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Reclaiming America Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

21st Century American Revolution, Part 2 of a 3-part series
By Michael Hasty
Online Journal Columnist

Dec 4, 2004, 16:57

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An underappreciated aspect of America�s founding generation is that they experimented with other forms of government -- colonial legislatures, the Continental Congress, and the Articles of Confederation -- before they settled on the constitutional system that still governs us today. A 21st century American Revolution will require that we also experiment with governance. And if progressives want the public to trust that we can govern this nation, we first have to demonstrate that we can govern ourselves.

Compare the independence -- political, economic and social -- of the first generation of Americans, in the late 18th century, with that of the current generation, and you get a disturbing view of just how much independence Americans have truly lost in two centuries.

The movement for political independence in 1776 was based on the economic independence of the average revolutionary -- the white male property owner. Ninety percent of the enfranchised electorate, in the first election after the Constitution was adopted, were independent, self-employed farmers, tradesmen and merchants.

It was assumed, at least until the Civil War, that the American Dream meant that most workers would only work for somebody else until they built up enough capital to start their own business. Alexis de Tocqueville recorded in 1830 that most Americans assumed that the nation�s pioneering political equality would eventually lead to economic equality, and a more equal distribution of wealth.

As we know, it hasn�t quite worked out that way. The disparity between rich and poor in America is greater than in any other industrialized nation.

In my last column, the first in this 3-part series, I proposed that -- because of his theft of two elections and his various crimes against humanity -- the regime of George W. Bush should not be accepted as the legitimate American government. Bush has replaced the traditional American republican government with a system of imperial fascism. And the only appropriate response to this usurpation of American democracy is principled resistance and nonviolent revolution.

I then proposed that we could visualize this revolution by following a formula used in most creative arts and endeavors: from the �spiritual� to the �mental� to the �physical.� Following this path, by the end of the column we had �a blueprint for a revolutionary movement: independent, nonviolent, holistic, innovative, adaptive, decentralized yet interconnected, and geography-based.�

How we can use that blueprint to build a revolutionary infrastructure -- and in the process, if necessary, build a provisional American government -- is the subject of this column.

For most of human history, humans lived in small, reasonably democratic, self-sustaining groups of hunter-gatherers. Anthropologists estimate that the human capacity for meaningful relationships doesn�t exceed about 150 people. What we have today in postindustrial mass culture -- where the average American has �relationships� with hundreds of acquaintances, and �virtual relationships� with hundreds more media celebrities -- is out of scale with a natural way of life.

The first step in a revolution for democracy and human rights should be to return democracy to human scale.

As I mentioned in the last column, we also need to restore a traditional sense of place. A major reason most Americans feel alienated from their government is that corporate globalization and the decline of civil society have led to a loss of the sense of American community. This has exacerbated the feelings of �rootlessness� at the heart of the American character -- what philosopher William Irwin Thompson calls �the American replacement of Nature.�

To build a revolutionary movement from the ground up means starting with the smallest political body: the cell. This is also consistent with a guerilla strategy that the small numbers in a nascent revolutionary movement necessitate. A recent poll found that about 20 percent of Americans think the election was stolen, which works out to about sixty million people -- our potential base. But we have to start with where we are.

What should be the characteristics of the cell? What do we hope to accomplish by organizing at this basic level? What do we need to be successful?

At the cellular level, we need compatriots we can depend on. We need friends we can trust to help us when we�re down, and to keep our confidences. We need someone that we can reach even if all the communication and transportation systems crash -- someone who lives not more than a day�s walk away. Preferably, it will be people we love, perhaps family or children, and who share our vision of a more just, democratic and peaceful society. As the basic unit of revolutionary society, the bonds that hold the cell together must be strong.

An experience that many progressives already have of operating at the cellular level is the �affinity group� -- the small band of people who pledge to take care of each other during the process of nonviolent civil disobedience, from preparations for the action, to arrest and incarceration. Although these affinity groups are usually ad hoc creations, set up for particular demonstrations, the emotional sense of empowerment that comes from going through the experience together with other caring human beings leaves most participants with genuine, unforgettable feelings of human solidarity.

