

America is 3.8 million square miles with over 324 million people. There is no way one can genuinely understand the nuances and traditions in each pocket of this nation. The best we can do is to engage with strangers when we can. Speak with the person next to you at the Airport bar, attend restaurants with shared seating, find events where you know you’ll meet a lot of new people, and actually talk to your neighbors. I have lived next to two Republican families for over two decades and I can’t remember a single conversation we had about politics, but I guarantee you I understand their hopes and concerns.

Be better: If I had to regularly listen to Mumford & Sons while a guy named Brax asks me if I want gluten free tortillas at an El Salvadorian restaurant, I’d be protesting in Portland too. However, there is no excuse to vandalize property, destroy public spaces, and make unsubstantiated Hitler analogies. Regardless of your political preference, snippy comments demeaning the intelligence of your political rival’s ruins civil discourse. The moral high ground is like building muscle for the first time in your 30s, easy to gain but very hard to get back when lost. When even a fraction of a group engages in deplorable behavior, it is easy for the opposition to discount their own tribes’ harmful rhetoric. I understand anger is hard to contain (especially in this election cycle), but if one engages in hateful online speech and non-productive protest, you become the toxin in society that you originally wanted to eradicate.

This are some ways I think we can constructively move the Democratic ball forward. If you have suggestions on improving our political process, Portland’s hipster culture, or alternative endings for Titantic please let me know. I will always listen when I’m not reading 19th Century political philosophy.