Open to suggestions

Those who know me know that I go back and forth between talking fervently about politics and being completely disgusted and swearing it off for a long while. Every time I come back around, I ask myself the really hard question, “What can I do to make things better?” The first thing I want to do is admit openly that each time I have failed miserably to rise to the challenge. I’m a little ashamed (only a little, more later on that). The rest of this post is just open musings about what’s in my head and what I can possibly do about it.

It’s also important to note that this current bout I’m having with the state of America is markedly different than previous ones. I’ve been opinionated about politics for a while. I lived in DC for 8 years and it’s difficult to escape it there. But as I read more about things like Occupy Wall Street, Congress throwing away our future for political capital, record profits for the rich; it all starts to be too much. I’m really angry right now. It’s that seething inner anger that won’t show on my face if we were sitting across from each other. But it’s welling up, and I think it’ll eventually boil over if something doesn’t change.

So what needs to change?

Well it would take me a long time to explain my politics. I don’t think any particular platform or ideology encompasses what I think makes sense. It’s safe to say I lean left. But I don’t have any beef with those that “lean right”. In general, conservatives have different values that they are entitled to. And what works for me may not work for them. In fact, I’ve had long talks with real conservatives and we have found lots of common ground to stand on. What’s making me angry right now is the people who are in control of this country; whatever side they are on. It is becoming more and more clear that have no idea what they’re doing, and they are perfectly fine with selling us all down the river if it means they get to sustain their way of life a while longer.

There are certain terms that get bandied about in politics. Terms like “elitist” and “out of touch”. Politicians use them to discredit opponents and at the same time suggest that they themselves are “empathetic”. But this is horse shit. If you were empathetic, you would find it horrifying that so many are out of work. If you were empathetic, you wouldn’t be trying to cut social assistance programs for these people that you’re so in touch with. If you were empathetic, you wouldn’t play chicken with each other about our debt crisis, and you wouldn’t send cops to beat college kids because they dare to ask for more porridge. They are all out of touch.

And I blame left-leaning officials, too. Obama has said nothing important about OWS. He has said nothingsignificant as people are gassed, shot, arrested, humiliated, defamed, fired and killed, all because they are asking what’s wrong with this country. Even those democrats that are patting themselves on the back are playing the game, instead of standing up and saying “we don’t have time to play this game, people need help”. They have also said nothing while Fox News and private billionaires have spread propoganda that stokes the fires of controversy and division. In my mind that does more damage to the solidarity of this country than even multiple, decade-long, overseas wars can do.

They don’t care about us. That’s the simple truth. We are a faceless mob to them. We are the unwashed masses that need to be kept in line. If this sounds deeply cynical, that’s because it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s false. I haven’t seen very much evidence to the contrary. All I’ve seen is politicians doing a poor job of pretending to govern. There are some that are secretly aware of how fucked up they are. But it’s unacceptable to demand that they explain themselves. There are some that are deluded into thinking they’re “good”. Even while they let atrocities happen despite being in a position to stop them cold.

So why don’t I protest?

Yeah, back to this question. There are some hard truths here. But I need to spit them out before I can start dealing with them. I have actually internalized the reasons why I don’t go out and protest.

For one, I’m not sure it’s really going to make a difference. I know that protests read well in history books, but I’m not convinced simply standing in the street for months is going to make those idiots change their tune. I admit that it would make a difference if the protestors numbers reached a critical mass. If everybody with a lame excuse like this would go out there anyway, the crowd would be too big to suppress or ignore. But then what? It is true that they have little direction and few concrete demands. Even the politicians who are listening aren’t going to come up with the answers themselves. I certainly don’t have the answers. Maybe if the OWS movement grows some outspoken and charismatic leaders, things will change for me. For now there have to be other things that happen combined with protest. I’m more interested in those things.

There’s also a more personal reason. I’m afraid to be a protestor. I’ve done very well for myself. My life is very comfortable. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t feel any of the real affects of what’s going on in this country. I’m easily in the top 10% of earners and I have a lot to lose. All I have is empathy. But that’s not the core reason. I’m still a young black man in America. And I have the very real fear that if I step out of line, I will be dealt with harshly. The police are shooting rich white college kids. They do not have a history of showing restraint with people who look like me.

