When exactly did our leaders stop referring to us as "citizens" and start calling us "consumers"? When did the "public square" get replaced in political discussions by the "marketplace"? These are questions I have been pondering for the last several years as a community activist. Clearly, our culture has been overtaken by concerns of materialism, consumerism, and the so-called "free-market." In the midst of all this, we have become obsessed with working harder, being more productive, making more money, and buying more stuff. It is harder and harder for people at the lower end of the economic scale to keep up with the cost of living. This has all led to less involvement in our communities, evidenced by, amongst other things, declining participation in civic groups. Our political leaders pander to us, telling us we can have all the services and benefits we want from government, while assuring us that they will make cutting our taxes their top priority.

Where do the interests of the larger community fit into all of this? We allow ourselves to be distracted by arguments about issues of "morality" as defined from a very narrow religious point of view, that of the Religious Right. In the meantime, the current administration seeks to dismantle government as we have known it under both Republican and Democratic presidents for the last 60 years. The political labels have become meaningless. Our current administration is the most radical we've seen - eliminating the lines between church and state, between the executive branch and the judicial branch, trying to legislate away the separation of powers. Corporate power and influence have overwhelmed the ability of average citizens to have a voice. We watch as our civil rights seem to be eroding away before our very eyes.

Many Quad Citians are concerned about the loss of our democracy, about the erosion of civil rights and the marginalization of minority groups. We are concerned about a preemptive war based on misinformation, about intolerance, about the desecration of our environment. We want to reclaim what it means to be moral and patriotic citizens.

A group of us have been meeting over the past three months - well over 100 people - to organize citizens to work for the common good of our communities. We value peace; social, racial, and economic justice; diversity; civil rights; civil liberties; human rights; a preserved environment; and a reinvigorated democracy. We seek to empower people to take action for positive change and to advocate for fundamental change when necessary.

We call ourselves Progressive Action for the Common Good, and we are already working on issues including protecting and saving Social Security; challenging corporate power, which is weakening our democracy; advocating for affordable housing; supporting the civil rights of all people; working for a health-care system that serves everyone; and reclaiming what it means to have faith or be moral, amongst other issues. Progressive Action is nonpartisan. We will not speak with one voice; rather we will work to bring together all of these voices to empower average citizens again.

We are having a public summit on Saturday, April 16, at Augustana College to gather as a community to talk about organizing and taking action for the common good. Tom Higgins, a former state legislator from Iowa, will travel from California to give the keynote address, and musical entertainment will be provided by Mike Wallace and Chris Dunn. We will be strategizing in issue workshops for local action to promote needed changes. We will be working over the next months and years to make our democracy strong again.

We need to progress to a point in this country where we examine public and corporate action not from the standpoint of "How will this affect/benefit me?" but "Is this what is best for my community/state/nation?" We ask not "What will this cost me?" but "What is the greatest good for all concerned?" Let's put aside our own personal agendas long enough to consider the needs of others. We need to rebuild our democracy from the ground up by taking responsibility for being active citizens again. Progressive Action is bringing together small-business owners, community group members, retirees, students, clergy, public servants, union workers, educators, all kinds of people from all walks of life to strengthen our communities through community action and to advocate for corporate policies that allow profit making as well as protection for our environment and our workers. We need a new community, moral, and political ethic that promotes quality of life for all of the people who live amongst us. Let's remember that we are not consumers. We are citizens. Please join us.

Cathy Bolkcom


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