21st Century American Revolution, Part 2 of a 3-part series
By Michael Hasty
Dec 4, 2004, 16:57
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.�
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Be wise as
serpents, and gentle as doves.
The �Bohne Principles:�
1) Support for
secular democracy as stipulated by the Constitution.
active support for international law and for the treaties signed in our name .
3) Cultivation in
foreign policy of �the good opinion of mankind . . ."
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 . . .
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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