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.