It’s multiple choice, really. There are lots of reasons Donald Trump has decided to rescind his administration’s Draconian policy of ripping babies out of the arms of asylum seekers crossing the southern border of the continental United States. Pick one. I have my opinion.
E) Melania doesn’t like it, and this time she means it;
F) Governors of both major parties have recalled their National Guard troops from the border, countering Trump’s standing request;
G) Almost half of Republicans in a recent survey are against this awful policy, terrible numbers for a GOP administration that usually enjoys over 80% approval from the rank and file;
H) There’s a catch. As Joseph Heller said, “There’s always a catch.”
One thing I know for sure, though: in a multiple choice test where there are many plausible answers, best practices say to eliminate the ones that are obviously not true. In this case, that’s easy. I think you know this one.
It’s C. There is little chance that this man has found a conscience for anyone other than himself and his family, and – as far as it happens to splash on his DNA carriers – his sycophants in the cabinet and the GOP.
The latter might bring some pseudo-chastising of the folks who hassled Nielsen in a restaurant, but that is likely to be merely lip service. It is possible, of course, that the DHS director is tired of having to defend ICE officers’ actions in the press and in public, and threatened to quit. Still, that’s doubtful, given Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reluctance to tackle another confirmation hearing before the midterm elections.
Yahoo News says Nielsen was instrumental, quoting “Two people close to Nielsen” who “commented only on condition of anonymity.”
According to Yahoo, “One of them said Nielsen, who had become the face of the administration’s policy, had little faith that Congress would act to fix the separation issue and felt compelled to act.”
Although Trump claims to be Catholic, since he doesn’t go to a church where he isn’t the object of worship, it is certain he doesn’t give a crap about what the Holy See, and by inference, any religious denomination, think about him and his administration. That eliminates A and B.
According to some news stories, Melania was an influence, so that answer is at least partly true. Reuters quotes an unnamed White House official, who said, “The first lady has been making her opinion known to the president for some time now, which was that he needed to do all he could to help families stay together.” I expect that is so. I hope she is a practical influence, though I suspect she is behind “feckless” Ivanka when it comes to having The Donald’s ear.
Maybe FLOTUS threatened to visit one of the four “tender age” shelters ICE has had to open for babies and toddlers, which, of course, would embarrass the POTUS.
The public certainly believes her protestations ring hollow. A statement by her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, was posted on Twitter by CNN’s Kate Bennett, Sunday, echoing the president’s call for Congress to fix the problem his administration created. Her assertion that she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” was met with appropriate dismay by the Twitter-verse, which called her out on her own immigration story.
A Tuesday tweet from her @FLOTUS account was equally chastised, after she talked about discussing “ways we can positively impact children,” with the Queen of Spain. The tone deafness was met with a resounding chorus that can politely be summed up as, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Filmmaker and comedian Judd Apatow gave a terse response to the First Lady, saying, “You support evil with your silence. You could have a major impact if you spoke your mind but you allow children to suffer by putting out pointless statements which request no hard changes. Shame on you.” That was one of the more measured responses.
So if you selected “E” as your answer, you grudgingly get half-a-point.
Trump could care less what governors think. If they cross him, he’ll just badmouth them to his base, and in his best Il Duce smirk, stand back with crossed arms and expect the validation to pour in as unabashed admiration.
Let’s talk about the poll numbers, then, and how that could have affected his decision. This is where my money is.
In separate polls by Quinnipiac and Ipsos, only about half of Republicans supported the policy. By contrast, Trump’s usual numbers among his tribe, since he took office, are averaging in the mid-eighties, and a recent Gallup poll had him at 90% approval in the GOP. The self-inflicted wound made by the family separation policy has to hurt. And in an upcoming election where the numbers appear to be narrowing, raising the hopes of congressional Republicans, it is likely that he was forced to act or risk disavowal from – according to the aforementioned polls – one-third his party, which could easily snowball to half, or more.
This is baby-splitting stuff. Unfortunately, we have a stiff-necked Pharaoh rather than a wise Solomon, though at least he is not casting migrant children into the Rio Grande. Plagued by bad publicity and bad poll numbers, Pharaoh Trumpeses has been forced to sign an order to keep the families together – imprisoned, but together.
That’s the catch. If you cross illegally, together with your children, and we apprehend you crossing the border together with your children, you get detained, imprisoned, and likely deported, together with your children. Strength, through zero tolerance, with zero heart. ‘Murrica.
So it might be, as the Reuters story describes it, “a rare instance…in which [Trump] has changed course on a controversial policy,” but it is hardly a reversal. Children who arrive with the parents at an illegal crossing will still be imprisoned. They just won’t be alone.
That doesn’t mean the children already in separate custody will be reunited with their parents, or that all new migrations that take place at unsanctioned crossings will result in families staying together. Trump’s new order merely requires Homeland Security to keep families together, “to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations.” In other words, if it’s not too big a hassle, either practically or financially, we’ll try to keep them together.
Sadly, it is also unlikely that, under that weak order, any effort will be made to reunite those children already in custody with their deported or detained parents. In fact, Obama era acting ICE director, John Sandweg, explained to Global News Canada:
“If the administration doesn’t reunify these children very quickly, which is logistically very hard to do, you’re going to have a lot of permanent separations…The parents can be sent back very quickly to Central America, whereas the kids are staying in the United States for years while they’re going through the immigration process.”
The problem becomes even more acute when you realize that our government has flown these children from the border to shelters all over the country, including New York, Los Angeles, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where claims of physical abuse by the guards has been reported, and, of course, parts of Texas, where private, taxpayer funded institutions with a history of abuse have allegedly assaulted, medically neglected, and injected detained migrant children with psychotropic drugs.
The only way can fix this is by providing funds to help children whose legs dangle from courtroom chairs with representation and agency in trying to reunite them with their families. Right now, that’s a private endeavor, and we should not expect public funding for this anytime soon. The government is sparing no expense in prosecuting them for misdemeanors, by the way. We must defend these innocent children at all cost.
The smoke never really clears. The smell of sulfur and saltpeter lingers, a haze swirling over the blood-smeared floors of schools, churches and movie theaters, a sinking fog kissing the grey, turned ground of fresh graves, seeping into the chasms of breaking hearts.
This is what war is – knowing those who have violently died at the hands of a committed assailant and fearing for the safety of those who could be the next to die.
When I was young, the Vietnam War was a yoke borne by families on every street, rural highway, tiny lane, and on every floor of every tenement in the country. If you weren’t drafted to go to Southeast Asia, then it was your brother or your neighbor, your son or your classmate. If there were a body bag coming back from the jungles and rice paddies on the other side of the world, chances are it, too, contained the remains of someone in your life’s orbit.
Think of what losing someone in a pointless war would mean to you today, or at any stage of your life. The social fabric that you now take for granted would be pocked with moth-eaten holes framed by broken threads and irreparably lost connections.
The American wars of the first three-quarters of the last century – the two World Wars, Korea and Vietnam – were felt by every citizen, every immigrant, every red, white and blue community. Even the challenges to our country during the Great Depression left few families unscarred. These were the times of shared fear and sorrow, events that unified us in common despair.
In their aftermath, we grew a strong resolve, and brought the lessons from the foxholes of war to the streets where we lived. We woke to recognize what the countries of the Old World had long ago grasped after centuries of poverty, pestilence and war, that we are all on this ride through life together, and that which serves any of us – rich or poor, black or white or brown – is necessarily beneficial to all of us.
