I fundamentally disagree.
There is another, equally important part of the political process that has the potential to engage and involve every single person in my generation: Knowledge may be power, but message is powerful. A message is the set of words that articulate a feeling, a desire, a need, a principle, and a demand. A good message is one that spreads. A great message is the one that millions of people, all across the country, are saying at the same time. The best message is the one that becomes a part of our culture, and makes things happen. Message, not just policy, is the key to politics.
Don’t get it twisted – civic education is an important part of my day to day job. Its absolutely necessary that we understand the system in which we live, especially since EVERYTHING IS POLITICAL – where we live, what we eat, what we get paid, even our music. But the average person has such limited time to be engaged at a high level in the political process that they stay silent, thinking that they’d rather not talk about something they know so little about. And if they’re not comfortable enough to talk about the process, do you think they’ll actually get out and do the hardcore work (signing petitions, lobbying their elected officials, organizing at alocal level) to impact the process? Probably not, because message inspires action.
So message is the first, most important step in getting folks involved AND representing people and their interests to the government and mainstream media in a true, honest, and effective way. Talk may be cheap, but an effective message, is priceless and ultimately, message makes the world go round. Here are a few recent examples:
- Messages elect governments. Barack Obama didn’t sell us policy. He sold us the idea that America needed “change” and that young people were an important voting block. And not only did that message get him elected (and a record turnout from our generation), it got many other people at lower levels of government elected as well.
- Messages start wars. All the Bush Administration had to do was tell us that we should be afraid, that we were unprotected targets, and that force is the best way to combat “evil”. We bought the message that saidnational security was our most important concern (despite crippling domestic poverty, a crumbling health care system, children who are getting shot and killed in our neighborhoods), and the rest is Iraq war history.
- Messages hurt communities. Do you think that the people who support the so-called war on drugs have ever themselves had a loved one struggling with addiction? Or lived in a community where drugs was a primary economy as a result of a failing education system and bottomed out job market? Probably not. But they bought the message that the way to solve our drug crisis is to lock up poor black and Latino kids for life. We know how that turned out.
- Messages make policy. Once the Bush Administration got us to believe their message of fear and protection, they used our “support” to tap phone lines, take our troops into an ill conceived war, spend billions of dollars and all other sorts of criminal acts. President Obama is counting on the same thing. Because we bought his message of dramatic change during the election, he was able to close Guantanamo, sign an equal pay for women act, and pass the biggest recovery package in American history, all before most of us knew what was going on. He didn’t need us to take action and make noise about every single decision – he (and Congress) simply made the priorities match the message.
Unfortunately, as communities underrepresented in the political process, we’re losing the battle. Our generation, able to text, tweet, and spit verses so lyrical it makes your head spin, has the potential to be the king- and queen- pins of messaging and unify our voices. But no one’s stepping up to do that work and start the national conversation. There are no PR firms and communications directors for the average American. But I can do my part.
Remember the 150 page budget I talked about earlier? You don’t need you to read it word for word, but you can’t be silent on it either. We need you be calling your senators, and talking to your city council, and sending emails to your school board, and calling into your radio stations, and blogging, and chatting in the barbershop repeating the messages that represent us: “The money needs to get directed to the communities that need it the most “ and “Its time to finally invest in education, health care, and the things that will impact our future, no matter what the cost” and “Big companies got a bailout. Where’s mine?” and “We’re not in this mess because poor people bought houses they couldn’t afford. We’re in this mess because the economic policies of this country protected the interests of greedy rich people.” and so on.
My purpose is to speak those messages of political empowerment to my people (and no I’m not going to define “my people” – ya’ll know who you are) and speak the messages about my people that make everyone else listen, take notice, and give respect.
There’s a battle going on in this nation over our present and our future that we cannot afford to lose. So let’s get the message right.