Chapter Eleven:
Political Action

Personal and social change, as discussed in the previous chapter, can contribute indirectly to political reform by altering cultural values and preparing people for effective political action. "The personal is political" in many respects. But the word "political" retains a very particular meaning in reference to the formation of governmental policy. Personal and social change alone will not alter public policy. We must engage in the political arena directly to achieve that goal.

Public policies do not form spontaneously; they result from the application of political pressure. Individuals and organizations mobilize to persuade public officials to take a certain course of action. Toward this end, activists write letters, make phone calls, meet with officials, conduct demonstrations, hold press conferences, appear on the media, call talk shows, circulate petitions, distribute literature, convene public meetings, help certain candidates get elected, testify at hearings, and organize other people to do the same. If sufficient pressure is applied in this way, policymakers respond.

Political neutrality is impossible. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said, "...[P]olitics encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries." If we do nothing to influence public policy, we help those who do. Inaction is action. The powers-that-be welcome counter-institutions, self-help movements, alternative cultures, and separatist efforts that do not fundamentally challenge official policies.

Those who want to establish economic security must mobilize politically to accomplish it. The time to begin this mobilization is now. The devastation inflicted daily by current policies requires immediate action. Each individual must decide how to act. But if we are to establish economic security, concerned individuals need to enter the political arena, endure personal confrontations, learn from their mistakes, and risk defeat by putting their bodies and souls on the line. If we prepare now, the time will come, sooner or later, when major progress will be possible.

Failing to assume ongoing political responsibility beyond periodic voting leaves a void. Those who are not active politically on a regular basis miss out on the deep gratification that comes from doing all that is possible to prevent suffering. Anyone who knows that the official policy of the federal government is to needlessly create and perpetuate poverty and economic insecurity is duty-bound to try to change that policy.

When we encounter injustice, as the Trappist monk Thomas Merton commented, "[we are] summoned to self-judgment before the bar of conscience to see whether, in fact, some choice or some neglect [of our own] ... has had a part in this suffering." Avoiding political responsibility is self-destructive; it suppresses compassion and destroys integrity. As the heroine tells her cowardly father in the film The Wild One, "If we do nothing, we're no better than they are." Or, as Bob Dylan sings, "What good am I, if I just turn my back while you silently die?"

A. The Personal is Political

The eight elements of personal and social change considered in the previous chapter can enhance political action, especially in the long run. Compared to impersonal bureaucracies that use people as robots to achieve narrow objectives, humanistic organizations can be far more productive. By taking what we learn in these eight areas into our political work, we can create political organizations that foster personal growth and mutual support.

1. Controlling Prejudice

Organizations with diverse memberships benefit from broader input from a variety of viewpoints. Since no one person and no one group holds a monopoly on wisdom, people from different backgrounds bring unique information to the decision-making process. This wealth of diversity contributes to wiser decisions. Until we conquer the deep divisions of race and class in this society, we will never be able to unite and exercise a truly democratic voice. When we do, this country will experience a profound redemption.

2. Controlling Arrogance

Organizations with members who treat each other as equals elicit more enthusiasm from their members. Judgmental assumptions of superiority are a cancer to democracy. Lack of respect for others because of their background discourages participation. The belief that a particular individual or group automatically deserves to run an organization undermines the development of new leadership. Arrogance may help win a victory or two in the short term. But sustained success requires mutual respect, so that "followers" will themselves learn to exercise leadership. If we are to be successful in this effort, we need all the leaders we can get, regardless of their origins. The quality of a person's effort is what counts, not where they come from.

3. Controlling the Lust for Power

Organizations that operate democratically build memberships who "own" the organization and will therefore contribute more energy to it. "Of the people, by the people, and for the people" sums up the aim of democracy. The essential goal of a democrat is the personal, social, and political empowerment of all people throughout society. While we may never attain that goal completely, we must constantly strive toward it. Unlearning our highly competitive conditioning and learning to avoid domination (and submission) is an ongoing process, which we need to practice constantly. As we do, our political organizations will become stronger because, rather than blindly following charismatic leaders, members will exercise control democratically.

