An Abundance Of Effective Narrative

We cheered in Times Square and in front of big screens across the country earlier this hot August when NASA’s Curiosity rover, like an interplanetary lodestone harkening a better tomorrow, landed on the planet Mars in search of water and life. Turning seven projected minutes of engineering terror into an evening of flawless execution, we stood tall and united during those moments as living metaphor for what’s possible when America sets out to nail the impossible.

Compared to Curiosity, everything else seems much more down to earth like the stories we are asked to vote for and believe in that don’t grab us where we live with the same happy endings. Gut-check credibility is missing from contrived and staged anecdotal evidence mish-mashed into sound bites and voice-over alarmist visuals graphically depicting policy disease without bipartisan cures. Overrun by a blitzkrieg aerial bombardment of antagonistic and mutually cancelling out campaign videos that rarely rise above the aggravating and invasive media din factor, we emerge numb to too much sound bite titillation believing none of it and wishing it would all just go away.

In this campaign season of anonymously purchased bombastic condemnation, America is missing narratives showing a compelling hard-earned moral center, an uplifting centrifugal force of conviction-centered innovation and leadership to lead us out of seemingly pre-destined unemployment and shared risks without rewards bondage where only an excruciatingly small subset in an obese nation is living large. Like cultural junkies sniffing for linked-in glue to bind our professional destinies to place-based economies that can’t get off-shored or outsourced by someone who isn’t us, we search desperately for authentic authenticity anywhere from anyone. Surviving our own version of “The Hunger Games,” we hesitate to volunteer to believe in a country that declares vehemently and vociferously what it opposes but doubles over trying to spit out and land what it stands for against the omnipresent backdrop of a very fortunate few hitting all their numbers while everyone else wonders out loud how pitifully sad their old age will become as they borrow from their children.

Those of us dying on America’s vine like our crops from drought watch the grim specter of unchecked structural wealth inequality stalking America and taking scalps at will. Extreme campaign pageantry no matter how expertly manipulated cannot obscure the inconvenient truth that ninety-nine percent of our friends, neighbors, families and co-workers are not doing well and can no longer willingly suspend their disbelief that the dream still holds, that the game isn’t rigged, that equal opportunity still beckons and that we’re not predestined to become less than what we learned at school and saw at home. We dispatch our shadows to campaign rallies, emptying out America’s citizens from America’s civic amphitheater because the show doesn’t resonate, the tickets are too expensive and only the glamour set in the box seats gets to meet and greet the performers.

Silent echoes from the missing jingle and jangle in our pockets tell us that our paychecks and benefits don’t even halfway measure up to what we’ve lost. Caught between the bared fangs of political left and right wing social engineering political party partisans holding America’s national credit and public institutions hostage to ideological electoral gain, we hear the promises but don’t see the cash except in the bank accounts of those who are doing very, very well between outsourcing, off-shoring, IPO-manipulating and just plain stealing, thank you.

Ayn Rand’s proclaimed “virtue of selfishness” political disciples tell us that our American unalienable rights may come from nature and nature’s God and yet the disconnect between who gets what, how and how much trips us up on the way to the altar every single day no matter how many times we self-justify, self-bless and self-forgive. We don’t have time to snack on the politics of envy or forage in and pander to something so intrinsically un-American as class warfare simply because we know deep in our foreclosed and outsourced hearts that we were outright robbed, cheated, betrayed, flipped and disenfranchised in 2008. Standing in line for bankrupt survival benefits, we wait outside the rope line as the no-class perpetrators who poisoned our financial health still fly platinum class in private lives ensconced in gated, untouchable Versailles, Valhalla, Nirvana or the Hamptons and operate freely without any fear of moral reckoning even faintly coming their way.

And yet like flash-mob blades of grass growing through ghetto street concrete or underneath the ubiquitous, anti-food desert initiatives springing up in abandoned and mutilated city centers, there is a growing abundance of effective narratives spurred on by progressive, self-reliant social entrepreneurs reclaiming their individual host community sovereignty and gradually earning back and reinvesting some local economic dignity. From Cincinnati to Cleveland, Portland, Pittsburgh, Bellingham in Washington and the Bronx in New York City, new models are breaking log-jams, healing neighborhoods, setting precedents, creating jobs with local equity and without false choices such as between a paycheck and healthcare or between a safe, clean environment, and no job at all.