I have been extremely fortunate in my life. I’ve never been the direct target of racism. I’ve never felt particularly discriminated against. I’ve never had trouble furthering my career. In fact, I’ve had better luck than many of my white friends. But I have no delusions that this is all due to a combination of smarts, education and luck. Many black men are in jail. Many of those were sent there unfairly or sentenced much more harshly than necessary. Many free black men are convicted felons so they are not allowed to participate in our democracy by casting their vote. Many are poor and uneducated with no real skills and no real prospects to obtain those skills for themselves or their children.

I don’t think that throwing myself into the gauntlet and risking becoming another statistic is what I personally can do to make things better. What I can do, and will do, is become the outlier. I’m going to become more successful, have a wonderful family, educate my children and prepare them to be better citizens. I’m going to prove that I deserve this luck. And most importantly, I’m going to try to shift that needle so I’m not such an outlier. I hope these things will serve as an acceptable substitute for my presence. I stand with the protestors in spirit.

So what’s next?

I don’t know. It’s unlikely that I’ll protest, but I’m also reaching the end of my patience with being idle. I have to find something to do that I feel is significant. But that’s a tall order considering how cynical I am. Writing Congress is a waste of time. There is no elected official or candidate that has convinced me he gets it. Giving money is good, but utlimately makes me feel disconnected. Perhaps these are self-made obstacles and I need to just get over myself. I’m still working on it. Open to suggestions.

6 thoughts on “Open to suggestions

  1. A very interesting read. I don’t have an answer… yet. I do have a suggestion: dig deeper. If you think Obama is a left leaning politician, or that you have common ground with people who feel we ought to base American law on the Christian bible, there’s a wealth of information for you to discover.

    I can suggest this: Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign is the first time in a long long while I’ve felt really optimistic. Perhaps look at ways you can encourage someone like her near you to run for office?

  2. This is a remarkable essay that belongs in the wall street journal or new York times.

    Well said.

    Term limits for policitians is the only practical thing I can think of that might curb the self-interest that corrupts leaders. But that leaves bankers…

  3. Unfortunately I am not in the top 10% of earners – so I’ll have to make this brief:

    Why did you post this here and not on G+ ?

    +1 for Elizabeth Warren – In an odd example of synchronicity ( or effective campaigning ) I came across her for the first time recently with:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A which I find a quite convincing indicator of clue and integrity – doubly so as it was recorded 4 1/2 years ago – I’ll make a note to seek out some more recent material by her.

    Talking of old videos.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jNyr6BJZuI

    My advice would be to start practicing doing *something* – why not follow up on looking at the practicalities of giving police officers an ‘out’?

    I find it slightly ironic that the fact that you consider yourself fortunate and privileged makes you more risk-averse – yet seem indignant when police officers fail to insubordinate themselves out of a job and into decidedly unenviable prospects.

    I can’t seem to find a good way to phrase the following less abrasively, apologies in advance if you find it unduly offensive.

    Considering Barack Obama, Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Michael Steele, Hemain Cain, Charles Bolden, Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr ( accepted into University of Chicago at age 13 ) and a shouldn’t-be-surprisingly long list of other exceptional people who happen to be black – how are you going to pretend to be an ‘outlier’ by doing the exact same thing that you decry in others?

    Contrast and compare:

    “I’m going to become more successful, have a wonderful family, educate my children and prepare them to be better citizens. I’m going to prove that I deserve this luck.”

    “they are perfectly fine with selling us all down the river if it means they get to sustain their way of life a while longer.”

    I can’t quite work out if you imagine that socio-economic stratification and concomitant achievement gaps are down to no one ever seeing a black guy doing well in IT – or that the connection between the market failures that OWS agitates against and lack of investment in projects to improve educational outcomes where they are direly needed escapes you; because I still believe that you do actually care.

    Anyway – sorry for being a dick.

