"What Can I Do About It?"
Here's one man's answer:
This is one of the more important speeches of my adult lifetime. It should be one of yours, as well. Why?
As much as I believe it gives clear and convincing evidence of the fantasy of the question above, it also speaks directly for--and to the Coffee Party USA. This speech was delivered by Rev. Dr. Barber the evening immediately following the "March On Detroit", a Netroots Nation action addressing the plight of some 90,000 Detroiters who found themselves without water.
Amazing as this peroration is, it also addresses the central (core) question of today's investigation of the Coffee Party USA:
"Why Should I Care?"
There are many who believe that everyone believes the implicit answer to the first question, and that no one fancies answering the second. Yet, if we were to pay just a bit more attention, with our unique ears, the ears of "citizen", we might well see proof that there ARE individuals who are not only activists in their speech, but in their direct action as well.
From a single comment, from one single person on a FaceBook page has grown a movement of more than 1,100 members, more than 400,000 "likes" on FaceBook, multiple local organizations, and significant national, regional, state and local activism. Regardless of what you may believe, that's a lot of result for one person's single comment on social media. One person.
The amazing journey has seen tremendous victories, and dangerous failings. That's the way of movement birth. Trying to consolidate a unified message around so many prevailing needs, activities, and activists is very much like herding cats. Even on a good day, it can seem nothing more than disorganized chaos (the worst kind of chaos, after all!). Passionate activism is difficult to contain, and even direct. The Progressive tent is perhaps the largest among them all, but even this canopy cannot always contain those individuals who seek a wrong, and try to make things right. The progressive movement is not one defined by, or restricted to political ideology: it is all about action that helps those with passion and purpose become the change they seek.
Bringing resources to bear on those things that matter most in a land so often divided can be a daunting task in the best of circumstance. Coordinating, or even defining a message that will be shared and agreed to by so many requires many skills. Perhaps the greatest among those skills is flexibility.
"Now!" is a very important term when you are discussing movements of change. The Coffee Party USA has found itself squarely in the sites of its own members at times, who care much more for relevant activism than the mundane affairs of organization. So it is with new movements. Flexibility matched with patience and perseverance are hallmarks of activist organizers. Leaders often find themselves more the victim then the victor. When so many issues of such great weight and importance assail a nation--or a world, time is often the greatest of all enemies. Every month paced as details and plans are made, it is inevitably people who have to pay the greatest price. Sometimes, when that people is enshrined in a person you know, and care about, time is mostly measured in time lost. While it is easier to see that reality in far away places, it is sometimes as close as your own small rural community. You will often hear a quote by Former U. S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neal, Democrat from Boston, Massachusetts who said that "All politics is local." But, very few ever complete the quote. The full quote of Mr. O'Neal is that "All politics is local--and personal!"
While much can be forgiven or overlooked when the first part of that quote is bandied about, the same is not true for the second and concluding part. It is true that the closer to the roof under which you live, the more politics matters, when it becomes personal for you is when politics matters the most. War is not such a terrible decision until your child dies in combat. Education is a large, nebulous issue until your school closes because the citizens of your community refused a mill levy increase to provide salaries for teachers. Poverty is endemic, and a reality in every nation that doesn't "touch" you until you are living under a bridge, hungry and unable to receive the medications you need to live.
Issues and news items become depressing, and untrustworthy as you see them on the evening telecast. We feel, but we are very likely not to care as much as we would if we were the news that evening. It is quite difficult to empathize with a mourning mother until it is your child laying on a Mortician's table. Politics is local--and personal. We as citizen have for years tried to insulate ourselves from the "tyranny of the urgent" so prevalent in our news. Not only as citizen, but as humans our life experiences have been impacted for so very long, and to such a very great degree that we repair to the seeming illusion of safety within our families and even our towns.
We have, for four generations now, failed to teach our progeny the important lessons of citizen. One of the guiding principles of democracy has been that it is citizen who defends and protects that same democracy. Like it or not, there are times when citizen is called upon to live up to the demands, obligations, and privileges of that same democracy as citizen. One person, acting in accord with others who not only understand the term, but are somehow hard wired to live it out. It is not when being citizen is convenient that we find our best measure, but when being citizen is so very, very hard.
