The Struggle for the Soul of America: Going Within

My small neighborhood community in Mineral Hill outside of Las Vegas, NM, recently decided “going within” one day a week would be a valuable endeavor in these trying times when we are constantly being bombarded by outside stimuli. After one day of “going within,” I knew we were on to something.

On Wednesday I spent the day “going within.” No phones, no computers, no TVs, no interaction with anyone except for essential communication with my partner. In the morning I took stock of where I am right now. I wrote in my journal that “I’m feeling pretty good about my life.” That includes my relationships with my partner, my daughter and good friends; my health, my new home, my community, and even this blog. As I wrote, I realized how grateful I am for all that is going well in my little world.

During my afternoon of introspection, I recognized how clever it was of mother nature to require humanity to take a time out. I noted in my journal that “this is an incredible opportunity for me, everyone who has stopped the routine he or she normally follows, and the country as a whole, to go within.”

The next day a good friend called. I learned that a mutual friend of ours had suddenly become seriously ill and was taken to the hospital. Apparently, he was near death.

It was a true wake-up call. How quickly our lives can change. I was reminded how important it is to live each day to its fullest.

This led me to ask: How are we doing as a society? Why have we gotten so divided? Why can’t we live together? Why are people so driven to get as much as they can for themselves with no or little concern for how the less fortunate among us who are hurting, hungry, some homeless, are getting by or not?

It’s time for us to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our country. How can we inspire our country to live up to its honored values and highest potential for all Americans? We are in the midst of a spiritual crisis, as well as a health crisis and an economic crisis. Our country is at a moral crossroads: Will we take the highway to a better life for all, or the low road where it’s each one out for one’s self? This is the question we will answer in the fall election. But we can’t wait. Now is the time we must pave the way for a brighter, more equitable society.

By going within during this slowdown period, we have the opportunity to re-evaluate our nation’s priorities. Since we don’t have the national leadership to provide support and guidance in these troubled times, it’s up to us to find our way together.

We have many ways to get involved. Unite America (https://www.uniteamerica.org/) is working to make voting secure and accessible during COVID-19. When We All Vote (https://www.whenweallvote.org/) is focused on expanding vote-by-mail, early voting and online voter registration. Here in New Mexico, we can work on issues to revive our democracy with New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics (https://nmmop.org), Retake Our Democracy (https://retakeourdemocracy.org/), Common Cause New Mexico (https://www.commoncause.org/new-mexico/), or a number of other non-profit organizations.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: The Coronavirus Opportunity

According to an ancient Chinese proverb, “In every crisis, there’s opportunity.” As individuals as well as members of our communities and our country, the coronavirus crisis has given us a rare opportunity.

These are challenging times for all of us. A great many Americans have been isolated at home for the last month or more, held hostage by the coronavirus, COVID-19. Now that our busy schedules have been put on hold, we each have the time to really stop and re-examine our lives.

We might ask ourselves, what’s truly important to me? Life being so uncertain, how can I be more present and appreciate each passing moment? What can I do from now on to more closely align my life with my true purpose, my heart’s desires? In the BTC era (“Before the Coronavirus”), many of us were too wrapped up in our careers, our social lives, our next “whatever,” to go within and give these questions the serious consideration they deserve. Now this may be the most meaningful way to spend our time.

Being isolated, I am finding that my relationship to dear friends and loved ones is what I most value. I am learning to reach out in new ways, like Zoom, to stay bonded with them as well as to reconnect with old friends and family with whom I have lost touch. And, I am also missing my connection to Mother Earth. I yearn to be in the mountains again.

What do you value most?

This coronavirus-imposed isolation is also providing me with the opportunity to explore my relationship to my community. How could I better serve my community? How might it better serve me? What can I do to help make my neighborhood and town more livable for everyone? Once we have given these questions some considerable attention, we could meet, perhaps on Zoom, and start a dialogue. Together we can develop a common vision and a plan to implement it.

Finally, COVID-19 has given our country an extraordinary opportunity. We are quite aware of how divided our nation is. Yet, this crisis has brought people of all backgrounds, political persuasions, income levels and ethnicities together to fight this common enemy. Whether it’s medical professionals in hospitals, drivers delivering groceries or technicians ensuring our electricity stays on, people are risking their lives to provide care and support for all of us. When everyone works together, we are all better off. Can we carry this lesson forward to heal our country in the weeks and months ahead?

Our nation has numerous problems. It is not working well for many Americans. A great number of us don’t have good, if any, affordable healthcare. We know climate change is threatening to devastate our planet, but we are not doing much about it. Too many people in this country, especially children, go to bed hungry every night. In the wealthiest country on Earth, millions of us don’t make a living wage. Women and people of color are discriminated against and not treated as equal citizens. Alcohol and drug addiction run rampant across our nation, as does gun violence. Big money and huge corporations control government policies to the detriment of most Americans. And, the list goes on.