4. Affirming Self-Determination

By encouraging members to discover and respect their deepest personal needs, political organizations will develop members who are strong, independent and creative. Self-determination understood in this manner has a spiritual dimension, as reflected in the following statement by Gandhi:

As I wish to live in peace in the midst of a bellowing storm howling round me, I have been experimenting with myself and my friends by introducing religion into politics ... the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one's very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies. It is the permanent element in human nature which counts no cost too great to find full expression and which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself, known its Maker and appreciated the true correspondence between the Maker and itself.
Gandhi's language does not work for everyone, and no words are adequate for so complex a subject. But Gandhi is touching on an essential point here. The soul (or self) yearns to "find itself," "find full expression," and experience unity and harmony with the source of its creation. True self-determination, or self-fulfillment, is not possible without this process of finding oneself. This discovery can liberate enormous energy for political struggle and needs to be affirmed by political activists.

5. Controlling Greed and Materialism.

Historically, many, if not most, political organizations have been excessively concerned with the material interests of their own members. Self-interest is not wrong; it is one legitimate motivation. But when self-interest becomes a group's driving force, a self-destructive imbalance sets in.

Political organizations should give support to other like-minded organizations because of its inherent value. But it also serves self-interest, for organizations that give, will receive. We need to learn how to avoid the lure of material success that involves turning our back on others. In the long run, people of all income groups will benefit more from joining forces with each other to demand basic economic security for all than by buying into the false promise of a self-centered life focused on spending money and identifying with the wealthy. People who know that they will be able to make ends meet can more easily enrich themselves in non-material ways.

6. Handling Anger Effectively

Organizations that struggle for positive change with an attitude of compassion will draw energy from people who are turned off by activists who merely vent their anger. Deep feelings of love are a powerful source of motivation. Most of us have heard enough ranting and raving; we need caring people and the opportunity for productive work.

On ABC's Nightline, Buck O'Neal, a retired black baseball player who suffered immensely from racism throughout his life, commented, "Anger, yes, but not hatred. A man remains in ignorance as long as he hates. I hate what someone does, but I don't hate him." All of us need to learn this lesson and not allow our anger to turn into hate. We have no right to judge another person's essential character; we can only criticize their actions. Our campaign should be open to everyone regardless of background, and we should avoid name-calling, which cuts off communication with people who are potential friends and allies.

Neither should we demonize our opponents, even when it helps to temporarily mobilize political pressure. As discussed in Chapter Nine, our political-economic system operates on automatic pilot steadily concentrating wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people - until there is active intervention to redistribute resources or the system crashes temporarily. Under these conditions, we cannot blame any particular individual or set of individuals. As Jonathon Kozol said, "Ultimately it is all of us." Each of us supports the system in countless ways and each of us could have done more to establish justice for all.

7. Promoting Self-Directed Learning.

Organizations that encourage their members to continuously study and reevaluate the issues at hand will benefit from new-found wisdom. Education is a life-long process. We need to regularly pause, analyze, investigate, research, and reformulate a plan of action. Changing conditions require modifications in strategy. We must steadily strive to understand the situation as fully as possible. An open, democratic process involving the entire membership in the process of setting goals periodically is an essential element in continuing education.

8. Engaging in Moral Action

Organizations that stay focused on long-term goals will develop members who are willing to risk defeat. We need to cultivate the courage and commitment to act with no certainty about the consequences. The more people stick to their convictions, the more they will be surprised by unanticipated victories. Short-term compromises that pave the way for further change are often necessary. And we need to make every effort to be successful. But we must never settle for less than complete justice. We can never know the future, but we can act as if the great transformation we need is possible.

B. Nonviolence

In these ways, personal, social, and political empowerment nourish each other in an upward spiral of creative growth. This holistic empowerment is rooted in the philosophy of nonviolence practiced by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Concerning Gandhi, King wrote:

