"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given up by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." - Martin Luther King Jr.
With the government's relentless assault on our pocketbooks and freedoms, the economic and fiscal picture for many Americans is bleak. The national debt is approaching $10 trillion. People are losing their homes and jobs, and 5 million have fallen into poverty. At the same time, lucrative tax breaks exist for the corporate rich, while the average citizen is heavily taxed. The Constitution and civil liberties have been undermined at every step. And don't expect any of these developments to let up anytime soon.
Understandably, many are bewildered. But now is not the time to shrink from our responsibility as citizens. In fact, we should welcome the chance to regain control of a government out of control. And if there is to be any change, it is going to be brought about by us, "we the people," not the politicians. No president, no congressman, and no judge can do what you can.
There is no better time to act than the present. Fear, apathy, escapism, or reliance on some government official to save us will not carry the day. It is within our power as citizens to make a difference and seek corrective measures. That principle is the basis of the American governmental scheme.
We need to think like revolutionaries. Thus, there can be no room for timidity or lukewarm emotions. What we need is passion, dedication, and courage. And in the words of Martin Luther King, we have to demand change from the oppressors.
There are certain things that are common to every successful struggle. Here are a few suggestions from my book, The Change Manifesto:
• Get educated. Without knowledge, very little can be accomplished. Thus, you must know your rights. Take time to read the Constitution. Study and understand history, because the tales of those who seek power and those who resist it is an age-old one. Understand the vital issues of the day so that you can be cognizant of the threats to freedom.
• Get involved. Become actively involved in local community affairs, politics, and legal battles. Think nationally, but act locally. If our freedoms are to be restored, taking action at that local level must be the starting point. Getting involved in local politics is one way to bring about change. Seek out every opportunity to voice your concerns, and demand that your government representatives account for their actions. Be relentless.
• Get organized. You can overcome the behemoth with enough cunning, skill, and organization. Play to your strengths and assets. Conduct strategy sessions with others to develop both the methods and ways to force change.
• Be creative. Be bold and imaginative, for this is guerilla warfare - not to be fought with tanks and guns but through creative methods of dissent and resistance. Creatively responding to circumstances will often be one of your few resources if you are to be an effective agent of change.
• Use the media. Effective use of the media is essential. Attracting media coverage not only enhances and magnifies your efforts; it is a valuable education tool. It publicizes your message to a much wider audience. It is through the media - television, newspapers, Internet sites, bloggers, and so on - that people find out about your growing resistance movement.
• Start brushfires for freedom. Recognize that you don't have to go it alone. Engage those around you in discussions about issues of importance. Challenge them to be part of a national dialogue. One person at a city planning meeting with a protest sign is an irritant. Three individuals at the same meeting with the same sign are a movement. You will find that those in power fear and respect numbers.
• Take action. Be prepared to mobilize at a moment's notice. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're located, or what resources are at your disposal. What matters is that you recognize the problems and care enough to do something about them. Whether you're eight, 28, or 88, you have something unique to contribute. You don't have to be a hero. You just have to show up and be ready to take action.
• Be forward-looking. Develop a vision for the future. Is what you're hoping to achieve enduring? Have you developed a plan to continue to educate others about the problems you're hoping to tackle and ensure that others will continue in your stead?
• Develop fortitude. What is it that led to the successful protest movements of the past? Resolve and the refusal to be put off. When the time came, Martin Luther King, for one, was willing to take to the streets for what he believed and even go to jail if necessary. King risked having an arrest record by committing acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. He was willing to sacrifice himself. But first, he had to develop the intestinal fortitude to give him the strength to stand and fight. If you decide that you don't have the requisite fortitude, find someone who does and back them.
• Be selfless and sacrificial. Freedom is not free; there is always a price to be paid and a sacrifice to be made. If any movement is to be truly successful, it must be manned by individuals who seek a greater good and do not waver from their purposes.
• Remain optimistic, and keep hope alive. Although our rights are increasingly coming under attack, we still have certain freedoms. We can still fight back. We have the right to dissent, to protest, and even to vigorously criticize or oppose the government and its laws.
The key to making a difference is in understanding that the first step begins with you. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "We need to be the change we wish to see in the world."
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of the Rutherford Institute. His new book The Change Manifesto is now available in bookstores and online. He can be contacted at johnw@Rutherford.org. Information about the Rutherford Institute is available at Rutherford.org.