Although I live in a rural area, I have 10 close friends within walking distance of my house, who not only share my ideas and values concerning politics in America, but are people I like to hang out with anyway. I�m going to ask them if they�d like to join together in a revolutionary cell, committed to working together with progressives all across the land to return democracy to America. (They don�t know this yet.)

Now, on the assumption my friends are just as sick of living under corporate tyranny as I am, and having joined together into a revolutionary cell -- how do we then connect with other cells?

It is at this point in the discussion that we need to develop a draft blueprint that fleshes out the characteristics of our revolutionary movement. I would like to propose here that, for this draft blueprint, we continue to follow the pattern used in organizing affinity groups.

In what is called the �spoke� system, each affinity group, or cell, represents a �spoke� in a larger wheel. The members of the affinity group, using a process of consensus decision-making, choose a �spoke,� or �spokesperson,� from among themselves, to represent their interests at the next level of organization -- the �spokes council.� In turn, the members meeting at this higher level choose a �spoke� to represent them at the next level up, and so on, until unity is achieved. (This process was used by the Framers in the original Constitution, where members of the US Senate were chosen by state legislators, rather than being directly elected as they are today.)

For this draft proposal, and for the purpose of helping to simplify and clarify the process of organizing progressives nationally, I�d like to propose the following:

  • That organizing at every level follow �the rule of 10� -- the principal recommendation being that ten represents the number of human fingers and toes, to make counting votes easy. So every cell should have 10 members of adult voting age, give or take a couple -- as few as eight, or as many as 12. And every group above the cell level should follow the same principle.
  • That there be a general commitment among all members of the revolutionary movement to the 10-point progressive agenda proposed by Luciana Bohne in her Online Journal article, �Reaffirming democracy,� excerpted at the end of this column. The principles Bohne cited concern basic issues of justice, peace, democracy and human rights.
  • That we dispense with the industrial-age invention, �adolescence,� and give young adults over the age of 14 full voting rights. By giving teenagers the rights of citizenship, we encourage them to be good citizens, instilling a tradition and habit of participation in democracy.
  • That when consensus of any group is unattainable in a reasonable period of time, the process may shift to a democratic vote, with a two-thirds supermajority required for passage, and the option of �standing aside� for dissidents;
  • That the stages of organization, following the rule of 10, be: Cell (10); Tribe (100); Precinct (1,000); County (10,000); Commonwealth (100,000); Region (1 million); State (10 million); Confederacy (300 million). You will note that there are only seven degrees of separation between the Cell and the national Confederacy.

The �Cell� is the basic unit -- your local �family.� You live close enough together that you can always be in contact, no matter what. If they�re a group of friends (as my Cell would be), chances are you and they have other friends who would be interested in making America run better and more democratically. You look for Cells closest to you geographically, because we want to organize to be politically effective at every level of government, from the local on up; and we want to reconnect citizens to their immediate environment, so they learn to live in harmony with it.

The members of a Cell should meet at least six times a year -- preferably over dinner -- to check in about what�s important and what�s going on, and what decisions need to be made, or actions taken; and to reconnect on a personal level.

Ten Cells then join together as a �Tribe.� I can think of a number of other local friends, besides my potential Cellmates, who want to bring back democracy in America. I can even imagine how they would organize in Cells -- who hangs out together; who has kids who hang out together. Many of you reading this can probably say the same about your own friends. A Tribal gathering would be a party occasion, and should happen once a season, at least, with a pot luck meal, live music and a sing-along, and a dance party to close out the day, while the spokes council meets in a back room somewhere to go over tribal issues and politics.

Organizing a progressive political economy should begin at the Tribe level. Once again, the ideal situation would be for the members of the Tribe to be within a day�s walk of each other, to keep the grassroots as localized as possible. The long range goal for the Tribe should be to have members who can provide as diverse a range of services as possible within the Tribe: health care workers, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, teachers, spiritual counselors, musicians, artists, a judge, engineers, sergeants-at-arms, gardeners, animal husbands. The goal is to be relatively self-sustaining, and thus, independent. Our revolution seeks liberation and autonomy.

The ideal model for our revolutionary political economy can be found in the writings of Wendell Berry, the farmer and philosopher from Kentucky. Especially after September 11, Berry has been concerned with the effect the fossil fuel-based economy is having on the environment and human culture. Humanity is descending into a corporate monoculture -- a �McWorld,� as sociologist Benjamin Barber calls it -- that is destroying and appropriating indigenous knowledge and resources. We cannot be surprised that �Jihad� rises up to oppose it, even in our own midst.

