We Shall Overcome
I was in high school during the first Iraq War. On that January day when the U.S. invaded Iraq, 3 of our city's high schools spontaneously marched out of class, wearing black-arm bands, mourning the violence and loss of life; protesting our country's involvement in a war that seemed dubious at best. We ended up in a student-led rally downtown, holding hands and singing all the old protest songs. I remember feeling imbued with a sense of power, that we were 'the people', and that we could make a difference. A few days later, some friends and I joined the massive peace march in San Francisco, carrying an enormous (and de rigeour) tie dye peace-sign flag.
Rock the Vote(?)
Not long after I graduated from high school I was swept up in the whole 1993 Bush/Clinton election. I was a new voter, freshly registered with the Socialist Party-I had just read Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle-and I carried into the election that same belief that I could make a difference; ready to vote out George Bush, eager for change. MTV had that 'Rock the Vote' campaign, heavily endorsed by all my favorite bands. I am embarrassed by how much this influenced me. And then when Clinton won, I sat gleefully in front of the TV watching U2, REM & 10,000 Maniacs playing at Clinton's Inaugural Ball. I video-taped it, watching again and again Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe singing "To Sir With Love"; it felt like a fresh (brave)new world.
Burned & Beleaguered
Well, most of the whole Clinton administration left a bad taste in my mouth, with the hinkey dealings, slippery words, multiple Whatever-gates & ultimate impeachment. My youthful political optimism was burned, and I was left feeling wary & beleaguered. And I've been in this place for the last however many elections, wistfully re-reading Jimmy Carter's books, choosing to write-in candidates rather than having on my conscience the guilt of voting for someone I didn't trust.
But I've always felt under-represented, more conservative than most Democrats but far too leftie to be a Republican. And I haven't come close with any of the other parties either, most feel so fringey & wild-eyed that I'd need a bunker, a shot-gun and a year's supply of emergency rations just to join.
Why I'm Not a Joiner
I was brought up in a non-denominational church, with independent-voting parents, in a liberal state (CA), in Santa Cruz, a town where 'organized religion' was generally not looked upon with a friendly eye. It's the sort of place where it's hard to walk downtown without being 1) handed sheaths of fliers for upcoming demonstrations/marches/rallies, 2) asked to sign several petitions, or 3) swept up in a Hari Krishna tambourine parade. And somehow I love it, it's my hometown. More importantly, Santa Cruz holds these two ideas at once: 1) progressive politics are in the majority, and 2) don't trust those in power. I've always found this a little ridiculous, with the bumper stickers that at once tout every liberal policy of the city council and also include, 'Subvert the Dominant Paradigm!' I don't know why but I find it endearing-maybe because it's so near-sighted.
Being a Christian has made me recognize this even more because often it seems that to 'subvert the dominant paradigm' means to follow Jesus. (I see a future bumper sticker!) And I think that's how it should be. I am nervous with the Religious Right, and political lobbies with lots of power and money in the name of Jesus, (who always disassociated himself with worldly systems of power.) It feels too much like Rome. Dr. Dobson makes me nervous at times. The American Family Association makes me nervous (and embarrassed.)
Citizen of Another Country
At church this Sunday, Josh Fox spoke about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the political arena, reminding us that we are first citizens of a heavenly country and that our eyes need to be on the One who will ultimately right all wrongs. This calms me, and speaks to that place that doesn't feel at home with any one ideology of the world.
So, it's been interesting with this election. I'd already decided to vote for Obama, mostly because I was heartily sick of the Bush administration, and Obama was interesting: a converted Christian with an inner-city social justice background, and a good author to boot. I liked that my friends saw him at a Swell Season concert in Chicago. I liked that he sounded like a normal person. But mainly I was 1) very tired of Bush's politics, and 2) willing to give the other version of 'The Man' (aka the Democratic Party) a chance. And he won.
And then today as I took G to the doctor (ear infection) I tuned into the BBC's 'World Have Your Say'. It was incredible. People calling in from all over the world, giddy and excited for my country. A woman from Bahrain called in to 'congratulate the American people on their vote'. Kenya has declared a public holiday. People from all over Africa were calling in, commending the US for the ability of both 'blacks and whites' to elect an African-American president, citing us an example to their tribe-torn nations. All over the world, the calls & texts poured in, people celebrating because of something that 'the American people' had done. And I was astounded.
Me: Stupid American
I guess I didn't realize how heavily I carry the guilt of being an American. I suppose living internationally during the first flush of the Iraq War, seeing the protests and near-riots as my president was all but booed out of London and hearing again and again the phrase "stupid American" really began to wear on me. I agreed with everyone mostly, but somehow that didn't help. To hear congratulations and 'well-done' from different people all over the world was surprisingly uplifting, and I spent the rest of the day with a dopey grin on my face. I was happy that for one day, my country wasn't the international whipping boy, and that a guy in Nairobi was having a celebratory pint because of something that I (in a small way) helped bring about.
Today I read a transcript of Obama preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia (where Dr. King was pastor) & it was outstanding. I am suddenly imbued with that initial sense of hope, not because I think that Obama is going to solve all our problems, but because he is out there, a follower of Jesus, working for the kingdom of God, trying to bring justice to the poor, speaking up for those who can't speak up for themselves. I admire him, and didn't think I could admire another president. I don't know what will happen next, but for the first time in a long time, I am (dare I say it?) hopeful.