That’s not to say, of course, that we birthed a social utopia. History reminds us that we stubbornly hold on to racism, privilege and xenophobia, but the battles we continue to fight shoulder-to-shoulder enable us to come together and bring change to even those endemic, systemic injustices.
Those battles never end, and we continue to push forward and take a stand, but our national determination, so far removed from our shared struggles, is lacking. The will to help others is too often dependent on the values of our siloed communities.
Yet we fought wars and climbed out of poverty with each other’s help. We found cures for diseases like polio and built a strong middle class with each other’s help. The only way we can keep slaughter out of our schools is with each other’s help.
Here we are again, after another senseless massacre of children, unified in our struggle to end it. Hundreds of thousands of marchers, millions of supporters, and a week after the biggest anti-gun violence action in American history, the frustration is beginning to set in.
It is a disgustingly familiar pattern – universal anger, to predictable bias, to back-burner apathy.
After the horror in Las Vegas, last year, where a gunman used modified assault weapons to murder nearly sixty people, we came together and talked about bumpstocks and trigger cranks, mental health and background checks. Then we moved on.
Sociologists call the unity we display in our initial reaction to these mass casualty events a “surge of solidarity.”
In an article about the aftermath of the Vegas shooting, the Washington Post’s Janell Ross examined the phenomenon of unity after tragedy, and how it too quickly evaporates, returning to tribalism and resignation. She cited nineteenth century, French sociologist Émile Durkheim, who is credited with laying out the theory of “collective conscience” to describe a society’s solidarity in adhering to common norms.
“First there’s a surge of solidarity,” wrote Ross. “That’s expressions of unity, then insistence that it remain uncomplicated by anything outside an affirming national claim to enduring decency, bravery and communal concern. This requires that the country or the affected community reject, combat, silence and isolate those who would dare to differ even slightly in describing what happened, how people responded, what matters right now and what should happen next.”
Think about 9/11, and the way that our representatives in Washington, D.C., came together on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, and spontaneously sang God Bless America, or later, how newspapers had a problem criticizing any discernibly unwise military action George W. Bush undertook to “fight them over there, so we don’t have to face them” here, or how a controversial observation about the hijackers by comedian Bill Maher got him thrown off TV.
Community solidarity is also evident in our initial sympathy for victims of natural disasters, like the devastation of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the destruction and isolation of Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane.
In the context of mass shootings, besides sympathy – and, of course, our cathartic, though impotent, thoughts and prayers – we offer a wall of national solidarity, declaring in one voice that “something must be done” to stop this carnage from ever happening again. But without constant reinforcement, that solidarity, as strong and unstoppable as it seems at the time, will soon disintegrate.
Durkheim, said Ross, pointed out that it doesn’t take long for our unity to develop cracks and collapse. Yes, the collective conscience of the whole brings solidarity, but any solution offered in response is to a mass tragedy requires the collective to agree to amended norms, which, in turn, requires validation from the smaller group conscience with which we identify best. Rather than resorting to violence to enact these new rules (which, according to Durkheim, is a frighteningly possible outcome), we return to our respective corners:
“Claims of universal compassion and concern tend to give way to the usual points of political and social cleavage — Republican and Democrat, black and white, renter and homeowner, possessor of significant savings or a household that lives paycheck to paycheck.”
True unity will always have outliers who would just as soon destroy an entire society rather than have to sacrifice, what is to them, even the most narrowly disagreeable principles. They have a right, of course, to voice their opinions, but opportunistic politicians, and the biased media who kowtow to them, empower their divisive causes.
Unity requires a declaration from our community leaders, be they pastors or politicians (or you). “When, in the course of human events…” and “We hold these truths to be self evident…” are the courageous declarations that launched a great country. They are our foundation.
The Founding Fathers did not worry about pleasing British loyalists. The changes they sought required bold action.
Instead of exploring possible, positive outcomes and acting on our “universal compassion,” we cower in our divisions, allowing us to blame one another for a lack of action. That is, to borrow a phrase, sad.
The real sad part is, everyone knows this is what happens. Durkheim’s social analysis is interesting, but it’s not a surprise. Children were murdered, and we moved on. An island is still rebuilding from a devastating hurricane, and we moved on. Our eagerness to show resilience is as predictable as our resistance to change.
Recently, the New York Times talked to people in a Republican district in Northern Virginia, to gauge their level of interest in the debate over stricter gun laws. One older gentleman was resigned that interest in mandating solutions would fade like all the other times following a school shooting, while a local high school student remained defiant:
“’Every time something happens, everybody’s hollering,’ Garland Ashby, 77, the owner of an estimated 75 guns, said of the recent protests over gun control, rubbing at his cigarette stub from a park bench in this town of 4,200. ‘A couple of months it’s in the news, and then it’s gone…It’ll go away,’ Mr. Ashby predicted, grinding the cigarette into the mud. ‘Like all the other times.’
“’They’re looking for us to get bored,’ said Rosie Banks, 17, a high school junior about 40 miles east in Sterling, Va., …’We’re not going to get bored.’”
There will be more hurricanes and earthquakes. We cannot control and prevent them.
There will be more mass killings by folks who hate the world and are confused by their place in it. That is something we can, at least, increase the likelihood of preventing, if we can agree to be more proactive by strictly enforcing current gun laws and passing tougher regulations on deadly weapons. It is a mistake if we do not.
The question, then, is an echo from the past.
“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake,” a young John Kerry rhetorically posed to the United States Senate, in 1971, having served his country as a decorated Vietnam veteran. By then, a nation weary of watching flag draped coffins had begun to raise its voice, to question what moral purpose is served by sending young men who they knew, who’s families they knew, to die on the far side of the planet.
We came together, marched shoulder-to-shoulder, and collectively pressured our representatives in government to end a futile war.
Now, there are children dying, and their only risky behavior is stepping off a school bus and into a classroom, or out of the family car and into a church pew, yet we remain stubbornly divided on solutions. Who will be the last to die for our inaction, for what all the world looks like a preventable mistake?
Like the protests against our involvement in Vietnam, those who march to end gun violence are not necessarily likely to be its victims. This is a cause for those who will die before the next march if nothing is done. There are more people afraid to lose this battle for our collective conscience than there are those willing to find sensible solutions to protect young bodies from high velocity bullets.
We have a culturally divided nation that has historically found it difficult to change direction. How long did the Old South hold on to its racist, antebellum culture, its romanticized, Gone With the Wind individualism? It took a U.S. Supreme Court finding that separate is not equal, and it took an unprecedented movement, marching arm-in-arm for basic human dignity and respect, and against a vestigial racial caste system that enabled white supremacy.
Nearly 18 thousand of the young Americans who were drafted and sent to Vietnam died – almost a third of all those killed in action. They did not all choose to go to war. Likewise, not all those who spilled blood in the fight for equal rights and justice were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement, yet their deaths, too, helped awaken the collective conscience.
In 1963, when a Klan placed bomb exploded in a Birmingham, Alabama, church, four young girls, who were there for Sunday school, died. That the act itself was cowardly cannot be argued, yet the perpetrators went unpunished for decades because those who could help turned away. Fear of losing position and being ostracized by their slow-to-change community left a heartless void in the heart of Dixie.
But not all in the South cowered. Not all meekly shook their heads and pulled the curtains closed. Atlanta is only about a two hour drive east of Birmingham, yet what followed there may as well have been an ocean away.
