The Politics of Empowerment

09/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I am Ohio's Secretary of State and I am running to become a U.S. Senator. I am seeking this office at a time of particular challenge and opportunity for our nation. I believe that we are at a crossroads for our country and our political party organizations, compelled to choose between perpetuating the politics of power -- which has divided us and exacerbated our problems -- or committing ourselves to a new politics of empowerment. I am publishing this blog post just before traveling to Pittsburgh for the opening day of Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of progressive activists and bloggers now in its fourth year, which I see as an important event for furthering what I mean by the politics of empowerment.

We have traversed new territory with the Democratic Party's nomination and the voters' election of Barack Obama as our 44th President. He touched us in ways not before experienced, and we stepped up in ways that would have made President Kennedy proud. We yearned for change, having been deprived of some of the most basic elements of civility and decency under the Bush regime, and we worked together for change in an historic and inspiring election.

Some supported Obama out of loyalty to the Democratic Party. Others joined the cause inspired by a man who is truly remarkable and has transcended the differences that had previously separated and diminished us. Others were inspired by the youth in our country who knew instinctively that this was someone they could trust and believe. None of us was left untouched by the profound changes that his candidacy, and now his presidency, have impressed upon our country and the world.

As a country, we made our decision based on hope. Hope reflects what is essentially the American soul -- the American dream. We chose a president with improbable roots, singular self-awareness, and extraordinary empathy. Our new president has figured out who he is and what he needs to do on the mission with which he has been charged by the American people. What the election of President Barack Obama has demonstrated is a new type of politics -- the politics of empowerment -- which prevailed over the politics of power.

We have learned that politics for the sake of power may produce short-term euphoria and political gains, but it results in a "crash and burn" that leaves behind long term suffering. Take the example of the 2004 presidential election, when right wing activists across the country (and from my experience, in Ohio) placed before the voters in many states ballot measures designed to prevent the recognition of same-sex marriage.

The real goal of the conservative activists was to incite record numbers of Christian and evangelical conservative voters to show up at the polls, ensuring a victory for President Bush. In 2004 the politics of power prevailed, and many have suffered as a result. We continue to sort through the debris from the disastrous policies enabled by that election -- equality denied on irrational bases, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, record numbers of jobless Americans, rampant home foreclosures, securitized debt so tangled it can only be bought by the government at a loss, skyrocketing health care costs, and gas guzzling vehicles that suck the lifeblood from self-sustainable energy in America.

The politics of empowerment became the antidote in 2008, bringing out record numbers of young voters who recognized the responsibility and the opportunity that lay before them. They not only showed up to vote, they also toiled to ensure all had the right to vote, because they believed that if democracy prevailed, so would the American dream.

I understand and believe in the politics of empowerment, because I have lived it. I fought for it in 2008, knowing that I could not let down even one Ohio voter, who simply wanted to vote on who would be our next president at a time when it mattered to each of us and to the world. I encountered death threats that resulted from irresponsible and partisan claims of rampant voter fraud, claims that whipped up hysteria among reactionary factions of the populace but proved to be baseless when fully investigated. They had been made in a deliberate effort to preserve power through fear and intimidation, instead of sanctifying it through free choice and human dignity. I see the same dynamic in what is happening now in town hall meetings on health care. The politics of fear relies on disruption and intimidation, while the politics of empowerment allows for the free exchange of ideas in a cooperative and collaborative environment. The latter approach promotes positive change in the health care system, because fundamentally the majority of Americans recognize that such reform is needed.

Fighting for the dignity of humanity that is in each of us is at the core of the politics of empowerment. It is exercised by protecting the right of every eligible person to vote with fairness, equality and respect. With community organizers in nearly every county of Ohio in last year's presidential election, the supporters of Barack Obama, as Michelle Obama put it, "got it." They worked tirelessly, not always uncritical of even my efforts. But the American people "got it" as well, and the essential elements of what is best in the American character prevailed as state after state in an orderly fashion made known its preference for a new kind of power in the presidency of our beloved, unique nation.

The politics of empowerment is as simple as crafting policies that promote desire over fear. People are empowered by desire -- their hopes, their imagination, their dreams. They are crushed by fear.

The politics of power thrives on fear, on authority, on desecration of the elements of the human soul that innately make us free. It is time for the Democratic Party to move forward and to honor desire over fear and to promote a new kind of fairness that rests in confidence and opportunity. It is time for the better part of human nature to prevail, so that power is not the end but the means. This will take courage, and I believe that the Democratic Party can demonstrate this kind of courage by championing, and demonstrating in its own actions, the causes of fairness, equality and respect.

The real change we have longed for is at our fingertips if we gently but resolutely take hold and go forward with the type of decision-making -- the politics of empowerment, rooted in desire and not fear -- that enables us to be together what we could not dream of being on our own.

Because of the severity of our circumstances, we stand at that crossroads. We must see clearly that change is upon us, and it begins with each of us now. We have the opportunity to nominate and elect leaders of our parties, our communities and our country who will embody this new politics of empowerment for the safety, security and long-term well being of ourselves, our families and our children. If we choose to do this, we will demonstrate the greatness of America that is our heritage and our spirit, propelling it for generations to come. I believe we can do this, and I want the chance to help make it happen. I look forward to meeting with passionate progressives at Netroots Nation today who share this vision for our country.