2007-08-10 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

Most of us are content, especially this time of year, to deal with the mundane minutiae of our daily lives. Working, shopping, paying bills, cleaning and repairing our living quarters, and the stress of parenting keep us occupied. Our lives seem to be too busy to make time to engage in the body politic.

We believe our input would be futile and spending precious time studying the issues that need to be addressed would be wasted. I include myself in this characterization. It is difficult today to be informed. I force myself to read numerous newspapers, magazines, and books and I feel inadequately conversant about many topics. Most of us only skim the headlines. Unless a family member is somehow affected by decisions in the District of Columbia, Albany, or City Hall, we do not bother to become informed. We would rather know about the lives of sports celebrities and actors, or scandals involving sex, drugs, or cash. Our mass media knows this and obliges to meet our desires.

Climate change, ethical questions regarding human life, war and peace are too much of a challenge for us to consider.

Often we consider those who challenge the status quo as troublemakers. When I was a youngster I often heard southern segregationists call white and black civil rights advocates "outside agitators" or troublemakers. As the civil rights movement grew and northern cities were demonstrated to have de facto patterns of segregation, these labels also were used. Labor union officials were and are often called agitators and troublemakers. At times they had been jailed if they led public employee unions and challenged strike prohibitions.

Prohibiting strikes is a legal means to ensure that workers' abilities to affect change are adversely affected and gives an unfair advantage to the employer or powerful in society. People who challenge war as a means to affect foreign policies are often classified as traitors or naive.

Diplomacy and economic development have and can affect our foreign policy and should be used when dealing with hostile or troublesome countries or people.

It is also true that some people who claim to be civil rights advocates, worker advocates, and devotees of peace have alternate objectives. Many black and white officials are using the race card for objectives that are less than pure.

Many labor officials live a lavish lifestyle by using the dues of union members as a cash cow. Some who claim peaceful diplomacy should be used are only working to see another point of view hostile to democracy, tolerance, and economic development for all people.

Our objective is to separate the Gandhis, Kings, and Shankers of our body politic from the George Wallaces, Hoffas, and Al Sharptons. I must say there are times Sharpton does make statements that deserve respect and attention, but his refusal to apologize when he was dramatically in error puts him in the racial charlatan category to me.

Wallace demonstrated a need to recognize that many whites did not feel their voices were being heard, but his use of hate to achieve his goals made him a troublemaker and not a challenger of the status quo.

Hoffa advocated for his members and their improved economic status, but his corruption did not allow him to be considered a challenger of the status quo.

Our president considers himself an advocate of democracy overseas and still is unwilling to hear the voice of the people regarding the situation in Iraq, or accept the election results overseas if the victors do not suit his objectives. There are many examples of challengers of the status quo. Our task is to correctly analyze when agitation is for the benefit of all.

In recent days, powerful floods in England demonstrated that the British military was stretched too thin with foreign pursuits and inadequate to handle domestic emergencies. Many think this country has the same problem. National emergencies are unpredictable and the pursuit of foreign military action when not absolutely needed puts us all at risk. Democracy demands a people who are actively engaged.

If you think the war in Iraq does not affect you, consider the billions spent, our weak dollar, the young men and women who are risking life and limb, and whether our homeland is adequately safeguarded in the event of emergencies or terrorist attacks.

Congressman Charles Rangel has frequently called for a reinstated of the draft so that the branches of the military reflect the population of the nation. Rangel contends that if all Americans were placed in harm's way, wars that are preventive in nature, unnecessary, or that enrich our corporate political elite would be unpopular and impossible politically to conduct. I agree.

If our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or cousins were in Iraq, and not just our least privileged, the war in Iraq would be over. Our anti-war movement is not powerful enough because the average American does not feel the consequences. Less than a handful of the members of both houses of congress have relatives serving in Iraq. This is an outrageous fact.

We should consider a proportional representation system for our legislative branches. It is a method that ensures a legislative body has all political points of view represented, and is widely used overseas, as an alternative to the "winner takes all" system we use in this country. When people can see their point of view has a forum, it may encourage participation. State legislatures may initiate such a system before we contemplate changing our beloved constitution.

In fact, some of our founding fathers approved of proportional representation rather than the "winner takes all" system, which we have. Most modern western democracies have some form of proportional representation.

We need to change our state and federal labor laws to ensure a more neutral role for the government in labor disputes. It is obvious that business and corporate interests have an unfair advantage.

Troublemakers challenge us to forget the mundane and see the larger picture. We should praise anyone who forces us to see the world as it really is, reform what is ugly and agitate for that reform. Moses, Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul were troublemakers. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Lech Walesa were troublemakers. We could use their type of troublemaking now.

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