Eugene Patterson, the executive editor of the Atlanta Constitution for most of the 1960s, came in the evening of the bombing and wrote a moving piece that not only sympathized with the four little girls and their families, but also made a point of calling out his neighbors, with phrases like, “we in the white South,” and other similarly fraternal epithets, for the cruelness of the murders, and the immoral ugliness for which they stood in cold silence.
“Only we can trace the truth, Southerner,” he wrote, “you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.”
Patterson went on:
“We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.
“…We – the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition — we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die.”
As long as we sit on our sofas and suck tisks through our teeth every time children are mowed down in a school, or a church, or a playground, the tacit support of our inaction, the scapegoating of the perpetrators as insane, lone operators, remains something for which we all must be accountable.
“This is no time to load our anguish onto the murderous scapegoat,” Patterson wrote, “Let us not lay the blame on some brutal fool who didn’t know any better. We know better. We created the day. We bear the judgment.”
The battles we choose to fight define our courage. Repelling murderers and challenging supremacy, like standing in front of a tank, are fights we enter knowing there are risks to life and family. Being a kid in school or church comes with no such agreement. Going to the movies comes with no such agreement.
People are senselessly dying, right now, and they did not request nor agree to be martyrs for some righteously principled stand. They are dying because we allow assault weapons on our streets and in our homes, where, like a dark family secret, they are bound to come out.
This isn’t just a case of our fellow soldiers sitting next to us in the foxhole who depend on us to protect them. It is our neighbors’ kids, and they have no reason to be completely confident that we will keep them safe.
The protests over the war in Vietnam, and the tens of thousands of dead Americans, caused us, briefly at least, to be more circumspect about the “quagmire” potential of foreign military entanglements. The sea-to-shining-sea revolt against pointless militarism also brought about an end to the draft and a Constitutional Amendment lowering the voting age to eighteen. It took rivers of blood and mountains of treasure to bring us, albeit belatedly, to the recognition that the only glory in war is making it out alive.
The Civil Rights Movement marched so that punitive segregation, Jim Crow laws and racially motivated voter suppression would be relegated to the dark history in which they belonged. That cost more lives than we will ever know, including a man who was our nation’s drum major for peace and justice.
Saving lives should not be a noble cause, relegated to a courageous few. That makes it sound like a job for trained special forces or knights in shining armor. Saving lives should not be a gift for the wealthy or a handout for the poor. That we are driven to fight for our individual survival is human nature. Saving the lives of others is a human imperative.
We’re into the thousands, now, on school shooting deaths. They weren’t fighting for a cause. They were just being kids. They certainly did not ask to be in this fight. Our inaction has brought the fight to them, and they are not backing down. They have had to grow up quickly to fight what is a definitively existential threat to their futures.
“We’ll outlive them,” a high schooler from Maine told the New York Times reporter, assuring them that, eventually, his generation will make certain that change will come. I hope you do. I hope it does.
I am afraid and I am fearless. I am a humble wordsmith with ideas and a proud activist with a bullhorn. I am, and plan to always be, an American. I am also a pluralist, a social ecumenicist, if you will. This is my country. Believe what you will. Be whoever you want to be. Above all, be responsible for what you put into the world.
Today I am a flame, a mix of angry torches and solemn vigils.
What is in a flame, that in its most modest form, at the end of a narrow wick, we use it to express hope, sentiment and prayer, yet in a swirling column at the end of an oil soaked cloth, it threatens destruction? Fire is a language, an expression of joy and sorrow, and of hate and vile threats.
The saint is in the fire, and so is the Devil. A candle is lit so healing can find us. A torch is lit so we can find our way to that which hides in the dark places. Evil or strangeness is meant to flee when exposed to such abundant light, replaced by what the light brings. Yet when such a flame is brought and the hunted divergent do not cower like Frankenstein’s monster and secret away, one explanation might be that there is no evil there, only people.
Still they come, because they cannot let go of the tale of the bogeyman.
They come at us with their fear, we who believe that America is a living organism that adapts and changes with time, but never loses her founding principles that all are created equal, and endowed with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We offer those rights to all people, including, and especially, to those whom we have shunned, segregated and lorded over.
Slavery is acknowledged to be our Original Sin as a nation, and it is. The nonsensical ideas which enable the notion of cultural superiority – Manifest Destiny; the right to kill, cow and isolate the people from whom we took this land; the need to entomb people in a static, homogeneous culture for their benefit (they should be grateful!) when it is really to benefit the enslavers – are merely different recipes for preparing and consuming someone else’s dignity.
That cannot happen anymore. Neither my nor my neighbors’ dignity are meals for your ego. If you try to consume us, or even subsume us, you will choke on our resistance.
I firmly believe we have it in ourselves as human beings to come together at the table, if we let go of cultural biases that separate us. Join us, and we will all feast. Extinguish your torches. Let unity snuff the flames. We will give you a votive to hold, and together we will pray to heal.
Bernie Sanders fought for a social revolution with the goal of economic prosperity for every American. Instead, we got an economic revolution with the goal of greater prosperity for wealthy Americans and the global oligarchy, and motivated more by a need for power for some than a call to serve all.
That revolution is led by Christian conspiracists Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who belong to a “first rule of Fight Club is you don’t say anything about Fight Club” kind of group the Southern Poverty Law Center once described as:
“…an important venue in which relatively mainstream conservatives meet and very possibly are influenced by real extremists, people who regularly defame LGBT people with utter falsehoods, describe Latino immigrants as a dangerous group of rapists and disease-carriers, engage in the kind of wild-eyed conspiracy theorizing for which the John Birch Society is famous, and even suggest that certain people should be stoned to death in line with Old Testament law.”
Our new dystopic reality is also supported by billionaire Robert Mercer and other well-heeled idealists and “extremist” supporters. Oh, and these religious zealots are represented by Donald J. “Golden Shower” Trump.
Their revolution was successful. Our revolution is regrouping. Why?
It’s ridiculously petty and simple. First, we have to understand what a political revolution is. It’s people coming together and passionately pursuing changes to a system that, either out of ignorance, malice or design, isn’t meeting their needs.
But there is another thing about revolutions, particularly in our country, that people forget – revolutions never end. Alexander Hamilton layed that out directly in the Federalist Papers (28). In the United States, when “rights are invaded by either” the state or the federal government, we “can make use of the other, as the instrument of redress.”
The right to redress means those who govern us are not infallible and can be challenged. There is no heresy in a society that has free expression as a pillar, and revolution is expression.
“How wise will it be in them by cherishing the Union to preserve to themselves an advantage which can never be too highly prised!”
So what happened to Sanders’ progressive revolution this election cycle? It was stopped in its tracks, held at bay by a stubborn, tone-deaf, risk-averse establishment that assumed the status quo was good enough to win the election. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, even President Obama – who should have known better – had blinders firmly affixed to their temples and their fingers stuck deep into their ears.
It’s similar to the conventional wisdom about the difference between a conservative and a liberal/progressive: the conservative wants to conserve, to keep things as they are; the progressive wants there to be progress, an exponential growth in social justice and economic opportunity. But this election, the so-called progressive party, the Democrats, were the conservatives, the don’t-rock-the-boat-keep-things-as-they-are party, whose only message was things are good and getting better, but they won’t be if Trump and the Republicans win.
That’s the attitude that lost the House of Representatives in 2010 – the fear that bold action, when that’s what we sent them there for, would cost them the next election. Although the Affordable Care Act was a heavy lift, it shouldn’t have precluded the Democrats of the 111th Congress from moving forward on immigration. minimum wage and other important social issues. Sure, they may have lost anyway, but at least they would have accomplished things that they knew the Republicans would never take on. Instead of going to Capitol Hill to serve, they are more concerned with getting reelected.
