Another year, and things are still looking grim for the common person. Long-term unemployment benefits have ended for over a million Americans who haven't been included in the recovery that the Obama administration keeps touting. A trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is being secretly negotiated by government and corporate representatives that will, while overriding countries' labor, environmental and economic laws, subvert the national sovereignty of its own signatories. This is an assault on the people of the planet and is the latest critical step that the corporate/financial sector is taking to further their economic dominance. The climate-change-President is fairly giddy with anticipation as he talks about America moving into an exciting new era of fossil fuel production -- production that will enrich a few, poison many, and ultimately will speed the rate of climate change with its increasingly common destructive environmental and meteorological events. The goal of health care for all, so fulsomely touted as this administration began, has morphed into yet another boondoggle, this time for insurance companies who will reap a windfall of new customers -- a multi-billion dollar industry that does not make one person healthy, but rather works to ration our availability to quality health care.

So what's a person to do? We can't very well expect to reverse corporate abuse of power, or to wean the nation away from current cultural trends like material obsession, narcissism or willful ignorance overnight. But we can quite easily make a change in ourselves, in how we interact with the rest of the world, in how we see ourselves in the world. How many times do we find ourselves doing something, (or, more likely, waiting to be able to try to do something) that we don't want to do, or that we disagree with philosophically, or that we've already done but have to do again because of a glitch in the system or just because that is the protocol that must be followed? Everyday, we have exchanges with banks, utilities, social media, credit card companies and other enterprises. In virtually all of these interactions, we are passive; we're told what the rules are, what are the fees, what penalties. We're told how many days we will have to wait until we will have access to our own funds. The sub-message of these interactions is clear: our time has little or no value, our judgment or common sense has no place in the discussion, and our money is ultimately all that really matters.

This year, let's recognize ourselves for our true value, and let's re-place ourselves to a position where we're standing eye to eye with those who would tell us how to conduct ourselves. A re-read of the Constitution and a renewed understanding of the importance and the power of our rights therein would be a good way to start. Now that we've entered the age of increasing illegal national surveillance and more aggressive policing, it's more important than ever to know your rights and to know how to refuse to be bullied into unconstitutional breeches. Exercise your right to ask any authority who stops you why (s)he is doing so, what was the probable cause, if you are being detained, and if not, ask to go on your way. The argument that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about misses the point entirely. This is a nation where we are to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, also where we are to assume the rights afforded us under the Constitution and to defend those rights when they are assaulted. If we have nothing to hide, then they have no reason to search. Let's stand up for this one at every chance we get. And more than the government should get our scrutiny. Yahoo, Face-book, Google and others have not only cooperated with government data collection, but they also actively engage in it themselves for marketing purposes. They can only do this because we allow them to. They are not able to compromise or sell information if we don't give it to them. Maybe it's time to rethink our digital communication habit. It's definitely time to tape a cover over the camera lens on your computer.

If you answer you phone and a recording is telling you to hold for an important call, why not hang up? If it's important, a person will call you eventually. If you let yourself wait on hold, you've already established yourself as the subjugated party before the person even comes to the line. If it takes 45 minutes of your time to fix a mistake that a credit card company made, then insist that you be paid for you time. Simply by asking, you can follow the chain of command up through the ranks until you speak with someone who has the power to do what you require. Remember that without customers, even the behemoths would be nothing. Our power is in our numbers. But without exercising whatever power we can wrangle whenever we can, our numbers mean nothing. Let's make 2014 a year of individual actions that will collectively wrack the foundations of the corrupted economic system that no longer serves our nation or the vast majority of its people.

Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane. He is also a contributor to


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