My favorite image of recent days is of young Egyptians sweeping Tahrir Square and wearing placards announcing: “Sorry for disturbance. We are building Egypt.”
We are all inspired, moved, and challenged by the courage and persistence of these young peaceful revolutionaries. Some may be concerned about insecurity in the region. Fewer have yet thought deeply enough about what we might learn from the remarkable examples in the Arab world.
Bob Herbert (New York Times) warns that while throngs celebrate in Cairo, the US is in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only. “While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite….So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them.”
While Herbert makes a valid point, this blog is not about apportioning blame to politicians or moneyed interests. What is striking about the young Egyptians is their focus on taking personal responsibility. In the U.S. we’ve all contributed to the paralysis of national will.
We may not have had the dictatorship of a Mubarak, but we have allowed the dictatorship of rampant materialism, insisted on instant gratification rather than savings, and opted for short-term and easy fixes rather than more painful long-term structural change. We have the freedom to vote, but we elect politicians who tell us what we want to hear and we reject those who tell us hard truths.
Everyone, whether senior citizen, doctor, assembly worker, teacher, community organizer or banker must play their part. It’s easy to point to faults of others. As someone once said, the reactionary waits for others to change. True revolutionaries start with themselves.
Among other things I hope in future blogs to highlight ways in which people are taking up this challenge and building trust by making a fearless moral inventory, setting new personal priorities, and finding new visions for the future.
We must all be willing to disturb ourselves. We must all take responsibility for building America.