MOSHOOD (MOSH)'s friends
A peopleâ€™s waning hope in politics
posted on Saturday, December 01, 2007 02:27 PM
In this review of Richard Harwood’s Hope Unraveled, Folorunso Moshood, highlights the similarities between Americans and Nigerians who have become disenchanted with politics because of the activities of self-serving politicians.
The book, Hope Unraveled: The People’s Retreat and Our Way Back, written by Richard C. Harwood, founder and President of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a non- profit catalytic organization dedicated to helping people imagine and act for the public good, is a 2005 publication of Charles F. Kettering Foundation – an operating and research foundation rooted in the American tradition of inventive research.
The book, which is a product of a series of five distinct sets of conversations that Harwood and his colleagues had in communities across the United States of America for the period of 13 years between 1990 and 2003, aims at examining the relationship of Americans to politics and public life. In the preface to the book, Harwood reveals the motivating factor behind these conversations:
“I wanted to know why a relationship that is at the heart of democracy and community life in America today appears so devoid of possibility and hope – and how we might shape a different future”.
The book is made up of 164 pages and divided into 10 chapters. The chapters are also sub-divided into three distinct parts. The three parts are, “Where We Are”; “The People’s Retreat”; and “Our Way Back”. The first part has two chapters that carefully introduces the reader to the problems that Harwood perceives.
Harwood thereafter sets out in this part to serially chronicle the problems he observes among the citizens of the United States within the said period. He reports that in 1990, people were angry about the way the game of politics was being played by self-serving politicians, sensational news media and lobbyists. In 1992, the anger of the people continued and they started to express what Harwood called a ‘felt-unknown’. In 1995, the anger of the people and this ‘felt-unknown’ snowballed into a ‘deep lament’ that the nation had failed to address people’s overarching concerns.
This deep lament actually paved way for the process of retreating from politics and public life in 1998. The retreat continued till September 11, 2001 when the terrorists struck. In 2003, the bad odour that wafted from 9/11 shattered human body parts, hanging in the sky like foul mist, was just disappearing and people started relapsing into pre 9/11 situations. This bad odour had earlier re-united the Americans into a patriotic symphony of brotherhood. This period was tagged the period of ‘false start’ by Harwood.
Part two, which has five chapters, extensively brings into the fore the conversations, ‘in-depth interviews’ the author had with citizens that were randomly-selected to unravel the mysteries behind the problems – retreating from politics and public life. The mysteries are actually unraveled and give birth to the ‘Authentic Hope’ that Harwood advocates in the concluding chapters. This part deals in details with the trend of events within the 13 years. A reader, especially a non-American, will encounter some global issues of concern that emanated from American socio-political calculation in recent past, which Harwwod retrieves from the bellies of the Americans.
The last part comprising three chapters, summarizes the results of all the conversations in the preceding parts and also proffers solutions to the lingering problems. A reader of Hope Unraveled: The People’s Retreat and Our Way Back will feel Harwood’s honesty, his strong will to present to the whole world these conversations as recorded by him and his colleagues. One needs not to be at any venues of these conversations to feel the collective impulse of the Americans towards the bad policies/attitudes of their politicians/elected political office holders, sensationalism of the news media and the degree of irresponsibility of the corporate America/lobbyists. In revealing this collective impulse, Harwood reports many laments by the Americans in the book.
For example, a Des Moines woman’s brief lament on elected officials and the news media, reported on page 43 of the book, goes thus: “If only they would speak our language! You don’t want to say you don’t understand, but people don’t understand”. The book is full of brief laments by unnamed Americans that will open the minds of a reader to contemporary socio-political issues that affect every facet of public life in the United States.
Also, a Cincinnati woman is reported on page 121 lamenting the issue of monetized politics: “I think you’ve got too many businesses giving money to politicians. That’s what has ruined our country...” It is expedient to say here that monetized politics is dangerous to the corporate existence of any country. It makes political leaders to be responsible or answerable to a few individuals whose interests hinge on self-centeredness and outright greed.
The causes of these lamentations and frustrations are cleverly summarized in chapter two under the heading, ‘Broken Covenants’. When there are broken covenants; when truths become worthless commodities in the chaotic political market of falsehood; when political officials are seen engaging more in politics instead of rendering more services to the people; when people’s voices do not count anymore in the scheme of things; people will have no other choice than to retreat from politics and public life to the knit circles of families and friends. One can never compare the status of these problems that Harwood and his colleagues observe with that of a developing country like Nigeria.
A Nigerian reader may see the retreat by Americans from politics and public life as a child’s play compared to the level of retreat by Nigerians from politics and public life. A Nigerian reader may wonder what would have happened if the United States political terrain is full of thugs and illiterate political god fathers. S/he may wonder what would have happened if political rallies or campaigns in God’s own country were characterized by violence - destruction of lives and property.