I remember telling one of my best friends that two Democrats: Barack Obama and Keith Ellison were going to change the world. I was canvasing for Alliance for a Better Minnesota and, for the first time in my life, was energized around politics. As I knocked on hundreds of doors and talked to people all over Minneapolis and St. Paul I felt good about my work and about the future of the country. I wanted to believe, and I did.
That year was 2006. By 2008 I had lost my faith in electoral politics. I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008. By 2008 I had come to the conclusion that no person, no matter how well-intentioned, could enter into the machine of American electoral politics and come out the other end. I was studying relentlessly and after every book I finished, after every interview, and podcast, and YouTube lecture I watched I couldn’t come to a different conclusion. Whether it was Malcolm X, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, or Rosa Clemente the message was the same: Republicans may be more blatant in their oppression but Democrats had the same ends in mind. I cast my vote in 2008 for the McKinney-Clemente ticket, and watched as the country elected the first black president. I smiled when Obama won, it was undoubtedly a major moment. I wanted to believe.
It is now 2016. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president. His blatantly xenophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic and fascist rhetoric has resulted in him surging in the polls. I want to believe so badly that the Democrats have an alternative. But, I’m watching the opening night of the Democratic National Convention and it is more about Donald Trump than it is about Hillary Clinton. It seems the Democratic strategy is to simply scare people into voting against Trump instead of for Clinton. The phrase “lesser of two evils” is so common in our political discourse that folks don’t even bash an eyelash at its implications. We accept the overwhelming ineptitude and inadequacies of our efforts around climate change. In fact, we prefer silence on that issue. But when we do talk it’s not much better. We talk about drone bombings, military budgets large enough to conquer the universe, homelessness, healthcare for profit, education for profit and CIA trained black ops leading coups in sovereign nations like they are a given, a force of nature. We shrug our shoulders and fall in line when wealth disparities and systemic inequality remind us that Democrats have done just as much harm as Republicans. We turn to one of the architects of mass-incarceration for its solution knowing full well there is nothing there. We watch real immigrants facing real deportation being ran out on stage to talk about how evil Trump is but remain silent about the record setting deportations carried out under our current Democratic President. We shake our heads as folks continue to act like the threat to police officers is somehow on par with how the police brutalize communities of color and poor communities. Still, though, I want to believe.
It is now 2016 and the lies of both major political parties are so shallow and see through that fear is our greatest motivator. I want to believe we are better than this. I want to believe that we are better than empty political rhetoric. I want to believe we are better than catering to American exceptionalism. I want to believe we can tell the truth– good, bad or otherwise– about this country. I want to believe we, the citizens, are not being manipulated, but are, instead, being trusted. I want to believe… but I know better.
We need something else. We need a different field. We need a different game. This isn’t about any individual. I’m sure many Democrats are good people. I’m also sure the rules of the game will buffer their impact. These folks talking tonight: Corey Booker, Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders know they are selling woof tickets. They know the real deal, and so do we. Yes, we may be able to push Democrats a bit and that is something, for sure, but it is not the long game. The long game comes between elections cycles (why you think they want us in perpetual elections). The long game comes at the dinner tables, and the street corners, and clubs and the classrooms. It comes in the protests. It comes in the Zines and Indy media. It comes in the barbershops and the church pews. It comes with base-building outside of the Democrats. It comes outside of electoral politics as we now know it. It comes with you and me. The long game is the people and we are the people. I still believe.