These stories and their protagonists are out there but often hard to see at first glance. We need to dig beyond the surface, hear above the noise, converse without talking points, and move in local synch with stakeholders and not just shareholders to take-back-our mean and deserted streets before they crack-up into sink-holes, undone by indiscriminate societal and moral fracking discharges below and the lack of purposeful busy feet going somewhere good, holding our surfaces in place from above. Unable to communicate beyond the self-cancelling-out, political gotcha cacophony, we’re too busy segmenting, pigeonholing, broadcasting, transmitting and monologuing to notice the dialogue silence that greets us. We go for quantity over quality every time, with everybody cheering as interchangeable backdrops but nobody listening to the heartbeats of the forefront push-back, those leaves of grass-lined roads taken out of choice and out of necessity, often out of faith.

We witness converging “localista” movements; the slow money movement, the responsible investing movement, the crowd-funding, employee ownership, union-cooperative, sustainable food, energy independence and local living economies movements regenerating communities and businesses by structuring dignity and ownership into the lives of neighbors, co-workers, co-owners, worker-owners, partners. Self-seeded or worker friendly funded, this alternative universe makes a mockery out of the predatory capitalist new normal that stows two trillion dollars in investment and corporate assets hoarded on the sidelines and often parked overseas while over eight percent of our nation is so visibly ill-clad, ill-fed, ill-housed, under-employed or not employed at all.

Getting to scale is still elusive. Gatherings and groups like BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), the American Sustainable Business Council, Ohio Employee Ownership Center, Heartland Capital Strategies, Evergreen Cooperatives, National Cooperative Business Association, Foundation for Enterprise Development, National Center for Employee Ownership, the Blue-Green Alliance, National Cooperative Bank, Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Cooperatives, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, MIT CoLab, University of Maryland’s Democracy Collaborative, progressive unions like the United Steelworkers, Penn State’s Center for Sustainability and the growing B-LAB initiative – travel these high-impact, “doing well by doing good” pathways out of structural unemployment poverty and recruit more pilgrims with every micro testimony.

We, the people, deserve much more than the current cosmetic and misleading debate over the relative roles of government versus the private sector, why they can’t work in relevant synch with each other like consenting adults instead of spoiled, petty partisan brats, or whether austerity for the poor matches up to stimulus welfare for the rich. These hackneyed substitutes for meaningful content outdo themselves as morally inadequate statements after all the damning Great Recession facts are added up and deposited on the doorsteps of our national reckoning where simple math for the poor makes a mockery out of synthetic, dark pool derivatives for the rich.

Fundamentally, we want our money back. This nation cannot stand ninety-nine percent enslaved and one-percent free and still endure while we compel its citizens to mutate into under-compensated mercenaries who rent their shanty-town abodes from the company store at the exorbitant rate of a country dragged and beaten down in unequal opportunity chains of its own making.

We, the people, must be more than the waving symbols and media myths we are spoon fed until ready to vomit, more than the superficial one-dimensional appeals to historical American heroes from the books we checked out before the public library got defunded, and much, much more than the broadband access that finally makes it to our public housing wasteland so that we can go fully digital and become second life unreal as a metaphor for suspended dying while still breathing. All we hope for now in this the summer before our electoral discontent is not to lose our daily bread and shelter before we can self-deport our bodies from involuntary servitude along the one-percent golden stairways to predatory oligarchic capitalist heaven without passing go and venturing outside to play so that the street bullets stay virgin.

How else do we win the “visibly tattooed,” the walking wounded workers who today are treated as commodities to be bought, sold and traded like pork bellies or soy beans by those who pay only the taxes of carried interest if they pay taxes at all? Who will help us liberate the paycheck and pension betrayed, the under and unemployed destroyed, those who raised their voices in occupied parks before they were evicted and those who get kicked out of their homes in mid-life or old age, the dog whistled voting repressed lynched, and those involuntarily physically penetrated by Talibanic pseudo-patriarchs who clamor to cover women because they can’t morally uncover themselves and still cast the first stones of their rage and guilt before cultural, vampire-free daylight opens their eyes to a more equal and just world?

Who will help us inspire our children who graduate from schools into never-ending manipulated interest rate debt, those who stand in line and get padded down while untouchable others travel maul-free to maul others, those who can’t find credit from banks they bailed out or from the country they risked their lives for? How do we honor those who deserve the nation’s credit just for waking up against insurmountable odds each scary unemployed and disenfranchised morning and reach into the open wounds of their daily sacrifices willing to give the fading American Dream one more heroic blood infusion?

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