The Democratic establishment always thinks they know better, but their way doesn’t work anymore. The new Congress doesn’t get it, either. With all due respect, if they did, they wouldn’t have reelected Pelosi as minority leader.
It’s time to fight the Republicans with a revolution of our own, one with the bold vision and audacious hope of young progressives, many of whom, according to a column by a 22-year-old in The Nation, the other day, are not afraid to embrace a more socialist agenda.
“[W]hile Trump has dominated the headlines, there is still plenty of momentum around the socialist ideas that Bernie used to inspire America,” wrote Julia Mead, whose first presidential vote was for Obama, in 2012.
She said that her generation doesn’t have the anti-socialist, Cold War bias that was part of her parents’ and grandparents’ generations:
“When I heard Bernie say, out loud, that the billionaire class was ruthless and exploitative, that sounded groundbreaking. Not only did he name the right problem — inequality, not poverty — he named the culprit. I didn’t know you could do that. To me, and to hundreds of thousands of my peers, Sanders’s… socialism doesn’t feel antiquated. Instead, it feels fresh and vital precisely because it has been silenced for so long — and because we need it now more than ever.”
This isn’t sour grapes surrounding the allegations that the Dems’ political actions screwed Sen. Sanders. I don’t know if he would have beaten Trump, but most thought Chief Small Hands Pussy Grabber couldn’t win, either.
Quite a few years ago, I learned the value of commitment to a cause, how it must continually be reviewed and renewed. Time doesn’t stop. It keeps moving, and the victories (or losses) from actions taken yesterday must be set aside for the work to be done today.
In a country where free expression and the right to redress/revolution are guaranteed, we cannot rest, for our lives can change in an instant. Time doesn’t stop and neither should we. She is as constant as nature.
“You cannot say, ‘I will not fight.’ Nature [karma] compels you to.” – Krishna to Arjuna, Bhagavad Gita
“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
– President Barack Obama, from his farewell speech, January 10, 2017
There was sobbing, actual wailing, in homes all across America, Tuesday night, including mine. President Barack Obama’s poignant and touching farewell address may have been the backdrop for this river of sorrow, but it wasn’t his poetic words, or the sunset of his challenging presidency, or even Malia wiping tears from her eyes or the president when he dried his own.
When the speech was over and the lights came up in McCormick Place, and President Obama moved slowly through the room, thanking each of the smart, dedicated, civically minded people who had given all they had to his administration and election races, the reason for the melancholy became clear. This wasn’t about what we’re losing, but what we are left with.
As someone who has had to mourn too often, I know the waves of sorrow that pound at the heart like a storm surge washing away a dune, eating and coming back to feast again and again, until all that’s left is the indestructible, the warm memories of what was lost.
This is not that kind of crying, that kind of aching absence of a lost parent. This is not solely about what is gone. It is about the terrifying uncertainty of what is to come. It is about a government being presided over by a fool who follows the advice of oligarchs, evangelicals and dominionists, each with their own Machiavellian agenda, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
Like the Persian king of old, he is guided by vanity, ego and conquest (sexual and otherwise). It is how he values himself among men, to rise above them.
There is a period for mourning, but there comes a time when we must stop our sadness and empower each other to go on – not to “get over it,” as the more strident of our fellow Americans ridiculously insist , but – to face the inevitable future, as challenging as it may be for our country and values.
“We have everything we need to meet those challenges,” the president said. “After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.”
The challenge is whether to be numb with fear in the face of a possible religious and/or cultural dystopia, or to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against those who would make it so. I choose the latter, because it is our right and, as I see it, our duty to make the world, our world, our neighbors’ world, better.
The promise of our democracy can be fulfilled, Obama went on, “only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”
“Our founders,” he said, “knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
We are citizens, after all, and not subjects. This country and its leaders belong to us.
“It falls to each of us,” the president admonished, “to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”
The sadness must and will fade with time, so damn the past! Every fight we engage in now is for our future.
We will be loud, but civil. We will fight for our neighbors when their rights as Americans are trampled. We will, as President Obama said, be vigilant.
And because I know you’ve been humming this ever since you read the header, a bit of Everybody Wants to Rule the World:
“It’s my own desire, it’s my own remorse.
Help me to decide.
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world.”
“It wasn’t lost on everybody—including some in the press—that her principal transgression actually seemed to be that she was a woman who said what she thought instead of quietly receding into the conventionally accepted political staging.”
– from a Politico article about how a 60 Minutes appearance in 1992 planted in the minds of Americans their relative opinions of Hillary Rodham Clinton
What a crazy, screwed up election this has turned out to be, not that that’s news to anyone.
I’ve said it here before, but in the context of this wacky, 2016 election, it bears repeating. I am a Baby Boomer, albeit a late one. Like the song goes, I was born in the fifties. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primaries because I am nothing if not a political idealist; free healthcare, free education and an end to income inequality are all important to me because they’re important to building a strong middle class and to the continuing progress of our great country.
In a year like this, when Bernie Sanders’ idealistic populism clashed with not only the angry venting of Donald Trump, but also conflicted with the twenty-five year old, paranoid, must-get-elected centrism of the Clintons, the decline of options for choosing positive change leaves progressives, and especially committed liberals, in a wilderness of hopelessness.
When I was in St. Louis this summer, attending the annual Netroots Nation gathering, it was the same week that Bernie endorsed Hillary Clinton, and two weeks before the volatile Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The incomparable Washington Post reporter, Dave Weigel, was there, as always. He came up to me and asked if I was a Bernie supporter. I said that yes, I was.
“So who are you voting for in November?” he asked me, after we went over some of Clinton’s negatives.
“Hillary,” I said, without hesitation.
“Because,” I answered, “Trump!”
That exchange bothered me for a long time. I was uncomfortable that my main reason for voting for her was the utter unpalatability of what Trump would do to our country’s moral, ethical and political standing in the world if he were elected President of the United States. It’s a valid reason, to be sure, but it was wholly unsatisfactory, from an analytical point of view. I wasn’t looking for a more affirmative reason, but I was open to it, so when I read the Politico article cited above, it resonated, in the way that if you’re ready for the lesson, the teacher will come. What I found was the case for Hillary is more about me, who I am, than I realized.
The headline of the Politico article is, “The TV interview that haunts Hillary Clinton,” but it’s about more than just about her strong, Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” moment after the Superbowl, in defending Bill against Gennifer Flowers’ accusations. It’s an overview of the political life of someone who is, believe it or not, naively honest about what she says when she talks about being a professional woman, a mother and a public servant.
When she was first told about the country music star’s negative reaction to the future first lady asserting, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she reportedly face-palmed, and was surprised and dismayed. “I didn’t mean to hurt Tammy Wynette as a person,” she reportedly told a small Colorado newspaper. “I happen to be a country-western fan.”
She was equally surprised by the public’s reaction after her infamous comments, six weeks later, about choosing her law career over being a woman who “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”
Politico quotes Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, who, in 2000, explained that he had trouble, during the 1992 campaign, convincing Hillary her comments would be a problem:
“‘I pulled her aside, and I said, ‘You know, Hillary, you’ve got to go restate this. People are going to think that’s an attack on stay-at-home moms.’ And she had the most wounded and naïve look on her face. … She had no idea that might be taken out of context. She said, ‘No one could think that.’ She said, ‘I would have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I just didn’t have a choice because Bill was making $35,000 a year and we needed to support the family.’ I said, ‘I know that.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you worry too much.’”
