When Being an Idealist is No Longer Enough (Reflections on the 2016 Election)

While politics is still on our minds, I want to write about my lifelong experience being an advocate and activist. Largely within the Democratic Party. Also, outside of it.

The events of 2016 galivinized many people from all backgrounds for many different reasons.

The two most polarizing candidates in recent history got us all talking again. I like to find silver linings-that is one. There is good in everything. Here is a list of 5 positives about 2016 if you need to borrow mine:

  1. We learned what Populism was. We saw it in both Bernie and Trump supporters and the ways they appealed to that “base.” This is good. It means both major parties atleast recognize that the people matter and want the corruption out of politics and our elected representatives to be held accountable to the people. (side note: “demos” in ancient greek translates into “the people.” As in, DEMOCRACY. Back to our roots).
  2. We learned there are others that think like us, for better or for worse. We learned that there is comfort in spending time with like-minded individuals. We also learned its dangerous to exist in a bubble and be out of touch. We are pretty fed up with fake news and facebook politics.
  3. We remembered that our words and actions matter and that our kids are watching and listening. This reminder was painful for me, personally. Yet, it was one worth realizing. We are talking about bullying again. We know it when we see it. And if we don’t want our kids to do it, then we need to be better examples and role-models. Zero Tolerance for hate or bullying.
  4. We started to talk more about taboo subjects in our everyday lives. I talked to people in my life about rape, misogyny, abuse, welfare, being poor, my failures, my struggles, my past, my present, my visions for the future. I shared openly and without fear. I realized the value in using my voice to inspire others. It took bravery. I am thankful I had enough. I respect others that did, as well.
  5. We realized that everyone has a breaking point and it is wise to be proactive and not push them there. There is only so far you can push a human being. The protests. The violence. The vitriol. All can be avoided through polite and respectful discourse and appropriate action and follow-up. Largely, people just want to be heard. They want to talk to someone in a position of power cares. We saw in 2016 what happens when people feel silenced and ignored.

While these “lessons” became glaringly obvious for most of us over the course of the last year, some of us started to see the writing on the wall much earlier on. 

For instance, my aunt. I moved to Detroit to teach in Detroit in 2014. I immersed myself in local politics. I wanted to be prepared. I asked her opinions, as a respected Boomer who has lived in Metro Detroit her entire life. Her reply was “There is going to be a Revolution. We will be in another Civil War. Maybe even World War. It will just look different. The weapons will be different. It will happen soon.Most likely in Detroit. This is a pressure cooker.”

She was right. Only took 2 years. When I asked her to share her rationale, she only needed to ask me to reflect on my own life-one largely defined by economic struggle despite years of hard work and dedication. And my fierce commitment to doing good in the world at all costs, even financial. Her point was that the world no longer serves people like me-the idealists and the dreamers.

We are a country of haves and have nots. I have so much love, ambition, passion, desire. But I have not any money. Any tangible evidence of my success. I lack the material possessions that define what it means to be successful in America today.

And there are millions like me. More of us “have nots” than the “haves.”

As an expert in the field of sociology and history, I will tell you that this is not a new paradigm. It’s why my aunt was able to predict it. She is very tuned in to people and very wise. If you remember the hierarchical pyramids your teachers drew for you in school, you know what I am talking about. You also know that it is purposefully difficult for the “have nots” at the bottom levels to band together and overthrow the “haves” at the tippy top. For many reasons: money, power, control, ability, know-how, distractions, daily tasks, rank, class, etc.

We don’t choose what rank we are born into. We can move up or down, but not by much unless we work very hard. Or have a million dollar “small loan.” Most of us choose to live within our means and learn to be happy with what we have. In order to not become resentful pissed off people, we tune out the “haves.” We alienate them, just as they have down to us. We band together. We find inner strength. We adapt.

It is not fair, but life was never fair. There have always been powerful people that learn the system and then how to “rig” or control it. How to profit. Examples include slave societies, feudalism, the Indian caste system, and many more; countless examples on every level of society. Even in our own families, classrooms, and work environments.

It’s largely human nature.

But there is one HUGE difference in 2016: ACCESS TO INFORMATION. The internet is a game changer. Now, we can ALL be educated, right? Not if the ones at the top have anything to say about it (fake news, much?) Not if the media has a say. Not if the people that control or nightly programming have a say. Not the game or app developers.

They want us to be distracted. It serves their self-interest in preserving/hoarding their money.

So I choose to educate. To advocate. To negate all the garbage they feed us. I may be one person, but it is a start. And all successful revolutions take time. The War for Independence took roughly 7 years, not including the decades preceeding it in which the tax policies that directly led to the events took place.

If we place this Revolution’s start at 2016, we are looking at a rough decade to follow.

