Today, a brief foray into the topics of politics, consciousness, locality and corporate spending.

A few months ago, I attended a meeting of an organization who has as one of its stated goals the return of civility into our political system. That goal is certainly in alignment with my personal vision of creating “a shift in people’s awareness and actions that leads to the creation of a world that works for everyone.” I was curious how I could serve in support of their goal.

At one point, the conversation centered on the different roles and actions between the group’s national headquarters and their local chapters. One chapter representative stated that the headquarters should do more to call attention to the initiatives of the local groups and emphasized his point by adding, “after all, all politics are local.” As I watched silently, I noted everyone around the circle nodding in agreement with the old cliché. Although I did not necessarily disagree with the comment, those words did roll around in my mind along with the question “is that really true?” The question lay dormant and unanswered, only resurfacing in my awareness this past week after the US midterm elections and my witnessing the obvious impact that excessive corporate campaign spending is having on our democracy.

Unpacking the Cliché

So what do most people mean when they say “all politics are local”? Generally, it’s an acknowledgment that the most important and lasting changes come from the grassroots through community politics before working their way up to larger geopolitical components. Interesting new ideas come out of smaller groups at the community level. This is where our “growing edge” is, where concepts can be tried out and tested and lessons learned. After a period of incubation and success, word-of-mouth spreads the idea and it’s tried in other local areas before it eventually moves up to “prime time”.

Efforts to effectuate change “from the top down” generally are fraught with failure unless they are also implemented with coercion or force (which, of course, never brings true buy in). People have to believe in the correctness of the change so as to willingly go along with it. True change always involves a degree of mental acceptance.

Recently we have seen a couple of important social changes occurring in our country which were birthed at the local level – the legalization of same-sex marriage and marijuana.

The shift towards our acceptance of same-sex marriage certainly began as a local political initiative. Interestingly, local political action originated in different communities with the intention of putting in place totally opposite laws. Some communities wanted to legalize same-sex marriage while others sought to ban it. Personally, I have always been in favor of legalizing it (I’ve written about it a number of times), but I have to acknowledge that those who were opposed did serve through their actions to bring the issue to the forefront and in some way ironically, I believe, contribute to our more broad-based acceptance of it. The attempts to ban it led many people who had never thought about same-sex marriage before to bring it into their minds and ultimately say “of course, it’s okay.” Love ultimately is winning out over fear and dogma on this matter.

Similarly, local communities began pushing for the decriminalization of marijuana. At first, it found acceptance for legalization for medicinal purposes. More recently, states have begun legalizing it for recreational use – including a couple more this past week. I can sense that we are moving towards a tipping point in our attitudes towards marijuana and I believe we are going to see more and more acceptance of it over the next few years.

In addition, the phrase “all politics are local” also recognizes that our day-to-day lives are impacted more by the decisions made by our more immediate political jurisdictions. What our school children are learning is determined by our local school board. The nearby availability of retail stores, utilities and industry is decided by local commissions and county boards. Our cities and states take actions which determine the location and quality of our transportation options, our parks, the physical infrastructure of our commons. This list could go on.

So in summary, it is true that to a degree “all politics are local”.

The Importance of Consciousness

However, we must acknowledge that the “most local” political decision is within our own consciousness. Each of us employs our own past learning, our personal values and needs as well as our own understanding of issues to make decisions as to what is right and what is wrong. We each have developed our own cadre of trusted sources to assist us in our decisions – which media we believe, which friends have the best knowledge and so on. There is this mixture of inner and outer sources which swirl around within us as we contemplate where we stand on any issue.

Once we’ve made a decision, we also decide within our consciousness in what way we are going to act in support of that mindset. At the less engaged end of the spectrum, we may be silent on our decision and our only action may be in the voting booth – if even that. As we become more engaged, we begin to talk with others about our beliefs. At the other end of the spectrum, we are out marching in the streets, getting people to sign petitions, donating our money and so on.

