Mississippi and Ohio: The Road to Real Change?

Last week’s defeat of numerous state referenda is proof that Americans are rejecting a scorched-earth approach to radically shift the nation’s political landscape. For weeks, people of every political bent have told us about their outrage, and now with these defeats they’re giving us clues as to what it means to move beyond the outrage. Common sense and the better angels of our nature may still prevail. Let’s take Ohio and Mississippi as prime examples. In Ohio, a whopping 61% of voters rejected the governor’s attempt to significantly restrict public sector employees to engage in collective bargaining. In Mississippi, the “personhood” amendment also was roundly defeated 58 percent to 42 percent. Just a month ago polling suggested the amendment would win by 20 points.

In these and other states advocates who seek to exploit society’s fault lines for their own gain have sorely misread the meaning of people’s outrage and how people want to get things done. Their actions are marches of folly that will produce dangerous repercussions: leading to wild swings in politics and public life, more acrimony and divisiveness, and more ideological battles.

All this is occurring at a time when our latest research in our Main Street study is showing that Americans want more problem solving, more fairness, pathways back into the public square to do things together, and the restoration of their faith in themselves and one another that we can get things done together.

Make no mistake, people do want some real changes in such areas as collective bargaining, state and local budgets and corporate accountability, among others. Some Democrats and Republicans, such as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, have diligently proposed tough measures in these and other areas. But Cuomo, like some others, has insisted on taking a balanced approach in his discussions with public sector employees and has avoided demonizing and bullying others, all while holding firm to a set of principles he believes are important to making progress.

What then are the implications? Take a look below at some of the words and phrases I’ve used in this piece. As you check out the two columns you’ll see that in many of the state referenda voting last week – and increasingly in many debates across the nation – most Americans are yearning to choose the right-hand column, while proponents of many amendments and politics as usual believe the left-hand column will win the day for them.

 Road to more gridlock  Road to real change
  • Radical shifts
  • Acrimony and divisiveness
  • Ideological battles
  • Bullying
  • Demonizing
  • Win at all cost
  • Problem solving
  • Moving forward
  • Principle-based
  • Better angels of our nature
  • Common sense
  • Build something

In our own lives each of us can make the choice to go down the road to real change. But this will require rejecting the road to more gridlock. Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Look at your own work and community efforts and determine how you’re doing in terms of each column. Then, re-calibrate your efforts to clearly reflect the road to real change.
  • When you are in conversations with others – colleagues, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and others – be mindful of which column you’re in. Don’t let the conversation veer to the road to more gridlock. Instead, keep focused on the road to real change and you’ll see people regain a sense of possibility.
  • When you take in the news, notice how it is framed by the road to more gridlock, and then seek out news sources that illuminate the road to real change. You’ll be more engaged, and more apt to engage others.

Within our vast nation there are two seemingly contradictory desires at play: the expression of outrage and a deep aspiration to move ahead productively. The truth is these desires are not contradictory at all. The first is a normal human emotion when people feel things are spinning out of control and no one is listening to them; the second is about creating the kind of society we want.

To get the country moving again, let’s choose the road to real change.