I wrote this the week after the last presidential election. As I re-read it, it seems almost current - the names have changed, the game has not. It's scary to watch well-meaning people around the country oiling up the creaking machinery of the Anti-Republican machine for 2008.
Let's not deceive ourselves that a Kerry victory would have been a victory for peace or justice. Either a Kerry victory, or a Democrat majority in the Senate would have halted, to a limited extent, the assault on civil liberties and reproductive rights. In arenas of foreign policy, and economic and social justice, the Kerry agenda showed little or no difference from Bush's, other than not being driven by evangelical Christian fanaticism. Kerry is a multilingual, diplomatically polished, intellectually sophisticated imperialist; Bush is a wacko fundamentalist Christian foaming-at-the-mouth messianic imperialist.
Or, to quote Peter Phillips:
“November 2 gave us a choice between war and more war, corporate globalization and more corporate globalization; the continuation of gifting billions of dollars to Israel, the Patriot Act and an expanded Patriot Act; a police state and a seriously growing police state, media monopoly and even bigger media monopolies; and wealth inequality or an even greater wealth divide.”
So why was I so depressed on November 3rd? To start with, the results were devastating for progressive politics at state and local level. 11 states passed bans on same sex unions. Prop 66 (to amend the 3 strikes law) was defeated in California by the narrowest of margins. Campaigns across the country that activist friends put their all into were defeated. Some of these defeats are actually a direct result of the huge redirection of funds, volunteer efforts, and political energy into the Get Bush Out movement.
I'm heartsick at the $1 billion that went into the Kerry campaign, and what those dollars could have done for communities across the world. This demonstrates beyond all question the need for campaign finance reform. The premise that nothing is fundable but opposition to Bush has gutted progressive work across the planet in the past year. And no election that is not publicly funded, and free of special interests money, is representative in any way of the people. Until we get big money out of politics, the candidates available to us will continue to reflect nothing more than alternative brands of the same product.
Then there are the votes that weren’t counted. Or destroyed. I’ve delayed sending out this mailing because every day, new information pours into my inbox on the level of fraud in this election. David Cobb (Green Party Presidential Candidate) and Michael Badnarik (Libertarian Presidential Candidate) have announced their intention to demand a formal recount of the vote in Ohio. Other organizations are mounting legal challenges to the results declared.
Regardless of the conclusions you come to, it’s obvious that the two-party corporate-funded electoral system is so deeply flawed, it’s incapable of delivering representative government. Replacing one pilot with another doesn’t change the inherent structural problems of the machine. And yet we on the Left get caught up, over and over again, in putting our resources and energies into the battle to change figureheads.
It’s kind of like being at a huge sports event. You may loathe the Superbowl. You may know without doubt that it is a corporate-driven money making enterprise. You know it has nothing to do with the dreams and aspirations millions of individuals project onto the teams. But a funny thing happens when you’re in the stadium. Everyone around you is screaming, cheering, booing, groaning. There’s no question that it matters to them. Intensely. That each movement on the field somehow channels their deepest hopes and fears. That they believe the players are playing for them, not for the team owners, not for the corporate sponsors, not for the multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement deals. So you start to applaud, politely, when they scream at a touchdown. You get up when your friends leap up. You feel your own excitement build. You start to think “We scored! We can win!”
Only after it’s over, and ‘your’ team has lost, do you remember that it wasn’t ‘your’ team. That you didn’t buy into the game; the game was not about you. That this game has entry stakes of millions of dollars. You were never anything other than a spectator.
Yes, the outlook for the next 4 years is horrifying. But it's no more horrifying today than it was on November 1st, before the election. We have to remind ourselves that the game was never ours by choice, and never gave us a real choice to start with. Reject the game, for as long as it takes. Assert, again and again, that our lives, all lives, are larger than this travesty, and get back to the real work of dismantling the system. Demand real choices, through electoral reform and campaign finance reform.
I’m not gonna say: Don’t mourn, organize. It’s patronizing and offensive; the Left has been organizing for hundreds of years. I will not say: the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice, blah blah blah, because I honestly don’t know if that is true.
I am going to say: while we are alive, let’s choose to live. Let’s stretch our brains and wills until we feel it, to genuine, hard analysis of what works and what doesn’t. What truly moves us towards peace and justice, for everyone in the world. Let’s be willing to admit our illusions and go back to the real. Let’s think about systems, about structures, about history.
Empires collapse. However long and hideous their dominance, eventually they crumble under their own greed, violence and sheer stupidity. We don’t know if justice will ultimately prevail. But as long as we are alive, we can choose what forces we align ourselves with. What side of history we’re going to be on. There’s a joy that comes from that, despite all we’re up against.
Where do we turn for hope? Someone sent me a quote from Vaclav Havel this week. Havel said: “Hope is not the optimistic conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Professor Wangari Maathai, Kenyan hero and one of my personal inspirations, won the Nobel Peace Prize a few weeks ago. That makes sense. On a daily basis, we remind ourselves that justice makes sense. We choose what makes sense. That’s hope.