Hence, before any local community political action is taken, there is an even more local political decision made within the consciousness of individual people. This gives a new meaning to “all politics are local”. Yes they are – and generally more local than we know!

Everything is Connected

Politics may be local – first in our consciousness and then within our local communities – but we cannot forget that “everything is connected”. It is this interconnectedness that brings about both unintended consequences and quantum leaps in change.

A few years ago, Ken Burns released one of his historical films on America’s time of prohibition. It’s a fascinating take on both local politics and unintended consequences. Our ban on alcohol had its genesis in the minds of a few people who then began local efforts towards temperance. Their efforts moved towards community politics and when enough people had shifted their consciousness in favor of the ban, America was able to quickly move through the arduous process of a constitutional amendment. The film points out many interconnected factors which brought us to passing prohibition.

Yet the film also detailed massive changes to American culture which were totally unanticipated and undesired by those who sought the elimination of alcohol consumption. People did not stop drinking – they simply found new ways to obtain liquor by either pushing the limits of certain exceptions in the law (such as for religious or medical purposes) or by simply breaking the law. Over time, we created a major moral crisis all around the country – law enforcement taking bribes, the empowerment of criminal gangs, the massive flagrant law violations by common people. We came to accept law breaking as the norm. When we reached a critical breaking point in our ethical self-image, we repealed the amendment.

Yet we don’t have to go into the past to find unintended consequences which remind us of how things are all connected. Our war on drugs has contributed to our having one of the highest levels of incarceration in the world. Our reducing the taxes on the wealthy has led to higher levels of income inequality than we have ever experienced. Our approval of corporate mergers has led to deeming certain companies “too big to fail” and spending tax payer money to keep them going. Some might argue that these consequences might not necessarily have been “unintended”, but for most people these results were not exactly what we wanted. My point is not whether these outcomes are right or wrong, but rather we must always be aware of the potential issues which may arise in the interplay of large systems when we introduce change. Politics may be local, but as they intersect and connect with so many other aspects of our society, their impact can be far-reaching.

One other way in which local politics creates global change is through the interconnectedness of our consciousness.  As one person shifts their thinking, they begin acting in a new way based on their new belief. Others pick up on their beliefs through their actions and to a certain degree these other people begin accepting as true the beliefs they are experiencing in others. As more people come to accept the new belief, it picks up steam and eventually crosses a threshold or tipping point to where it becomes accepted by the masses. When that point comes, such believe simply “is”.

So What’s the Point?

In summary, all politics are local in the sense that any change begins within our individual use of consciousness.  As we accept a new idea, we then act in some manner based on that idea.  Some of those actions may be simple and not overtly political in the normal sense of the term, but some may be directed towards local politics. Either way, our actions impact others as they now consider the new concept.  When enough people shift to the new belief, we see larger change.

This is nothing new you may be thinking….politics have always been about convincing enough people to change their minds.  But there are a few points I want to emphasize:

Each person has the conscious ability to make a decision and voice an opinion.  Their individual consciousness is a key component of their free will choice making ability.  Corporations do not have “consciousness”, only the people within the company do.  Conflating the corporation to the status of a “person” only serves to give those people who run the company additional voices in our political system and serves to undermine our democracy.

Excessive corporate campaign funding also leads to these individuals having “larger voices” leading to “free speech inequality”.  

The blanketing of our airwaves with negative advertising is having the unintended consequence of our believing that we are more polarized than we are, keeping us cynical about politics and our politicians and leaving many people voting more out of fear and dislike than “for” ideas or people we value.

It is my personal opinion that it is time for us to begin very locally, within our consciousness, to see how totally unfair the use of “money as free speech” for these “corporations as people” really is —and then act on that awareness. Let your political leaders know of your desire for change, join with organizations who are working to reverse the “Citizens United” decision.

Each of us has the ability to effectuate change through the changing of our thoughts and actions.  And As Margaret Mead so famously stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

It’s time to act.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his very latest one Becoming a Spiritual Change Agent. Check it out!

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Photo credit: Agang SA / Foter / CC BY-NC