In his speech on Tuesday night after winning the election President-elect Barack Obama spoke about the need for sacrifice and called us to serve our country.
On a side note, as much as I loved hearing that message I am afraid that we are relying on the office of the President to push us into vounteerism, when there are plenty of great organizations that make it easy to volunteer. Like many volunteer centers throughout the country, the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center (where I live) provides a website and other services to make volunteering for an organization that fits your areas of interest really easy. Even so, hearing these words from the top elected official in our nation made me feel very hopeful. And here is why.
In the days following the election I heard Tavis Smiley speak about the attention mandate. The amount of people paying attention to this election was huge, no matter what political party you belong to. Smiley’s point was that Obama’s mandate was to do something with that attention. Also during the last few days Bill Moyer’s spoke about his experience in the LBJ White House when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He talked about how our democracy has been fundamentally broken by lobbyists, interest groups, and I think most importantly a lack of trust in not only the process but the people as well.
The other day I blogged about how the attention that people were paying to this this election made me feel proud and patriotic. With the economic crisis we have an opportunity that was squandered after 9/11. After 9/11 we were asked to serve our country by going shopping.
So about now you are probably asking how do these random thoughts fit together – calling us to serve, the attention mandate, a broken democracy, the economic crisis. In calling us to service to our country Obama is I think providing an answer to how we can mend our democracy as well as fix our economic crisis. By taking all of the people who are still paying close attention to every step our new President-elect takes and calling them to volunteer, and get involved in government, Obama is asking for our help. I believe that a large part of why our democracy is broken, the lack of trust, has stemmed from people feeling like they have not been heard, from a disconnection between what we do in our everyday lives and what happens in Washington. By bringing us back into participating in civic life we can feel more a part of government, we can feel a greater sense of ownership in our community and our government.
By asking us to go shopping after 9/11 President Bush played to a much lower aspect of our society – mass consumption. As a consumer society we have turned to buying things in times of crisis. Mass consumption has created its own set of problems, destruction of the environment and the tendency to ignore social problems such as poverty and hunger. While the economic crisis has been really hard for a lot of people, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that, maybe in some ways it can be a good thing. In trying to fix the problem we can turn away from a consumer-driven society, band together to provide answers to societal problems, and build trust in our democracy.