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We Have Met The Enemy
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

I suppose the winter of 2010 will be one of those talked about in future years. The amount of cold and snow, rain and frost has set records nationwide, making it feel like one of the longest winter seasons in memory. It's only February, of course, and there's plenty more to come. As well, the public is withering under a kind of winter mentality right now, gloomy and dug in, awaiting the next onslaught of actual storm or political sturm, whichever comes first. Here's the question: are we hunkered down in our discontented winter because politics is finally personal, as we've reluctantly recognized the social disparities that drive our daily existence and our anxiety? Or is all this transitory, due to ease itself when spring comes, lifting our spirits with sunshine and new growth? I think the answer is both, but perhaps not in equal proportions.

Spring will certainly bring relief from utility bills that require one to choose between food or heat, to emergency services our local communities can no longer afford. Spring may encourage us to grow some of the fresh food that we find too pricey to buy, or perhaps frequent the local farmers' market looking for a deal. As Michelle Obama addresses the childhood obesity issues we've long ignored, I hope she takes into consideration the expense of eating well. For the price of a bunch of broccoli and a bag of apples, food stamps can purchase a couple of frozen pizzas, a supersized bag of chips and the generic version of several Twinkies. If we're trying to stretch a meal, junk is considerably more elastic. Yes, spring will put a little bounce in our step, but where will we be bouncing to, I wonder? Maybe we'll be bouncing in place, wondering when the internal winter gloom that comes with anxious times is finally going to leave us.

Politics has become personal if you find yourself under- or unemployed, if you need government assistance to feed your family, if you have no health insurance or discover that your rates have gone up by 39%. It's personal if your mortgage is 'underwater,' your job funding threatened or your credit cards maxed with 30% interest rates. It's personal if you need more than one hand to count the friends and family in dire straits, discovering yourself helpless to assist them. Politics is also local. 48 states currently count themselves in crisis. The Red states are determined to cut vital services rather than go after the tax base that enjoys the benefit of Bush's business entitlements. Those who would turn off street lights, close libraries, underfund court systems and slash childhood health, education and nutrition programs rather than tap the wealthy are known as "deficit peacocks."

It always comes down to money, of course. Who is saying what in the fiscal tug-of-war probably doesn't mean much if we don't have a job. The House of Representatives, aka the 'people's house,' recently passed their version of a jobs bill  -- $155 billion with $75 billion slated for states -- only to be blocked by the Senate peacocks who watered down the funding to an unimpressive $15 billion. That won't go far. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka suggests that this is like sticking a band-aid on the end of an amputated arm. I'd suggest that this isn't even a slow bleed, it's more a gusher. We can't seem to muster the collective determination that united previous generations in facing a common enemy, in this case a steep financial downturn. The country isn't pulling together in this economic emergency, it's pulling apart.

The free-wheeling 'greed is good' and 'the one with the most toys wins' zeitgeist couldn't sustain itself. Too late wise, we're stuck with the result. If I've described you, let me be the first to say that there is no big "L" looming over your head and life isn't pass/fail. We're graded on a curve and since you're here with millions of others facing similar challenges, you pass. If you follow Planet Waves, you knew that systems would be failing and government wobbling. This is what is required for a Shift in consciousness and a new set of human values to establish itself, even if it feels as if all hell's broken loose. Clearly, if we're stuck in old models of behavior and expectation, you and I are going nowhere fast, hugging that wall we're all bumped up against. We're stymied by a system that refuses to yield and a cacophony of voices that offer few solutions but plenty of dire projections and fears.

We're stuck. I've wondered how we came to this enormous black hole of political morass and personal indecision. The Web may have played its role in establishing so much chatter and confusion, with folks finding a place to put their voices and concerns. There's no question that this format has increased political activism and awareness. I'd like to think that we're using it to inform ourselves, participate in rational discussions and problem-solve, but I don't see much of that. Instead, I see a lot of anxiety, name-calling and anger shot-gunned across the blogosphere. Although understandable, the panic and hostility don't lift me, inform me or encourage me, but just make me tired and discouraged. I'm only energized when I hear a rational voice or read a calm, measured comment; then I get a little heart-lift, a renewal of determination and confidence. I can't be the only one who feels this, who welcomes what's useful in this difficult period, as opposed to what's debilitating. Our compulsion to list all that's wrong without appreciating what we have going for us is our default position in the human condition. The longer we dither there, the less we accomplish. Generations ago, Walt Kelly's cartoon character, Pogo the Possum, told us a truth still largely ignored by distracted humanity, "We have met the enemy and he is us!"

