Saturday, June 7, 2008

Our powers combined

I've stayed pretty quiet about the Democrat nominating process this year, both here and out "in real life." The general quiet was for several reasons; first, I knew that I would support whoever actually won the nomination in the end and I would have been happy with either Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton; and second, as a I wrote a couple of times, the tone of the conversation around the nominating process and the candidates disturbed and saddened me, and honestly, I was afraid to get involved. I was afraid I might write something and then see it twisted somewhere else, and much, much more shamefully, I was afraid of making a mistake or offending people.

[Sidenote: If I write something that offends you, in this or any other post, let me know. We may never see eye to eye, but I want to make an effort to hear where you are coming from.]

I probably would have overcome my fear if I thought I had something new to bring to the table, but there were tons of voices of reason out there, setting the record straight better than I ever could.

There is a whole other, and larger, reason though, that I haven't been being that loud about the primaries and probably will continue to stay relatively quiet during the general election. Here I am November, 2004:

Please note, if it wasn't obvious to you, the John Kerry button.

I've written and deleted the next paragraph a couple of times, because I'm not sure how to say what I want to say here.

I was so shocked and sadden when Kerry lost the 2004 general election (and Bush won the popular vote). I had been involved in Kerry's campaign as a very low-level volunteer in Pittsburgh and I have to admit, that though many people weren't moved or motivated by Kerry, I was. But it wasn't because "my" candidate had lost that I felt devastated that night; it was because of the story that came out of that election. For weeks after Kerry lost, the story that dominated the airwaves was that the people that had voted for Bush (or rather, against Kerry?) had been motivated by "family values." LGBT groups were told that they had cost the democrats the election because they had "pushed" the "gay-marriage issue." In addition to being code for homophobic, I felt (knew?) family values also stood for "pro-life," "believes strongly in enforcing gender differences," and "transphobic" among other things.

What the 2004 election brought home to me was that people hated me and hated people like me. This was a significantly different realization from knowing that people disagreed with the things I thought and the way that I saw the world. When I saw the presidential election as a war of ideas, as in we all get together and vote for the person with the best ideas, it was easy to keep myself out of the equation or at least keep some distance. Sometimes republicans would win, sometimes democrats would win; it was a serious game, but still a game. When, however, I came to see the presidential election as an opportunity for a public referendum on whether or not, I and the people I love, are truly equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens, whether or not we are hated, I realized that it was my body and my future that was at stake (along with the bodies and futures of people I care about), not (just?) my ideas. Not a game.

It's hard for me to write or talk casually about the election. Maybe because it is so personally important to me, I should be using that to write and talk forceful about it, but I am so scared of feeling the way I felt in November 2004 all over again, hated, rejected, and in some degree of danger, that it's difficult for me to allow myself to become emotionally invested again.

[Sidenote: I know it's a result of my privilege that my belief in the political system took it's first serious hit in this regard when I was in my 20s. There are plenty of people in our nation and others whose general population and government has always treated them like an enemy.]

We all have a lot at stake in this election (for example: I think the encroachment on our civil liberties is a pretty serious thing for all of us as well as many many other issues [Iraq war, anyone?]), and it would be a huge mistake for us to ignore the lesson of 2004. To me, the lesson of 2004 isn't to avoid putting issues on the national stage that will arouse people's anger and hatred, but rather, that we must acknowledge that emotions play an integral part in people's political decision-making process (and I would argue in all of their decisions). Harnessing people's deep feelings is not a bad thing because it clouds judgment (does it? I've been able to be angry/loving/sad and right at the same time before...) or just a smart campaign move, to acknowledge the emotional stake we all have in the political process is to acknowledge our humanity. I don't know what a purely rational being would look like, but I have a feeling it would be a lot less benevolent than Data.

When I think of Barrack Obama, I often think of what is arguably the best line from one of his speeches, "In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." I think he has picked a pretty wonderful emotion to bring people out to the polls November 2009. Both because I have acknowledged that my emotions don't negate my ability to think rationally and because I believe that our emotional compasses can be used to guide us to the best in ourselves, I am not ashamed to say that I will be voting with my heart in November. (I just might not be blogging about it.)

Lauren (right) and Me, 2005
This post is the result of some discussions, I've had with my friend Lauren this past week and I've totally lifted some of her ideas. Thank you, Lauren.


Luke said...

Where is the pic of you at a bar with your head in your hands? That shot communicates what going through '04 felt like better than any other image I've seen.

drh said...

I am deeply disturbed when I hear people-on-the-street who were Clinton supporters (and woman especially) say that the wanted Clinton and now that she didn't get the nomination, they are going to vote for McCain instead of Obama. I want--in the most well-meaning way possible--to shake them, because of the very implications you mention in terms of "values".