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Political Action Cannot be Outsourced

I keep finding myself saying, surely someone with real power is going to do something to stop this.  The most recent ‘this’ has been customs agents failure to abide by a court injunction preventing the executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.  My expectation that surely someone who can make a difference will is a combination of my own sense of helplessness and my genuine if misguided view that people in positions of power are invested in the success of governmental institutions and processes.

In my work on ancient political philosophy as it pertains to contemporary political life I make the case that political citizenship is an ongoing activity, a way of being engaged in the community in order to direct the community toward the actions that you think amount to justice and the good life.  Thus political citizenship is not holding a passport or even voting.  It isn’t a matter of following the laws, though it includes that, but a way of being regularly engaged in making a case to those in power and to fellow citizens that one action is better than another.  Moreover, I have argued that such engagement is fundamental to who we are as human beings.  I don’t mean this even in a way that distinguishes us from other nonhuman animals, since I think there are ways that nonhuman animals make such cases to us and with us.  But I do mean by it that being political is a thoroughgoing part of our concern with how to flourish, not a side job that we can outsource to others while we get on with our daily lives.

And yet, even though I know all that, I still keep thinking, someone will do something about this.  Interestingly, over the weekend, the someone was the ACLU and countless immigration lawyers who showed up and worked pro bono at airports across the country.  My fellow citizens might have felt similarly helpless since they donated $24 million to the ACLU over the weekend, which is about 6 times what they raise in any given year.

I keep having to tell myself otherwise–we cannot expect people in positions of power to do the just thing.  The civic duty to demand true freedom, equality and justice is with each of us.  It might even be that people in positions of power are invested in the proper functioning of government institutions, but without the pressure to actively make the institutions serve the ends for which they are established rather than the ends of those who occupy positions of power within them, they will not do it.  Don’t let yourself think that political action can be outsourced to someone who can do something about it.  You can do something about it.  Direct action works.

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