As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi ... I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. Prior to reading Gandhi ... I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The "turn the other cheek" philosophy and the "love your enemies" philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals.... But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was. Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.
Gandhian nonviolence is more than a political strategy; it is a way of life. In 1950, in the introductory note to Nonviolent Resistance, Bharatan Humarappa summarized Gandhi's philosophy with the following words:
For the required soul-force the individual has to discipline himself in self-control, simplicity of life, suffering without fear or hatred, recognition of the unity of all living beings, and whole-hearted and disinterested service of one's neighbors.... [It] is a case of appealing to the reason and conscience of the opponent by inviting suffering on oneself.... It means mass resistance on a nonviolent basis against the Government when negotiations and constitutional methods have failed.... Such Civil Disobedience demands on the part of the people disciplined group action [and] infinite capacity for suffering without retaliation ... [which] need to be built up steadily among the people. They have to [learn], for example, cooperation, communal unity, fearlessness, consideration for the social good, self-help and resourcefulness, and have to have physical, mental and moral strength.... [I]t presupposes day to day non-political constructive work aiming at the all-around development of the individual from cradle to the grave.... Gandhi showed that nonviolence to be effective requires constructive effort in every sphere of life, individual, social, economic and political ... [by] building up brick by brick with patience and industry a new nonviolent social and economic order.
Catholic activist Dorothy Day touched on this approach when she commented:
As you come to know the seriousness of our situation - the war, the racism, the poverty in the world - you come to realize it is not going to be changed just by words or demonstrations. It's a question of living your life in a drastically different way.
This transformation does not require the creation of a totally "new man" or "new woman." Rather, it requires a shift of attitude to allow one's compassion to express itself more fully, rather than being suppressed by ego-centered concerns. When this happens, ego-centeredness fades and we begin to love others as we love ourselves. By actively caring about everyone, we find a new balance in our lives.

C. Fundamental Change

Democratic political action requires that activists pay attention to these underlying values. Merely mobilizing people to win easy, short-term victories can easily be manipulative. Clarity and agreement concerning ultimate objectives are necessary to avoid using people for the sake of some hidden agenda.

Many political activists focus only on narrow goals. Examples of this approach include organizing to get more beat cops in one's neighborhood, establishing rent control in one's city, electing a particular candidate, or lobbying for a minor change in national legislation.

Other organizations recruit individuals who share a certain identity, such as being homeless, a welfare recipient, disabled, female, African American, gay, lesbian, or a senior citizen. Many of these groups provide valuable services for their members, such as helping them get unemployment benefits, find a job, or secure housing. These services build a loyal base of members who become involved in a social network that can be mobilized for periodic political action.

These methods - focusing on winnable objectives, organizing groups based on identity, and integrating service delivery with political action - have often been effective and should continue to be included in any democratic political strategy. Membership in these groups can be personally affirming and empowering and provide a base for more effective coalitions. Strong local organizations can also monitor the use of federal revenue-sharing money and push to assure that it is used properly and effectively and use their knowledge of local conditions to document the need for increased federal funding.

But these strategies are not enough. Organizing only on the basis of group identity undermines the broad-based unity that is needed for fundamental change. Dealing only with local issues ignores the fact that many problems are created in Washington and therefore cannot be solved at City Hall. Proposing only short-term, winnable objectives fails to help build a consensus on longer-term changes that are needed. Moreover, temporary, single-issue coalitions do not develop an enduring support base. For these reasons, grassroots organizations need to have a national as well as a local focus and explicit long-term goals as well as short-term goals.

D. Dramatic Change

We must give careful attention to what kind of program will awaken interest among low-income people, whose active participation in a movement for economic security is essential. The poor and near-poor tend to support proposals for economic security, but they also tend to be discouraged. Piecemeal reforms are not likely to excite them; they want major changes. Likewise, proposals that are lengthy and complex hold less potential than do those that are brief and clear. And the timetable needs to envision rapid change; we cannot expect large numbers of poor and near-poor people to be motivated by possible changes in far-distant future.

This book is based on the assumption that a broad, ongoing coalition can unite behind a demand that the federal government establish minimal material security for all. In this way, we can overcome the traditional division of the middle-class from the poor and build a cross-class alliance, including at least some wealthy people, that can persuade Congress and the President to adopt and implement such a program. Historian Garry Wills has stated, "President Clinton has wanted to help the middle-class, and help the poor, but he has not linked the two." Clinton has spoken mostly to the "middle class" and has been relatively quiet about his few antipoverty proposals. In contrast, we need to develop proposals that explicitly help unify the broad majority of the American people.

It's hard to argue that anything, other than avoiding the direct loss of life, is more important than assuring that all people have a reasonable opportunity to meet their basic human needs. Politics is a matter of priorities. As President Kennedy said, "To govern is to choose." Since everything can't be done at once, it seems imperative to build a powerful grassroots movement for economic security - especially since this movement could address other issues once this objective is achieved.

