The Rise of the Peer Progressive

Beyond 6 November

As the 2012 US presidential election looms, the familiar red and blue fever spreads across television and computer screens like another World Series or Superbowl. This election is no different than any other, as the corporate two party duopoly propagates the illusion of choice and sucks people into a presidential charade between two sock puppets that essentially work for the same bosses.

What is presented as a democratic election is in reality far from democratic. Author of the book, No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates, George Farah revealed how the US presidential debates are set up to serve the interests of the two parties and their corporate sponsors. He exposed how the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a corporate-funded organization run by the Democrats and Republicans and controls who is allowed in, as well as what questions are asked and how the debates are packaged for the media.

Since the CPD was formed, third parties have been completely obstructed from even attending the debates. Green party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala were arrested when they tried to attend the second presidential debate this year at Hofstra University in Hempsted, N.Y. This shocking reality is nothing new and is not even questioned by the corporate media. In 2000, Ralph Nader was not allowed to even attend the debate even though he had a ticket. Nader’s efforts in the electoral arena in the last 10 years have revealed an insidious obstruction of ballot access for third parties. He rightly compared the onerous state statutes to racist Jim Crow laws. He sued the Democratic Party for their attempts to take third parties off the ballot.

Eliminating voices that challenge the monopoly of two parties is the first thing done to maintain control of power. After this, there needs to be a perception of false opposition where focus is given to concocted or minor differences rather than looking at the pervasive common agendas. In an interview at DemocracyNow!, author and attorney Glenn Greenwald pointed out the method of false objectivity practiced by journalists to frame the debate:

… To watch Martha Raddatz, posing as an objective journalist, embracing what is an extremely controversial premise in her question, and then watching both candidates accept that assumptions rather than challenge them, sort of is the microcosm of how these debates work, which is, they pose as objective, neutral moderators designed to have this wide-ranging debate, when in reality it takes place within a very suffocating, small confine of ideas.

It is becoming undeniable that the US political system is so corrupted that at the Federal level, there have been no real choices for a long time. The ideology of the ‘lesser of the two evils’ has become registered as the norm, so a majority of American accept it as unchallengeable reality. American voters start out already defeated before this propagated farce, by engendering their own subconscious hopelessness, which the system depends on for its validation. Most people react with emotions to the stimulus of the bipartisan manufactured pendulum that swings between false hopes and fears, with hyped issues about gay marriage, abortion and cutting Sesame Street. Meanwhile, endless illegal wars, assassinations, banker bailouts, eroding civil liberties and destruction of the middle class will carry on as before when the election is over. It will be business as usual. False fear or false hope is what people have to choose between with these money-soaked selections. After the 2008 empty Obama Hope and Change campaign, the pendulum now has swung back to domesticated fear with Mitt Romney.

Nader’s independent ticket in the past two Presidential elections revealed decadence of a political system that may be broken beyond repair. When this game is so rigged, so completely against the people’s true interests, engaging in the system by voting for one of these two parties will not change anything and actually helps legitimize this blatant plutocracy. What is left for the American people? There has been a call in the social media sphere to boycott the voting altogether this year and disengage from the election, in order to delegitimize this tacit theocracy that worships money and systemic corruption. On November 6, should people just sit at home and choose not to vote for the president? Are there any other effective alternatives?

Author Steven Johnson offers an optimistic view. In his book Future Perfect: The Case For Progress in a Networked Age, he points to an emergence of new political philosophy that he terms the ‘peer progressives’. He defines these people as individuals who believe in decentralized, bottom up peer networks and progressive ideas that originate through these systems. These people do not think important challenges will be solved by markets, the state or private sectors or by any single ideology or profit-oriented hierarchy. Peer progressives simply do not fall into the typical left-right political spectrum.

Johnson described how the egalitarian nature of Internet connection allows unfiltered creativity of users to directly flower through the system of mutual acknowledgment. He calls for directly democratic participation on many levels. Johnson offered the example of how Twitter hashtags have became a platform for social movements like Occupy and the Arab Spring. Before Occupy found its way into the encampment of Zuccotti Park, it first was an idea, a meme and a hashtag.

Now people are directly connecting with one another and peer-networks are arising to solve social problems. When the formal route of nation-state diplomacy fails, citizens of one country begin to directly connect with citizens of other countries to circumvent the hate and fear-mongering of their governments. For instance, with peer-to-peer communication, Iranian people have begun to support Israeli commoners and vice-versa, showing the world a new form of diplomacy that emerges from unmediated human connections.

