By Steve Bhaerman
“The antidote to Big Brother is bigger brotherhood.”
— Swami Beyondananda
It’s amazing how stepping outside the comfort zone of identity and beliefs can transform your perspective. I am reminded of the classic story of the two Jewish gentlemen – we’ll call them Abe and Max – who see a sign in front of the local Catholic Church: “We’ll pay $500 to any Jew who converts.”
Abe is outraged, but Max says, “You know, $500 is $500. I’m going to do it.”
Over Abe’s protests, Max goes inside the church. Abe waits outside. A half hour passes, and then an hour. After an hour and a half, his friend emerges. “So, Max,” Abe asks, “did you get the $500?”
Max looks at his friend contemptuously. “Money? Is that all you people think about?”
With political positions now held as closely as religious beliefs, and with each side hearing only its own barking dogmas, walking into the other guy’s “church” and really listening can radically restructure one’s understanding. That’s why I’ve really valued working with my friend Joseph McCormick on our transpartisan upwising book. Joseph is coming from a very conservative background, but is “going to” an integrated, holistic and emergent politics.
One of the most helpful distinctions Joseph has offered is the “bipartisan” vs. transpartisan. He quotes conservative activist Grover Norquist, who says: “Bipartisanship is when the Republicans and the Democrats get together to screw the people.”
And “bipartisanship” is what the conventional unwisdom is clamoring for, now that the Republicans have captured the House and the Democrats cling to the White House. Here is a quote from the Wednesday, November 17th San Francisco Chronicle: “The political needs of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama are diverging sharply, as the San Francisco Democrat seeks election today as the leader of a decimated but more liberal minority while Obama seeks a way to govern with Republicans and casts an eye toward his re-election in 2012.”
Read deeper into the article, and you will find more conventional unwisdom that says Obama’s only recourse is to give in to corporate conservatism, while Pelosi’s fate is to rail at windmills and proclaim progressive positions that cannot pass. Thus, we have the persistent pattern of the left who is “right” – but ultimately gets left.
Meanwhile over on the right, there is another conflict that mainstream media is taking great pains to misinterpret: The Tea Party movement vs. the Republican establishment. Are these Tea Partiers a bunch of reactionary yahoos who want to take America back to a time and place that never was? Is there validity to their anger, and if so how can this anger be tapped constructively? If they are so “populist” why are they taking corporate money?
To understand some of their outrage, and why progressives are so baffled, I refer to a conversation I had the day after the elections with my friend Sir Peter Anderson. Sir Peter is the Secretary General of a “5th world nation, a state of mind,” called the Conch Republic. We were sitting at his home in Key West, Florida and Sir Peter began to talk about “know-betters.” Now Peter is a progressive at heart, an environmentalist, and a free thinker with some libertarian tendencies. But he has an issue with “know-betters.” “Know-betters are people who take the position that they know better than you do, and because they do, they should have the final say. We have religious know-betters who want to impose their restrictions on everyone, and we also have the progressive and environmental know-betters who want to impose their rules as well.”
Now, if you’re coming from the progressive camp, you might be saying, “Well, Sir Peter is right about those religious folks … but we environmentalists really do know better … and we have science on our side!” Meanwhile, the religious right would be saying, “He’s right about those eco-nuts … but we religious folks really do know better … and we have God on our side!”
Lest we devolve into a “my dogma is better than your dogma” no win argument, let’s look at another distinction offered by my friend Caroline Casey. She makes the distinction between “offering” and “imposition.” An offering is an open invitation to participate and co-create. An imposition is a top down solution imposed by somebody or somebodies who know better. An offering opens possibilities, and has no stated or unstated “or else’s.” An imposition is coercive in nature, and when push comes to shove, will be enforced forcefully. That’s why Caroline calls any form of imposition “tyranny.”
And that brings us to Transpartisanism as opposed to bipartisanism. Bipartisanism involves the know-betters representing both faces of the two-faced corporate state imposing their inside-the-box solution on the rest of us. Transpartisanism is the rest of us discovering for ourselves what is so, and using our polarities to spin ourselves outside the box of failed institutions and unworkable compromises. Bipartisan is elitist. Transpartisan is grassroots.
So now, perhaps, we can begin to see the natural alliance between Tea Party populists and grassroots progressives. Each in its own way is seeking to assert autonomy from the bottom up in response to perceived tyranny from the top down. The progressives are focused on the abuses of the corporation, the populists on the abuses by the state. When we begin to understand the Republicans and Democrats as the two faces of the same corporate state, and individual politicians as little more than middle managers, we can begin to comprehend the outrage of the Tea Partiers, and the perpetual frustration of progressives.
In the wake of the Tea Party “up-wising,” consider what Obama could do. He could call a town hall meeting and invite Tea Partiers and grassroots progressives. He could hear concerns from each side, and then he could invite them to spend an hour sitting in circles that include individuals from both sides, and ask them to discover what they agree on. He could then have spokespersons from all the circles offer their conclusions, and have these conclusions summarized into a clear, concise statement. “This,” he could say, “is my – your – mandate. I will take it to Congress, and make sure all legislation reflects the shared will of we the people.”
He could do this, but he won’t. He can’t. He doesn’t have the power.
But we do.
In the coming months, we will hear the mantra, “Bipartisan, bipartisan, bipartisan.” When we hear these words, what we should be hearing instead is, “Carefully managed parameters of debate and conversation.” Consider that last year, a “town hall” was convened to discuss health care issues and explore “all sides.” Somehow these “all sides” did not include the Single Payer option. Why? Because the powers in power did not want that option even considered.
The transpartisan up-wising we are talking about leaves nothing off the table. In a circle of respectful speaking and listening, every voice is heard. As in Native American councils, when all is said there is nothing left but the obvious truth. While it is obviously true that Red Tribe Americans and Blue Tribe Americans sharply disagree on certain issues of “God, guns and gender,” it is less obviously true that what we agree on is far more important. The more we gather around the shared virtues and “heart-core” values we share in common, the more possible it becomes for us to do what elitists in both parties insist we cannot: rule ourselves.
It’s time for us – left, right and center – to stop being children dependent on political parents who insist they know best, and evolve from children of God to adults of God (or at least adults of Good).
Viva la upwising, and long live the “ruly masses.”
Join the upwising, and put your money where your mouse is. Small donations from large numbers of awakening citizens are what will fuel this movement. And remember, if you are seeking to live in a happier, healthier, more peaceful and just world … you are only fueling yourself! Click here: http://transpartisan.us/
And go to “Chip In” on the right, just under Control Panel.
PS And … if you’re in or near Seattle, and want to find out how this really works, check out the Transpartisan Chautauqua being held on Saturday, December 4th.