E. Democratic, Supportive Organizations

A powerful, grassroots economic security movement that can sustain itself over time will have to be democratic. In the past, most political organizations have been impersonal and authoritarian. They have manipulated and used their members as functionaries to achieve concrete goals and, far too often, to boost the political careers of their leaders. Even when successful in the short term, these organizations have tended to decline rather quickly, partly because they have been so dependent on charismatic leaders. Implementing economic security will require maintaining enormous political pressure over the course of many years. A broad-based, democratic coalition will almost surely be necessary to achieve this goal.

This effort must also be humanistic. It must foster personal empowerment and facilitate mutual support among its members. Events that encourage spontaneous friendships and bring diverse people together to celebrate their common humanity must be part of political work. Singing, dancing, and rejoicing together is central to good politics. Political organizations of this sort enable personal growth, social change, and political reform to reinforce one another. Becoming more fully human individually makes it possible for people to contribute more effectively to political communities that better sustain continued personal growth.

Political action is a means to an end. For many political activists, however, power is the objective and winning is its own reward. Such individuals are willing to compromise any principle for the sake of personal gain, so they use others as stepping stones for their own advancement. Whatever is required to win is acceptable. Other activists who seek power not primarily for themselves but to improve living conditions for disadvantaged people also justify ruthless and dehumanizing methods for achieving apparent progress. For both groups, the end justifies the means.

But, as Aldous Huxley wrote, "The end cannot justify the means, for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determines the nature of the ends produced." Means become ends. To achieve lasting good, means and ends need to be consistent. The means should model the end. If our aim is to create a society that respects the equal value of all people, our political organizations should do the same. The essential goal of democratic political activity is to establish public policies that nurture personal growth, community, and democracy. We need economic security not only because justice requires it, but also because it will serve these larger goals. Our political organizations, consequently, should operate democratically and in a manner that strengthens a sense of community among its members.

Building a broad-based movement to establish economic security will also require that we treat other organizations with respect. There is no one correct manner of political engagement. Some will be militant and disruptive, whereas others will be moderate and reach out to the mainstream. Some will engage in media relations and lobbying, occasionally accepting compromises that are hard for others to swallow. Some will fight their battles in the courtroom. We need to accept these differences and learn to work together without insisting that everyone adopt the same approach.

F. Decentralized, Innovative Methods

The movement will also require developing our own means of communication. Less expensive, more direct methods of communicating are needed to counter and add to the misinformation common in the mass media. New desktop publishing and electronic technologies, including computer networks, make this task easier. The mushrooming of small magazines, the growth of the Internet, cable-TV, and the strength of small-press publishers will help as well.

In addition, door-to-door precinct work will play a central role in overcoming expensive political advertising. We must build an extensive grassroots network rooted in personal communication. The success of the grassroots Legislative Electoral Action Project (LEAP) in Connecticut in 1994 and other grassroots campaigns around the country demonstrate that sustained, face-to-face contact with voters can produce victories. Those with money and power who favor current policies will be able to dominate radio and television into the foreseeable future because they can pay for coverage. Those who challenge the status quo will have to develop less expensive ways to communicate.

During the 1930's, Huey Long's Share the Wealth movement, Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California (EPIC), Dr. Charles Townsend's army of the aged demanding a pension plan, and the National Unemployed Council sponsored effective campaigns with limited resources and small, local organizations. In the 1970s and 1980s, the highly-successful movement against nuclear power in this country was rooted in a loose network of small "affinity groups." These efforts suggest that a movement for economic security will need to have a similar decentralized structure.

G. Unifying the Movement

Signs of growing interest in economic-security issues are cropping up throughout the country. Although they do not yet see themselves as part of an "economic-security movement," numerous organizations are fighting for increased economic opportunity in one way or another. These efforts include:

These activities are developing a network of citizens concerned about the need to increase economic opportunity. The question is how to build on these rumblings and create an effective, unified movement. As living standards for most Americans deteriorate, more people need to realize that many groups working on various economic issues share a common interest: economic security for all. Standing together to support one another is critical. No one group is likely to get very far unless all groups unite behind demands that benefit everyone. A broad coalition is necessary to expand economic opportunity significantly.

