Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" in the 21st Century

    In the 18th Century, Thomas Paine wrote and published his famous pamphlet “Common Sense”. It was a cry for the establishment of a government and a nation founded on liberty and freedom.  Freedom from England, first, but also freedom from the rule of any external and enforced authority. It called for the formulation of a representative body of elected individuals from the citizenry as a whole. It decried the practice so common, then as now, of choosing rulers already powerful through benefit of birth or ignoble material wealth. There were to be no leaders under this system coming to political station via fortunate birthright or status, since these are but monarchs of some level.  Paine envisioned a nation ruled by its own citizens, representatives of the average American.

Paine spoke out for the individual’s rights within a free nation. Paramount among those rights and freedoms was the legitimate power to have an equal voice in the governing of the nation. He demanded that a worker or a craftsman have the identical decision making capacity as the wealthy and the educated. Never would mere money determine the governing body of this nation.  Only then would a people clearly be free.

    This equality of power would be, by its very nature, the most basic of political frameworks. In that simplicity, any evils or unbalances that occurred could be quickly and easily remedied. Should any group attempt to force their tenets upon the majority, then the majority would be protected by the very freedoms that allowed those tenets to be heard and debated. By the very act of allowing all voices and views to be received and considered, the majority of the populace would have the freedom to support those concepts which propelled the nation toward a higher good and dismiss those which impeded that progress.

    Paine was very precise in his denunciation of power being held by the few. He was absolutely correct in his assumption that, historically, all peoples who are governed by those whose good fortune had elevated them above others, in the narrow and serendipitous sphere of base material wealth, always led to the domination of the many by the whims of the few. Only a true and consistent form of democracy would ever dignify mankind’s long search for a world of equal opportunities and security of self.

    The world in which Paine formed his vision of representative government was vastly different from ours. Newspapers, pamphlets, books, and public speeches were the media of his day. Anyone who had access to a printing press or who could put pen to paper and hang the result on the many public boards could offer their views to their neighbors. Books were disbursed by literally hundreds of independent publishers. Anyone could take to the street to express his views on the important issues of the day and be heard by all whom walked past.

    While the spread of information was slow during this time due to the distances between towns and villages, ideas still were dispersed from place to place. In a world where travel was by foot or horse or ship, arguments could be heard and debated with much greater leisure than today.

    Paine would be struck dumb if he were to be transported to America in 2001. He would discover his cherished beliefs twisted into nothing even slightly resembling his work and his high ideals of 1776. His vision of citizens meeting to debate important issues on a town green beneath a spreading oak is not even a wisp of a memory in these times. Instead, he would discover that today’s citizens seldom leave their homes, particularly not in search of the necessary information for an informed debate.

    No, today’s citizen watch "reality” television depicting individuals “isolated” in various places with only their wits to depend on for their survival (well, that and the thirty man camera and lighting and sound crews that follow them everywhere).  Today, cartoons and inane sitcoms are the order of the day.  Any debate that takes place has to do only with sex, baldness, obesity, or dancing babies.

    If today’s Americans do rouse themselves to consider the many sides of the persistent problems facing us as a nation, they seldom seek out voices that clearly offer that valuable information needed to understand all sides of an issue. In place of the toil necessary to create informed opinions, too many Americans, instead, find someone with the same biases and prejudices and hatreds that are boiling within their own souls. Americans then follow, without thought or reflection, the ranting and misinformation from their favorite source. Are those sources, at least, offering truth and facts for the edification of their blind followers? No, sadly, the majority of the time the loudest voice becomes the most listened to voice regardless of the accuracy of their claims and opinions. Sadly, the loudest voice is too often the voice of division and exclusion. Too often, the voice is one that seeks out the lowest common doctrines and then plays to them solely to sell material products and without a thought as to the damage being caused to our future.

