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UMaine Today Magazine

Power Struggle
Back to Election 2008-]

Doug Allen, Professor of Philosophy

Doug Allen
Doug Allen

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During the past year,
the most common political question I received from professors and other members of the university community is the following: Whom are you supporting for president? The question was predictable but my answer usually seemed to surprise many of the questioners: In terms of my research and service activities, as well as my peace and justice activism, this question was not my highest priority.

It's not as if it makes no difference who is elected president. If Al Gore had become president in January 2001, it is possible that the U.S. would not have invaded and occupied Iraq, would not have the biggest financial deficit in U.S. history, and the government might not have been so complicit with big oil corporate interests and might have made some progress on the climate change crisis. A new president can make some difference in changing the present cultural climate in which inequalities between haves and have-nots have grown alarmingly, class and race and other divisions have been exacerbated and cynically exploited, and the reputation of the U.S. throughout the world, even in friendly countries, is certainly at its lowest point during my lifetime.

The most important realities, even during this election year, do not involve who is elected president, but rather whether we can create a new political and cultural climate with a change in relations of power. We can participate in the electoral process but with a different attitude and political culture. We must get away from the top-down approach in which we become totally dependent on our president and other elected officials to solve our political, economic, military, healthcare, energy, environmental, and other problems. When so dependent, we then become disappointed, cynical, and feel powerless when elected politicians disappoint us and represent the interests of the wealthy and powerful. We have given the president and other politicians too much of our power.

Instead, we must create and further a culture in which we educate ourselves, raise consciousness, and build a real democratic movement. In the electoral and other political processes, we must challenge fear mongering, misinformation, lies, rush to war, false patriotism, undermining of civil liberties, promoting torture, war-profiteering by corporations, planned occupation of Iraq with permanent military bases and control of the oil, undermining of real science, and all of the other recent policies that are not in our real interests.

It is only a broad-based and diverse movement, not defined by money and limits of electoral politics and the power status quo, that can support progressive politicians and put pressure on those complicit with economic and military power. Without such a political culture we are left waiting for the superstar politician who will solve our problems for us, and that is not how history works.

The abolition of slavery, woman's right to vote, the end of child labor, the 8-hour day, civil rights, the end of the Vietnam War, environmental legislation, and other really significant cultural and political changes were opposed by powerful and privileged economic and political forces. Only when the people educated themselves, organized, resisted, struggled, and became a powerful political culture did the "leaders" at the top have to listen. Only through real democratic empowerment can we support progressive candidates and then hold them accountable.


UMaine Today Magazine
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