Berry recommends moving to a localized economy, where human needs are met, as much as possible, locally: locally-grown foods, locally-provided services, and local manufacture. This would eliminate most of the need for the energy-guzzling and environment-destroying systems we engineer to move products around the world for the lowest wage possible today. Localizing the economy will recreate local American culture, not by creating �jobs,� but by creating meaningful work for people, work that is needed by their neighbors. The ideal political economy creates a sense of belonging.

Why is it so hard to find a local shoemaker or seamstress today? Why don�t we have tiny neighborhood schools -- which would, with that one small change in organization, solve most of the present-day school security problems?

By increasing our independence, in every sense of the word, we can gradually free ourselves from the corporate systems that govern our lives. Political and economic independence begin at the local level, and in this particular scheme, at the �Precinct� level.

A Precinct is 10 Tribes, or a thousand people plus children under 14. At this level you can begin to formalize systems of care and maintenance. So in addition to the political spoke, every Tribe will have a health spoke, and a judicial spoke, and a construction spoke, etc. You can think of these associations that connect across the levels of organization, as guilds. They will set standards for various trades, and provide services: a precinct health clinic, or school, or musical performance. Precincts can sponsor sports teams, and other community-building activities. Once a year there should be a big Precinct celebration.

Within the Precinct there can and should be a lot of fluidity about roles. It�s like the old saying goes: if you want something done, ask a busy person. Human nature doesn�t change, so we should try to let it happen naturally. At the Precinct level is where �community� happens -- a society outside the Tribe, yet small enough to be manageable by normal people.

The next stage of organization is one already familiar to most Americans -- the �County.� Our progressive County population of 10,000 is smaller than usual, but closer to what America�s founders had in mind. At the County level, the work of the spokes would be more formalized still, to guarantee that municipal-level services are delivered.

The difference with the �county� in our current federal system is that the current county bureaucracies are so entangled in the state and federal systems, with too much oversight, paperwork, red tape, and duplicated efforts; while the progressive County is on a direct line of connection between the Cell and the Confederacy. But the counties do important work, like organizing the school systems, and making sure the trash gets picked up; and those functions have to be performed, no matter what kind of government you live under. This is also the natural level to start keeping personal records and property documents.

The spokes would have to meet fairly regularly to administer the County�s logistical and municipal needs. But the whole population should get together at least once a year for a County Fair, with plenty of music and games and fun.

Ten Counties join together in a �Commonwealth� of 100,000 plus. At this point, if the organizing continues geographically, we are looking at small bioregions, which should be ecologically planned. This should be on the spokes council�s agenda. The Commonwealth is also a critical stage in the affinity group government structure, being halfway between the Cell at the bottom and the Confederacy at the top. It might be a good level to introduce an independent legislature, as a check on the spokes council executive. You could have a hundred-member Congress of Precincts, for example, with all proceedings televised.

The population at this level is also closer to the Constitution�s ideal congressional constituency of 30,000 (Article I, Section 2), than to today�s average congressional district of 600,000-plus. So it�s a level that should be directly monitoring the highest level of the government -- the Confederacy -- and interpreting federal actions to Commonwealth citizens. A national Congress of Commonwealth representatives, if one were desired, would number almost 3,000 members -- which would actually not be that unrealistic for the US House of Representatives. The current system merely substitutes a large hired staff for elected representatives.

The Commonwealth population is also large enough to have purchasing -- or boycott -- power. It�s large enough to negotiate bargains, which then can be shared with Commonwealth members. The Commonwealth should be the level of government that guarantees the population is fed, whether through trade or encouraging local agriculture. This level of human organization will support a hospital and a college, and other institutions that advance the unique culture of the Commonwealth.

The next stage of organization is the �Region,� with a million-plus citizens. This level should be focused on systems: communications, transportation, water, waste, energy, etc. Presumably, with a government this enlightened, these systems will be self-sustaining, organic, holistic, and environmentally friendly. I think of the Region level as primarily administrative, the executive branch agency of the State government.

