11/05/2012 03:50 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Election Game vs. a Real Politics

As an unedifying election cycle draws to a close, I am sharing another excerpt from my forthcoming book, Return of the Light: A Political Fable in Which the American People Retake Their Country. A project to crowd-source funding for its publication expires tomorrow at midnight. For many of us, the election campaign ends none too soon. (The Kickstarter deadline, in contrast, is approaching too quickly.)

In the book, it is the night of the Winter Solstice in 2120. At one of thousands of community gatherings across the United States, a storyteller does the annual retelling of how, back in 2023, a decade-long movement culminated in the people taking over their own government, making it a means for mobilizing their collective power to promote peace, social justice, environmental responsibility, and a society hospitable to the needs of the human spirit. She first explains why they had to do so, surveying the effects of every area of public policy being dominated by corporate interests. Here the storyteller speaks about the two-party system.


People had a vague sense that many of the problems plaguing the old society may have had to do with the dominance of gigantic, powerful, for-profit enterprises over public life. But no one with the capacity to be heard widely connected the dots. And there were continual distractions: particularly, as I said, through blaming criminals, women on welfare, immigrants, or a relative handful of militant fighters against foreign domination of their countries, who happened to be Islamic and who used terrorism.

The best distraction, however, was the two-party system, which allowed the newspapers and broadcast media to quote politicians from one party as they blamed the other for the nation's ills. It also allowed people who were fed up with how things were going, after a few years of control by politicians affiliated with one party, to throw them out and try the other. People had short memories, hope seemed to spring eternal — at least among the half of the population that voted — and neither the press nor the schools pointed out the larger trends.

The parties did not even deserve the name. As we now know, and people in other parts of the world knew back then, a party can be a large organization composed of largely ordinary people who want the same things from the Collective Power and organize to get them. Here the parties were just groupings of the politicians and the professionals who worked with them. You could call yourself a Democrat or Republican, argue for whatever policy you wanted to argue for, and vote for and against whatever laws and programs you wanted to, and there was no group to whom you were accountable. There was no group at all: a few activists would volunteer in election campaigns, but the organizations were gone the day after the election.

People got whatever information they got through the public media and the candidates' advertising. It was mostly a big marketing campaign, no different from selling breakfast cereal (which, by the way, bore little resemblance to healthy food, either). And most of the money for all this came from the corporations and their wealthy executives and shareholders. Which explained why most politicians — whatever they said in their speeches and maybe even wanted to do in their hearts — ended up promoting or accepting policies that favored the rich.

This system was extremely clever, although in general no one sat down and thought it through. Politicians would engage in heated debates, newspapers would occasionally uncover abuses but treat them as isolated problems, and the system would be tinkered with all the time. But not much changed.

So they thought they had democracy, but they were ruled by others. The others might have arisen from within their midst, and there were regular elections, but no one had even thought of organizing things as we do now. Now, as you know, we see our Collective Power as just that: how we organize ourselves to take care of things that we could not take care of as individuals and families. In the past, people who understood the sources of the skewing of resources towards war, continuing the depletion and rape of the natural environment even after the problems were recognized, and all the other issues I have mentioned, constantly tried to organize themselves and others to put pressure on what was then called "the government" to make the laws and policies that were more in the peoples' interest.

Now, of course, unless you are one of the unfortunate souls trying to find a way to satisfy the kind of greed that was dominant in the past, there is no one to fight, no one to pressure, for the Collective Power is us. And we are committed to mobilizing our social resources in ways that eliminate unnecessary fear, want, and stress; that provide the best conditions for meaningful and creative lives; that give us the leisure to connect with each other and with the natural world and whatever our experience of Spirit is; that allow us, as some of the native people used to say, to walk in beauty and balance.