For once, a good news story on U.S. democracy

It’s easy, particularly with George Dubya at the helm, to see U.S. politics as a corporation-dominated, planet-threatening basket case immune to all voices of reason. I am not quite that gloomy.

Guarded optimist that I choose to be, I prefer to latch onto the savvy, grass-roots activism that ordinary Americans excel at and which is much in evidence if you choose to look for it. When, for example, was the last time you heard an American say this:

“What we see as the largest roadblock to democracy is that some people either believe that we already have a democracy or that we don’t have a right to it. To us, that’s about shifting people’s minds fundamentally to where they’re willing to act instead of being paralyzed by cynicism or hopelessness.”

Those are the words of Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a lead organiser of Measure T, a successful ballot initiative this year in Northern California’s Humboldt County that banned non-local corporate money in elections. It also also rejected corporate personhood, the legal doctrine that grants corporations the same rights and protections as people. If that sounds dull and meaningless, you clearly haven’t had the chance yet to watch the Corporation.

The eloquent Sopoci-Belknap, in an article carried on ZNET, explained the rationale of Measure T as follows:

“Our constitution is about restrictions on government; government cannot pass laws that violate people’s rights. If corporations have personhood rights, that means government down to the local level can’t meaningfully restrict them.”

Don’t expect the presidential hopefuls, Democrat or Republican, to be doing too much on that front come oath-of-office time in 2009.

The ZNET crowd, as well as publishing the magazine from which these quotes are taken, provide what they call a community for those committed to social change. I count myself among their members.

I was lucky enough to attend their Z media event in 2005, an alternative politics and journalism course run every couple of years in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I learnt heaps and met some smart, committed activists as well as listening to and questioning the likes of Noam Chomsky. They’re running another one in June 2007. It rocks. Check it out here.

I posted a slide show of the 2005 event on YouTube, for fun but also to show that even in a sleepy joint like Woods Hole, the Iraq war was pretty divisive even 18 months ago.

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