So what does this have to do with me being a Baby Boomer, like the Clintons? I believe there is really a kind of liberal/progressive redemption in electing her. At every step of the way, with her strong character and self-assuredness, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the strongest voice of a liberated, feminist generation. With her sharp intelligence and being a “woman who said what she thought,” Hillary was at the top of the wave. If she fell before she stood up on her groundbreaking surfboard, people would put her down for not having what it takes. If she rode through the wave successfully, people would say she’s too assertive. Ask any woman about that catch-22, where one is empowered by education but subjugated by prevailing sexism, and how difficult that reality is to navigate.
Or, as she put it to the class of 1992 when she gave the commencement address at her Alma-mater, Wellesley College:
“As women today, you face tough choices. You know the rules are basically as follows: if you don’t get married, you’re abnormal; if you get married but don’t have children, you’re a selfish yuppie; if you get married and have children, but work outside the home, you’re a bad mother; if you get married and have children, but stay home, you’ve wasted your education.
“…So you see, if you listen to all the people who make these rules, you might just conclude that the safest course of action is just to take your diploma and crawl under your bed.”
The affirmative case for Hillary Clinton is her shear incredulity that an educated woman should be stopped, could be stopped, in fulfilling her maximum potential. We wouldn’t ask that of a man. It is certainly wrong to ask it from any woman, any person, especially one as smart and experienced and, yes, humble (relative to her profession), as Hillary.
The Politico piece was written about a month ago, before the first presidential debate. Since then, Donald J. Trump has not stopped attacking her for being weak and lacking stamina (even while saying he admires that she is a fighter), has attacked the veracity of women accusing him of unwanted sexual contact by saying they weren’t attractive enough for him, and has accused Hillary of stepping out on Bill.
While that only sharpens the distinction between a blowhard misogynist and a woman more ready to be president than almost any other American, what clinches it for me is what Bill Clinton said in that 1992, 60 Minutes interview, when Steve Kroft asked if the Clintons had “an arrangement,” implying, obviously, that they allowed each other sexual indiscretions.
Bill was having none of that. “Wait a minute,” he interrupted, “You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage.”
Standing by each other, being committed to each other and to your common goals, is undeniably uplifting. Just because some don’t understand that kind of devotion doesn’t make it less valuable. It also implies that no matter how much garbage they throw at Hillary – and they have thrown a lot – she remains a person committed to her goals, and committed to being someone who does all she can for people as a public servant. That is why I am voting for her. It’s a much more empowering reason than my fears of seeing giant gold lettering on the White House, next year. But if that’s what you need to get your butt to the polls, by all means, it’ll do.
Saturday, September 17, was the fifth anniversary of the first day of Occupy Wall Street – two months of protest against economic inequality, based in a small plaza in Lower Manhattan known as Zuccotti Park. The movement spawned other Occupy protests from Seattle to Miami and launched an unstoppable revolution to stand up for the ninety-nine percent for whom the economy doesn’t work.
For the organizers in New York, as for many of us, when you are committed to social justice, you cannot help but raise your voice in the face of racism, classism, and many other institutionalized behaviors that casts one segment of society as less worthy of the respect of humanity than another.
This is the story of one self-described “Occupy die hard,” Cecily McMillan. She is the young woman who, after being violently assaulted by the New York Police Department during a peaceful, Occupy Wall Street six month anniversary event in 2012, unintentionally became the face of the movement when she was arrested and went on trial for assaulting the cop who grabbed her breast and beat her until she bounced on the pavement, writhing in seizure.
It was supposed to be a quick visit, a show of support before heading out with friends to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it turned into something much worse.
“The only thing I am guilty of,” she would later say, “is not going in with a partner. I should have known better.”
“In encountering struggle, you realize the stuff you are made of.”
– Cecily McMillan
After a short trial with a difficult judge, a jury convicted McMillan of the assault. But there was an outpouring of support, including from three-quarters of the jury itself, pleading for leniency, and instead of the two to seven years she could have gotten, the judge sentenced her to three months in jail and five years of probation. She is now a felon. Part of the terms of her probation is that she is not allowed to participate in any protest or civil action.
This, admits Cecily, is difficult for her, as she only found her own freedom in fighting for others. She describes her passion for equality as “the accountability of activism.”
“Accountability,” she told me during a recent conversation in an Atlanta park, “that’s what I tried to foster in the cadre [of Occupy activists].” That was important in a movement that famously had no leaders precisely because they expected committed activists to step up and do what’s right.
“It’s good to do your best in your capacity, and to inspire people to be as accountable to others as you are,” she explained. “If we think of Martin Luther King [Jr.] as somebody special, nobody steps up in his place once he goes. Who could fill his shoes? If people think I’m special [for being willing to fight for justice and go to jail], then they say, ‘Well, I don’t have to do what she did.'”
Let’s be clear. Cecily is not comparing herself to MLK. She is saying that the willingness, the capacity to fight for equality and justice, is in each of us. Activists have to believe that. Otherwise, why show up? We stand neither as hero worshipers nor heroes, but ordinary people inspired by those who came before to take a public stand for social consciousness.
McMillan has a story to tell about a life that began with her fighting for herself, and evolved into a fight for the welfare of others, because, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Sometimes we see injustice in the ugly way we treat each other as human beings, like in an outsider who is shunned by social divisions, and only requires what all people do – love and acceptance. Sometimes injustice is what one sees in a misguided community’s visceral reaction to a cultural event or tragedy.
While Cecily’s undeniable empathy brings her to the side of the former (she almost went to jail for trying help a Hispanic couple avoid it themselves), it is for her communities that her voice is loudest and her defense is strongest. It is there where she had her awakening.
“That was the first time I’d heard the word ‘terrorist.’ …The terrorists, I learned, had been Muslim, so they believed in Islam; which, I was told, was a religious cult of brown men with towelheads and long beards who worshiped war, enslaved women and hated Christians.”
It was the prevailing perspective in a small, poor, segregated, southern town, that, to McMillan’s credit, she admitted “sounded crazy to” her. More to the point, she was aware enough to begin questioning the norms of her community:
“I was at a pep rally for an upcoming football game. The cheerleaders had just performed a routine to Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ when an athlete grabbed the mic and said, ‘This one’s gonna be for the troops – tonight we’re going to go out there and kick ass like they was sandniggers!’ The gym went wild…”
It was the suffix, as it were, of the epithet that drew her attention. “I’d never heard that word used for anyone but blacks,” she wrote. “What did it mean that it was so easily transferable?”
“When I started asking questions, I realized it wasn’t enough to be white and Christian,” McMillan told me. “If you disagreed with them, then you might as well be with the n*****s and the people who weren’t Christian…
“I was white, and I was Christian, but just because I started to ask questions, then all of a sudden, I didn’t get to be part of their club anymore.”
It was shortly after that when she took her first action for social justice. As she writes in the book:
“One day, I stayed seated for the Pledge of Allegiance and stood up when everyone else sat down for the moment of prayer. When the teacher sent me to the office, the principal wanted to know why I’d done it. ‘Because,’ I explained, ‘some people aren’t Christian, but we have to say “under God” in the pledge and worship him in prayer.’ ‘Don’t you believe in God?’ he asked. ‘I do,’ I replied, ‘But that’s not the point.’ ‘Then what is?’ he asked. ‘That you make us do it…What if I wasn’t Christian?’ ‘But you are Christian.’ he replied. ‘But if I wasn’t,’ I argued, ‘it would be wrong to make me worship a different god.’ ‘Yeah, well, you’d also go to hell. Do it again,’ he challenged, ‘and you’ll get a taste of it.'”