Under the affinity group system, the �State,� with its approximate population of 10 million citizens, returns to the primacy it was intended to have when America�s founders adopted the Articles of Confederation. They were aware that democracy works best on a small scale; and that the states, the laboratories of democracy, were the bulwark against an overreaching federal government. The role of the State, within a national confederacy, would be to secure the goals stated in the present Constitution�s Preamble: to �establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.�

Perceptive readers will have noticed that, upon reaching this stage of political organization -- roughly equivalent to the �state� system under the present Constitution -- we have dispensed with the two biggest problems facing the Framers in the hot and stuffy Philadelphia hall where the Constitutional Convention met, in that broiling summer of 1787: big states versus small states, and proportional representation. The affinity group system, built from the ground up and based on people, not acreage, is inherently more democratic than the less-than-Great Compromise the Framers made in Philly, which has bequeathed us a situation where the average citizen of Montana has 70 times more real political power in the US Senate than the average Californian has. The conservative bias built into the constitutional process -- deliberately to protect slaveholders -- is readily apparent.

In a very real sense, the Constitution was a coup d��tat by the bankers and other �moneyed interests� who were trying to protect their investments in the collapsing post-Revolution economy. The original charge to the Constitutional Convention was simply to correct the flaws in the Articles of Confederation -- not to write a new Constitution. Two centuries later, the Anti-federalists who opposed adopting the Constitution, but lost the vote, have turned out to be more prescient about the tyrannical potential of federalism than the Federalists.

The Constitution was written for a population of under 4 million citizens. Its flaws have become more noticeable with a population nearly a hundred times as large: the inequities of wealth and power; the inability to prevent a determined authoritarian leader from creating a neo-totalitarian police state. It seems likely that, under these circumstances, the Framers would approve transferring powers that they designated to the federal government to progressive States, with their more manageable population of 10 million -- just two and a half times larger than the original US population.

With the State having federal responsibilities under this system, it may be a good idea to also have a legislative body at this level to supplement and ratify decisions made by the spokes council. A Congress of Commonwealths would be a 100-member legislature, with each representative having a constituency of 100,000 -- less than one-sixth the size of a current congressional district, and thus more truly representative.

The final level of organization would again unite the States in a national entity. For a number of reasons, I propose that this national progressive structure be a �Confederacy.�

The first reason I make this proposal is that a �confederacy� was the first choice of government of America�s revolutionary generation, as stated in Article I of the Articles of Confederation, and ratified by the last of the 13 united states on March 1, 1781. Democracy can flourish in America again if it is decentralized along the lines envisioned by the Continental Congress in the Articles, where �each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence,� and states �enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare.�

A second reason for establishing a national confederacy is the inherently dynamic nature of the confederate form of government. It encourages diversity and independence among the states -- a far cry from the sclerotic and partisan deadlock we have in our current federal system. A more diverse system is, by nature, a healthier system, whether you�re talking about ecosystems or political entities. The form of confederacy also resembles the �coalition� style of organizing with which progressives have become very familiar over the years of demonstrations and other coalition events.

The last reason I�ll give here for wanting both a formal progressive confederacy, and confederacy as a national system of government, is the pure satisfaction of stealing one of the right�s most potent linguistic totems. No doubt there are those among you who have cringed a little every time you have read the word �confederacy� in this column, because of its horrible associations with slaveholding and �states� rights.� By returning the word to its original positive meaning, we remove a propaganda tool from the Neo-confederacy�s toolbox, with its romantic aura of rebellion and white supremacy. We couldn�t have a more effective symbolic victory than making people think �progressive� when they hear �confederate.�

So to conclude our simultaneous reorganization of both a progressive revolutionary movement, and the resultant American political economy: since there are only three groups of ten States at the top of this affinity group structure, let me finally propose (letting imagination fly) that the Confederacy be governed by a spokes council made up of two representatives, a male and a female, from each State -- a body of about sixty members, chaired by an executive committee.

If this concept conjures up a scene from Star Wars, peopled by benevolent and cultured interstellar politicians, I understand completely.

Well, thanks for letting an old radical indulge his daydream of organizing progressive government and restoring the Articles of Confederation. It was fun, for me at least. But at this point, you may be contemplating the question: what does all this really have to do with revolution?

