The Grunt Work of Democracy


My mom, Angele Mokhiber, grew up in Zahle, Lebanon.

She was the eighth of eight sisters.

It was a time before cell phones, laptops, and I Pads.

Mom spent her time with family, fig trees, vineyards, and books.

I was thinking of Mom the other day.

I was up early at home in the kitchen, on my laptop.

My wife — Angela — who grew up outside Columbus, Ohio — came downstairs.

Instead of saying good morning to me, my wife saluted to the laptop and said — “Good morning, Mister.”

My wife was channeling my mother.

Mom used to come down from upstairs and instead of saying good morning to me, she would say good morning to the laptop.

Mom used to call my laptop “Mister.”

It was Mom’s way of saying to me — I’m a human being.

You’re a human being.

Show me some respect.

Get off the computer.

Not that we can or ever will.

Watching Democracy Now, reading CounterPunch or CommonDreams, or listening to Radio Open Source.

You could spend your life on the computer, becoming enlightened and educated about the ways of the world.

But what kind of difference does it make on the ground?

If it does make a difference, why the rightward drift in the country?

Because Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin reach more people than Amy Goodman, Alex Cockburn, Chris Hedges and Chris Lydon?

Or is it because as Sam Smith put it in his book Why Bother? – we watch C-Span to remind us what democracy was like?

Let’s take a case in point.

My home — Morgan County, West Virginia — a conservative, 60/40 Republican county.

The County Commission has put a mild zoning law on the ballot November 2.

This has energized an angry population — fueled by Fox — to turn out and put hundreds of “No Zoning” signs all over the county.

Or as the populist right wingers say here — “What part of leave me alone don’t you understand?”

They give cover to the developers who want no part of a zoning law that would help preserve the rural nature of the county.

And these are not just small yard signs.

They are large four foot by six foot “No Zoning” signs.

Imported from a pro-development group in neighboring Berkeley County — Building a Better Eastern Panhandle.

In May 2008, the anti-zoners crushed a zoning ordinance at the polls in Berkeley County 65 to 35.

How? They put these big “No zoning” signs all over the county.

Or as one pro-zoning businessman told us recently — “it was a campaign of half truths and fear here in Berkeley County to frighten the residents into voting against zoning.”

“A good zoning law will lower your property taxes and direct growth to the proper areas,” he said.

“But in the end, the fear mongers beat us.”

“They scared people to death that someone is going to tell them what to do with their property.”

They are trying to do the same thing here in Morgan County.

And actually, it’s the way Sarah Palin launched her career.

Palin became mayor of Wasilla, Alaska on an anti-zoning plank.

She then opened up Wasilla so that it became — as one city councilwoman put it — “one ugly strip mall from one end to another.”

And so, the question on the ground here in West Virginia becomes — in a year of right wing resurgence, where people are angry at government, can we beat back a populist right wing insurgency that wants to defeat a conservative zoning law that would protect the rural nature of our county?

If so, how?

And the answer is –

Democracy 101.

Person to person.

Talk to every likely voter.

Not that we will win.

But it’s our only chance of winning.

So far, we have spoken to close to 2,000 likely voters.

On our way to speaking to all 7,000 likely voters.

And what are we finding?

Forty-three percent favor our mild zoning law.

Call them the silent majority.

But most of them think it’s going to lose.


“Don’t you see the no zoning signs everywhere?”

“Will you put up a pro-zoning sign on your property?” we ask.

“No, the neighbors will get angry at me.”

The anti-zoning minority — 23 percent in our polling — is aggressive and angry.

Many of them believe that zoning is a way for the rich to get their way in the county.

They don’t want to become just another Washington suburb, but they support defeating a law that would protect against that outcome.

They have been whipped by Palin and Beck and Fox into an anti-government furor.

And locally, they have been told that zoning will open the door to government telling them what color to paint their fence.

Then there is a big chunk that is undecided — 33 percent according to our informal polling.

And they too are being scared by the minority.

It’s a microcosm of the country.

But Mister will not help us in this battle.

Or in the bigger battles for single payer health insurance, against the war in Afghanistan, or against burning fossil fuels.

It’s going to take the kind of grunt work we are not used to.

Person to person.

Phone call after phone call.

Citizen to citizen.

Good morning Mister.

Goodbye democracy.

RUSSELL MOKHIBER edits Single-Payer Action.

Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.

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