To say Obama’s health care bill remains extremely unpopular is an understatement. Meanwhile the government appears paralyzed in respect to legislation people do want - the restoration of Constitutional rights suspended under the Patriot Act, a crackdown on the Wall Street banks responsible for the economic crisis, an end to an unwinnable war in Iraq (which increasing numbers of Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree was a mistake) and meaningful programs to curb carbon emissions and our reliance on fossil fuels.
There is a lot of controversy recently over the cause of global warming or even if it's real (though none of this debate takes account of solar dimming - another pollution related effect that tends to mask global warming). However no one disputes that carbon dioxide levels are at record levels, resulting in an unprecedented disruption of the natural carbon cycle. And even oil companies agree that oil and gas depletion is real and that energy costs will rise exponentially over the next decade.
It’s Up to Us Now
An increasing number of concerned citizens - on the right and the left - believe it's over to the American people now to lead the way for our government and the rest of the world. So what do we do? How do we find our way through this economic and political mess with no leadership or support from government and no interest on the part of the corporate media in facilitating discussion and debate? How do we get the word out to the millions of Americans who don’t really understand the economic, political and environmental crises we face?
Without question the Internet is a big part of the answer. Obviously both MoveOn and the Tea Party movement owe most of their success to their ability to reach millions of Americans simultaneously on-line. With the increasing availability of social networking sites, listserves, mass e-newsletters and You Tube, ordinary people in their homes have the ability to beam their own TV, radio and print media to the 150 million Americans who have Internet access.
Rebuilding Local Communities and Economies
The reality remains that only about 50 percent of Americans have access to the World Wide Web. This means people who do have Internet access need to redouble their efforts to connect with neighbors, families and friends who don’t. In many respects the movement (which has already started) to rebuild and re-energize local neighborhoods and communities is probably the single most important initiative to address not only our dysfunctional economic system, but rising energy costs and carbon emissions.
The great tragedy is that the total corporatization of the developed world has totally destroyed the economic base – consisting of small neighborhood businesses – that historically has underpinned community life in the US. When strip malls, maxi supermarkets and big box discount retailers like Wal Mart took over the retail landscape, they put many existing small retailers out of business. The big box retailers have flourished during an era of cheap imports manufactured with sweat shop labor which, thanks to ridiculously cheap oil, could be transported vast distances at very low cost. Due to high volume and low overhead, they easily undercut smaller specialty retailers.
In many communities consumers are already working to reverse this trend by making the conscious choice to keep their hard earned dollars in their local community. They bank with local, community owned banks (who don’t engage in speculative derivative trading or risky credit swaps like the big boys) and where possible, frequent local retailers and farmers markets, as opposed than corporate chains.
An Increasing Role for Local Currencies
To this end many communities have established local currencies that can only be spent locally at local businesses. Ithaca, New York was the first community in the US to create a modern local currency, known as the Ithaca Hour. Every Ithaca Hour that is spent on a local product is re-spent hundreds of times within the community. In contrast to the dollar spent at WalMart, which leaves the community forever and generates no local business. The beauty of local currency is that people can be unemployed and have no reportable income - and yet still trade in Ithaca Hours so long as they have a product or service someone else wants to buy.