In recent years, powerful coalitions have come together to oppose the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and the passage of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But these were temporary coalitions. What is needed is a similar coalition with a grassroots, democratic structure to mobilize pressure for economic security.

To persuade Congress to pass legislation to institute universal economic security, we need a movement dedicated to the personal, spiritual, social, political, and economic empowerment of all people. To build this movement, we must overcome widespread skepticism and inspire large numbers of people to get involved. The following strategy addresses how we can mobilize momentum toward this goal.

H. A 15-Step Strategy to Establish Economic Security

This plan is not a final blueprint, but a starting-point for discussion. This strategy is presented as a series of future events described in the present tense, though history surely will not unfold exactly as pictured here. The process of building any movement must be trial-and-error. Rapidly changing circumstances require a continually evolving strategy crafted by the movement participants themselves. The fifteen steps below outline measures that seem necessary for an economic-security movement to be completely successful. But if this movement matures, its course will be impossible to predict precisely.

Step One: Action/Support Groups

Growing numbers of people become involved in the economic-security movement. Members of existing advocacy organizations, labor unions and religious groups increasingly take on national economic-policy issues. They lobby Congress on legislation already introduced, and they begin to study what new legislation is needed. These activists recruit friends and neighbors to join this effort.

Many of these activists pledge at least five hours a week to help build the economic-security movement. They form action/support groups that meet weekly, including informal social events. Each group consists of 8-15 people. At these gatherings, members discuss their political activities, reflect on their process of personal growth, provide mutual support, and increase their understanding of national economic policy.

Some groups are started by existing organizations and consist only of members from that organization; others include members from various organizations; still others consist of friends and acquaintances who belong to no other organization. All action/support group participants regularly engage in political activity on national economic-policy issues, including writing cards and letters to public officials. This common experience enables them to help each other sharpen their political skills. Some of these action/support groups meet privately on the Internet, making decisions by exchanging electronic messages. When a group becomes solidified, some of its members often help start another group, especially when the original group begins to exceed 15 members.

Step Two: A Planning Committee for a National Economic Security Congress

As more action/support groups organize throughout the country, representatives from these groups form a planning committee to organize a National Economic Security Congress. The planning committee gathers endorsements from organizations and individuals for the Congress based on the following guidelines:

These guidelines are adopted to provide a basis of unity and to assure that that the congress will be organized in an open, informed, deliberate, and democratic manner. The congress eventually is endorsed by a broad range of advocacy and religious organizations and unions. Many of these endorsing organizations establish their own action/support groups to prepare for the congress.

The planning committee invites ongoing action/support groups to send representatives to the congress. The committee also actively encourages and supports the formation of additional action/support groups. Each action/support group develops its own recommendations for consideration at the congress and evaluates recommendations developed by other groups prior to the congress.

Nine months prior to the congress, these action/support groups begin using a manual developed by the planning committee. This manual guides each group through developing its own recommendations for the congress. The manual encourages each group to define its own issues, conduct its own research, and develop its own proposed plan of action. As the time for the congress approaches, the planning committee forwards to each action/support group the recommendations that have been developed by the various action/support groups. Each group forms its own conclusions concerning these recommendations and selects delegates to send to the congress.

By the time of the congress, 100 action/support groups with a total of 1,200 participants are meeting regularly. Many of these individuals, as well as others who do not participate in an action/support group, participate in Internet conferences, open to the general public, to exchange ideas and information.

Step Three: The First National Economic Security Congress

At the congress itself, 300 delegates representing 100 action/support groups from throughout the country meet for several days. They form small support groups, participate in joyous celebrations, compare the recommendations that have emerged from their nine months of study and reflection, and hammer out a consensus for how to move toward economic security for all.

Step Four: A New National Coalition

Following the congress, a new national coalition forms to organize support for the goals adopted by the congress. Member organizations of the coalition begin organizing activities to further this plan. These activities include:


A number of organizations throughout the country conduct community dialogues with people from diverse backgrounds to encourage the participants to look at and move beyond their resentments and prejudices toward people of other classes. These dialogues take various forms, such as the workshops conducted by Outward Bound during which middle-class people spend the weekend as if they were homeless, and the "Hunger Dinners" conducted by Oxfam during which most participants eat as if they were typical global citizens, while a few eat in a manner to which the wealthy are accustomed.


