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.
The central problem for the left is the fragmentary nature of society today. In order to bring about a sense of social justice, one needs to know how to listen as well as talk. This means admitting the validity of someone else’s place in your world. This means learning to care about others. It’s a much deeper problem than something more conceivably solvable, like trying to reinvigorate the union movement.
CCP on Voter ID
In “Rigging Elections” [Aug. 1/8], John Nichols states that the Center for Competitive Politics began work in 2006 on the issue of voter ID. This is incorrect—CCP has never worked on this issue. Furthermore, to the extent that people affiliated with CCP have ever expressed personal opinions on the issue, they tend to be skeptical of claims about anything more than rare instances of in-person vote fraud.
CCP works in the area of the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly and petition, protecting them from so-called reform that infringes on these rights.
SEAN PARNELL, president Center for Competitive Politics
In my piece, I wrote that the Center for Competitive Politics had been “highlighting” these issues since 2006. I based that statement on an extensive review of the CCP’s blog posts, news releases and legal statements. I did indeed find statements highlighting the “voter fraud” and voter ID issues that have long been raised by conservative groups. In September 2006, for instance, Brad Smith, CCP chairman and co-founder, wrote about concerns regarding “massive voter registration fraud, which not only damaged the integrity of the election process, but also costs the state large sums of money in trying to get voter lists in order.” That was hardly the only reference to these issues over the years.
Famously, the center’s blog featured a 2008 screed that hailed a Supreme Court ruling upholding Indiana’s voter ID law with the line, “No surprise—requiring a voter to present voter ID is constitutional, overall.” It then asked, “Now that Indiana’s discretion in election administration has been honored, will we see state action to cleanse the voter rolls of deadwood? Efforts toward the control of absentee voter fraud? Or is the state only willing to adopt inexpensive reforms?”
Re Katha Pollitt’s “Talk the Talk, Walk the SlutWalk” [July 18/25]: “Older” feminists need to seriously rethink any “griping” about younger feminists—especially after the past thirty-some years, in which women have witnessed the seeming loss of interest in the dynamic discourse brought about by women who made up a generation intent on bringing to the fore the glaring injustices against all women. Any woman nowadays who is 45 or younger and who declares that she embraces a feminist outlook should be celebrated.
Just as the earlier generation of feminists brought about change in the legal meaning of, and approach to, a woman being raped—that is, from rape being viewed as a sexual crime to rape being viewed as a violent crime—so too, the younger women who “walk the SlutWalk” bring an important visibility to the continuing insistence that women refuse to be defined by male terms.
The need for female protest is as alive today as it was in the 1970s, so as women we need to be aware that we remain caught in a ubiquitous system of patriarchal values. Until women formulate what our values consist of, and further insist that those values become dominant throughout our lives, we will continue to either respond or react to men who behave as though women are not valued.