“Direct action is necessary for democracy to work, bold moves walking a fine edge, going over the line at times. But talk about ‘revolution’ in the U.S. is premature, to say the least. The thing is, if one wants democracy to function, there must be leadership which is trustworthy. People are either too cynical to embrace that notion, or they trust untrustworthy souls. That can change, though, and that must change. If we are to carve out the inroads which are now necessary without bloodletting.” — a home schooled high school student from Santa Cruz, California
Trustworthiness is at the core of what must be focused on in activism now. Vis-a-vis candidates for office.
The fact is that career politicians — almost by definition — are too self-serving for the Collective Good. And so, since securing significant reins of decision-making power is essential for non-violently being able to bring about significant positive changes, one of our major challenges is to find candidates who are authentic, who will not sell out the Collective Good for self-advantage of any kind.
Kindness, as I’ve underscored before, must also be a natural part of any candidate’s profile, but trustworthiness gets us into another dimension. For it’s possible to be, generally, a kind individual, but still be tempted by trade-offs that are not ideal. Compromises which encourage someone in office to choose, say, one bid over another in exchange for a flattering spotlight, a sexual favor and/or some other personal preference are routine. And it gets to be a real serious matter when what’s at stake are life and death decisions, and the decision-maker is not made of the stuff that I’m talking about.
Lots of time and energy goes into debates about campaign financing. Discussions and arguments about that issue should continue, but no reform respecting money is going to have the impact folks want if individuals at the helm can be bought. For instance, let’s say that we had the kind of extreme situation where a given campaign did not allow any financing whatsoever. Okay, then money would not determine whether or not someone got into the driver’s seat, won an office. Right now such a scenario should please a lot of people. However, if they stop for a moment to consider the facts of life, that doesn’t preclude someone being bought under the table once they’re in a position to call the shots. The Collective Good could go right out the window, unless the target of the potential bribe is… trustworthy.
When I ask other activists if they have colleagues who are trustworthy, they usually ask me to define my term. Fair enough. I’m talking about someone with whom you would trust your life. In whose arms you would place your loved ones. Clear enough?
Often that provokes a laugh. People feel that’s asking too much. But to bring about the radical transformation of society along the lines of what Dr. Martin Luther King called for at New York City’s Riverside Church in 1967 (tackling racism, poverty and militarism) — what we need now — we are going to have to have trustworthy souls at the helm. For it won’t be sufficient to rely on the kind and the courageous… if they are not also trustworthy. Neither deep experience nor deep pockets can compensate for a lack of trustworthiness. Nothing can.
So why is that not discussed? Candidates, of course, claim to be trustworthy. But you know what that means in electoral campaigns. It means nothing.
I’m talking about acknowledging what we haven’t acknowledged to date. That we need to find individuals who are authentic, and channel their energies into public service. Sanders sold out; he’s not the kind of soul I’m talking about. I’m asking you to focus on someone who’s “rare as flawless chrysolite”… and to recruit that person for engagement in the electoral arena.
And I’m asking you to believe that there are such souls surrounding us, available and willing to ride on Rocinante. And to mount that idealistic horse yourself.
I trust that you believe that a better world is possible.
Rachel Olivia O’Connor is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.