This is a transcript of Max Strom’s speech during the Vote Your Heart DC event on October 21,2012
Each and every time you watch the news you can always find many reasons to become angry. From basic lack of kindness, to fanaticism, to complete brutality, the news can break a person’s heart. Additionally, when we see our government barely functioning at all, when what we truly need is emergency level action, it is difficult not to react with great negativity.
It could be argued that we are demonstrating to the world the failure of Democracy, whereas we used to be the beacon on the hill. Because of this we could potentially, with justifiable reasons, be perpetually enraged, every day, every hour, every minute.
In response to our own anger, many people completely and utterly lose hope in our leaders to solve any of our problems, and even make the soul-killing choice to numb themselves to what is going on in the world, and choose, understandably, not to vote.
Others use their rage to propel themselves into activism. But it is an anger-driven activism. History teaches us that angry activism is only one step away from violent activism, and violent activism usually replicates the original problem such as the sad phenomena of peace demonstrations that erupt into war-like riots. Violence is not our way to peace, justice, and wisdom.
So what can a kind and thinking person do? Rage in the streets? Or hide our head in the sand?Democracy is a demanding form of government. It doesn’t just ask us to vote, it demands much more than that from us. Voting is only the beginning. Looking back at history, it is naive of us to expect that we only need elect seemingly good men and women of honor and wisdom, and then go about our business and leave them to fix things. That is what many in power expect from us. In fact, they are counting on it. They don’t want us to pay attention.
We must shake ourselves awake and remember in this presidential election that we are not electing a king.
Over the past six years, I have traveled a great deal as a teacher and speaker. I have visited countries that are ruled by Kings, where no one votes. I have visited countries that are ruled by totalitarian regimes, where if I made a speech like this one, tomorrow a car would show up at my door and I would never be seen again. Here it is different. We have some rights, but democracy is ever-demanding, it demands that we elect our representatives, and then it demands that we supervise them and ensure that they perform their duties with integrity, for the greater good, and with future generations in their sights.
An example of this is the Great Law of the Iroquois Nation, who required that their leaders make decisions looking seven generations ahead (a couple hundred years into the future) and then decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit the future generations. This worked very well for them as they ultimately achieved 500 years of peace, a peace that ended only by foreign invaders with superior war technology.
The grand scale of our current problems demands that we not wait for our leaders to solve them on their own, but that we constantly communicate to them what must be done. Voting is only the beginning. The term “democracy” derives from the Greek “demokratia”, meaning “the will of the people.” We shall use our will to guide our leaders to right action – to realign a misaligned nation from the grass roots up.
The civil rights victory in the 60’s happened because the American people insisted on it. The Vietnam War ended because the American people insisted that it end. Women’s Rights came about because we the people pressed our government to manifest justice. Now, in our time, we must vote and then get to work to make certain that our elected leaders take action for the short term, medium term and long term for our nation and the planet.
But the way we influence must be with the same integrity that we demand of our leaders. Our wisdom does not guide us to become angry and sarcastic, but rather activists worthy of listening to. To influence in a peaceful, yet courageous way, with integrity. We need only to look back to past leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King as examples. When the world witnessed these movements, they couldn’t help but be impressed with the discipline and peacefulness of the demonstrators. People coming together with common cause have great power.
Today, the Tea Party is an example of a new party without actual candidates that has influenced the government. Agree or not with their platform, they have influenced this government.
The Occupy movement has been less effective. Agree or not with their essential messages, I believe there are two essential flaws in this movement:
One, the camping out of the demonstrators has created unintended negative consequences and attracted some people whose unsavory actions are not above criticism. Camping out is not the ideal method for true impact as it brings into question the true intention of the campers. There is a better tactic that we can study if at some point in the future we come to need to make quick and massive change peacefully. Take, for example, the recent Orange Revolution that took place in the Ukraine from late November 2004 to January 2005. In short, the presidential election was compromised by corruption and electoral fraud. Protesters dressed in orange (their national color), surrounded Kiev (the nation’s capital), and demonstrated nonstop for nearly eight weeks. Hundreds of thousands of people. 24 hours a day. They did not camp out, instead they took shifts replacing each other with friends via text messages. Eventually the sitting president was removed from power and the rightfully elected president took his place. In my opinion, this was one of the most important democratic events in world history, and especially in the last fifty years. This is a real-life example of a peaceful revolution that succeeded. It is a model of what can be done on a large scale if driven by ethical principles and behavior.
The second essential flaw in the occupy movement: If you look at photos of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, you will not see drum circles, or face paint, or zombie costumes. You will see images of impassioned, yet disciplined citizens wearing their Sunday best. This made a distinct impression that clearly communicated we are citizens for justice and equal rights. We are not a mob. We are not the fringe. We are the American people.
Our path is not activism motivated by rage, but by wisdom, inclusion, and even love. Any change we desire in the world must be taught by example first, and by words second. Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King have all shown us how to take action from outside the system and in a noble and peaceful manner. The method has been laid out well.
I recommend that we vote as a matter of course. Millions of good people died for that right. Of course we will vote. And then our real work begins. Democracy is inconvenient and demanding. Our President, whoever he may be, and our Congressional representatives will be hearing from us. Next year they may even witness the birth of a third party. One that believes in facts, in math, that listens to the warnings of scientists. And most of all one who listens to those that have come before us such as Martin Luther King who reminded us to love our enemies, and to John F. Kennedy, who called on us to ask ourselves, what we can do for our country.
I will conclude with this quote by President Theodor Roosevelt, from 1910:
“The history of America is now the central feature of the history of the world; for the world has set its face hopefully toward our democracy; and, my fellow citizens, each one of you carries on your shoulders not only the burden of doing well for the sake of your own country, but the burden of doing well and of seeing that this nation does well for the sake of mankind.”