The coalition begins an extensive publicity campaign to inform the general public concerning its program and activities. Bumper stickers reading "Economic Security For All" appear throughout the country. Posters presenting the coalition's program are placed in storefront windows. Coalition representatives appear on radio and television talk shows and public-affairs programs. Coalition members discuss the coalition program on Internet conferences and recruit friends and neighbors. Within a year, 40,000 new members have joined coalition organizations to advance the movement.


With support from foundations and philanthropists, member organizations in various cities establish "Economic Security Learning Centers." A broad cross-section of users utilize these multimedia libraries to increase their political understanding.

The libraries are used primarily for self-directed exploration and study. Center materials include books, magazines, and other printed materials, as well as audio and visual tapes and equipment, with headphones, including cable and/or satellite television hookups. The video library includes feature films as well as documentaries and slide shows. The audio library includes political music as well as lectures and discussion. Users connect with the Internet free-of-charge, thanks to foundation grants given to subsidize low-income access. The Economic Security Learning Centers also organize support groups, self-help groups, action/support groups, discussion groups, seminars, lectures, and other events and activities to increase public understanding of political issues and promote personal and social change. At these centers, people are able to learn print and photo journalism and video production through the production of educational materials that are used to strengthen the movement. Kitchens enable members to eat together more cheaply and to serve community meals.


The new coalition organizes precinct workers who go door-to-door in their own neighborhoods to enlist support for positions adopted by the coalition. Month after month and year after year, these precinct workers get to know their neighbors, register voters, discuss political issues with them, distribute educational literature, encourage people to support the coalition's position at the polls, and organize neighborhood parties and other social events.

Step Five: The First National Dialogue On Economic Security

The next year, the coalition organizes the first National Dialogue On Economic Security. The principal purpose of this event is to enable the participants to share their ideas concerning strategy, get media coverage, and help build momentum for the economic-security movement. These dialogues are based loosely on the teach-ins that were used effectively to build opposition to the Vietnam War, but are more open and participatory.

Approximately 50,000 people participate in these dialogues in forty locations in twenty-five cities. More than one dialogue is held in some cities. The focus of each event is: how can we implement the economic-security program?

Each dialogue is structured to maximize individual participation. Members from the committee that organizes each event serve as neutral facilitators. The purpose is to brainstorm for ideas, form recommendations, and encourage people to think and talk about the issues. Within the next few weeks, thousands of new members join member organizations of the coalition and forty new action/support groups form.

Step Six: Intermediate Federal Legislation

While building support for the long-term program, the new national coalition focuses on lobbying for immediate passage of partial legislation that will move the country in the direction of guaranteed economic security. Committees in key Congressional districts lobby their representatives to support this legislation. In many cases, local coalitions engage in nonviolent civil disobedience to press the point home. Within two years, Congress passes this bill and the President signs it into law.

By getting people involved in working for this legislation, the congress builds a network and a foundation for the future. The success of this effort brings increased attention to the coalition. Thousands more new members join to help advance its program. Local committees run candidates in opposition to incumbents who voted against this intermediate legislation. Many of these candidates are successful, serving notice to others that the coalition is a major political force.

As the movement becomes more powerful and increasingly uses civil disobedience as a tactic, law enforcement officials begin to seek stiffer penalties from judges and juries. Felony conspiracy charges are filed in some cases. Intelligence agencies leak embarrassing and sometimes false information to the media in attempts to discredit movement leaders. Paid informers and agents try to disrupt movement meetings and encourage violent activity. In the face of this repression, movement activists remain steadfast in their commitment to nonviolence and open, democratic decision-making. Without trying to judge underlying motives and identifying "enemies," they insist that meetings be conducted democratically and revoke the membership of those few people who repeatedly try to disrupt meetings by speaking without being recognized by the facilitator.

Step Seven: The Second National Economic Security Congress

Two years after the first congress, the coalition organizes the second National Economic Security Congress. Nine hundred representatives - three times the number that attended the first congress - meet to celebrate, be mutually supportive, and debate and vote on proposals that have been circulated in advance of the congress. Representing 300 action/support groups with some 4,000 members, they modify and update the policies adopted at the first congress. The action/study groups participating in the Congress are affiliated with organizations endorsing the Congress with a total membership of more than 200,000.