For millenials, it is a very familiar feeling. The suckiness. I graduated in 2008. Again in 2011. Again in 2013. It’s not better. It still sucks. Being ambitious and talented but stifled and poor sucks. And we are pissed. And ready to fight back. We just need to agree on how, first. I aim to mediate and bring peace to those conversations.

Perhaps my story will allow others to trust in me to do so. So here it is:

________

My Story: An Ode to Progressives, Lofty Ideals, and the Dreamers. 

Part One (My Role Models):

I was born Democrat. My dad was one. He was very vocal and respected in the community. My dad is a brilliant man. Not to brag, but he graduated 11th in his class from the University of Michigan. He had the quickest brain around. And I loved him and adored him for it. I am proud to be so much like my father. He was/is a lawyer and progressive activist for the disabled and handicapped and children. My mom was a Democrat(ish.. and she never talked about it).

I questioned. I listened to the other side, but it didn’t quite fit. I knew it didn’t quite fit because I honestly think I came out of the womb doing politics. I was always negotiating and figuring out loopholes and ways around things. Usually punishments.

I tended to think quick like my dad. Act instinctively on it like my mother. And worry about the consequences later.

Politics.

Thankfully I learned how to do all three at the same time through my own professional training and experiences later in life.

I always was very good at reading people and, honestly, I was a master of manipulation. All I had to do was turn on the precocious charm and bat my eye lashes. The grown-ups ate it up. I was “too smart” for my “own good.” It’s why my mom and dad tried so hard to make me a rule follower. And I was in certain ways as well. I was nervous. I was scared of my own talent. And I had a lot of anxiety and fear as a child.

I was sooo sensitive!

But I proudly adopted the mantle. It was 1996. I was 11 and in fifth grade. I idolized Jonathan Larson and loved the Rent musical. It was not super appropriate for a fifth grader, but I wasn’t your average fifth-grader. I looked up the original opera on which it was based, La Boheme, and I went to work on understanding every single moment of that brilliant script and soundtrack.

My Uncle Hanan was my dad’s roommate at U of M in Ann Arbor during the early 80s. We went to visit him in NYC that year. He had been working at a very important labor firm in times square and I couldn’t wait to go visit him! We didn’t travel much outside of Michigan.

So we went to visit my Uncle Hanan shortly after the 1996 election in which Clinton beat out Dole. He somehow got tickets for us to see the original cast of RENT on Broadway the year of its debut. Crazy! He was also a brilliant man. Funny. Witty. Whimsical. He still is all of those things. He was also sensitive like me so I always felt comfortable with him. He knew I would really get something from this play.

He was living with his new wife Martha in a super hip Brooklyn loft. I had my own bedroom for the week and Martha helped me decorate it however I wanted. All they talked about that entire trip as we sat out on their amazing Brooklyn patio, was the election results and their hopes for the Clintons.

I thought they were hippies. I didn’t know the difference between the 60s 70s and 80s back then and I just thought my parents and their friends were hippies. And I knew they hated people called the yuppies. and I knew they liked Bill and Hillary because they also seemed kind of like hippies. I was paying attention. I wanted to sit on the porch someday and talk about such brilliant concepts with my friends and laugh and cry and share stories together.

I followed Bill. I idolized Hillary. I read up on all the classic liberal and progressive leaders in the world. I still am.

Most of them either were Democrats, or the equivalent in their own times. Those that never adopted the label always worked closely with the Democratic Party as their interests most often aligned. (Rational Self Interest Theory-Poli Sci 101).

________

Part Two (My Start in Politics):

I love Barack Obama. I worked for the Alderman that helped get him elected out of the fourth ward in Chicago during the summer of 2006. Do you see how sixes are a theme here?

That was 10 years after the Clintons were elected and I saw the light of reality through a musical called Rent. I didn’t know much about Barack Obama. I was from the upper Peninsula of Michigan. But my roommate Emily did and she quickly educated me on his brilliance. I remember going through all of his old campaign materials from the state Senate race a couple years before, and remarking on what a brilliant marketer he was. He had his name on soaps for crying out loud! and sponges. We were poor college kids, so I took all of them back to my apartment and we used Barack Obama themed-sponges and dish soap for the rest of the summer.

My job was to sort through all of the old campaign materials and organize them. The alderman told me I could take whatever I wanted so I did. T-shirts. Everything. I also picked up Ivory Mitchell, and brought him to work every day. I had to help him put on his shoes a lot. It was truly humbling. He had helped put Bill in office.

It was the best summer of my life. The most alive I had ever felt and the most at peace I had felt within myself. In the southside of Chicago. I heard gunshots my first night there. But I wasn’t scared. I felt safe in the city and with the people that I most identified with. My people. I would also feel this way when I moved to Detroit to teach years later. My new hometown.

I also first met Barack Obama that summer. My life was forever changed. When he announced his candidacy in 2008, I quickly linked up with my friend C and began to plot on how we would convince the rest of the College Democrats to support and endorse Barack. They were all Hillary or Edwards people. The County Democrats really didn’t see what we saw either. They didn’t think he stood a chance against Hillary or Edwards. But C and I had been enlightened. We saw the 2006 speech. I had met the man and worked for his people. We knew what was going to happen.

