Also published in The Patch.
Andrea Morisette Grazzini, August 2011
Earlier this summer Bill Moyers illuminated for me a critical relationship between civic leaders and citizens. He was speaking at the home of Minneapolis attorney Clayton D. Halunen at a discussion on Ranked Choice Voting.
Amid divergent interpretations of the US Constitution, I wondered if we should consider the document’s less disputed introductory statement. I’d barely finished asking when Moyers’ reaction, captured in this video, crystallized a pivotal point.
The preamble to the Constitution “says the only way to survive in a civilization is for people to collaborate,” Moyers said. His clarity penetrated an ironic dissonance I’ve struggled with. That over-politicized leaders from all sides have been filibustering the bigger solution.
“Most powerful” political literature
The phrase, which begins: “We the People of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union,” says Moyers, is “the most powerful statement in the history of political literature.”
I’ve been pondering what the former PBS journalist (whose new Moyers & Company will air in 2012) means.
People, collaboration, union. All are essential for deliberation and decision in our democracy. Without difference, there’s no debate. Without debate, no need for representative parties. No cross-party collaboration, no democracy. Without democracy the US-style civilization we’ve sought since our founding ceases to exist.
It makes sense. But it’s not simple.
As evidenced by how blurred rhetoric and national realities like the recession have decelerated US success. Toxic doses of ideologies have sliced an inter-continental divide between connective common ground and separatist self-interests. Drawing and quartering our nation in endless directions from North to South, Atlantic to Pacific.
Increasingly disparate streams of strategy—some well intended, others not-so-much—barrel headlong in separate directions. We’ve near drowned the very voice our founders spoke and meant to serve as the orienting source of our democracy.
They would be appalled to see terms like “individual” and “citizen” semantically pillaged and ripped apart from “union” and “we.” By all three branches of the checks and balances government they designed, no less.
Including both congress and the judiciary charged with defending the non-partisan constitution for all “We the People.” A troubling example is Citizens United. Which anoints corporations, among them many in economic bed with global competitors, the uniquely individual rights of “real” citizens even as it manipulates citizens voices and votes.
As if multi-national companies were individual Americans, which they are not.
Giving the Finger to Founding Fathers?
It almost seems like these leaders are giving the finger to our Founders. With flawed logic asserting that corporate behemoths’ unaccounted for payments for political campaigns could ever “Unite” a country shaken from its roots and critically damaged by corporate and political corruption.
Instead of being empowered by reason and responsibility, Americans are victims of something like self-inflicted organized crime. Our country’s core character is being violated by the very powers meant to hold it together, including the power of individual people.
But buried beneath the chaos and chasms still lays the structural axis of America’s civilization. The center-most place politicians, public institutions and people could converge. This is the crossroads from which America originates and also to where American’s paths must be oriented. Where our civic journey was meant to begin and the end which our means should be directed.
This, I suggest, is where the heart of America (over-claimed as it is) exists. And where Moyers thinks we should focus. “Politics,” he notes, “is about trying to create and keep stable civilization.”
Why, I imagine, Moyers punctuated his point with this poetic, profound, coda: “Civilization is but a thin veneer of civility stretched across the passions of the heart of humanity. And it can rip anytime.”
We are Our Civilization.
I’d add every American possesses passions that can help either tear apart or stitch together our country.
To direct our energies to the latter, we must accept our equal capacities for humanness. Ever alert to fragile dynamics that pull us together one moment, the next apart. But also knowing security, stability and survival isn’t achieved by picking away at differences, but rather by putting together intersecting energies.
Interdependence, then, is how the American civilization Moyers speaks of can be strengthened. Like the hearts beating in our chests, our country cannot function without millions of diverse, interwoven, responsive and in-synch connections.
If we seek the well being of our civilization beyond our partisan passions, we can go beyond surviving each other. We can thrive as different but complementary individuals organized around serving as co-producers of our communities, culture and country.
By accepting our “where-we’re-at” leadership as stakeholders and stewards equally as much as citizens served by our government. Co-construing our core purposes and principles by directing leaders to them in our election choices. But, more critically: co-achieving our civic solutions through active, ongoing non-polarized engagement.
By connecting in spite and even in conjunction with all of our differences to reanimate all parts of our one civil heart. Together turning the tables to divide the forces that undermine our rights to be interdependent co-collaborators in our democracy.
By seeing ourselves as Moyer’s describes us We the People: “Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Liberals, Socialists and others,” he says, are “Rich and poor. We the People are white, black, yellow, brown. We the People: Male, female.” Moyers means we are every person from the apolitical to the elected.
Its time all who possess a beating heart get theirs pumping in synch with all others who share the same US Constitution.
By serving together in collaboration with and for our Union as —
We: United. We as People.
Andrea Morisette Grazzini is a leadership innovations consultant and participatory researcher. She founded the cross-partisan initiative DynamicShift in 2009. Her work has influenced numerous regional and national conversations on co-productive change. Including online forums at TEDTalks.