For what I am about to attempt to argue, it is important to cite a very important source. A few years ago now, I read a book by John McKnight & Peter Block. In “An Abundant Community” they lay out a way of understanding our role in our communities and has been one of the most helpful and profound ideas I have read in a long, long time. The idea is simply based on their definition of and distinction between a citizen and a consumer. They write:
“A citizen is one who is a participant in a democracy… It is one who chooses to create the life, the neighborhood, the world from their own gifts and the gifts of others. A consumer is one who has surrendered to others the power to provide what is essential for a full and satisfied life. This act of surrender goes by many names: client, patient, student, audience, fan, or shopper. All customers, not citizens. Consumerism is not about shopping, but about the transformation of citizens into consumers.”
I just love that. A citizen is a creative force in the world. A consumer looks to obtain what others have toiled over.
The citizen puts their hand in the dirt, often their own dirt, realizing the solution to their problems are found within themselves and those around them. The consumer waits with conditioned expectation that a savior dressed as a salesmen will come knocking and then they will have what they need.
When faced with a problem the citizen holds the line, wades into the tension of it all and attempts to create a way forward. The consumer on the other hand, feeling lack and want, wonders why no one has solved this problem for them.
The citizen feels their responsibility to fix it. The consumer feels entitled to a solution.
With that in mind, allow me to submit this idea: A pre-occupation with and attraction to a 3rd party as an answer to your political discontent is an act of consumerism and is not the posture of a citizen.
Now, that may seem harsh, but I think it’s true.
There isn’t a third party savior coming to rescue you from the right or left. There isn’t a middle way, politically, that will garner necessary attention to solve your notion of what is wrong with our current two party system. (Also, a quick aside: There are plenty fractions within each party this year… so in fact you already have an expansive set of ideologies to align with if you are interested in creating the solution to your own problems, like a citizen does.)
So, what would a citizen do?
I believe a citizen would put their hand in the dirt, often their own local dirt, and realize the solution to their problems are found within themselves and those around them.
The citizen, when faced with a problem, would hold the line, wade into the tension of it all and attempt to create a way forward.
The citizen would feel their responsibility fix it.
I believe a citizen would look at two parties, however imperfect, and figure out which they align with more and attempt to create an even better version of that party by getting involved. Hand in the dirt involved.
There is a way forward after all. It just isn’t necessarily as easy as a couple of dudes claiming to be the perfect compromise.
Because what we want isn’t another option. What we want is a better option. And a citizen knows that the process of finding a better option often begins within, while a consumer simply shops around.
We must realize if the current set of options aren’t working for us, another option isn’t the answer. We need to fix, heal, and restore the current set of options. And, that, takes work and will probably require every citizen to lend a hand.
UPDATE: After several conversations and consideration, I think this post was a bit too one sided. And, while I am comfortable with going to extremes to make a point, I left a few thoughtful citizens behind. There are wonderful, thoughtful people working every day to try to create the party and ideology they want to see to help create the world they want to see. They are absolutely citizens and to concede to voting for a major party would in fact be consumeristic of them. In this way I am thankful for their citizenry. The rest of this post and my larger point still applies to most of the current context in which we find ourselves.
Next week: A list of questions a citizen asks themselves before they vote.