Step Eight: The Second National Dialogue On Economic Security

Later that year, the second National Dialogue on Economic Security is conducted. This time, almost 100,000 people in more than 35 cities participate. Media coverage is extensive and the number of people supporting the movement increases following the dialogues. Many of these new activists help to implement some of the ideas that surface for the first time at these dialogues.

Step Nine: The Third National Economic Security Congress

The third National Economic Security Congress, with 3,000 delegates representing 1,000 action/support groups, is held two years after the second one. Delegates make further improvements in the program being advocated by the national coalition and prepare to demand its adoption.

Step Ten: The Presidential Election

After the third congress, movement activists inject the coalition's program into the Presidential primaries and the national conventions of the major political parties. They encourage all voters to refuse to vote for any candidate unwilling to endorse this program - regardless of where the candidate stands on other issues. Throughout the country, voters sign pledge cards promising not to vote for any candidate who does not support the coalition's program, even if that means voting for no one. This tactic serves to persuade many wavering candidates to support the coalition's program.

Step Eleven: General Strikes

In August and September, prior to the Presidential election, the coalition organizes a series of two-day general strikes to dramatize support for its program. These strikes follow the nonviolent examples of Gandhi in India, the African National Congress in South Africa, and the anti-Vietnam War National Moratorium in the United States. Covered widely by the media, they serve to build confidence within the movement, to inform the general public about the issues, and to demonstrate to political decision-makers that existing economic policies must be changed.

Each strike gains broad media coverage and public support, thereby making it clear to the nation and candidates for office that they must enact the coalition's program to avoid further disruption.

On the first Monday of October, the coalition calls for a third general strike to last indefinitely until a major candidate for President endorses the coalition's economic-security program. This strike steadily gains more support and continues until, during the third week of the strike, one of the candidates pledges to support the coalition.

Step Twelve: The National Economic Security Program

After the inauguration of that candidate as President, the coalition concentrates on lobbying key Congresspersons and Senators who have so far refused to support its program. Sit-in demonstrations are organized in the offices of representatives who still have not lent their support. These events help to publicize the movement and to increase pressure on Congress to pass the National Economic Security Program. A rally at the National Monument in Washington, D.C. is held 100 days after the inauguration of the new President to cap a week of lobbying on behalf of this legislation. A record number of demonstrators come to Washington for this effort, many of whom stay in Washington to lobby and conduct demonstrations. By summer recess, Congress has enacted the economic-security program. This legislation includes a specific timetable for gradually establishing economic security within five years.

Step Thirteen: The Fourth National Economic Security Congress

The next year, the coalition convenes the Fourth Economic Security Congress. Delegates hear reports concerning implementation of its legislation. Throughout the country, member organizations have closely monitored implementation of the legislation and have lobbied local governments to administer the federal revenue-sharing grants effectively and properly. At the congress, delegates adopt new policies for additional federal legislation to deal with problems of implementation that have emerged during the previous year.

Step Fourteen: Supplemental Legislation

During each of the next four years, the coalition persuades Congress to pass the additional legislation that is required to follow through on the initial legislation. Each year increased revenue-sharing funds are appropriated to state and local governments so they can hire more civil-service workers, expand affordable housing, and otherwise move toward economic security.

Step Fifteen: The Achievement of Economic Security

Five years after the initial passage of the economic-security program, the coalition organizes festivals in cities throughout the country to celebrate the achievement of economic security. Plans are made to convene the fifth National Economic Security Congress to continue monitoring the implementation of legislation previously enacted, consider improvements in that legislation, and define new objectives for the coalition.

This view of the future is admittedly optimistic and over-simplified. Even if we are not completely successful, however, organizing support for this objective will advance the cause of economic justice. If we plant seeds in good faith, they will bear fruit some day, in some manner. The process is primary: when we act from the heart with compassion, the effort is always worth it. Whatever our prospects, justice and self-interest compel us to do our best to make the dream of economic security come true. To prevail, we must commit ourselves and persevere until we succeed.

