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What Michael Moore Really Teaches Us About Political and Social Change In America - Part 5

August 2nd, 2007 by Howard Ditkoff

Campaign, Election and Media Reform: Levers and Leverage Points for Improving Our Society (Part 5 of 8)

Note: This is Part 5 of an eight-part series. You may want to start at Part 1 of the series, Summary and Table of Contents.

Moral Courage Alone Isn’t Enough

Clearly, moral courage, as discussed in Part 3, Moral Courage: A Required Virtue for Improving Our Society, is a necessary factor for positive change. But to have the optimal impact, it isn’t enough. The keys to creating change in any system include not only the willingness to speak up or act, but also the intellectual understanding of the appropriate tools to create change, as well as the effective places to apply those tools.

To improve a house, you not only need the motivation and drive to do it, but you need a hammer to pound in the nails, as well as the knowledge of where the nails should go. Without the tools you can’t do it and without knowing where to hammer in those nails, the improvement will most likely be ineffective, if not disastrous, regardless of how much courage you have.

In the lingo of Systems Thinking, the hammer and nails in this analogy are called levers. And the places where the nails should go to best create the desired outcome are called the leverage points – places in a system where a small change can make a great impact. Such levers and leverage points exist in all systems. When it comes to the issues that Michael Moore and likeminded thinkers care about – corporate responsibility, health care, peace, the environment, etc. - the levers are specific reform measures and the leverage points, I believe, are in the areas of campaign, election and media reform.

What do I mean by campaign, election and media reform?

Most of us are aware of at least some of the problems in America’s campaign, election or media systems. Many of us have heard, for example, complaints about tampered voting machines or people being unable to vote who should have been eligible. We may have heard of some of the big illegal bribe scandals in recent years in our government. These basic issues, where laws are not enforced, certainly require reform.

But just as Sicko focused not on the millions of people who are uninsured, but rather on the “legal corruption” that goes on with people who are insured, the even more crucial problems with our campaign, election and media systems are with the very fundamentals of how they are run under current laws. It is the normal everyday procedures that are so important to reform.

Listed below are some of the key aspects of America’s sociopolitical system that are most desperately in need of reform. I’m not going to go into an entire description of these reforms in this post. The main purpose of this post is to simply raise awareness of the issues. There are many resources available that go into greater depth about each of them throughout the web and I’ve provided links to some key resources where I discuss many of them in my Important Political Issues section. I also list some key organizations that work in these areas of reform in Part 7 of this series, A Formula for Fundamental, Sustainable Political and Social Change in America.

Campaign Reform

  • We have debates from which third party and other independent candidates are often excluded. We should reform the system to allow greater inclusion in key debates.
  • We have political campaigns that are swimming in donations from special interests and must be reformed through clean money, publicly-financed elections. (This ties in with the fact that we have a lobbying industry practicing practical legal bribery over public officials once they are in office that must be more tightly regulated.)
  • The bulk of campaign funding is spent on advertisements, allowing certain candidates far more access to voters through the media based on money. This should be reformed to allow all candidates free airtime. (This is where campaign and media reform overlap.)

Election Reform

  • We have an election system that allows candidates to win without true majority support, which should be reformed to an Instant Runoff Voting system.
  • We have a winner-take-all election system that should be reformed to a Proportional Representation system.
  • We have unfairly gerrymandered districts which should be replaced through fair redistricting rules.
  • We have an outdated and undemocratic electoral college system that should be abolished and replaced by a National Popular Vote.
  • We have a Constitution that fails to confer upon citizens an explicit, affirmative right to vote.

Media Reform

  • We have a system in which the media is becoming too tightly controlled by too few corporations, leading to a dearth of diversity in broadcasting views. We need to limit the concentration of media power into too few hands through regulation.

The Unemotional Center of an Emotional Spider-Web

We are all drawn emotionally to focus on certain issues that affect us directly. If we have a loved one in Iraq, that war will draw our attention. If we or a loved one has been shot, we may be more concerned about gun violence. If we have had problems with our medical insurance, the health care issue may stir us more deeply. If our job has been outsourced, we may be angry about corporate downsizing and workers’ rights.

Eventually, at least one of these issues is likely to affect each of us most intimately, and it is understandable that we are drawn to focus on that particular issue. It is tempting to believe that the wisest course of action is to champion that specific cause. But, while there is absolutely importance in focusing on each of these powerfully emotional issues directly, in order to optimally create change, we need to look beyond the surface of these symptomatic issues to the root causes.

Another tenet of Systems Thinking is that cause and effect are often far apart from each other in time and space. This can make it difficult for people to focus on the most optimal leverage points because humans are still hardwired much as we were in the simpler systems in which we evolved where threats were more direct. In a world where a common threat was a predator, the focus of the symptom – say the fear of an attacking lion – was very closely related to the source of that threat – the lion itself. A human in that situation would correctly see that the lion is the source of danger and that he needed to either fight, flee or in some other way deal with the animal.

However, in a far more complex system like our modern society, cause and effect are no longer always so closely related. The pain that we feel when a loved one is killed in Iraq or when someone we know suffers in our health care system is intense. But the root cause of that feeling may be much further away, in a place in the system that itself is rather unemotional. For example, the root cause may be the money that a lobbyist paid a Congressman to support current health care regulations or a faulty election system that allowed an aggressively pro-war President to win office without majority support. These are logistical issues that in themselves don’t arouse much feeling or even attention in many of us until they affect us through the end results mentioned earlier. The symptoms are devastatingly painful, while the actual causes are devastatingly boring and mundane, which is why they often don’t receive the attention they deserve.

Take whatever issue is most important to you, from global warming to poor education, and follow it to its roots. If you do the research and continue to ask questions, you will almost certainly, in most cases, find that that issue ties into some or all of the campaign, election and media reforms mentioned above. We need to start learning how to transfer the energy that we feel from the effects of these corrupt systems and focus it not only on the immediate causes, but on the root causes - the systems themselves – the places where all of these issues interconnect. This is the center of the spider-web and the location of the leverage points for change in our system.

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    2 Responses to “What Michael Moore Really Teaches Us About Political and Social Change In America - Part 5”

    1. Ralph Nader Running Mate, Matt Gonzalez, to Shine a Spotlight on Election Reform Says:

      […] And kudos to Matt Gonzalez for already beginning to open up the dialogue to focus on the real leverage points for change that Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns have always surfaced, but, until now, […]

    2. The Key Issue Suspiciously Missing from Ralph Nader’s “Table” Says:

      […] campaign arena. However, in typical strange and suspicious fashion, he ignores the crucial leverage point role of advocating consistently and proactively for a majority election system, such as Instant […]


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