Open Doors

Come on in…

I’m instituting an open door policy.

Far too much is need of repair to turn away willing hands. My youthful, ideological mindset – as many predicted – hasn’t been tempered by experience, thus giving way to cynicism or a decreased desire to help create a better society. I do, however, find myself more tolerant of those who’s ideals and beliefs don’t completely mirror my own. Banning together for a cause is not the same as soul mate shopping or a best friend audition. As long as your goals intersect with mine, you are welcome at my table.

It’s time for coalition building. And without the admission testing that filters out any individual who doesn’t agree on every, single, solitary issue or whose motives aren’t completely in step. If you’re an atheist who’s life’s work is defending a woman’s right to control her own body, don’t shun the pro-choice religious group simply because you think something different happens when we die or you spend your Sundays engaged in divergent activities. What if, one day a week – a Tuesday, perhaps – you got together and talked similarities, strategies and roadblocks surrounding access to care?

Now that we aren’t fighting over presidential politics, how’s everyone feeling about the First Amendment these days? I drink my morning coffee out of the “Disappearing Civil Liberties” mug from the Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild section of the website for The Nation magazine. If they made an updated version, as the cup gets hot even more of the Bill of Rights would now vanish; it was produced before the Clearing the Grounds proclamation which further limited protesting. Freedom of speech is a platform lefties, libertarians, limited government-ites and the Republicans of old – circa the Eisenhower presidency & Goldwater candidacy – can pull together on. There may even be some pre-band wagon, Fox News effect Tea Party folks who think this is the one issue I’m not completely batshit on.

And what of libertarians and liberals? If we learned anything from Occupy, why not see the snap shot of different ideological backgrounds camping themselves into community? Not only can the intelligent factions of these two groups argue and debate like adults – all the while learning something about themselves and each other, but the picture painted by far right media moguls that liberals and libertarians stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum couldn’t be further from reality. Painting those two groups into opposing forces reduces the venn diagram they actual are into an easier to write-off, simplistic categorization.

Most liberals want to see the failed drug war end by legalizing, regulating and taxing pot. The added benefit of hemp production could revolutionize the fight against climate change. Most libertarians think what women do with their bodies and who signs a marriage license should have absolutely nothing to do with the government. Nation building, drone warfare and attempting to be the world’s police are abhorrent to the peaceniks of the left and the less government crowd on the improperly pigeon holed right.

Have any of you lefties ever chatted with a libertarian about voting machines? Bring coffee, settle in and prepare for another angle on the one “conspiracy theory” you have likely bought into since Greg Palast blew the lid off the 2000 presidential election. Add to the conversation Civil Rights activists and those passionate about immigrants’ rights and a diverse coalition with an impressive range of experiences begins pulling together. That crowd would come from every religious and socioeconomic background imaginable. They would be young and old, middle income and low, with complexions spanning the spectrum of humanity.

A similarly broad range of people care about the future of education – both primary and collegiate. Young, disadvantaged kids see education as a path to a better life; or because of where they’re from, they see it as a meaningless pursuit. Middle and upper income students plan for college because that’s the expected path, not realizing that the likelihood they’ll achieve their goals has more to do with who their parents are than who they are and what they’re capable of. The proliferation of vouchers and charter schools, which do no better than their public counterparts in student performance, increasingly widens the divides between socioeconomic groups and all but eliminates parental and teacher control over the education of the generation who will stand at the helm of this country in just a few short years.

Furthermore, as it’s their future that’s most affected by education policy, how about asking those students what they want? We expect 17-year-olds to map out careers along with the rest of their lives while signing loan documents for tens of thousands of dollars; shouldn’t that mean they’re competent to weigh in on their educational environment? Shouldn’t they be at the table alongside parents, teachers, education policy wonks, school board officials and superintendents? If they’re going to obligate themselves to indentured servitude before one-fifth of their life has passed, their voices ought to be heard.

Which brings us to debt. Student debt. Credit card debt. Underwater mortgages. Auto loans. Is there anyone left – outside the much maligned one-percenters – who doesn’t understand the weight of personal debt? Debt keeps us at jobs we dislike because we fear risking our security in pursuit of entrepreneurship. Debt gives the big banks and corporations control over much more than our 40-hour (if we’re lucky) work week. What adult decision is made without first considering monthly debt payments?

Public debt is a related, but often overlooked issue. The residents of Michigan towns such as Flint, Pontiac and Benton Harbor can tell you about it in detail. When privatization of public assets – a trend with desperate mayors and governors nationwide – left their cities facing bankruptcy or worse, the republican state house passed an “Emergency Manager” law which gave Governor Rick Snyder the power to set aside elected officials and place an appointed executive as the king of the city.

True conservatives should have lost it; progressives increasingly concerned with right-wing disregard for democracy did. They lead a successful effort to repeal the law, much to the relief of other cities on the edge in Michigan. However, the suffocating effect the loss of our commons is having in communities of all kinds continues. We increasingly don’t own our streets, our parks, our water supply, our natural resources, our libraries or our schools. Unionized city workers are not the only constituency that sees value in maintaining control over public space. Environmentalists and green energy advocates cringe as corporations are sold the rights to our aquifers and natural gas reserves. These two recently reenergized groups are a coalition waiting to combine forces and retain the commons for the common good.

So if those and other forces are obvious allies, what are they waiting for? Perhaps all that’s standing in the way is a closed door – the preconceived notion that a knock would be unwelcomed. Well, my door is open. Is yours?

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Categories: Finding My Voice

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