And slowly other people did as well. The night he won the primaries was confirmation for us. Of what we had already known. And then everyone else came on board as well. By the time he won the actual general election, C and I had been through a spiritual awakening, of sorts. We celebrated all night and into the morning. My mom picked me up from his apartment on her way to drop my little brother off at school the next morning. I slept for about a week. I had somehow managed to fail Pilates class that semester. I didn’t care. Barack Obama was our president. Sleep didn’t matter for a year. It was all worth it.

But it broke me in many ways too. I saw how much of a game it was. I saw that some people just wanted to win in order to beat the other people. They didn’t believe in the candidate like I did. They just wanted to improve their improve their own lives. I get it. I like to play games too, ones I enjoy and I think I can win. I enjoy winning. Don’t we all? And I definitely want my own life to be good, but it was too much like that rational self interest theory that I had been learning so much about in my Poli Sci courses. I just called it selfishness. And I was not a selfish person. I’m still not. Self-indulgent, maybe. Self aware, yes. Definitely self-absorbed at times. But I’m not selfish. I’m very giving. I give with everything I have.

So I recognize it in other people as well. Barack Obama was that way. I hope he still is after being in Washington for eight years. Bernie Sanders is that way. I hope that he will continue to be for the rest of his life.

Hillary and Bill had it beaten out of them for a long time. I saw them turning into shells of the former people I idolized. Bill literally looks like a different person and Hillary just looks so tired and beaten down. She has stamina. More than anyone else I have ever witnessed. But people just don’t like her. That makes me so sad. Because I can relate so much. people didn’t like me either. I was obnoxious and disliked just like John Adams. My other hero. But because I was a woman, I came across as shrill and angry. No one likes a shrill and angry woman, now. Especially not cute little perky blonde ones. I was put in my place often.

So I was a Bernie backer. From day one. He stirred something inside of me that had not been stirred since I first shook the hand of Barack Obama.

Things happened the way they happened. It’s the past. We cannot dwell on it. Or we will lose focus on the present and the future. It’s why the media tries to distract us with the past all the time all day long. I endorsed Hillery and started to campaign for her because I am a woman and because I am empathize with her. I also had enough residual respect and idolization left over from the 90s and I was able to tap into a lot of that.

Her campaign sucked, but she did get smart in the end with very good ads and some very good speaking engagements. I was moved. I want to be moved by a candidate. I think most people do. We long to feel something in a world that is increasingly robotic.

But she lost. And I was stunned. And then the world went haywire for a week. It’s starting to look more like a world I understand again. Even if that other guy is our president. Whatever that means anymore. It’s not what I studied in school it’s definitely not what I wanted to teach. But it is life. It is our current reality.

Part Three (The Takeaway):

The Progressives get it. I was part of a Progressive Student Round Table. It was amazing. The best people I ever met or had spoken with in my entire adult existence at the time.

It was like there was more of me. More people that felt and thought the way I did. I had never been around such a large group of activists before as an adult, myself. It’s revitalizing. It’s inspiring. It’s refreshing. It felt safe.

And I’m still at the table. I came back. In 2015. When I first heard Bernie Sanders speak. I took nine years off from politics (ish) and then in 2016, 10 years after I worked for and met Obama for the first time and 20 years after I first saw RENT, I came out of the shadows again, and out of my first mini-retirement.

I felt safe enough to act again; strong enough.  I hadn’t felt safe for awhile before that. No union. No contract. No work stability or financial security in my life.

I don’t know why it’s a dirty thing to be a progressive. I don’t know why I should feel shame in being passionate and caring about those that are less fortunate than I. Because I am very fortunate. I’m aware of what my skin color means for me. What my education means for me. What my ability to have an education means for me.

So I pay it forward. As any true progressive would. Any activist would. Money is not everything for me. I grew up with it and I grew up without it. I was honestly happier without it.

I probably accept a new mantle today: a Progressive. A champion of the people. A fighter. A true believer. an idealist. A person who doesn’t give up. And a person that sees good in everyone and everything. A determined optimist. And a brave one.

——

Dedicated to all those that serve on the front lines with me. 

The people I worked with mean the world to me. They were my first taste of a true cohort of like-minded individuals. We listened to the other side. just like my parents did. We understood it. We tried to find common ground and empathize with our fellow man. But we knew what we knew in our hearts. As did they. But we were respectful. And we had so much fun!

So cheers to my original Progressive Crew and I hope you all find your way again soon, as well. We are down but not out and we will triumph in the end. We always do. Because good always prevails.

Whatever we are (human?), be a good one!  ❤️❤️

One thought on “When Being an Idealist is No Longer Enough (Reflections on the 2016 Election)

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