These are days when it seems sanity has left us. Civic neurosis is maintained by keeping us living in a constant state of color-coded mental emergency. The besieged mind then retreats into thinking only of those most basic human needs: safety and security. Leaders who promise to provide and protect these needs are then revered.

However, it is during times like these that enormous change is possible. Humans are only willing to change if they are uncomfortable, and, for one reason or another, most Americans are not at all comfortable with what they see happening in their country.

We're discovering that more security does not make us more secure. We're realizing that respect garnered out of fear is not admiration. And we're remembering that in all human history, war has never really brought the promised peace.

We're watching the income gap widen into a chasm. We're trading the export of good jobs for the import of cheap trinkets. We're accumulating debt faster than our children can ever hope to pay it off. And we're glimpsing what only recently seemed a bright future now being thrown into the shade.

And, as always, we're hoping for someone else to come along and make it all better. But there is no one else. To the many like me who have rested satisfied in being "right" while those in power have remained busy being in control, it is time for us to take back America.

To all the self-described activist and progressive individuals and interest groups, this is a call to lock arms. It is no longer a matter of feeling good having fought the good fight -- it is now so much more than that. Our nation is on the verge of a decline as historic as the fall of Rome, and unless we coalesce we are powerless to stop it.

Only sixteen months remain until the presidential election. Until then, we must join to work tirelessly toward making November 2nd, 2004 the dividing moment between the threat of decline and the potential for restoration. Accomplishing what now looms as a nearly insurmountable task may well require more intellectual courage than most of us have ever known we possessed.

We must become prepared to firmly lock arms against a seemingly endless procession of attack ads bought with hundreds of millions of fundraising dollars. Such an onslaught will be unprecedented in American political history. These ads will question the patriotism of those who disagree with this administration, and use incendiary language in attempt to antagonize responses in kind. They will likely give further reassurances that our leaders are working day and night to keep our nation safe and secure. Images of September 11th will likely be evoked in allusion to the heightened threat of terrorism that we'll be told would occur should our nation decide not to "stay the course".

We must respond with joy, and energy, and passion. While we must remain unapologetic for our indignation, we must stop complaining about what is, and start putting forth ideas about what could be. Resorting to name-calling and negativism will only serve to strengthen the position of those in power, as "swing" voters are not likely to vote for change is unable to tell the difference between those on each side of the debate.

We must strive to be inclusive to anyone and everyone who, for whatever reason, shares the concern that our country is headed in the wrong direction. Those on the "left wing" must not assume that those on the "right wing" are necessarily comfortable with the course this president has charted for our country. An eagle needs both wings to fly -- a democracy invites and tolerates the clash of opinions, and understands its very survival depends on its ability to find common ground.

No single Democratic candidate will be perfect. We have to return to the days when leaders were elected based on a trust that they would make the best decision possible for our country when presented with all the arguments. Nowadays we've divided ourselves into so many specialized interest groups, each fighting for an important cause but only feeling their part of the elephant, as it were. We each need to rediscover the whole elephant.

We must demand a candidate who sees the whole elephant as well. Every activist and progressive individual and interest group must cease and desist from the recent historical policy of supporting a candidate based on that person's willingness to pander to the group's concerns. The forgotten strength of the Democratic Party lies in bringing together so many different Americans with so many different agendas; no one candidate should be expected to promise the moon to each interest group in order to get elected. In fact, we should be leery of one who tries.

Finally, we must reject any candidate who resorts to negative language and the politics of poison. Only someone who personifies the joy and passion inherent in recognizing this crucial opportunity for our national restoration can win the election.

Of course, success in November 2004 will not immediately translate into success in fixing our problems. We'll have to transform that success into a legacy of lasting improvements. We'll be much like a brand new mother, weary from nine months of pregnancy culminating in an exhausting labor -- while thrilled at the birth of her child, her work has really only just began.