In the beginning, there were 13. Now there are hundreds of millions. American colonies, that is.
The original 13 declared their independence. More than 230 years later, it remains an open question when or even whether the new colonies will declare theirs.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste, as the famous ad slogan tells us. It also seems a terrifyingly easy thing to colonize. Some can be quickly entertained into a stupor. More than a few are easily driven to distraction by busy work or the gazillionth commercial for that-thing-you-simply-cannot-do-without. Countless others are slowly but surely propagandized into a robotic trance. Democracy requires us to think, and a thousand things are perpetually dangled in front of us that are easier or more fun or more lucrative.
When citizenship calls, more often than not there's no one home in the colonies. Poll after poll after poll after poll showed most of us wanted nothing to do with bailing out Wall Street and the banks and the auto industry. Our own elected representatives bailed 'em out anyway. The colonies mustered no resistance. Poll after poll after poll after frickin' poll showed most of us wanted a public insurance option in our health care system. Those who purportedly represent us in Congress ignored our wishes, took the public option off the table early on in the discussions and never allowed it to be seriously considered. They had millions of reasons. There was no revolt in the colonies.
We offer up our best defense. We're too busy making a living. (But not too busy to spend over 150 hours a month watching television.) Life's too this and too that. Politicians are too this and too that. The system's too this and too that. Without coming right out and admitting it, what we're saying is that there's no room on our plate for democracy.
The popular diagnosis of what ails us is apathy. I don't see it. I see plenty of people who care and who despair over what is happening in this country. I see no lack of passion. What I see is powerlessness, which is a totally different animal than apathy. Apathy is when you don't care. With powerlessness, you can care deeply about something but remain convinced there's not a damn thing you can do about it. I see and hear a lot of that.
This colonized state of mind is a curious thing, especially here in Wisconsin of all places. We have to ignore our own history to think the way we do. We live in a place where our ancestors faced social and political challenges a century and some years ago that parallel in so many ways those we encounter today.
As they struggled, they had so much less going for them than we do. Far less education. Way less money. None of our modern means of communication. Yet they rose up against the same kind of unbridled corporate power and corrupt politics that have visited us again. And they beat them. And in so doing, they gave us a great inheritance. They made this special place, known from coast to coast for the better part of a century as a beacon of clean, open and honest government.
We have managed to squander much of our inheritance. But what is done is done. We now have a choice to make. We can let this be the final chapter in our story, or we can write a new one. To those who say it can't be done, I say this: It already has been done. We don't have to make history. We only need to repeat it.
We face nothing today that hasn't been faced and conquered before, right on the very soil we stand on. Nothing, with the possible exception of thoroughly colonized minds.