    What can we do to return to the ideals of that great American, Thomas Paine? Where can we again discover that spreading oak on the village green? More importantly, how can we entice those millions of Americans who have turned their backs on this most meaningful and worthy form of government to return to the debate in substantial way?

    I believe that we, the real Americans who must wrest this nation back to its original course, can do this only through an immense measure of labor.

    In as much as we will have no true and useful access to the media that misinforms the masses, we must go directly to the neighborhoods and parks and gathering places of every community. We must organize small teams of thoughtful, educated people to fan out across their local areas and to strive towards an engagement of ideas and ideals with any and all who will participate. These teams would find the neighborhood’s equivalent of the spreading oak and begin the long, slow process of reeducating the populace in the genuine democratic ideals.

    While these teams would probably begin using the organizational support of the of an existing third party, eventually these groups would no longer represent any particular party or candidate. The support of these third parties and assemblies of like-minded Americans striving to regain citizen control of our government would prove to be most valuable in the area of manpower. These teams would thus attempt to engage the multitudes in discussion of the real issues (which we will address further on). They would try to offer a safe place for debates of ideas and beliefs. They would try to organize the local inhabitants into a loose assemblage that would continue offering a secure place for the formulation of knowledgeable opinions and beliefs.

    These teams would also instruct the populace in the many ways of being heard. They would remind all who attend that the media has degenerated to that sad point where it only entertains and distracts and that any attempt to gain its attention is folly and wasted effort. It has become the unthinking and inarticulate mouthpiece for the powerful and wealthy. Any actions taken to change the direction of this nation are ridiculed as coming from those “outside the mainstream” and any protests or public displays of anger are made into cartoon-like manifestation of the childish left.  Therefore, we must use those means still at the disposal of the common man.

    We must accept the reality that our message and teaching will have to be offered directly to the populace. We will have to accept the fact that, for the near future, we will feel as if we are emulating Sisyphus in our daily repetitions of the true definition of liberty and freedom and democracy.  

    We will instruct the communities on the power of communicating with your “elected” representatives. Using the mail and the phone and the fax and the computer to inform these political operatives of the views of the communities is a powerful method when used correctly.  

    We must then follow up on our communications with the politicians with reminders that we are still watching and waiting to see if their actions abide by their promises.  When we find those few who do keep their promises to the people, we must inform them of our support.  When we find those who prove themselves to be liars and hypocrites, we must inform them constantly that they can no longer expect us to support them and, in fact, that the people will actively work towards their immediate retirement from government.  Knowing the their actions are not going unnoticed will be a powerful weapon in and of itself.

    We must seek out and support those alternative forms of media that do exist and that do offer the attention of the educated and alert citizens. Newspapers such as the Progressive Populist and magazines such as Mother Jones and Z and the multitude of progressive Internet sites will become the conduits through which our message will be disseminated to those, first, of like minds but, eventually, to everyone who values the free flow of information. We can display these sources everywhere we go, showing those that care the truth that your television isn’t the best resource from which to gain unbiased information.

    We must create our own productions for the electronic media.  Public radio has been all but completely murdered by the greed and avarice of the corporate media owners.  We must reinvent the concept of informational programming over the air.  There is a tremendous wealth of talent being wasted and pushed aside by the rulers of public radio that would joyfully accept the opportunity to truly speak out on the issues without fear of reprisals from the station's management.

    The Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) has become nothing more that one long commercial extolling the viewpoints of its Corporate American sponsors.  No longer will you find programs that provide factual reports of the damages inflicted on the planet and its people.  Instead, you find pro-genetic modification of food and animals, pro-fossil and pro-nuclear energy,, silly programming about UFOs and the occasional report on dinosaurs.  Even when programs about our history are offered, it is a sanitized and biased view of what those in power would want us to believe, not the unvarnished truth and dirty little secrets that makes up America.