The “taste” of hell, when she repeated her protest the next day, was a paddling. That evening, she says, she wrote in her journal:
“They think they can put me in my place, but they can’t. My place is wherever I say it is.”
“You know, Millennials, we were never really afforded a childhood, as a generation. Our generation did drugs to fit in, not to chill out, not to party. We did Adderall, to go to school more, to get there earlier, to stay later, to do all sorts of extracurricular activities – to be all perfect, a perfectly well rounded human being…
“We were made into neurotic little yippy dogs, all of us.”
– Cecily McMillan
It would be easy to dismiss Cecily McMillan as just another youthful radical, naive of the compromises other generations made in battles deemed too destructive to keep fighting. On the other hand, I found her to be the real deal – as authentic and caring an activist as I’ve ever met.
She describes herself as “really working class.” Sure, she cites revolutionary thinkers like Foucault, Badiou and Michelle Alexander the way Lit majors cite Shakespeare, Bronte and Huxley, but it’s not just an academic exercise for her. It’s her strong belief in the words one of her college professors told her, that “Teachers are society builders.” Her passion brought her to learn more, and her learning inflames her passion.
“The college and the prison chapters [of the memoir] are probably the two that are least defined,” she said, thoughtfully, “because I’m still working on what privilege is and how it was taken away from me.” She went on to explain that to be raised in poverty and be given an opportunity to attend college and be free to embrace activism, and to become “Activist Barbie,” as the media called her during the trial, and then to lose that and more – including the respect of her family – when she went to prison, has left her and her family more estranged than ever.
“There’s something truly painful,” she lamented, “about being in privilege, for people who were not raised with it, because in gaining privilege, you lose your family; you lose your identity; you lose your culture. It’s painful.”
Cecily’s family has names for her, she says, like “pretentious, highfalutin,” and what is perhaps most hurtful, “not a McMillan.”
The confusion, for her, was escaping the fate of many raised in poverty in America. “What,” she asked me, rhetorically, “so I gained the privilege to not become a heroine addict? I gained the privilege to not starve to death?
“I gained privilege, but I worked myself out of [the] family, out of roots, out of soul.” For her, not being able to return to the culture in which she was raised has left her with what she now sees as two unpleasant choices: privilege or prison. In her mind, she either violates her principles of equality and pursues money, or goes back to a life of protest and civil action, and loses her freedom. Either way, her family resents her.
Still, she believes, prison is the key to “breaking” our society – not in the anarchistic sense, but in the sense of breaking a dysfunctional addiction to institutionalized thinking. “Anybody who’s in college or a PhD program right now ought to be in jail,” she argued, “and I think everybody that’s in jail ought to be in college.” Later, she clarified, “Let’s leave college alone. Let’s say anybody who’s in a masters or PhD program, their time would be better spent in jail.”
This will, McMillan claims, allow those in higher education to have practical experience, to learn and to write about what they’ve only studied in their “ivory tower” of theory. “They [already] know how to study that. They don’t need a guide.” They need the experience.
On the outside, she says, even if you’re involved in an action as bold as Occupy Wall Street, “You are the privileged allied with the oppressed.” But in jail, she went on, “You are the oppressed allied with the oppressed. You are the oppressed and the activist.”
If you’re young, living with you parents and not making any money, “What have you got to lose?” she asked. “Go to jail [for what you believe]. How much can you do on the inside? Guys, you’ll be fine.”
Cecily says flipping the script is something Millennials are poised to do. The economy and our social structure demand it, because the class entitlement they grew up with – money, segregation and/or education – is no longer relegated to provincial America.
“I love my generation,” she told me, hopefully. “We’re really entitled, but that entitlement is going to be this world’s saving grace. When we’re the poorest people [living in neighborhoods] alongside those that are currently ‘othered,’ right now, with the education that we have and the entitlement we have, we are going to put upon the world entitlement for all, and that’s going to be huge.”
For McMillan, the opportunity for the entitled to learn about what it’s like to be without food, housing or a job, “or a good life,” will necessarily bring those universal requirements to all. “‘Entitlement for all,’” she reflected, adding, “I love that.”
“I came up with this idea in prison that I still believe in. I don’t believe any of us are any freer on the outside than those on the inside. We just have more distractions.”
That brings us to the question just about anybody might ask her. (I did.) Why does someone in their mid-twenties need to write a memoir? After all, it wasn’t as if she were some kind of radical wunderkind.
“Oh my God, I would have slapped the shit out of myself in the sixth grade,” she told me she realized after consulting some of her old journals for her story.
But the message of the book, she says, isn’t the narrative of her perseverance throughout her challenged childhood, or her ordeal at Occupy Wall Street, or at the hospital, or in court, or even in jail.
Cecily told me many times how uncomfortable she was that the redemption in the story was about her. “People are still just really into me, in the most delegitimizing way,” she lamented. “People want to talk about me. People want to spectacle-ize me. They think, ‘Oh well, you wrote a book. How bad could your life be?’ Really bad,” she concluded, emphatically.
The message she wants to get out is that it is precisely because of her challenges growing up poor, in a broken home with parents always screaming at each other and crying, a suicidal, depressed mother and a severely ADHD brother who was later diagnosed as bipolar, that she was able to put up with her ordeal both before and after the events of March 17, 2012, in New York.
“This book was the first time I realized how much of my life was not accessible to the people [at Occupy] that I had wanted to be – previously – a part of,” she admitted.
Given that version of privilege, the privilege of conditioning, we could call it, Cecily claims it was easier for her to understand the plight of the women with whom she was incarcerated in the jail complex at Rikers. She called it a shared “generational history” of those most challenged by the classism in our society.
“I wrote this book for the women at Rikers,” she said. “I promised them that I would do everything in my power to make sure their demands were heard and their lives were, to the best of my ability, protected. Not just the women I served time with – the women of Rikers generally.
“The only goal I have with this book was to get people to see prisoners as people.”
In the book, McMillan describes the facility and its location starkly:
“The East River is a salt-water tidal strait that flows northward along the eastern shore of Manhattan Island, then bends due east between the Bronx and Queens before returning to the Atlantic. Just past that eastward bend, with Queens to the south and the Bronx to the north, lies Rikers Island, a hard to get to (and harder to get out of) outpost of cruelty and misery, just across the water from LaGuardia Airport. The island is flat and treeless and surrounded by razor-sharp barbed wire fences; its only link to the mainland, the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, is a narrow causeway.”
At intake, she describes the beginning of the metamorphosis from celebrity defendant to convict:
“When I went in, Activist Barbie [in the form of the fashionable dress worn at sentencing] (still entombed in the plastic Nordstrom bag) was taken from me and disposed of ‘in the back,’ where she was then exhumed and dismembered, according to the property receipt I received in exchange…the only remaining records that she’d ever existed – that I’d ever been a person worth defending. Now, I was just a prisoner.”
The other prisoners, McMillan said, wondered why she was in there. They never expected a white girl to be sentenced to Rikers, but they didn’t know her mother was Mexican until she spoke to them in broken Spanish, when they asked if she was loca, a familiar term from her abuela. “No siempre (not always),” she told them.