At this critical juncture in our history, we must not go back to the way things were before the pandemic crisis struck. We are learning that we can work in unison for the good of the country regardless of our differences. As we progress in conquering COVID-19, we must use this singular experience to inspire us. Together we can reshape our country into one that serves the common good, not just the interests of the well-connected and the very wealthy. World War II was a comparable national crisis that brought all Americans together to defeat a common enemy. Just like after that hard-fought victory, we must grab this opportunity to create a new vision of America and remake our country.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

The Struggle for the Soul of America: How Can Biden Win?

Now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for president, what does Joe Biden have to do to unite his party and beat Trump in November?

It’s no secret that the Democratic Party is deeply divided. Biden has the moderate wing of the party solidly behind him. Not so Sanders’ progressive wing, which is not only very disappointed by Bernie’s withdrawal, but also angry that Sanders’ proposals have not been adopted by the Party. How can Biden win them over?

Biden has already taken the first step by acknowledging Sanders for “being a powerful voice for a fairer and more just America.” He commended Sanders for bringing important issues to “the center of the political debate. Income inequality, universal health care, climate change, free college, relieving students from the crushing debt of student loans.” And, he asserted that “we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues.”

Most importantly, Biden recognizes he needs Sanders’ supporters and has committed to reaching out to them as well as to Sanders himself. He concluded, “I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country. I hope you will join us. You are more than welcome. You’re needed.” (See https://www.axios.com/joe-biden-bernie-sanders-statement-8c1c7005-40e5-4b1a-93ed-8d0d973abd2f.html.)

Sanders’ biggest block of supporters were younger Americans under the age of 45. This week a number of youth organizations, including the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, which altogether represent more than 10 million supporters and potential voters, wrote an open letter to Biden. They sent him a clear, comprehensive and cogent message:

  1. Young people are “poised to play a critical role (in) deciding the next President.” You need our enthusiastic support to unite the party and defeat Trump.
  2. A “return to normalcy” that you’ve called for won’t motivate our members to vote for you. Both major parties have “failed to create a robust social safety net for the vast majority of Americans….we grew up with endless war, skyrocketing inequality, crushing student loan debt, mass deportations, police murders of black Americans and mass incarceration, schools which have become killing fields, and knowing that the political leaders of today are choking the planet we will live on long after they are gone. We’ve spent our whole lives witnessing our political leaders prioritize the voices of wealthy lobbyists and big corporations over our needs. From this hardship, we’ve powered a resurgence of social movements demanding fundamental change. Why would we want a return to normalcy?”
  3. “We need a vision for the future, not a return to the past.…(I)n order to win up and down the ballot in November, the Democratic Party needs the energy and enthusiasm of our generation…Young people are issues-first voters….Exclusively anti-Trump messaging won’t be enough to lead any candidate to victory. We need you to champion the bold ideas that have galvanized our generation and given us hope in the political process.”

The letter then lists a series of very specific commitments the organizations want from Biden. Here are just a few of them:

  • Adoption of the Green New Deal
  • Expand DACA and other policies to protect people from deportation
  • Free undergraduate tuition for public colleges, universities, and vocational schools
  • An annual tax on the wealthiest 180,000 households
  • Adoption of strong anti-corruption reforms
  • Champion a voting system that works for all Americans
  • Get big money out of politics and make the passage of HR 1 a top priority
  • No current or former Wall Street executives or corporate lobbyists in your transition team, advisor roles, or cabinet

The youth organizations’ letter concludes that they “will spend more than $100 million …this election cycle. We…need help ensuring our efforts will be backed-up by a campaign that speaks to our generation. Our generation is the future of this country. If you aim to motivate, mobilize, and welcome us in, we will work tirelessly to align this nation with its highest ideals.” (See https://nextgenamerica.org/biden-letter/.)

Others already in Biden’s camp are also urging fundamental change, rather than a “return to normalcy.” Recently Jamie Dimon, CEO of the giant Wall Street firm, JP Morgan Chase, explained that our lack of preparation for the pandemic is part of a larger set of problems facing the country. In his firm’s annual letter to its shareholders, Dimon wrote:

“Our inner-city schools don’t graduate half of their students and don’t give our children an education that leads to a livelihood; our healthcare system is increasingly costly with many of our citizens lacking any access; and nutrition and personal health aren’t even being taught at many schools. Obesity has become a national scourge. We have a litigation and regulatory system that cripples small businesses with red tape and bureaucracy; ineffective infrastructure planning and investment; and huge waste and inefficiency at both the state and federal levels. We have failed to put proper immigration policies in place; our social safety nets are poorly designed; and the share of wages for the bottom 30% of Americans has effectively been going down….We need to acknowledge these problems and the damage they have done if we are ever going to fix them.”

Dimon hopes that “civility, humanity, empathy and the goal of improving America will break through” and that this crisis can bring people together to recognize “our shared responsibility, acting in a way that reflects the best of all of us.” (See https://finance.yahoo.com/news/jamie-dimon-on-covid-19-crisis-114330705.html.)

How far will Biden go in meeting the challenges that both wings of the Democratic Party know must be addressed?  Will he be bold enough in his response to bring the party together and win the election?

