American Autumn, Arab Spring?

 I recently read an editorial juxtaposing two disparate yet related visions that have haunted me, as any good op-ed should. The writer alluded to the crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square clamoring for democracy and free speech and to the crowds of American shoppers clamoring for Blu-Rays, Xboxes, and Wii consoles.

The piece made me stop again and ask myself who and what we are becoming. Was the shopper who pepper-sprayed her competing shoppers as she charged a display of x-boxes really a sign of what we’ve become or just another nutcase? If we invested as much in observing our democratic rights and obligations as we do in consumption and the accumulation of wealth, would we not be the better for it?

As the bellwether of democratic freedom, America has always taught more effectively by example than by heavy-handed diplomacy or propaganda. Yet our own democracy is corroding as we consume more and allow finite wealth to concentrate among fewer and fewer so they can now afford to buy the governing process itself.

The same puppeteer-oligarchs who have used their vast wealth to acquire judges and congressman now parade before us a succession of highly improbable candidates woefully lacking in presidential stature. They rail against government but are silent about what their philosophy of governing would be. They’re silent on democracy’s fundamental mandate to balance the interests of all income classes and the interests of business, individuals, and the environment. They simply deny the capacity of government to enhance our lives and communities.

Has the afterglow of decades of over-consumption brought about a lethargy in which we happily offer up our democratic rights and obligations to those for whom real democracy is an impediment to the further accumulation of wealth?

After Irene, Vermonters again demonstrated the value of active communities and strong local government. Much of Irene’s social and economic damage was quickly mitigated by neighbors helping neighbors, even though much damage remains.

Even as we try to redesign how they are funded, we value our state’s quality health care and our community schools. During Vermont’s “Republican Century” we never lost our belief in a social safety net that helped those who had fallen by the wayside back onto the ladder toward prosperity. We still engage one another respectfully in our towns and in our statehouse in an effort to balance cost-effective government and economic opportunity and we do so using the democratic process.

We must pay the same fierce attention nationally. Vermont can neither secede, nor can we succeed without being part of a strong democratic nation.

We must work to safeguard the democracy of the nation itself by being vigilant about the tranquilizing effects of consumption and constantly challenging those who seek to spend their vast fortunes buying legislative outcomes, deregulation, candidates, and elections.

We are a nation predicated on equal opportunity and, as such, became the light of the world… the same light that now inspires the Arab Spring.

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