Following are eleven options that readers of this book can pursue to help build a movement for economic security in the United States:

  1. Join an existing organization that is willing to address national economic policy or persuade an organization to which you already belong to do so.
  2. Learn more about how to lobby elected officials and practice what you learn.
  3. Invite two or three friends to help organize an action/support group.
  4. Persuade your organization to sponsor an action/support group and endorse a national congress.
  5. Write letters to the editor and call talk shows to advocate that the federal government guarantee economic security for all, especially by creating living-wage jobs.
  6. Surf the Internet and discuss these issues with other Internet users.
  7. Study these issues on your own.
  8. Analyze your deeper motives, determine what kind of person you really want to be, and engage in activities that will help you move in that direction.
  9. Write an essay commenting on the issues raised in this book and send it to the author for a future book of commentary by readers.
  10. Send a letter with criticisms of the book to the author so that it can be improved for future editions.
  11. Consult the resources listed in the back of this book and contact those that interest you.

I. Summary

Throughout this struggle, we need to keep in mind the following six principles:

  1. Fundamental change in national economic policy will not happen spontaneously; we must persistently build support for major improvements in economic policy.
  2. Our movement must be grounded in careful study of key issues so that we can counter myths that are thrown up in opposition.
  3. We must develop grassroots organizations dedicated to face-to-face contact, including door-to-door outreach, that adopt policies in a deliberate and democratic manner.
  4. Alternative means of communication, including newspapers, magazines, and computer networks must be fully utilized to spread timely information and effectively mobilize resources.
  5. Personal and social change must accompany each other simultaneously for either to be both meaningful and lasting.
  6. Protest demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience, probably including general strikes, will be necessary.

There is no good reason to perpetuate economic insecurity. Establishing economic security will benefit everyone. Rich and powerful people have chosen to create economic insecurity because they believe that it serves their interests. But if the majority of people unite, we can create a new society - with liberty, justice and economic security for all. The next chapter proposes a specific federal program for how we can achieve this goal.

Sources for this chapter included the following, in order of appearance.
For more specific references, contact Wade Hudson at

Mohandas K. Gandhi, Nonviolent Resistance, Shocken Books, 1951, 109.

Thomas Merton, Love and Living, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985, 152.

Gandhi, in Young India, 12 May 1920.

"Nightline," American Broadcasting Company, 26 September 1994.

Interviewed on "We the People with Jerry Brown," KPFA-FM, 14 November 1995.

From Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, quoted on the cover of Nonviolent Resistance, Shocken Books, 1951.

The following "Non-Violence Guidelines" distributed by the Livermore Conversion Project in 1993 illustrate how this philosophy can be used in political action:
1. We will harbor no anger but suffer the anger of the opponent.
2. We will refuse to return the assault of the opponent.
3. We will refrain from insults and swearing.
4. We will protect opponents from insults or attack.
5. If arrested we will not resist.
6. If arrested, we will behave in an exemplary manner. We will not evade the legal consequences of our actions.
7. As members of the nonviolent demonstration, we will follow the directions of the designated coordinators. In the event of a serious disagreement, one should remove oneself from the action.
8. Our attitude as conveyed through words, symbols and actions will be one of openness and friendliness and respect toward all people we encounter including Livermore Nuclear Weapons Laboratory security officers and workers.
9. We will not damage any property.
10. We will not bring or use or any drugs or alcohol.
11. We will not run or use any threatening motions.
12. We will carry no weapons.
13. We will not engage in symbolic bloodpouring.
14. Plans for our activities are shared with the authorities.

Gandhi, Nonviolent Resistance, iii-v.

Dorothy Day, in Catholic Worker, June-July 1990.

Interview on "McNeil/Lehrer Newshour," Public Broadcasting System, 5 September 1994.

Jack Beatty, "The Middle Class Crisis," San Francisco Chronicle, This World, 29 May 29, 1994, 6-9.

Aldous Huxley, "Goals, Roads and Contemporary Starting Point," Ends and Means, 1937.

Jonathan Rabinowitz, "Grass-Roots Candidate Bolts From the Pack," The New York Times, 15 September 1994, A10.

Nation Alert, Volume 2; Number 3, 2.

The Economic Security Project reserves all worldwide intellectual property rights related to the authorship of this material. Parts of this document may be reproduced or distributed in whole or in part in any form by any means including electronic or mechanical methods if the Economic Security Project is credited and informed.