Joining in the People’s Parade

As a child, I remember hearing the phrase, "no life grows in a vacuum" in science class. That phrase called my attention.

As I have been looking around at what is unfolding in the lives of the people whose paths I cross through my work, friendships, parenting and just through the course of daily life, I have been really struck by the leadership vacuum that seems so front and center, yet unspoken in our country right now.

I am not generally a "political type." I am more focused on the lives, health and connections of the people I know, and of building and sustaining community. Yet, the state of things in our immediate world and the larger world around us directly impacts our lives, our health, our ability to make and sustain connections, and the presence or absence of a sense of larger community.

What I have been observing for many years is an increasing list of demands in the lives of most everyone I know, be they young or old, single or partnered, living alone or living with others. You name their profession: scientist, teacher, small business owner, musician, corporate employee, personal trainer or even school-age child, both work and daily life demand more and more, while the 24 hours in a day remain constant. This means more stress, less down time and more difficulty for even the most organized person to stay on top of the many layers and levels of life to be managed.

As people run faster and harder, just trying to keep things together and survive the demands of their daily lives, it is easy not to notice, not to think about or not to have the time, space or energy to figure out what to do about the breakdown of many of the structures and systems that surrounds our lives. I don't know anyone who favors the War in Iraq, the presidential style of George Bush, the high cost of housing in the Northeast, the growing costs of health insurance coupled with the difficulty of access to health care, the cost and inequity of the legal system, the prevalence of violence in the headlines, be in on the streets of Boston or on the campus at Virginia Tech.

Yet, how do we change any or all of this? Where do we begin? And how do we find the time to even think about the solutions, never mind to act?

In his important book, The War on the Middle Class, Lou Dobbs reflects what George Bush has asserted in his two presidential campaigns, that America has become "the ownership society," is true. And sadly, this ownership society is one of oppression for the majority of Americans. Dobbs writes, "America has become a society owned by corporations and a political system dominated by corporate and special interests and directed by elites who are hostile — or at best indifferent — to the interests of working men and women of the middle class and their families."

While for almost two hundred years, we had a "government of the people," Dobbs sees we now have a "government of corporations," and "the consent of the governed is now little more than a quaint rubric of our Declaration of Independence, honored as a perfunctory exercise in artifice, and practiced every two to four years in midterm and presidential elections in which only half of our eligible voters go to the polls."

Dobbs continues, "There is almost no countervailing influence in our society to mitigate even at the margins, the awesome and all but total corporate ownership of our political system. Labor unions are nearing extinction, and those that survive are in the midst of internal leadership struggles to find relevance in economy and our society…Most alarmingly, our federal government has become so dysfunctional that it no longer serves well the needs of the people, nor do our elected officials assert the good against the power of money and capital."

Long and short, we are in big trouble. We are at the mercy of an oppressive system that we have silently or unconsciously colluded in creating through powerlessness, lack of information, and lack of access to leverage points for change. Like a bunch of frogs in a pot of water on a stove, living in the trance of trying to stay afloat in our daily lives, we didn't know that someone turned on the flame and we are slowing boiling to our deaths. We just haven't had the time and energy to notice, never mind act.

Enraged and Engaged

This has been on my mind for a long time, so it was fortuitous to receive an excerpt from Lee Iacocca's new book Where Have All the Leaders Gone? in an e-mail from the director of Rowe Camp and Conference Center, Doug Wilson. Iacocca is on the same page as Lou Dobbs, and he is taking the message a step further. As he calls things the way he sees them, Iacocca is mad. Outraged, in fact. And he is challenging us to wake up and find our outrage as well. Existing silently as we try to survive doesn't grow awareness of what is actually going on.

He writes, "Had enough? Am I the only guy in the country who is fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane, much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.' Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic…You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up."

He goes further, "I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it and it's not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks…"who he'd love to leave the rage to if he could only "pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention." We voted for the "crowd in Washington," but "we didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason." Iacocca calls this a "dictatorship, not a democracy."

He challenges us all to take action. "You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for someone else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we have a role to play."

I have wanted to speak and act. But it has been hard to know where to begin. We need to each find the facts that will fuel the fire in our bellies, feel the impact of our local and global context in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and come together to make a change. We may not have the road map. But with passion, a vision of what needs to change, and collaboration with other good people, we can, in time, find a way.

Linda Marks is an author and body psychotherapist in Newton, MA. She invites your thoughts and ideas about what kinds of actions we might take, large and small. Email Linda at or visit