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Sunday, July 09, 2017

Maybe it was the Fourth of July that created the climate ... .

... or the questions that come up in the Q&A following my talks, but for whatever reason I'm bringing those conversations home at the end of the day, and lingering over them for hours into the night.

My audiences are visibly depressed and are looking for a reason to hope at a time when our nation appears to have lost its way ... or, found new pathways forward in which at least half the country is faltering -- too unsure to trust our institutions for guidance more than for a few hours at a time, or until the next newscast.

Whether by intent or by accident, unlike those audiences, I find myself more hopeful than the headlines might justify.  It's hard to explain, but let me try:

The Revolutionary War of 1776 brought into being our "One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (some?), and pressed this young country forward into what has become cyclical periods of chaos.  Democracy is not static, but dynamic.  My 95 years have provided enough time to enable me to look back and see the patterns.  I'm now seeing such periods as the times when our democracy is being re-defined; when we're making necessary adjustments in our collective decisions and institutions that will give us a way forward.  It's at such times as these that the reset buttons are revealed, and another round of "the work" can begin.  These are the times of the greatest chance to take whatever steps we must "... in order to form that more perfect Union." Time to "... promote the general welfare". These opportunities rarely occur in times of calm and serenity, if such have ever existed.  These cycles of change are invariably dramatic and fraught with risk.

We're in another of those chaotic periods now, and it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work building the next platform upon which a new generation of Americans will stand to continue this grand experiment.  Maybe the greatest threat to our governance is the fact that only 17% of those between 18 and 24 turned up to participate in our last election -- when we elected a president with a bit more than 25% of those voting.  Fifty one percent of that vote came from those over 51, presenting an imbalance in governance tilted toward yesterday rather than tomorrow.

This country started out with those long-revered and imperfect slave-owning Old Dead White Men who probably did the best they could in establishing our Democracy.  From where I find myself these days -- Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, the Adamses, Madison, Franklin, Paine, et al, --  created out of their chaos of 1776 -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution with its durable Bill of Rights that founded this nation-- and given the systemic limitations that gave birth to some fatal flaws -- that brilliant work was probably the best we could get out of the bold leadership of their day.  We're still trying to overcome the contradictions embedded in them, but at least two important questions were answered by the last administration.  Never again will we ask if a woman would ever be allowed to run for the highest office in the land, or, if an African American is capable of being President of this country and Leader of the Free World.  Those discussions are over for all time.  In less than 7 years, a generation of children who lived through the Obama administration and know no other will become voters.  The changes we've been working toward and waiting for have already taken place.

Ever since 1776, each generation has had the responsibility of re-creating the Democracy in its time.  A tall order, that, but necessary if our system of participatory governance is to survive in our day.  We cannot continue to sustain ourselves with a 40% turnout in general elections.  Whether we explain that to ourselves as the result of voter apathy or voter suppression, the result is the same; loss of control of our institutions, and the resulting concentration of power within a chosen few of the privileged. That is  antithetical to the intent so eloquently spelled out in our founding documents.

The Great Experiment is on-going.  Democracy will never stay fixed.  Fortunately for us, there was enough resilience built into the system by those imperfect men that the adjustments needed in light of an ever-changing nation are and have been achieved, but only the dynamism emanating from a passionate and caring electorate will sustain us.

Ultimately, it all depends upon We, the People, and we, too, are imperfect.

I see citizen involvement rising daily among the current electorate with the help of unprecedented access to information, a proven and dependable body of media despite the sensationalists, and many ethical and caring State and National representatives peopling our Halls of Congress. Technological advances are light years beyond where the fertile imaginations of those courageous Fathers of our Country might have taken them.   They could hardly have imagined a nation where their ideas would forever influence a world still yearning to be free in this, the 21st Century.

Why on earth would one not be hopeful?

We need only to look to the upward spiral that defines America to see, albeit dimly, the next steps in our most recent cycle of creative chaos!

This is who we are.


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