Contact Biden at https://go.joebiden.com/page/s/contact-us and let him know your thoughts about what he needs to do to unite the party and win in November.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to this blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

 

 

 

 

Lessons from the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my 22-year old daughter, Gioia, stirred my soul like only peak experiences can. For five days last month we were immersed in the Canyon’s magnificence, completely cut off from the outside world. What a gift! Engulfed in a timeless hallowed space, every moment felt sacred.

Captivated by this ancient canyon, I began to discern a deeper perspective on life in our country as well as on planet Earth. We, Americans, are such a tiny spec of history. Nearly two billion years old, the Grand Canyon opens up a most profound lens from which to examine our lives.

In the 100+ degree, dry heat of the Canyon, life is truly precious. Everyone on our voyage (24 people in six rafts) looked out for each other’s health and safety. We made sure we all had enough drinking water, sunscreen and protective clothing. Running the rapids, we paddled in harmony to avoid being capsized by the five-foot or greater waves crashing over us. Hiking in the Canyon, we extended a helping hand to one another as we climbed up steep granite rocks. We understood our welfare, perhaps even our lives, depended on our mutual support.

Outside the Canyon, however, Americans don’t often hold that belief. Yes, we have our communities and neighborhoods where people work cooperatively to plant gardens or watch out for burglars. But, generally, Americans like to go their own way, the preferred choice of a private vehicle over mass transit being the textbook example. Moreover, we think we know best and distrust those with contrary opinions. Consequently, we are less inclined to engage with others outside our familiar circles to develop more inclusive solutions to a communal issue. Frequently, it takes an immediate crisis for most Americans to pull together for the common good.

This phenomenon is plainly evident in our nation’s current politics. While both the country’s healthcare system and infrastructure, among other major concerns, badly need improving, our politicians are too tied to their respective parties, not to mention their big money donors, to work together on broad-based answers to these problems. After many months of bickering, it took the disaster of Hurricane Harvey and the pending Hurricane Irma catastrophe for Congress to finally pass meaningful legislation to assist the American people.

While many factors determine our actions and attitudes, one influence appears to stand out when I reflect on my unifying experience in the Grand Canyon compared to the more diffuse, often divisive, atmosphere in the rest of our country and the world. It’s the sacred space of the Canyon that made all the difference.

In the depths of the Canyon, there were no competing voices. No TV commercials. No op-eds. No Big Money influencing one’s views. Not even any bills to pay or emails to answer. There was nothing between the grandeur of the Earth, our precious home, and me. Yet, that space was not empty. It overflowed with Spirit, and filled my heart and soul.

I wonder what it would take for each of us to rise above all the noise and confusion of our modern world and live in that sacred space where unity, the common good, was our primary goal. Of course, that’s a huge challenge. But if we each took it on, I’m certain our country, as well as the planet, would be so much better off. Are you willing to give it a try?

An Open Letter To President-Elect Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I hope that you have noticed the rising level of animosity and fear in our country since your election. Many of your supporters as well as your detractors are very upset. Ironically, I doubt it would have been much different had you lost, perhaps even worse.

Your supporters have threatened violence and call those who opposed your election “sore losers.” Your detractors are plotting how to resist and derail your presidency. While I must admit that I fall in the latter camp, my intent here, which I hope you will share, is to help reduce the tension in our nation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked over one thousand acts of bias intimidation and harassment targeting Muslims, blacks, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBTQ people since Election Day. (See https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch.) This state of affairs does not bode well for our country.

As the soon-to-be president of all Americans, you are in the best position to take constructive action to ease our national anxiety. Consequently, I respectfully urge you to consider taking the following steps:

1. In the spirit of the holidays, go on national television and express your good will toward all Americans. Tell them that you want to understand their anger and fear, but violence and intimidation will not be tolerated. Explain that you intend to be the President of all Americans.

2. Be a gracious winner and make an offer of reconciliation. Don’t just go to areas of the country that supported you. Reach out to Americans who opposed your candidacy. Show them that you are interested in their issues and want to address their concerns as well. Keep in mind that the majority of the electorate did not vote for you. Dialogue with Americans of all persuasions.

3. Expand your cabinet choices so that all Americans will feel represented in your administration. To date, your appointments appear to favor a small, elite segment of the population. You need to include people who can empathize with a much greater portion of the American people. More than one Republican served in President Obama’s cabinet. You can and should include Democrats in yours.

4. Make some policy proposals that demonstrate you really are listening to people with different viewpoints. Most Americans have nowhere near the wealth and privilege that you and those you’ve chosen for your cabinet have. You are their President too. It is your duty and responsibility to serve their needs as well. And, finally,…

5. Listen to your critics. You don’t have to agree with them, but they do have a right to their opinions. Remember the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Belittling those who oppose you does not become the President of the United States. Being open to criticism is a positive trait that will make you a better president.

Clearly, these are difficult times for many Americans. If you heed these suggestions, I feel you will make it a bit easier for yourself as well as for the rest of us. May God bless America.