    We must search out and support those candidates with a history of progressive thoughts and actions.  Where none exist, we must search among the citizens of America for those who believe in the ideals and framework of a progressive, challenging form of government.  We must create a system to put these candidates before the American people without the need for constant bribery by the wealthy known as campaign contributions.  Groups will fan out across America using the same approach as mentioned before; setting up information booths wherever citizens congregate and going door to door informing all of the benefits of electing someone beholden only to the people, not those who can afford to buy them.

    Once the progressive majority in America begins electing their candidates to office, the access to the newly formed progressive media becomes even more important.  Each progressive office holder will be expected to spend at least on afternoon a month appearing on both the progressive radio and television networks explaining what they accomplished for the people, why they introduced the legislation that they did, and why they have voted as they did.  They will also be expected to offer their visions of the future of this nation as seen through what they hope to accomplish in the forthcoming sessions of Congress or the Legislature or in whatever political venue they have been sent to by the people.

    These office holders will also be expected to offer their time to local groups where the true grassroots Americans can extend their support or voice their opinions on what should or should not be done within the scope of that official's venue.  These gatherings could be used, as well, as an opportunity for the citizens of a neighborhood to get together and be entertained and dine on pot luck suppers and to just relax in the knowledge that, after more than 200 years, the ship of state is being brought back about to its original course of freedoms for all Americans no matter their financial status or fortunes of birthright.

    To summarize, we must set forth on the adventure of the millennium.  

    The progressives in America must first use the access to the media available in order to begin the massive undertaking of the education of the American people.  The citizens of the nation must be reminded of both their Constitutional rights and basic freedoms and to remind them that they are thus charged with the duties and responsibilities that are the foundations of those rights and freedoms.

    We must create even greater access to the people through the creation of electronic media of radio, television, and the Internet.  The people can only act on the knowledge that they are offered and it is the duty of progressives to offer that information in a timely and accurate fashion to the majority of the American people.  Never again should any candidate for a public office be excluded from the national or local discussion and debate nor denied access to the attention of the American voters.

    We must monitor and support all candidates whose policies align with the desire for a future dedicated to the people of this nation and our fellow planetary passengers.  We must find among ourselves those who could be counted on to employ an elective office for the good of all and then use the collaboration of the people to help them gain public office. We must not only employ our votes in our best interests but we must also encourage and assist our neighbors in the act of educating themselves on the issues and then voting their consciences at the polls.

    From this basic framework will arise a new and more just nation.  With these simple steps we can take back control of this government and rededicate it to the betterment of the lives of Americans of all stations.  There will be those who cry out that it is impossible to alter the course of America and that we have seen the results of that attempt in the selection of the smirking fratboy and the loss by the candidate with the most popular votes.  I say that we will encounter many obstacles along the way but the only entity that stands in the way of a better and fairer world is the inertia of those who seek only the flicker of the idiot box and the status of bigger vehicles and homes.  We have only to gain the attention of the majority of the disenfranchised to recover our freedoms. Once we have that attention, we will see a brighter future for all in a nation whose course is determined by hope and justice rather than fear and division.

    Thomas Paine would be considered just another "agitator" or "anarchist" if he were to write and distribute his worthy "Common Sense" today.  Those in power have little desire for Americans to consider other possibilities than the narrow, greedy agenda of the professional politician.  That is why it of such importance that the people be allowed to consider those options obscured by those who only seek to continue their reign of terror and division.  

    It will be a test of the will that we possess for a better world.   It will be a test of our resolve and fortitude in the face of the power of money in government to remove that same power.  Do we have it in ourselves?  Can we unite in the journey into a future of great happiness shared by all and not by the few?  Finally, do we have it within our souls to stand up and take the "slings and arrows" from the powerful in our efforts to regain control of our nation?  I can't answer for anyone but myself when I say that, yes, I will join hands with the thoughtful and the truly compassionate in this long but absolutely necessary struggle.  You must answer both to your conscience and to the children whose future relies on our ethics and efforts.

    



 

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Copyright 7/12/01