Four years ago at the counter-inaugural event on the steps of the state Capitol in Austin, TX, I administered a Citizen’s Oath of Office to a crowd that was eager to fight the incoming Bush administration’s reactionary agenda:
“I do solemnly pledge that I will faithfully execute the office of citizen of the United States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, resist corporate control of the world, resist militarism, resist the roll-back of civil rights, and resist illegitimate authority in all its forms.”
Predictably, the Bush gang has spent four years doing its best to strengthen the corporate elite’s grip on the country, jack up military spending and use that military to deepen U.S. control in key regions of the world, and undermine fundamental political freedoms. We couldn’t have predicted that the events of 9/11 would raise the stakes so dramatically, but the oath was on target about the basic nature of the threats.
But looking back I realize the oath failed to capture the heart of citizens’ obligations — it talked only about resisting reactionary forces and didn’t speak to the democratic force we have to create. It made the mistake of talking about politics only as the rejection of injustice, not the process of creating justice and the means of achieving justice over the long term.
So, this time around, I want to update the oath:
“I do solemnly pledge that I will faithfully execute the office of citizen of the United States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, help create a truly democratic world by (1) going beyond mainstream corporate news media to seek out information about important political, economic, and social issues; (2) engaging fellow citizens, including those who disagree with me, in serious discussion and debate about those issues; (3) committing as much time, energy, and money as possible to help build grassroots political organizations that can pressure politicians to put the interests of people over profit and power; and (4) connecting these efforts to global political and social movements fighting the U.S. empire abroad, where it does the most intense damage. And I will continue to resist corporate control of the world, resist militarism, resist the roll-back of civil rights, and resist illegitimate authority in all its forms.”
I know that’s a mouthful for an oath, but I think it better captures the scope of the challenges we face.
The next four years will be difficult. The Bush administration seems determined to sink the country ever deeper into the debacle in Iraq, justifying the attempted conquest as part of its phony “war on terrorism” whose real aim is to increase U.S. domination, not protect people. (See: http://dahrjamailiraq.com/ and http://www.unitedforpeace.org/) And because of the skill of the Bush PR machine, a significant portion of the U.S. public will support the war.
Meanwhile at home, Bush is pressing to undermine the Social Security system by fudging fiscal projections and distorting data to scare people into believing that one of the most effective and efficient U.S. government programs has to be privatized. (See http://www.cepr.net/pages/socialsecuritymedicare.htm and http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/issueguide_socialsecurity) And, once again, the Bush PR machine can be expected to convince a lot of Americans that they should trade solidarity and collective security for the possibility of some personal financial gain.
On these, and many other issues, we have to resist the policies pursued by a rightwing-dominated Republican Party that holds power. But we also have to look beyond the immediate policy battles and work to rebuild politics from the ground up. The election is over; there’s no reason to pretend the Democratic Party is a vehicle for progressive change. The work is in our communities, and it is the work of a lifetime. This is the struggle that we owe it to ourselves to engage in.
And, more importantly, this is the work that we — living in the most affluent society in history — owe the world.
ROBERT JENSEN is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of “Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity” from City Lights Books. He can be reached at email@example.com.