Excerpt: Ed Whitfield - Against Consumer Politics in the New Economy

Laura Flanders: Not long ago former Vice President Al Gore called for the impeachment of Donald Trump. He's not the first to call for impeachment nor will he be the last, but what would it take to impeach not a person but the system of which he is a product? That's the question activist-philanthropist Ed Whitfield, co-director of the Fund for Democratic Communities in Greensboro, North Carolina was raising a few months back when we had a chance to connect at a meeting of the New Economy Coalition in Chicago.


Ed Whitfield: I have been a political activist pretty much all of my life. I've spent a lot of time reading, studying. I've worked 35 years in industry, kind of self-funding the political activity that I did when I got off work. That included runs for political office. It included community organizing, spending a lot of time talking to working class people, and I found in the course of talking to people that a number of people are kind of eager to hear kind of refreshing ideas of how we can understand the world and how we can behave in the world.

Ed Whitfield: We have an idiot as the President of the United States. One of the things I also think about, though, is that people who are more connected with an understanding of reality but deeply entrenched with an exploitative system that we're a part of would be at the helm otherwise and not as many people would be noticing the kind of absurdity of what's going on in Washington, so he calls attention to the presidency in Washington in a way that other people as President would not, and hopefully there will be some people who would be able to benefit from thinking about it more deeply than they would have in the kind of business is usual, neoliberal globalist thinking that have previously occupied the office for the last several years.


The calls for the impeachment of the President right now are a little scary to me because I think that the people who are next in line behind him are as many was as bad and possibly in some ways worse by virtue of the fact that some of them possibly have more stable connections with power bases within the Congress and within the states that they can utilize, so his impeachment wouldn't make me feel really great because I don't think that the people who are in line behind him are gonna be really beneficial to the causes that I really care about.


Politics becomes a consumer activity and the producers allow you to choose between Coke and Pepsi but if you really want some healthy fruit juice, it's really not an option, so I don't think that the American people had good options on the final ballot for the presidency and I think that we're gonna have to do a whole lot of more work in the future about being producers of the reality that we want to see rather than simply approaching it as consumers.


The metrics that we use when we're trying to evaluate whether something is interesting to us in terms of the work that I do with the Southern Reparations Loan Fund and the co-op development work that we do with the Fund for Democratic Communities has to do with whether or not we're transferring ownership, shifting ownership to working class people and their communities and whether or not we're building stabile enterprises that are capable of being self-sustaining and not gonna require ongoing subsidy.
These enterprises had to be democratic in nature where the people who are in them and the communities that they're a part of actually have some say in setting the direction of them and controlling the operations in such a way that the benefit to the community is built into how it operates democratically. Right now some of the most progressive movements that I know about inside the United States are small, certainly underfunded, that aren't dynamic, sexy in some kinds of ways, but ultimately lead to new possibilities that will grow as the economic crisis deepens.


I remain excited. I'm optimistic. I see around me growing new movements, brand new folks coming into activity, learning things from each other. I certainly see a lot of mistakes being made but that is to be expected. We are capable of learning from our own mistakes even though typically what we do is repeat them, but we can learn from them and part of the role of organizers is to again enable people, empower people, encourage people to do what it is that they're capable of understanding and doing for themselves.


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