Most PeopleMost people don’t care enough to make a difference. Most people aren’t going to buy that new thing you’re selling. Most people are afraid to take action. Most people are too self-involved to do the generous work you’re hoping for. Most people think they can’t afford it. Most people won’t talk about it. Most people aren’t going to read what you wrote. Fortunately, you’re not most people. Neither are your best customers.
You can read it on his site here. It sounds skeptical and a tad frustrating, but I believe he’s correct. The majority of us just want to be about our own business, resenting government intrusion, and basically want to get on with following our own agenda. This is one of the legacies of pluralism and affluence. Modern society is so constructed that, on a daily basis, we feel we have what we need to provide for our own. So much wealth, science, technology, and progress have provided us with a sense of independence that makes it difficult to come back together when we need to – if we ever did. It’s as singer Ray Charles used to say:
“Affluence separates people. Poverty knits ‘em together. You got some sugar and I don’t; I borrow some of yours. Next month you might not have any flour; well, I’ll give you some of mine.”
But then something happens to disturb that reality, introducing us to broader challenges. It happens every day, millions of times to as many people. A loved one is killed by a drunk driver and we seek to work with others to ensure it doesn’t happen to someone else. A developer moves into our area with little regard to the wishes of the neighbourhood and we form a citizen committee to fight it. We pull together to protect a wetland. New Canadians seek humanitarian assistance in their ancestral homes. Small businesses band together in an attempt to get some bylaw changes to established a business park.
And then there are those larger issues that occasionally call out to us, pulling us in a broader direction. Support of the Terry Fox run; sending aid to Haiti; seeking protection for a provincial or national park; the desire to stop or support a pipeline – significant issues that pull us out of our distractions.
What is significant about all of these ventures is their one common denominator: the pressuring of the political sphere to make change. Suddenly politics matters because it seems to have the greatest potential to affect the most good. Issues that are vitally greater than what we possess require the resources to make them stick.
In a brief time politics introduces us to new possibilities, a fresh potential to make what we hope will be lasting change. For some, politics is about power and prestige, but for these folks the political realm becomes the theatre for expanding the privileges and protections of the human race. Their lives were summoned out of slumber by sudden troubling occurrences and over a process of time they have become advocates for a progressive state. They fundraise, speak, write countless emails, attempt to tell their story, but ultimately they raise their sights to that one place that can guarantee future advance – the public sphere, through legislation.
Without the political sector they would be just one group fighting amongst many, often with greater funding, access, and influence than they possess. But once on the public agenda they enjoy the support of the bureaucracy, politicians and parties fighting for their principles, and, ultimately, a tax base that can fund the better world they are looking for.
These are the progressives. They fight for the expansion of public rights and opportunities. Often opposed by those who also turn to the political realm in order to curtail the expansion of the State, they nevertheless have emerged to become change agents of the first order – citizens empowered through the political structure to go for the great things. They are dynamic and above all motivated. Yet in a world of powerbrokers and lots of money they lack that one key element required to overthrow a resistant State: unity. They are thousands of voices, each pressing for their own change for the most sensible of reasons – the betterment of their communities – but they are having trouble combining.
Edward Murrow used to say that a nation of sheep would beget a government of wolves. It gets even worse when a government paves the way for private interest to invade the public space. In such moments, citizens, galvanized by events that motivated them to press for change, begin the process of asking government to fulfill its primary obligation of assisting its citizens when little recourse remains. In such moments politics becomes real, not something ethereal, where you vote every few years. It provides the human spirit a field for accomplishment that benefits the many and not just the few. Politics like this changes us, largely for the better, because it’s actually we who have already transformed into the change that’s required. Pressing for change for the betterment of the human condition – politics at its best and most transformative. The kind of change we can believe in.