Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just where is the place for "we the people?"

I wrote a post-election piece for The Christian Science Monitor asking whether Barack Obama would be able to deliver in these terrible economic times. A reader's response gave me pause.

Wrote Diane Puderbaugh of Ashland, Ore.: Jerry Lanson asks if Barack Obama can convert the call for change to reality, but I think the bigger question is, can we, as Americans, bring about the changes we desire in our own daily lives?

Are we, the people, the elected officials, the corporate leaders, living within our means? Are we working hard, living ethically, and telling the truth? Do we use civil discourse, leadership, and diplomacy while dealing with family and community members? Do we practice patience and vision as we work toward common goals? This is how true, fundamental change will happen in America, and each and every one of us can make it a reality.

I love her thoughts. But her questions, to some extent, demand more than individual action. Certainly the more fervent Obama supporters are trying to keep the grass roots spirit of the campaign alive. Kathy and I made a modest contribution to the campaign. Now we're being bombarded with emails from local activists inviting us to parties where, presumably, work will be done to keep people engaged in community and government.

I confess. I've dragged my feet. Why? I teach journalism. I write. I'm always nagged by the journalists training to hang back, to observe, to leave activism to others. Call it an occupational hazard. But at the same time I'm rooting for people like Brigid and Joan (as they sign their email) from the neighboring town of Arlington, who wrote: "Many of us have been wondering how we might continue the great work we did together." I'm not rooting in a political sense, but in a civic sense. Deep down, I want Diane Puderbaugh to be right.

But the skeptic in me also participates in this debate.

Brigid and Joan went on to call for something anyone of any political stripe can support, such things as delivering food to the needy at Thanksgiving, for example. They gave names and addresses of drop-off points, including an Obama-friendly bakery.

And this isn't a Massachusetts phenomenon. USA Today reported that it's happening nationwide:

In Indiana, a group of Obama volunteers met Wednesday to plan a food-pantry drive. "It's easy to see that this (economic downturn) is going to be a very serious long-term problem," says Pam Warren, who organized the meeting in Bloomington, Ind. "Until we get marching orders from President-elect Obama — I love saying that — we figured we have already been taught to take care of ourselves."

But I wonder. Is this help or hindrance? Don't enough non-profits already exist to organize food drives that help the needy? And if its a hindrance, just what is the next step, the means of achieving that self-reliance, those personal good deeds that Puderbaugh called for in her letter to the editor?

I'll keep listening and let you know what I find out.

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