Obviously, we are a long way from the time when the Grand Spoke of the Commonwealth of Greenwich Village can command the attention of a public official. In fact, looking at the present moment realistically, it�s unlikely that nationwide those who would support even a nonviolent revolution to overthrow the corporate-occupied government of the United States would constitute more than a few hundred Cells -- possibly with some scattered Tribes, mostly concentrated in urban areas and college towns. There is a lot of organizing to do.

Yet, as I said in my earlier column, there is also tremendous revolutionary growth potential. Most Americans, according to polls, still see the country headed in the wrong direction; a Harris poll found that one in five Americans think the 2004 election was stolen; and the country remains bitterly divided about the Iraq war. The decades-long trend of declining real incomes and living standards for the vast majority of American workers is gathering momentum under the Bush regime. And there is growing discontent with American institutions, including both the government and the media. The breeding ground for revolution is fertile.

We also have the means to organize a revolution. As readers have reminded me, there already exists a loosely-affiliated infrastructure of alternative progressive media (e.g. indymedia), on the Internet and on satellite radio and television, that can be used for revolutionary communications and propaganda. The Internet can also be used to connect people at the local level, through �meetups� arranged by progressive websites.

All that�s lacking is an organizational structure that transcends the fragmentation of single-issue and identity politics that characterize the progressive movement today. And this is what the affinity group system can provide. It is, of necessity, grassroots-based, giving the movement the solidity and authenticity of localism. It is an organic process that begins building at the cellular level; and if it follows �the rule of 10,� as I�ve proposed, it is self-regulating and self-organizing in the stages of growth.

Naturally, even a structure of such elegantly simple design will generate complications once actual humans are involved. But by integrating democratic principles throughout the political infrastructure, and choosing institutional goals that reflect the spiritual underpinning of the progressive revolution -- a revolution as much of the spirit as of the political economy -- the growth of the movement can be controlled and sustained by an equilibrium of principle and process, working together.

Let me conclude this column with the exquisite irony (considering the fundamentalist �Christian� base of the Republican Party) that a nonviolent American revolution, with its genesis in small cells of committed believers, against a brutal and rapacious 21st-century global empire, would bear a distinct historical resemblance to early Christianity.

In their 1997 book, �The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World,� Richard Horsley and Neil Silberman wrote that �Jesus and his followers offered a powerful message of revival and renewal to people who were living through a time of stunning -- often upsetting and dislocating -- change . . . Theirs was an age when the powers-that-be did not look kindly on anyone who would challenge Roman authority and power, yet that is precisely what the followers of Jesus did when they built their far-flung network of communities of �saints.��

The early Christian movement �should be understood as both a spiritual journey and an evolving political response to the mindless acts of violence, inequality, and injustice that characterized -- and still all too often characterize -- the kingdoms of men.�

Although we may not be �saints,� it would be hard to find a more accurate description of what a 21st-century American Revolution should be than that last sentence. If we hope to be as successful as the early Christians were in their revolution, as we seek to advance the cause of justice and democracy against an even more powerful imperial world order, perhaps the best advice we can follow is ancient advice:

Be wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.

The �Bohne Principles:�

1) Support for secular democracy as stipulated by the Constitution.

2) Demonstrable, active support for international law and for the treaties signed in our name . . .

3) Cultivation in foreign policy of �the good opinion of mankind . . ."

4) Criminal prosecution of terrorists through domestic and international legal means.

5) Promotion of world peace by rejecting war as a means of settling international disputes . . .

6) Endorsement of policies and treaties for environmental responsibility . . .

7) Support for full civil rights for all people . . .

8) Support for economic policies that promote economic justice at home and abroad . . .

9) Support for reproductive rights . . .

10) Solidarity with the people of the planet and respect for their right to self-determination . . .

In the next, and final, column in this three-part series, I will recommend concrete goals, strategy and tactics for a nonviolent revolution.

Michael Hasty is an activist, musician, carpenter and farmer. As a longtime member of the nonviolence collective at the Washington Peace Center, he helped organize numerous local and national demonstrations. In the early �90s, he served on the board of directors of the National Capitol Area chapter of the United Nations Association, where he co-chaired the Task Force on UN Restructuring. He is currently vice president of the Hampshire County WV Democratic Club. His book, �Remodeling America: Toward a New Constitution,� will be published next year. Email:

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