More and more people are bypassing centralized state authority. A volunteer-run network called Global Voices provides translation for the international blogosphere, helping messages get through language barriers. Ivan Sigal, executive director of the organization pointed out how bloggers and citizen journalists are now working as cultural mediators.

Ad hoc movements have become instant mobile global aids that show what grassroots humanitarian intervention looks like, as opposed to being guided or co-opted by state or corporate interests. Telecomix is a decentralized cluster of Internet activists committed to freedom of speech. It has no mailing address, country, bank account or physical headquarters. With no official membership, people spontaneously show up in chat rooms and start to participate. Telecomix provided tech support for the Arab Spring, both in Tunisia and Egypt with modems faxes facilitating the flow of information. When Youtube is blocked in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is mirroring the videos to keep information flowing.

In the age of Internet connection, virtually everything is global. One country’s problems are not solely its own. People in different parts of the world engage in each other’s challenges and offer new perspectives. The US presidential election is not only a concern for the American people. People around the world are affected deeply by the leadership of such an empirical force that can project military and economic might around the world with such powerful and often devastating consequences.

In mid-October, the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks launched a presidential campaign meme; a message to vote with your money to support accountability in government. In conjunction, they began an election-related data release with the intent to inform the U.S electorate prior to the election. The accompanying press release stated, “The only legitimate government is one elected by an informed population”.

From a suburban backyard home-studio in Melbourne, JuiceRapNews, the creative duo of Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant offered a performance that shed light on the dire dysfunction of US electoral politics and revealed it to be a global issue.

There is a network emerging that is not defined by the corporate copulation of false political oppositions. Nor is it defined by libertarian or socialist views or any specific nationality. What we are seeing is the rise of the peer progressive, a new form of party-less affiliation that moves beyond the political and ideological divide as well as the nation-state paradigm. This way of networking reflects the way the Internet is built around a constantly evolving structure of peer networks.

On the West Coast of the US, these decadent forms of democracy are on trial. This November, California citizens are set to vote on a citizen-penned initiative for labeling GMO food. The only way this law could have moved forward to this stage is by bypassing the two corporate parties altogether. Both Democrats and Republicans have consistently given Monsanto and related companies a blank check by letting them form government policy regarding food. Now, Direct Democracy is stepping in because the ‘representative’ facade has failed. This distrust of leadership revealed itself again after the hurricane hit New York City. Occupy Sandy quickly emerged from the grassroots to create an effective emergency relief operation. Globally, CryptoParty, a decentralized collaboration that guards against surveillance and invasion of privacy is popping up in cities around the world.

Some have labeled these newly emerging networks within an old framework of party politics, attempting to demonize or co-opt them, yet the uniqueness of peer progressive networks lie in their indefinable and evolving nature. These are networks that are not based on a particular top-down ideology or party affiliation, but decentralized peer connections made through people freely coming together. For this reason, peer progressives are felt as a real threat to the existing two party politics and nation-state paradigm, as they cannot easily be contained or manipulated with false dichotomies and divide-and-conquer tactics.

The emergence of peer progressives might simply be an indication that we are moving into a truly global era that is no longer defined by a nation-state perspective or loyalty to a particular party or ideology. When one looks around, one sees connections within emerging networks of citizens around the world. We are not alone. When the spectacle of these political charades is over and the illusion of the invincibility of empire begins to collapse, we might find ourselves in a larger web that has been quietly cultivating itself behind the scenes.

In this election, some are saying vote for no one as president, but I say it is time to vote for everyone. The era of politicians and plutocrats is nearly over. When we realize our own significance, together we will find new strength in global solidarity. Just consider that about half of the Senate and Congress are multi-millionaires. This means you and I have more in common with the sweatshop workers in China making I-phone parts or bloodied drone-bombed attendees at a wedding in Waziristan than we do with an owner of Wall Mart or the political leaders in Washington.

Every time we buy local or non-corporate, we are voting for ourselves by keeping value in our communities. Every time we support our brothers and sisters globally in a nonviolent way, we build true human community. When we choose to connect with our neighbors through free sharing and common cause, with creative social and economic currencies we build just society. Whenever we support clean and independent energy, we participate in our own power instead of giving it to a system that destroys our health, economy and humanity.

Power multiplied by direct common will is a transformative force in everything from economies to systems of governance. Peer-progressives are on the rise. Where we go from here is up to us.

Nozomi Hayase is a contributing writer to Culture Unplugged and a global citizen blogger at Journaling Between Worlds. She brings out deeper dimensions of socio-cultural events at the intersection between politics and psyche with fiction and reality to share insight on future social evolution. She can be reached at: nozomimagination@gmail.com. Read other articles by Nozomi.