Let’s Reinvent America Ourselves!
Right now the nation’s focus is starting to move to the upcoming election. But framing for election work is tightly scripted by the Democratic Party. It still looks focused on a few safe leverage points vis-à-vis the Republican message. Even if the Democrats do go a little bit “bigger” before November 2, it probably won’t be enough to meet the public’s sense of anxiety and rage. Our country needs a much bolder and more inclusive vision than our gridlocked politics seem to permit right now.
Since the big new vision we hunger for won’t come via the regular political process, it needs to start with us, the progressive community. But it should arrive as a big tent idea with enough power to capture the general public’s imagination. If it takes that form, it will also be able to include the full range of solutions we and others might offer. And to get heard all across the land, that big tent of a new vision must also be something that a few words can evoke.
When President Obama started out in 2009, he talked about ‘building a foundation.’ He didn’t say it was ‘new,’ and he didn’t say what it was a foundation for either. Recently New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote about the need to ‘rebalance’ our economy. This is an investment portfolio metaphor that suggests it was balanced before, even though he cites Professor Robert Reich’s new book, Aftershock, for proof that it’s been getting more and more out of whack for the last 30 years. (1) “Rebuilding” has the same problem of suggesting we’re just going to build again what we already had. “Redeem” or “renew” imply either general blaming or just fixing up the old. None of those are good enough anymore.
That’s why I am suggesting that we use a phrase like ‘reinventing America” about what we want to see. It’s not just a figure of speech, because that’s exactly what we are going to have to do to fix every level of our society and economy. “Reinvent” is a classic example of speaking American — everyone in this country understands what reinventing is all about. It’s part of our ideal national identity to invent new things or completely reorganize something for a better future. The spirit of bottom up, thoroughgoing upheaval is something that is stirring everywhere in the land now. Because of it, even Republicans who don’t really want to reinvent anything are being upended by the Tea Party.
Of course, it’s vital to pretty quickly specify what we think a progressive reinvention would look like. “Reinventing” can mean anything by itself. But a lot of our own people have already been writing about reinventing America, whether they call it that or not, people whose names you will recognize the minute I say them. They just haven’t been grouping their efforts under the same big umbrella.
Some of my personal favorites along these lines are people like David Korten, who writes in Agenda for a New Economy about ways of developing resilient local economies and breaking the power of Wall Street.(2) Then there’s Andres Edwards’ new book, Thriving Beyond Sustainability, which is an indispensable encyclopedia of all the ways groups are creating vibrant, ecologically sustainable projects and businesses in the US and around the world.(3) Frances Moore Lappe’s recent books, Getting A Grip2 and Liberation Ecology, show us how to get the cobwebs out of our thinking about what we humans can do about reviving our democracy and our ecosystem. Her work forms another pole of the big tent I’d like to see.(4)
These are just a few of the many fine thinkers and organizers who are in fact talking about “reinventing America” in one way or another. As a group, we progressives can get beyond the so-called silo effect, where everyone is myopically focused on their own issue, strategy or tactic. We can do it without sacrificing a bit of energy or money for our own cause. All we have to do is be willing to say that each of us is part of the same big “reinventing America” project. That we are united by a common “big tent” vision—with a catchy American name.
Susan C. Strong is the founder and executive director of The Metaphor Project, metaphorproject.org, which helps progressives adapt the language of American political dialogue to mainstream their own messages. Visit our website for free message builders, tools, and resources. Get our monthly web essay in your inbox and follow us on Twitter, OpEdNews or the Daily Kos via our screen name: SusanCStrong.
(1) “A Recovery’s Long Odds,” The New York Times, 9.14.2010.
(2) Second Edition, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, CA, 2010.
(3) New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2010.
(4) Small Planet Media, Cambridge, MA.2010, and Small Planet Media, Cambridge, MA 2009.