By Jerilyn Bowen (Originally publishd on the Adelande Pregessive Caucus web blog)
I don’t need to tell you that the future of our country hangs in the balance. What we do as progressives in the Democratic Party could make all the difference about which way it goes, not only for America but also for the planet. We are challenged to bring the party back to its seminal role as a local, state, and national force that is willing to fight the good fight that must be fought to create a just and livable society.
A crucial part of that challenge is finding a way to convey our progressive message to the wide sweep of voters out there who are looking for something to believe in amid all the misleading and manipulative messaging that pollutes the public square. This means expressing our core values in down home, deeply felt words. We need to shape a narrative that cuts through the political noise to what resonates with the lived experience of our American family. We must meld what reason tells us into what our hearts know in such a way as to speak directly to our compatriots.
In other words, it’s up to us to win the trust of those who will decide which way upcoming elections go, and to do that in good faith.
In a recent PBS show, documentarian Ken Burns observed that “the best arguments in the world won’t change a single mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” He went on to add, “In really difficult times when the tapestry has frayed, it’s important to remember that we share some common stories.”
If he’s right–and I feel he is–what is the authentic, all-embracing story we want to tell ?
My own part of the story is rooted in the history of my people, a history that includes my paternal grandparents being wiped out by the Dust Bowl, barely surviving the Great Depression, moving to New Mexico to prospect for gold in the Ortiz Mountains (where they found none to speak of), building houses to sell in Albuquerque and making modest real estate investments by virtue of which they were able to attain middle class prosperity in late middle age. Long before that happy outcome my father was the first in his family to go to college. As he worked his way through UNM to become of all things a physicist, he owned only one pair of shabby shoes to wear everywhere, even to church–high top black and white basketball sneakers. He could I suppose be held up as a poster child of the American dream come true. However, given the hidden legacy of his and other family sagas, I can’t help but have a strong sense of what it’s like to be down under in a culture that above all else values people in terms of financial status
Growing up, even though they never talked about it, I felt that my family carried the weight of the shame they’d experienced during the Depression and for a long time afterwards. Perhaps the hardest thing to bear about being a “loser” in America is feeling shamed by one’s failure to manifest a better destiny. As the 1% continue to rig the system at the expense of everyone else, more and more of us fall into desperate straits and see ourselves as losers. So I feel that our progressive narrative needs to unshame the shamed and empower all of us to reclaim our birthright as human beings. It needs to put forth a new American dream that is less about individual success in an all pervasive competition that pits us against one another and more about living in supportive community, sharing resources, and honoring the worth and dignity of every person. Along with that, it needs to identify the source of what ails us, as Bernie so ably did by talking about how our economic system works against the 99% to further enrich the billionaire class who control the levers of power.
To make our story work in the media world, it needs also to be condensable into a few galvanizing words that encapsulate its essence and invoke its scope. This usually goes by the unfortunate name “branding,” which implies using commercial advertising techniques to sell a product. We are called to do better than that. We are called to put on our poet hats and come up with pithy, powerful slogans that are grounded in human truth and a passion for justice. I think of well worn lines like “people before profits” and “we shall overcome.” Off the top of my head, this comes to me: “Awake and aware, together we take back our world.” But that has too many words in it. Perhaps “Make America Ours Again” would do better ~ ?
Can you think of a succinct motivating line that befits this critical juncture?
In closing, I invite you to share your thoughts about what our common story is and how we can most effectively convey it. To join the conversation, take this link to the Adelante blog.