Today, thanks to a ride from a friend, I was able to attend a meeting of a non-partisan civic advocacy group called Get Out Of Our House, or GOOOH for short. (They have a website, at http://www.goooh.com, and have written a book, which will be reviewed soon, hopefully). I would like to examine what the meeting was like, what the expressed goal of the group was, and what I think its true and attainable mission ought to be.
The meeting itself began with a bit of a lecture on the goals of GOOOH: to promote (even demand) accountability for elected officials to the common citizenry, to encourage a strict term limitation for the House of Representatives (2 terms), and to remove special interest money from the political equation. They want to replace all 435 members of the House of Representatives–a very tall order–through a system of citizen choice that strikingly (and perhaps unintentionally) resembles the bottom up system exhibited in Exodus 18, where there were to be leaders of ten, leaders of fifty, and so on, up to leaders of a thousand. This was, to me, the most appealing aspect.
Nonetheless, there appeared to be no grassroots work done yet–there is political theory, a book, and a few people in charge, but the expectation is to tap into the Tea Parties and 912 groups of active citizens to find 10,000 people in each congressional district who are interested in answering 120 difficult questions about their political stance and in actively seeking candidacy to be weeded out in a multi-stage series of debates and discussions to finally find the most popular and acceptable candidate among the masses. This seems just a bit too ambitious for me. I’m certainly interested in politics, but I have no ambitions to be a U.S. Representative.
Here is where a bit of focus paid to clearly defining an attainable mission may come in handy. It appears that, given the meeting’s face-to-face discussion about political stands and the difference between common goals and differing ways to get there, the real goal of the group is to allow ordinary citizens to more sharply understand their own political worldview by forcing them to commit to a yes or no, and defend why they believe it, on a variety of interesting and important questions. A more informed citizenry, more aware of its worldview commitments and political stands, can only be a good thing (well, good for the country at least), as it would at least be a sign that apathy was wearing off and a growing awareness of the seriousness of our situation was taking hold.
Nonetheless, I think it extremely unlikely that even among all the members of the various grass-roots tea party and similar organizations one will find 10,000 people willing to go through the weeding out process to become a U.S. Representative. Most people (myself included) simply aren’t that ambitious for position and power. However, if it is done in such a way as to include those who wished to engage in serving their local precincts, or for those who wanted to become more aware and responsible citizens, without ambition to be one of 435 U.S. Representatives, than it would be attainable to find thousands of people so willing to go through the process, at least to know themselves a little better.
Not only would this goal serve a better long-term goal of restoring an active citizenry willing and able to hold its elected leaders accountable to their Constitutional mandate, but it would also serve to keep the organization’s goals sufficiently modest and more non-partisan, as it avoids getting into the thorny problem of vetting and promoting candidates who go through this process, since the group itself appears to have no goals or aspirations to train candidates how to win closed primaries, to get out the vote through neighborhood walkarounds or rallies, or to promote their candidacy through marketing their identity and winning debates and endorsements. The strengths of this particular group would appear to be in the recognition of the need for grass roots involvement in politics, to keep out the special interests, but there does not appear to be the infrastructure or interest present within this organization to successfully play the political game of our nation’s two-party political system (whether we love it, hate it, or are somewhat ambivalent about it).
So, I can say in closing that it was a very worthwhile meeting, but that the goals of GOOOH might be best served in focusing on the education of the people from the ground up rather than trying to effect a drastic top-down change in our nation’s political culture. Though there is the widespread understanding that time is not on our side, the means of effecting a top-down change do not appear to be present. We must try to rebuild what we can, at least so that we may have a remnant ready to start all over again, should that be necessary. In my darkest moments, I do not think that we will have any other choice but to start from scratch, after much suffering. Consider this sort of effort a hail mary pass at solving our nation’s political and cultural malaise. I hope that it is not already too late.