The Power of Community
I think Richard Sennett’s “A Creditable Left” [Aug. 1/8] is one of the most insightful pieces The Nation has published in recent months. I read it twice to reinforce a perspective that many of us fail to keep in mind: that a community can be a powerful force when individuals in that community, helped along by organizers, get to know one another, socialize, come to trust one another and, when necessary, act together. This bottom-up approach is an essential form of political activity, at least as essential as electoral politics, which, as Sennett points out, now absorbs too much of our attention and energy.
Richard Sennett poses social organizing à la Alinsky as the alternative for progressives who want more than to serve as a “worker bee in national politics.” This simplistic dualism overlooks the reality that our federal system is built on tens of thousands of elected school boards, city councils, boards of aldermen, town select boards, county commissioners, etc., not to mention fifty state governments.
Without disputing the importance of social organizing, consider what local electoral politics can deliver:
§ A segment of power broken off from the congealed mass of big money, big media White House and Congressional power, essential for organizing national elections and influencing national policy.
§ A medium for participating “with others unlike themselves,” as Sennett puts it.
§ Access to political careers that does not cost a fortune and launches many who become national leaders.
§ The essential element for reform in the era-shaping controversy over public education’s future.
§ A voice in security policy for the ICBM and terrorist-targeted millions. One would never know from Sennett that a huge portion of activist energy is directed toward ending war and controlling weapons. One would never guess that a fourth, global level of governance is requisite for security, which the nations will never create absent a surge of global demand that must start locally. (When I was a city councilor during the cold war, we formed one of twenty US/Soviet SisterCity pairings, sending delegations back and forth until Gorbachev called off the cold war.)
In his book The Fall of Public Man, Sennett compares American citizens’ resigned disregard for the res publica to Roman citizens’ lack of civic participation during the imperial Augustan age. But we have democracy! Wise counselors like Sennett should tell us how to use democracy instead of contributing to disregard for this treasure.
DAVID WYLIE, chair Democratic Town Committee, Bolton, Mass.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
How sadly incisive the August 1/8 issue has been: the frightening exposure of a grand plan by the American Legislative Exchange Council to dismantle any kind of social justice in favor of pure business interests [“ALEC Exposed”], followed by Richard Sennett’s search for the left’s relevance in the face of this worldwide rightward turn.
Humans, when scared—and everyone today seems to be scared—will so often turn to leaders who comfort them with the promise that all will be taken care of for them. This is a demagogy style that has been shared by right and left, but the Chávezes are being outgunned at this by people like the Koch brothers.