Jim Kent: Guest Opinion
Aspen CO, Colorado
Inspired by a heartfelt message of hope, Americans have set a new national precedent for the core principles by which we govern ourselves.
In our recent presidential race, Barack Obama campaigned on a heart-and-soul vision of personal responsibility, participation, compassion, shared sacrifice, social justice, democratic economic systems and change that benefits everyone. In doing so, the unlikely candidate of hope became the 44th U.S. president, as well as an inspiration to millions of people around the world.
During his road to victory, the philosophy on which he ran propelled attributes of heart and soul to the forefront of public consciousness. Citizens in astounding numbers rose up to act on his powerful slogan, “Yes we can,” and so began reversal of the appalling social and governmental trends that had been devouring our nation.
The world has witnessed other examples of rapid social and political change that were driven by deeply held core principles of a society. In a similarly historic election, presidential candidate V’aclav Havel galvanized the people of Czechoslovakia. In 1989 a movement known as the “Velvet Revolution” saw the relinquishment of political power by the communists and set the first free elections since 1946. Through this peaceful revolution, Czechoslovakia moved from a dark and closed centralized society to a vibrant, free, enterprise-centered civic order with astonishing rapidity. By l992, only three short years after Havel came onto the scene, individual business vendors in Prague lined the Charles Bridge, churches were well on their way to complete historic restoration, and private enterprise flourished throughout the city and countryside ” an amazing phenomena given the long-term oppression.
One can point to two underlying factors for their democracy’s fast recovery that bear on our recent electoral experience. The first factor is whatever culture is in place when autocrats or elected officials with self-serving interests gain power is the culture by-and-large that will emerge when the oppression is overcome. The second factor concerns the cultural mechanisms that continue functioning when a government pursues an agenda based on rewarding the few and disadvantaging the many.
These cultural mechanisms are the informal communication and caretaker networks that grow stronger under top-down control in order for the people to survive and maintain their culture. They operate within natural gathering places and preserve the heart and soul of our civic order. Coffee shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, bars, restaurants, schools, soccer fields, open-air markets, town squares and parks, as well as the newer public arenas of blogs and e-mail, give people the chance to interact with each other, daily and intimately.
Informal caretaker and communication networks are strongly linked to our gathering places, because here personal exchanges freely flow and bonds of trust are created and maintained. It is in these informal networks that the beliefs, traditions, stories and principles are preserved. Informal networks and gathering places are the horizontal elements of society that bind and preserve community’s heart and soul.
The U.S. election of 2008 and the Czech election in 1989 show us that the more closed the formal system, the stronger and more effective the informal caretaking and communication networks become. With the Bush administration came a record national deficit; the gap between rich and poor quickly widened, constitutional rights to privacy and protection in courts of law were assaulted, and an unwarranted and unending war was undertaken. We began suffering social and economic collapse and finally we lost hope.
Barack Obama responded to these downward spirals by campaigning relentlessly in informal networks and gathering places. In these networks he found our will, our sense of purpose and our best intentions. He accessed the slumbering desire for participation that is deeply imbedded in our people, awakening it after eight years of governing from the top down. We were ready to be awakened.
He clearly understands that when the beliefs, traditions, spirit of change, and hopes of our people embedded in our informal networks are aligned with our formal administrative bodies, we can whole-heartedly look forward to a new era of successful citizen-energized governance that will bring about a rapid recovery.
Continued alignment of the two systems, the informal and the formal, is the essential element of rapid, sustained and healthy recovery.
Realizing that our new government is based on the pursuit of freedom, liberty, justice and democratic principles of life we will once again have a government that is “of and by” the people.
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