The other two Americas

Sam Smith – ­­­­While we’re increasingly aware of the two Americas representing the Trumpistas and those still trying to preserve a democratic republic, there is another split in our country which I have often noticed in the past but not to the degree apparent these days.

As a journalist I have covered both national and local stories and have been long struck by the difference between Americans living in a national world and those in a primarily local one. But these days the split seems even more dramatic as the national America has assumed much greater control over our lives. This is not just a political phenomenon; it reflects the increasing power and corruption of corporations, national media, public relations and even well meaning non-profits becoming more dependent on major sources of money.

Today, participatory democracy, decency and fairness are primarily a local phenomenon, which is one of the reasons I have tried to stay involved in it, such as now living happily in a Maine town of 8000 and voting early for the reelection of the pleasant Governor Janet Mills over Paul LePage, a rare repulsive Maine politician.

I know this difference is not to be found in every state but there are few national figures who follow a path as fair, honest and friendly as I find in mine. And I also increasingly have the feeling that I am experiencing fading aspects of our culture at every level.

One way to deal with this phenomenon is to follow a pattern used in the past that successfully changed America for the better: namely focusing on local action on behalf of a better America. We tend to ignore the fact that successful movements including labor unions, civil rights, and conservation land trusts got their start down some street. There has been far more positive change coming from local action than we talk or think about.

How could we make decent, local America more significant today? After accepting its importance, there are a lot things we could do. Here are just a few examples:

   – Make learning about civics, cooperation, equity and fairness more important in school curricula.  A well working community depends heavily on how its citizens have been educated and there is no reason to make learning chemistry more important than learning democracy.

·      – Bring churches, schools and other public institution into discussions of action on non-partisan but important issues such as poverty, social equity, fair planning and so forth. I still remember attending sessions on key issues in DC during the 1960s in church facilities that served as hosts without playing a controversial role.  It offered an alternative  way to deal with issues the local media tended to ignore.

·      – Make housing and business cooperatives more prominent as an alternative to corrupt capitalism. There are over 60,000 cooperatives in America but you hardly hear anything  about them.

·     –  Make class issues important. Democrats used to do a good job of representing working class Americans, but as they have become wealthier and better educated as well as more involved in ethnic issues they have often deserted this constituency.

·   – Make issues as important as identity. One of the big problems with over-emphasizing identity politics is numbers. Coalitions have the numbers that produce change. Bring together groups like unions, women, and ethnic minorities in a progressive coalition and find what they have in common and can work together on.

Remember, that when things go national they also go institutional and institutional behavior is increasingly distant from  true human beings and their culture. Let’s use our neighborhoods, towns and states to rediscover what real people can do when they come together.