When those hard times come calling, citizen seeks citizen for comfort, for understanding, for guidance and leadership in ways and areas that polity does not tread. Our political ideology fails us, and we seek out the knowing eye of citizen standing beside us to find our strength to stand up, step out, and through transformative action renew a pledge made long before by those who have paid, even with their blood.
It is at times such as these that communities of activists seem to emerge from the fog of the irrelevant, from the long gone veteran to the child taught that citizen is not merely a word, but a birth right. We grow within it, most often without even knowing that it is citizen being prepared for "that" moment when not one more moment can pass without our activism. From protecting our planet when the aggregious and casual arrogance of mankind makes the damage (and the potential results of that arrogance) so very clear that we can no longer avoid or ignore it, to discovering that the failure to expand Medicaid in your State is directly impacting hundreds of thousands of your fellow citizen, those moments do come. When they do, it is through movements such as the Coffee Party USA that we rally around each other because we must. It is who we are. It is what we do. It is why America matters, not just to citizen, but as a citizen herself to a global community screaming in agony for hope.
The original founders of the Coffee Party USA have confidently left the organization to its membership, to have the battles that will rage for so long as anyone has that moment. In good times, and through some presently very bad times, the significance of the Coffee Party USA lies within the vision, mission and purpose of the organization. That is where citizen matters. That is where citizen gathers. When it is your moment, the organization should rally to your cause, just as you rally to another member's cause in their time, their moment. Now, these visionary Americans are doing what they do in other areas of our land, calling other citizens to their very best moments--and their worst.
What Tip O'Neal knew so many years ago is that "Now!" is very real, and a time any self-respecting politician should always watch for. Of course, his was a history where some citizens arose to greatness, while others simply had greatness thrust upon them. We today are no different. We are no less citizen and we share the responsibility for our national life and identity. Beyond the sometimes terrible strife and angst of party ideology, or the "sturm und drang" of national life, citizen still receives the call. That call is inevitably local, and very personal. It has always been so.
A community discovers to its collective horror that a corporation, interested in nothing more than corporate profits, intends to remove any semblance of health or medical care from thousands of its citizens. With the absolute assurance that in only months, communities who have survived the worst the world had to offer could begin their death throes for no reason more or less than the profit of a not-for-profit business entity wanting to pump up its paid insurance collections, to dilute its mix of medicaid payments and poverty-stricken patients who, while being diverse, are also pretty poor overall. The community looks for direction, for the leadership to help them avoid this dangerous cliff.
Welcome to Belhaven, North Carolina, 2014. The community looks to it's local government and its mayor to keep its citizens alive, and healthy. And together. The Mayor reaches out to the hospital corporation, seeking discussion. Nothing. The Mayor reaches out to the Governor of his State, and his Statehouse delegation. Nothing. He reaches out to his federal delegation. Nothing. The hospital is going to close, and the closest medical care will be 109 miles away. If that's a problem...move.
Suddenly, national conversations around Medicaid expansion, The Affordable Care Act, and Medicare have come home. These issues are now local. And then? While waiting for an hour to be airlifted to the closest hospital facility, a member of the community dies from the ravaging effects of a myocardial infarction (MI), a heart attack. She expired in an ambulance, in the care and company of EMT's who had done all they could. As the helicopter landed, this community citizen died.
Politics is personal. A family of three children and a loving husband have lost their waystar. A community has lost one of its own. The Mayor? He determines that, for himself, this must not stand.
Hear Belhaven Mayor Adam O'Neal (R-Belhaven) (no relation), and his continuing story, in his own words:
This is one man's journey to citizen. Tomorrow morning, around 10 AM (Eastern Time), he will cross the 14th Street Bridge into the bowels of Foggy Bottom. They wouldn't come to him. He is coming to them. I hope he has just a ton of fellow citizens who will complete the last five miles of this walk with and for him. The Coffee Party USA didn't create Mayor O'Neal, but the Coffee Party USA is cognizant of the truth that one person can make a difference. One person can even change the world. Bus loads of the members of his community will be waiting for Mayor O'Neal tomorrow. So will Rev. Barber. A local, personal saga continues for one man. I hope his walk will ignite citizen across this land.
That's why you should care.