    Between working out how to score a PR coup with defecting police officers and seeing how the effort to find legal recourse for battered protesters could be aided… I would suggest studying the aspects of successful popular movements such as those surrounding African-American civil rights.

  4. @Joe Almost missed this because you got moderated. I’ll try to respond to your points.

    On the difference between me and the police: I think there is a marked difference between being idle out of a sense of helplessness, and being the actual instrument of pain and suffering. Perhaps I’m drawing an imaginary line in your mind. In mine it is very real and very important. I already said I was ashamed of myself for my role. But if I would never find myself on the other side of that line.

    On irony and hypocrisy: When I say “outlier”, I’m referring to the number of black male professionals in this country. Just because you can name more than a handful, doesn’t mean it’s “a lot”. I’m risk-averse not to protect my wealth and status. But because I believe that my doing well has significance to my community today and to the future of equality in this country. And throwing it away should not be done lightly. All these things are important, and finding a balance between them is not black and white.

    Also, I don’t think my position is quite as powerful or significant as those you mention, and those I’m decrying. Part of my problem is figuring out how exactly I can be effective. They are in a position to be effective today with no equivocations. If I had that position I hope I would do better.

    Another difference between me and them is that they asked for this responsibility. They stood up and asked to represent the rest of us and our best interests. They took oaths of ethics and duty. I did not. I’m forced into this position by their incompetence and/or corruption and by my own conscience. You seem to be accusing me of holding them to higher standards than myself. You are correct.

    Finally, your last paragraph used too many big words. If you want to communicate with people, be straight forward and direct. And don’t use overly academic language in a debate, unless you’re talking down to someone or you are in fact an academic. I don’t know you well enough, so I’ll let you decide which.

    I welcome your criticisms if you feel you have to. But please try to draw the right parallels. And if you want my opinion, it doesn’t do for you and I to tear into each other. There are bigger fish to fry.

    I will think about your actual constructive suggestions though. Giving the police a way out sounds like a good idea.

  5. Starting from below:

    As it turns out – G+ has representation from a healthy mix of interests:

    https://plus.google.com/113308891971186268224/about is one who may have an interesting circle of contacts.

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/107349276574263625774/about may be motivatable.

    It wasn’t my intention to ‘tear into you’ but I, oh well..

    Nor did I seek to talk down to you, at all – at that point I was in hurry to wrap up my post and took to more direct language – yeah, I’m a reader, I admit it – It never occurred to me that it would give you pause.

    Nod, they took an oath to represent the Country and its people, so far its just a few scattered groups of people that seem to have failed to win over wider popular support in any incontrovertible sense – hardly enough to risk alienating the vast majority of the population which seems to have remained silent or ambivalent on the whole thing.

    They need clear signals – and the population has failed to send them.

    As an aracialist I am nonplussed at your insistence of measuring yourself against ‘blacks’ – and given the examples of unqualified excellence that has been demonstrated by the people I mentioned in the last post I honestly don’t see what you could prove that hasn’t been. What would you do if you were the first Black president unsure of re-election prospects nearing the end of his first term? ( last botched parallel, promise )

    What poor and fractured communities likely need is stability, quality education and a supportive environment – and that doesn’t matter if it is in the inner city or trailer parks.

  6. I actually sympathies with OWS, and other’s protest all over the states. I felt the financial shock of loosing 25-30% of the value of my home in less then a year’s time.

    I think the point of the occupy seems to be the fact that those people have lost everything, jobs, homes, families. I don’t think you or I have reached that point.

    There are two things, that I think you could do if you are sympathetic towards Occupiers, but can’t afford to quite your day job.

    First, is to talk about it among friends, inorder to sort out the issues at hand, then blog about it, even podcasts, ext are great alternatives to FOX news or CNN. FOX, and CNN seems like they only care about sound bites, they do not really offer anything to the discussion.

    Second, if you want to help without quiting your day job, and putting your house hold at risk, hand out food, to occupiers. Many of whom are homeless, and do not have homes to go back to. I think this will give you the chance to see who you are occupy is, and help provide some measure of relief to those who were most negatively effected by economic crisis.

    JOsH

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