Introduction: What We’re About
This book grows out of profound disgust with politics as usual. With the continuing spectacle of American empire-building, six years into a war that should never have been launched, under the leadership of a professed idealist who opposed that war. With the squandering of American wealth on the bailout of a financial sector that has come unhooked from the real economy even as it drags that economy under over and over again. With the spectacle of a Congress corrupted by money and patronage and partisan calculations that have nothing to do with the needs and desires of ordinary Americans. This book makes the case for constitutional revolution and, above all, shows how we can get there. Along the way, it lays out a vision of the sort of democratic order most ordinary Americans can readily subscribe to, indeed should be willing to struggle to achieve, given the opportunity.
That process implies an upheaval, a real revolution, one that will be resisted, sometimes violently, by those who benefit most from the current system. It will demand massive mobilization at times, serious coalition-building throughout, and constant vigilance. It will strengthen existing struggles for better wages and universal health care, against racism and homophobia and militarism, and it will draw on these struggles.
It will mean creating parallel town meetings to bring entrenched city and county councils to heel; popular constituent assemblies to hammer out proposals for change; massive mobilizations to push reluctant lawmakers to do the right thing. It will mean marginalizing or coopting existing party organizations and party leadership, running campaigns for genuine representation regardless of party, and holding representatives and elected officials accountable in ways that cannot be ignored.
At the national level, it will mean dismantling the permanent government that systematically blocks real change, starting with the Pentagon and the national security establishment, and choking off the power of K Street and the larger Washington establishment to set the agenda. And it will mean, at both state and federal levels, convoking constitutional conventions to replace the failed mechanisms of representative government with genuinely democratic ones. This book takes a first step in helping us think about what those new constitutions might look like.
This book calls for revolutionary change. Revolutionary change doesn’t need to come from the barrel of a gun. The authors have known a few revolutionaries who engaged in “armed struggle,” witnessed the repression visited on some of them, their families and associates in this country, seen the aftermath of stalled revolution in El Salvador and elsewhere in the lives of people on the front lines. We find no reason to believe that armed struggle could ever succeed in the face of the armed might of the U.S. Federal government. And we find no romance in the sorts of sacrifices such struggles entail. As important, we have no hope that the changes we need could be brought about in any imaginable violent upheaval. We need democratic changes, democratically achieved.
That means a constitutional upheaval, a re-working, from the bottom up, of the antiquated Constitution of 1789 and the state constitutions that mirror it. We need democratic institutions at the local, state and federal levels that, by and large, do not yet exist and that are specifically blocked by the old constitutional order. We need democratic decision-making at all levels of government, processes that really do require popular deliberation and majority rule. We need representatives who are spokespeople for popular majorities, not playthings of local and corporate special interests. And we need them to make decisions in our interests, not those of their party leaders and corporate sponsors.
But constitutional change is only the beginning of a revolution in how we order our lives. It is a necessary step because it promises to replace minority rule with majority rule. And with majority rule comes the possibility of choosing all those things majorities of the American public have wanted for years: a fair tax system, a sensible foreign policy, universal health care, decent educational opportunity for all, corporate accountability, a financial system that serves our needs, not those of speculators.
This is a “young person’s guide” because it addresses the young at heart, those who still hope. Debased by politicians from Clinton to Obama, hope is nevertheless our great virtue as a people and essential to achieving the change we want. We write to inspire hope and to draw on it for real change. It is also a “young person’s guide” because we fear many younger people have lost contact with the aspirations and, above all, the experiences of the revolutionary figures and movements of the recent past. We write out of some small experience with those movements (and with NGO’s, community organizations, and social movements, as well) and much thought, reading and research. We also write out of profound disillusionment with Washington, generated over decades of work and observation in the belly of the beast and, in particular, with the ways in which Washington, even progressive Washington, gobbles up the energies of idealistic young people, molding them to its own cynical processes or spitting them out to lick their wounds and reconsider their idealism in other settings.
We currently live and farm in Mendocino County, California, a region whose vibrant anarchism is a breath of fresh air after Washington and an inspiration for anyone who wishes to build a new world outside the corrupt parameters of the old. But the old intrudes here, too, in all sorts of ways, from the deaths of county young people in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the bankruptcy of valued services like mental health care and libraries, to the “death-panels” of the insurance companies refusing coverage to the really needy. It intrudes in a political system characterized by cronyism and corruption and the everyday sorts of patronage that render even a relatively uncorrupted politician like our own Congressman a lapdog for the thoroughly corrupted leadership of his party. It intrudes in a bureaucratic system that saps local initiative and pushes small enterprises and tradespeople into the black and gray markets of the cash economy. We write with these sorts of local concerns very much in mind but also from our profound outrage at the squandered energies and hopes and opportunities that are the regular output of the “democratic” process in our pseudo-democratic republic. It’s time for a change, real change. It’s time for democracy now.