Politics That Break Through


You’ve probably been there. It’s a family gathering, maybe Thanksgiving or a wedding, and someone starts a political conversation that is as ill-informed and jargon-filled as Fox News. You hear assumptions about the world that are so alien, you wonder if you’re living on the same planet. There seems to be no way to have a meaningful dialogue, much less find common ground.

But common ground is just what we discovered in researching this issue of YES! We found a nation less neatly divided than those red-blue state maps would have us believe. There are now more “Independents” than registered Republicans, so the red-blue divide is already obsolete. But more fundamentally, when it comes to the critical issues of jobs, war, and health care, among others, large majorities want the same things. We want to be treated with respect and are prepared to offer it in return. We want our hard work rewarded with decent pay. We want quality education and health care for our children. And we want security in the face of economic, ecological, and geopolitical crises.

In this issue, we offer an American agenda based on 10 areas of broad agreement. What if, instead of letting the candidates, lobbyists, and corporations set the agenda, we set it ourselves, based on what we want, and evaluated candidates based on which of them would best meet our priorities?

To get to that common agenda, we’ll have to reject the belligerence that has dominated politics in recent years. Comedian Jon Stewart was right when he accused those who turn politics into a shouting match of “hurting America.” The politics they create exasperates ordinary people, reduces complex issues to simplistic catch phrases, and dumbs down government.

Instead of contributing to real solutions, these pundit smackdowns set back efforts to deal with today’s global crises. We desperately need a politics that draws on our collective creativity and intelligence to bring us together in an all-hands-on-deck drive for solutions.

This issue of YES! spotlights Americans who are reaching beyond their usual comfort zones to find that common ground. Among them are Thomas Sheppard, a two-time Bush supporter who is greening his New Jersey farm, and evangelical pastor Joel C. Hunter, who is making poverty and climate change a top priority at his Northland Church.

It’s a challenge to bring Americans together when we’re reeling from the effects of an economic meltdown and a war that has devastated rural and urban families alike. Some people have risen to that challenge and others have not, as we see in David Sirota’s report on his travels around the United States. First we visit the Minutemen, who take out their rage and sense of powerlessness on an even more marginalized group. But then we go to New York, where members of the Working Families Party are bringing people together to work for economic fairness. Coming together or turning against those less powerful—this, more than red or blue, is the critical choice point.

The latest science on the human brain offers reason to hope we’ll choose to come together, suggests David Korten, in the wrap-up to our Purple America section. New research shows that we literally get high from helping others. Except when provoked into anger or fear, people are predisposed to collaborate. If we follow those impulses, if we pool our talent and smarts and work together, we can turn the crises that threaten our world into an impetus for transformation. Now there’s something to talk about at Thanksgiving.

Sarah van Gelder wrote this article as part of Purple America, the Fall 2008 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is Executive Editor of YES! Magazine. Photo of Sarah van Gelder
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