After last week’s blog, “Let’s bring together the Tea Party & Occupy Wall Street,” Michel Martin, from NPR’s Tell Me More, asked me and representatives from the two groups to have an on-air conversation. All the potential peril in trying to do something productive could be heard during this conversation. But I remain undaunted, and I hope you are, too. Here’s why.
First, it took a nice dose of courage for Michel to invite the three of us on. Not surprising coming from Michel, but noteworthy nonetheless. Joining me were Shelby Blake, from the Tea Party Patriots, and Kyle Christopher, from Occupy Wall Street.
From the get-go the conversation took a turn for business as usual. The two individuals saw themselves as representatives for their respective groups, and so what came forward were the well-worn talking points, name calling, bomb throwing, and insistence that “We’re Right, You’re Wrong!” No matter what Michel asked, the responses towed the party line. This is the reality of where we at the national level – we cannot deny it. Right now, these groups are talking past each other.
The key to moving the conversation forward will be to get folks around the table who do not see themselves as either “leaders” or “spokespeople.” When I talk to everyday individuals who subscribe to one of these movements, I have found among them – as I have found among most Americans – that they want to find ways to move the country forward. Like many of us, they too are anxious about where the country is headed, scared about their own jobs and keeping their homes, and lack trust in various leaders, institutions, organizations, and groups to hear their concerns.
That is why on Tell Me More I said the best place to get things moving is on the local level. On the national scene, too many groups (not just these two) are happy to indulge in gridlock, because that’s their ticket to “success.” They want to rally more members, more financial support, and more clout. Making progress on the national level will require the shifting of broader conditions in the country.
Still, there is a ripe opportunity before us: to tap into a growing groundswell in the country. This represents what I believe is the big missing story in America today. People want to come back into the public square. People want to make a difference. And people want to be a part of something larger than themselves. They feel they can no longer go it alone – it simply doesn’t work. Nor do they think that outage alone will change current conditions – they say we must note it, understand it, and then get beyond all the outrage.
Let me be clear: What I’m suggesting is no silver bullet. Nor is it about all of us “getting along” or “liking each other.” The times demand that we be more practical than that. At issue is how best to change the trajectory and dynamics of a gridlocked and mistrustful public life and politics.
One good place to start (among others) is to bring people from The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. As I’ve said, what I don’t mean is to bring representatives of the two groups together; instead, my hope is to engage everyday Americans who happen to subscribe to these two groups. If we can show even some progress, it will be an important sign to all Americans – and to the leaders and spokespeople of these movements – that people want to get to work.
At the Institute, we’re actively pursuing ways to push this effort ahead. Please, let me know your own ideas and ways for us to work together.
All this is possible. We can do this.
A dynamic public speaker, Rich Harwood is a frequent keynote for foundations and national organizations. He is an expert contributor on national and syndicated media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN’s Inside Politics, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Special Report with Brit Hume, C-SPAN, and many others. He is also the author of Hope Unraveled: The people\’92s retreat and our way back (2005), Make Hope Real: How we can accelerate change for the public good (2008) and numerous studies, articles and essays chronicling vital issues of our time. His most recent written work, Why We\’92re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward, is being published and distributed in Spring 2011. You can follow him on twitter @RichHarwood and facebook.com/richharwood.
You can read Rich’s posts every Tuesday on State of the Re:Union’s website.