The national conversation has become a polarized clusterfuck, bent on one-side-takes-all gamesmanship, and largely misses the point. So let me be really straight, here. I think we're in a crisis that we don't seem to recognize. Our lack of confidence in government to sort this out is a poignant reflection of our lack of confidence in ourselves to navigate the changes ahead. Facing the unknown, we're afraid all changes are bad, we can't image them productive and worthwhile. We're caught in a kind of emotional inertia fed by a decade of discouragement and fear and fueled by competitive thinking that keeps us exhausted. If we want to move past this fearsome void, we need to focus creatively and think outside of the box. We have the capacity to master our fears and find a way forward, but not if we're scattering our energy and ignoring common sense and higher thought. We're shrouded in a philosophical chrysalis that will break open eventually, and whatever mix of dismay and anxiety we're brewing right now will determine what emerges. We're deciding what America 2.0. will become. It's crucial that we rethink that mix to accentuate the positive, creative longings that lift us beyond our old ideas of who we are.

If our human condition requires us to define an enemy, then let's use our heads now and see this problem for what it is. We're in a struggle to break through institutional barriers represented by money and power. Capitalism has gone rogue, feeding on its host and bringing with it instabilities that threaten us all. We're being bullied by a narrowly defined plutarchy, with 70% of the nation's assets belonging to one percent of the population. Those few have no intention of giving up the power used to keep their coffers full. The Supreme Court just sent them a Valentine that will make them even stronger. Their lobbyists could run a small nation on their monthly budgets. The bankers are so confident they don't even talk a game of cooperation. Clearly, a 70/30 split doesn't give the majority of citizens much bargaining power and provides this nation no hope for sustainable balance, growth or opportunity. And -- oh snap! -- isn't this exactly the kind of problem Pluto in Capricorn would bring to our attention? Is it possible to relax just a little in the knowledge that we're glimpsing exactly what we need to see before we gather ourselves to move forward?

The harsh truth is that money moves the nation, and somebody else has most of it. So what to do next? We start with what we have. Let's begin, modestly enough, with the power of our own purse. Let's determine where our every penny goes, who it enables and how it might be better spent. Let's pull as much of our buying power from corporate hands as we can, supporting the little Mom/Pop Shops in our neighborhood, our local bank, grocer, business. Here's a staggering thought: let's quit relying on credit to keep our personal world spinning. As Jon Stewart recently pointed out, a $3,000 purchase, at minimum monthly payment, will cost us $11,000, and that's if fees and interest rates don't increase our balance. If we begin to consciously redirect our resources, we'll start to feel a growing sense of empowerment over our own daily affairs. Politics is personal, starting right there in our own wallet, because it's within our own life that every intention births itself, every social experiment finds its truth and real growth and awareness begin.

While these are baby steps, hardly a fix for what ails us, without trying solutions we remain stuck at the wall, waiting for something to happen. Blaming one another without opening our minds to reality is a waste of time and only proves the little possum right. We've given our power away for so long, we forget what taking it back looks like. For instance, if we're waiting for our government to correct itself without our participation, we'll be stuck for a long while. But what if a million of us decided not to buy at Wal-Mart today? They'd feel it. If two million went elsewhere, investing in local community instead, the power structure that drives us all would begin to notice and accommodate.

Each of us has some vision of what we want our lives to look like, what is valuable in our society and what America stands for. If that vision is hidden in our heart, we need to bring it out now and nurture it, promote it, invest in it. What can we lose? Now that we've taken a good look at this wall of stuck energy, it's time to unite around solutions and alternatives that can break its hold on us. That's the power of agreement, of collaboration, of the collective. When the collective gets big enough, Wal-Mart comes to the table with compromise.

Spring is a way off yet, but we know it will bring sunshine and warming breezes, chasing off winter gloom. Now, while the days are still short and the climate daunting, we have the opportunity to decide what our spring will look like. After months of cold, anticipation makes us eager for its arrival. That's the kind of emotional resonance and momentum that can cross any barrier, moving us with confident assurance toward what we want. Such a powerful, welcoming and heartfelt emotion is what's required to get us unstuck.

If we're to become the change that we believe in, we need to gather our courage, hold fast to our dreams and empower our choices. I don't believe that Pogo has to be right, even though he often has been. Humanity is a big tent, but surely our heart has grown big enough now to recognize a stunningly failed paradigm as no longer worthy of our compliance and support. As we withdraw both our approval and resistance from it, bombarding it with creative solutions and possibilities, it will begin to fold more quickly.

No matter what is happening outside of us, within us we're growing something extraordinary, based on powerful emotions and desires. When we let these out to take form in the world, our wall of stuck energy will disappear, like a shadow in the light. In the world of conscious manifestation, the sun shines from the inside out. When we finally get that, Shift will be right behind.

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