“I was one of five white women in Rikers,” she said, “and all of us were half-Latina. There are not white people in Rikers. There’s not even white corrections officers.” One of the other Latina prisoners took Cecily under her wing, and became her “jailhouse godmother.”
“I was totally happy there amongst those women,” she told me. “They are the best human beings I have ever met in my life.”
Then she added, “Prison, in a way, is the great equalizer. Being in there, you’re all just fucking prisoners, man. You have a single enemy. You have a single structure that you’re all against. And it’s not the COs [corrections officers]. It’s the captains. It’s the doctors.”
In the book, she describes how prison psychiatrists refused to give her a new prescription for Adderall to treat her ADHD. Then, in terribly disturbing detail, she tells us about trying to get her Depo-Provera shot for birth control, and that the gynecologist insisted on a needless vaginal exam – twice – for a pap smear and a scrape. She left in tears, and without the shot.
Her prison sisters told her to leave it alone, that in Rikers, “you don’t ask, ‘Why?'” But being the accountable activist, she wrote her lawyers about the incidents with the doctor, and finally got her birth control and her Adderall.
“See,” she told her friends, “this is what happens when you ask, ‘Why?'”
They looked at her and said, “No. This is what happens when you ask, ‘Why?'” Their experience of questioning the system never turned out as well.
To be sure, McMillan experienced hardships in prison, but there was something about being in Rikers that, she admits, made her wonder whether she would be better there than on the outside.
“Things are just a lot more real in there,” Cecily explained. “I’m not somebody who likes grays. I like black & whites. I like to know who the enemy is. I like to know what the obstacle is. At least in there, you know. You can see it. Here it’s just a series of delusions. I can drink [a beer] and feel a little bit better, but I think we see freedom when more people like me go to jail. It’s clarity. It’s really realizing that the only freedom you have is the dignity to choose your outcome, the dignity to go about life that you can look in the mirror every day and say, ‘I’m doing my best.’ That’s the only freedom. When the only thing staring back at you is hate and you choose to love, that’s freedom.”
“I am literally the least likely at Occupy Wall Street to write a book.”
Since her beating at the hands of police, Cecily suffers from PTSD, including symptoms like blackouts, breaks in memory and night terrors that leave her “petrified, like breathing is hard,” and “scared – really, really scared.”
Despite that – or, she might argue, because of it – she remains an inspiring example of what it means to be an activist.
“When you think you are better than people, morally or whatever, it’s no better than the Trump people who think they’re better than the Mexicans,” Cecily reflected. “You can’t inspire anybody when you think you’re better than them, and I did not inspire my comrades at the New School [graduate school in New York, during Occupy] to get involved with Occupy Wall Street because I thought I was better than them. And you know what? That’s shirking my fucking duties. That shut down conversation, when your only job as an activist is to foster conversation.
“You are an activist. You are actively affecting the world. And when you call yourself that, you are taking a-count-a-bi-li-ty,” she enunciated, “for how you actively impact the world. That’s what [being] an activist means. And then, people can call you out on your shit, people can judge you and people can critique you and you can judge and critique yourself.
“You have to be responsible for that. You are no longer reactive. You are no longer unconscious. You are responsive, you are engaging and you are accountable. And if you are not doing that, then you are a bad activist. Period.”
That’s a high bar, for most, but the example of Cecily McMillan’s commitment is as much aspirational as it is inspirational. If you’re going to put yourself out there, then do it. Notice when you’re not doing it and “judge and critique yourself.” Acknowledge your humanity, give yourself permission to fail, and find a different way. But don’t lose your inspiration and don’t lose your determination because fixing the world is everybody’s obligation.
PS. Cecily also had something to say about Atlanta and its Occupy event, as well as the city’s role in the revolution. Check it out on my Daily Kos diary.
I don’t know if party politics is supposed to be a zero sum game, where each side gets something it wants and reaches a consensus to ignore the rest, but I have seen that in the hearts of many Bernie Sanders delegates at the Democratic National Convention, last week, there was a feeling of being ignored by the Democratic Party.
In following friends of mine on Facebook®* who were in Philadelphia as Bernie delegates from Georgia, it seems they felt alienated and silenced by the process, despite the Clinton/Kaine campaign slogan of “Stronger Together.”
“[T]he party has tried to, at first, kill me with kindness, and when I did not comply, tried to silence me…make me disappear,” according to Lisa Ring, a Sanders delegate from southeast Georgia. “The party does not value honesty. Nor does it value integrity. It values money and power.”
The entire convention experience was an “inspiring and depressing festival of corruption and rebellion,” said Atlanta Bernie delegate, Scott Brown.
Ring, whose comments came in the form of a lengthy post, wrote how many Sanders delegates felt excluded. “If the party had allowed us to speak, disagree, criticize,” she said, “and in general, be the diverse crowd we are supposed to represent, this would be a unified party now.”
“We represent millions of votes/voices that you clearly don’t want to listen to,” said Angela Eells, a Sanders delegate from Walton County, Georgia, in admonishing the DNC for its muzzling of Sanders supporters. “Once we realized they were silencing us,” she said, “we went and let the world know that democracy does not exist in the [D]emocratic party.”
She called the convention “the biggest farce production I’ve ever witnessed,” and an “orchestrated…’Illusion of Unity.'”
“I think there was a disconnect in people who have never been involved in party politics before,” explained Ted Terry, Bernie delegate and mayor of Clarkston, Georgia. In a separate interview with P&T, Terry, who is also the state director of the Sierra Club, urged “the newly initiated” to be patient and work within the political process of the Democratic Party. “It makes more tactical sense,” he said.
“We will eventually have more power and take more control over this process,” Terry added.
But for many of the newcomers, the process of the convention, at least, left a bad taste of disaffection and disenfranchisement. Even during the final night, Thursday, they felt embattled.
“We were determined to represent our constituents and not be run off by our own party,” describes Ring in her post. “Unfortunately, since our own state party created a system of stifling us by over-chanting us and physically blocking us, they have permanently lost some hard working Democrats.”
The “stifling” Ring is referring to is that while some Bernie delegates were protesting by holding up signs and chanting things like “Ban fracking,” and, “No more war,” Hillary delegates and supporters – including Democratic Party of Georgia chairman Dubose Porter – blocked them from cameras and shouted them down with positive chants.
“The convention was one big orgy of ‘USA!’ chanting party unity,” complained Brown.
“It was like a battle of passive aggressive protests,” according to Terry. “Just like the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people were making noise and holding up signs that were kind of derogatory, the people who were trying to support Hillary and listen to the speeches were like, ‘Well, we’re not going to shut them up. We’re just going to stand in front of them because we have a right to stand here just like they have a right to stand here.'”
While Terry said he was sympathetic to the Bernie supporters’ passion – he was a Sanders delegate, after all – he said he thought they had carried on for too long. “There’s a point,” he said, “where persistence becomes petulance, and I think some people crossed that line… You don’t win by burning bridges; you don’t win by excessive petulance. You win by building bridges.”
His reaction was doing what he came to Philadelphia to do. “I cast my vote for Bernie. At that point, it was just like, ‘Alright. What’s next?’ Next is defeating Donald Trump.”
Eells, who is still not sure who will get her vote in November, said despite “feelings of deep sadness, defeat, anger,” the entire experience also left her feeling “determination, joy and vindication and above all PRIDE [emphasis hers].”
