Social media has become one of – if not the – most important source of news for many people; indeed, Pew Research found that 68% of Americans get their news from it at least occasionally. These outlets have proven their ability to disseminate a massive quantity of information, but the rise of social media’s information dominance has also led to far more insidious advertising, as well as an increased incentive for news and infotainment to rely on emotional and visceral appeals. When readers get sucked into a partisan social media rabbit hole, their long-tailed research inevitably leads to stories far more concerned with views, likes, and shares than veracity.
The situation has become alarming – if not grave – as it spreads from the online world to the real one. We’re seeing old walls of solidarity come crashing down; even the traditional camaraderie of the U.S. Senate has almost disappeared, while bipartisanship and compromise in all political arenas have become entirely unacceptable.
The financial incentives of the outrage machine rely on anger, fear, and – above all – disgust, to capitalize on the background of real and imagined grievances and demonize the other side. Vestigial psychological relics such as xenophobia and tribalism are low-hanging fruit that is too tempting to ignore. Recent statements by companies such as Google and Facebook claim to take the problem seriously, but little has been done and their financial incentive to resist real change remains.
Yet the situation is not without hope; many individuals and groups are still attempting to keep the lines of communication open in an earnest effort to reduce the vilification of those with different political views. The compelling allure of connected electronic devices continues to fragment local communities while boosting online extremism. Encouraging disparate partisan groups to collaborate across the aisle on issues of mutual interest can get them talking again and rehumanize what is now seen as the enemy.
Local Cooperatives Can Bridge Partisan Divides With Cross-Partisan Collaboration
When Tocqueville enthusiastically wrote “Democracy in America” in 1835, he pointed to the then-unique approach Americans used to create effective, community-focused “habits of mind.” Through township democracy and advocacy-group engagement, members of a local community would collaborate on shared interests and goals and gain the trust and tolerance of each other, while building a sense of empowerment and self-value by feeling like a stakeholder and contributor to the prosperity of America.
Modern cooperatives can have much the same role; people and groups such as Michael A. Peck, MAPA and the BlueGreen Alliance use innovative Mondragon principles to help initiate and accelerate sustainable economies and more worker engagement. According to MAPA, there’s 29,000 cooperatives and 350 million coop members in America. By creating coalitions that transcend partisanship, they build an engaged and more diverse community. If planned well, that’s a staggering potential for civic engagement.
Worker-Owned Businesses Are Better-Run, More Profitable and Three Times More Resilient
A key driver of partisan divide likely is the decimation of rural America’s economy and social structure. With 60,000 factories closed since NAFTA was signed and no realistic plan to replace the lost jobs, much of rural America feels forgotten and abused – and with just cause. The rural culture of a strong work ethic is rapidly being replaced by the realities of unprecedented wealth concentration, job loss, and degradation of the human spirit. Community leaders, like Michael A. Peck, MAPA Group, have noted the importance of getting workers engaged and including them in the conversation about how investments that affect their communities, such as new production facilities or major infrastructure projects, should be implemented in their region in the short and long run.
Along with well-connected individuals, some organizations, including New York’s CUNY and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State, have been working with organized labor, worker-owned and hybrid-ownership businesses, and coops to spread awareness of the benefits of worker stakeholding in commercial enterprises. Resilience is one of the most tangible benefits; while 70% of traditional companies fail within 5 years, the number is reversed to 20% failure for worker-owned, hybrid and cooperative enterprises.