Power, Political Will and the New Movement for Democracy

“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”
– James Madison

Power motivates and constipates, elevates and eviscerates. Where do you stand?

“You can’t stop a movement.”
– Johnny 5 of The Flobots

Now is the time to recognize that not all Americans on the left are being ripped apart, excused or held back by a so-called “enthusiasm gap.” For over 300 people meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, this past weekend, the worst of the gap is nothing more than a couple of centimeters between the ledge we stand on and the rest of the short climb to the mountain top – and that’s only if we choose to line up behind this media driven division.

Some may allow themselves to linger, to indulge in the lazy luxury of voter vertigo that can make even the tiniest of spaces look like an intraversable gorge – but that’s not how futures are built, how ships are guided or how countries thrive.

When the six-month-old Coffee Party Movement held its first ever national convention on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, two blocks from the museum dedicated to favorite son Muhammad Ali, it was not to bemoan the gap but to celebrate the fight for our country’s return to its founding democratic principles. It was, in deference to the famous pugilist, a gathering of the greatest… and some famous people too.

Indeed, the fight-card was set by young Rebecca Baird, a recent college graduate and one of the event organizers, who exhorted those gathered for Friday’s opening session to “roll up our sleeves and make it happen,” and literally pulled the sleeves of her sweater up her small arms and curled her fists over her shoulders, making a pair of strong-man muscles. “Doing what’s hard is what’s good and right,” she said. “Whether it’s a mental or a physical challenge, you’re going to come out stronger from it.”

Then switch to the sixty-six year old Francis Moore Lappé, author of the seminal Seventies classic, “Diet for a Small Planet,” and founder, with her daughter Anna, of The Small Planet Institute, who similarly curled her arms, saying, “This feels really good,” and reminded all of us just how powerful we are. “We see power as what we create, moment to moment,” she said.

Lt. Dan Choi brought the crowd to its feet with his version of Jesse Jackson’s famous “I am somebody” mantra. Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig got us to believe that the Fair Elections Now Act (which just came out of committee in the House) is what everyone wants, regardless of what your beverage of choice happens to be.

Seattle activist Bill Moyer (not the similarly named journalist), founder of Backbone Campaign – as in “get one, fellow progressives” – talked about the inherent contagiousness of “celebrating progressive values,” and quoted the late, great Sixties activist Abbie Hoffman, who told him to “be the 800 pound gorilla.”

Bill Moyer, of the Backbone Campaign, leads a course on Creative Actions, at the first Coffee Party Convention in Louisville, KY, Friday, September 24, 2010 (Rebecca Baird)

Even centrist Republican strategist, Mark McKinnon, told the group that “something is happening in America..we’ve got a real opportunity to change the system.”

“The time is ripe,” he said, and quoted James Madison, who said, in 1897, “The people are the fountain of all power.”

“The revolt is widespread,” McKinnon added, “From the left and the right, citizens recognize that democracy does not work when the power of the people is perverted.”

The power of political will, when it comes to moving the country forward cannot be taken for granted. “You can’t stop,” as singer Johnny 5 of the Flobots called out to the audience who had come to hear his conscious rap, “a movement.”

The next thing I will post, is how and why the policy experts at the Coffee Party Convention say Fair Elections is the best way we can change the tenor of the conversation in Washington, DC.
Video from the Coffee Party Convention are available through U-stream.

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