“There will never be a way for us to communicate to anyone outside that room how difficult it was for us but our ability to overcome, rise above, do our elected job and propel this movement,” she said.
And the activism will go on in spite of the imperfect choices come Election Day. “For me,” Terry said, the takeaway is “the fact that Bernie was saying we’re going to continue this movement, we’re going to continue this progressive revolution, but we’re not going to do it at the expense of allowing Donald Trump to win the presidency – the stakes are just too high.”
“We are now all a united front against Trump,” Brown said, in what appears to be angry sarcasm. “We have all accepted the fact that we must take millions of corrupting dollars from any corporation, billionaire, lobbyist, bundler, or sleazebag we can in that effort.”
“The lesser of two evils gives us a lot of room to be evil,” he warned. “And the (Anti-)Democratic Party will not disappoint.”
Brown is encouraging people to vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, because “All the Clinton supporters, delegates, super-delegates, and supporting party insiders I’ve talked to, before, after and during the DNC, all are supremely confident that Hillary will beat Trump in November. So that means she doesn’t need my vote. Or yours.”
But Ted Terry offered some consolation to those who fear the Democratic Party has left them behind. “Once the hurt feelings kind of subside,” he opined, “and some of the people are a little more clear-eyed, they’ll hopefully realize it’s not, like, hopeless.”
Terry went on to explain that his support for the nominee notwithstanding, the Sanders revolution isn’t over. He went on to list several issues yet to be resolved. Among them, “We need to stop the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal) from passing in the lame duck.”
Eells, in a separate interview with a local paper, said she won’t stop fighting. “I am fighting against fracking because I believe that we have a right to have clean drinking water,” she said. “I am fighting to overturn Citizens United because corporations should not be able to buy elections.”
Lisa Ring is also moving on, promising to continue to work for progressive change in Georgia in standing up for causes and candidates. But she has one request. “All that I fight for is the opportunity to participate in democracy. Let us all work together, let each voice be heard, and may we achieve a more just, honest, and compassionate nation. Please join us in any way you are able.”
I’m raising my hand. Are you?
*With the exception of the interview with Ted Terry, all quotes are from Facebook® posts from during and after the DNC in Philadelphia. Some editing has been done to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Used with the generous permission of the subjects.
PS. This is an amusing video about moving on from Bernie. Ted Terry is in it. If you’re still stuck, you may want to wait to watch it. Or, maybe it will help.
I live in Georgia, a red state that has had Democrats wringing their hands for almost twenty years. The state legislature has been under Republican control since 2003. There hasn’t been a Democrat elected to statewide office since 2008. Yes, there’s always talk of the state being in play in a national election, and we can barely maintain our patience with constant claims of our impending purpleness.
Heck, the Democratic Party of Georgia has yet to field a candidate to go against incumbent Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson. And yet…
With the GOP on the verge of nominating a largely despised buffoon, a flim-flammer, to run for president, there actually is a chance that even Georgia could go blue, if Democratic voters go down-ballot after voting for president.
We are in primary season, a time in every presidential cycle where you don’t have to vote with your head as much as you have the luxury of voting with your heart. As former Bill Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who just came out in support of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary, told CNN’s Erin Burnett, Monday, “If you don’t vote your conscience in a primary, when are you going to vote your conscience?” It is a called a presidential preference primary, after all.
There’s also this, from political analyst Charles Blow, who appeared on CNN with Reich. He made the point that while Hillary Clinton is polling high against Sanders in red states, including Saturday’s blowout in South Carolina, the odds are those states won’t go for the Democrat in November, so a lopsided win in March may give her more delegates, but won’t make a difference in the general election.
“The biggest plus for Bernie to stay in the race is this,” Blow offered, “he is more likely to win states that a Democrat will carry in the fall. Hillary Clinton is going to rack up delegates in states that she will not be able to carry in November.”
Finally, have you seen the shit show happening on the other side? Of course you have. So has everyone else in the country, and they’re completely mesmerized by it. Like the dearth of Democratic debates early on ceded media attention to the Republicans, so too would a Clinton coronation give the GOP the license to monopolize the news cycle while we watch Trump and Rubio trade insults all the way to the convention.
Voting for Bernie is not pointless, even now. It not only keeps progressive supporters engaged in the process, but also keeps the Democrats’ rivalry in front of all the voters in the country. So GO VOTE!!!
Let’s call this fight over now, before we go any farther than we already have. Being a liberal progressive and being an establishment candidate or cause are not mutually exclusive.
There is little doubt that groups like Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign are on the front lines, fighting for progressive causes everyday. There’s little doubt that the Congressional Black Caucus PAC is committed to fighting the Right Wing for basic civil rights, voting rights and giving those in need a hand up.
But, inasmuch as they are all successful institutions, they rely on the Democratic establishment to preserve the gains they’ve already made and be ready for fights to come. Any disruption to the power of the establishment, they feel, risks it all.
So when an icon like Rep. John Lewis comes out and speaks on behalf of Hillary, as he did during the CBC PAC’s announcement, he’s not turning his back on liberals and progressives. I know him. It takes more than an intra-party skirmish to shake his idealism. It’s not in his nature.
In the Democratic race for President of the United States, Hillary is the pragmatists’ choice and Bernie is the idealists’ choice.
What John Lewis and Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards and others are doing is being politically pragmatic. Call it “pragmatic idealism,” if you will. They will not make what they perceive to be a risky move with an unknown quantity like Bernie, when they know Hillary, and they’re much more certain that she will win than they are of Sanders success in November.
They likely all believe in what Bernie Sanders is talking about – single payer healthcare, free college tuition, raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security and fighting income inequality – but they are using their heads, not their hearts, because they feel they have to be pragmatic.
More than once I heard the term “politically naive,” in the early days of this election year, regarding Sen. Bernie Sanders and his motivated supporters. The first one came from a conservative friend on my Facebook feed, who was reacting to a post about Bernie’s viability and his principled stand.
In that context, he was saying that Sandernistas are mistaken because, he believes, all they want is free stuff, and they’re too naive to realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The second was from a Hillary Clinton surrogate on TV, who said that it was politically naive to think a self described Socialist could win a general election.
In a January New York Times op-ed, economist Paul Krugman insisted that Bernie’s supporters “preferred happy dreams to hard thinking,” and warned about allowing “idealism [to] veer into destructive self-indulgence.”
But Bernie’s “political revolution” is born of idealism. The heart wants what the heart wants, and the heart wants Bernie Sanders. To call his millions of younger supporters politically naive is to ignore the energy required for social change and how it is shaped by the young.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was in his twenties and thirties when he took on the establishment, and there were plenty, including President Kennedy, who said he was asking for too much at once.
From the anti-war movements of the 1960s to Occupy Wall Street, those to whom the future belongs are the ones fighting to save it. There’s a reason the Baby Boomers’ anti-establishment battle cry was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” [See Jack Weinberg.] It’s because their elders were already part of a broken system that did not work for everybody.
Breaking news: it still doesn’t.
The revolution never ends. There can be no resolution to end the revolution without a concerted effort at evolution; we cannot revolve until we are resolved to evolve. That takes all of us – the pragmatist and the idealist, the prosaic and the poet – working together. And while we appreciate that sometimes it requires electing an older leader to get these things done, neither Bernie nor Hillary (nor President Obama, for that matter) can move the needle in any significant way unless they know we all have their back.
So don’t give up if the choice is Hillary. Act up. Don’t lay up if the choice is Bernie. Act up. With that much energy we can restart the revolution now and make it last forever.