This has been a crazy week for me. My oldest graduates from high school tomorrow, and I am a mess of logistics and tears. Writing has not been possible, other than grocery- and to-do lists. Turns out, though, that today I would rather share words someone else has written. Words that I find so true, and that, to me, are in accord with the red letters.
This post is from Andrew Hanauer (yes, my husband, but also a freelance writer and human rights ninja). You can find his blog here.
A POLITICS OF LOVE
In 2006, when Americans were asked their opinion of George W. Bush’s massively illegal NSA spying program, 75% of Republicans said they supported it while only 37% of Democrats agreed. Today, after it was revealed that President Obama is overseeing a nominally legal but largely similar surveillance program, only 52% of Republicans express support for it, while a stunning 64% of Democrats agree.
In other words, Americans, in large numbers, care more about the (D) or (R) next to the President’s name than they do about what the President does. And that is deeply disturbing.
There is plenty of blame for this to go around. The right-wing echo chamber that defended President Bush with a vigor matched only by its hatred for President Obama. The wing of the Democratic Party that is convinced that Barack Obama is special and different and that his words have meaning even as he breaks promise after promise. The media that focuses incessantly on the partisan sniping in Washington and ignores the larger truth – that the two parties largely both support a system of corporate and military power at the expense of the vast majority of the world’s people – and thus propagates this system in which Americans yell and scream at each other over which corporate-owned party should be in power.
The great tragedy of the Obama administration (for those of us lucky enough to use that word in the sense that I mean it, and not in the context of our children being shot by drones) is that it has not only furthered and deepened some of the most disturbing policies of the Bush administration, but that it has also deadened opposition to those policies by connecting them to the smiling face of a supposedly progressive leader. And now we not only are stuck with these dangerous policies, with a President who believes he has the right to kill an American citizen without trial, but we are left with meaningful opposition only from the libertarian Right and apparently the 36% of Democrats who don’t think Barack Obama is a deity.
This is the danger of the Church of The-Lesser-Of-Two-Evils. This is what happens when we stop trying to create the world we want our children to live in and settle for hoping that the leader who seems less willing to destroy that future will beat the other guy. For years, we have been told we have to vote Democrat, give our money to Democrats, knock on doors for Democrats, argue with our relatives about how great the Democrats are, all because the alternative is so much worse. The realization that what we are experiencing now is a slow death – through climate change, Wall-Street bailouts, and the erosion of the rule of law – rather than the dreaded quick death of Republican rule is what has prompted me to leave the Democratic Party.
It’s a relief, honestly. I feel a little bit freer for the lack of attachment to an institution that is not worthy of the hopes and dreams I have for our country.
Inevitably the question then becomes: but what if your vote is the difference? Yes, I will vote for the lesser of two evils if I have to.
But this is about so much more than voting. Voting is a civic duty, but it should be merely a small piece of the work we do to improve our community, our country, and the world. Our contribution to the struggle for human rights and social justice is not defined by who we vote for. Throughout history, change has almost always come through the hard work of building credible movements and institutions, of pushing from the outside until those on the inside are forced to make changes, of envisioning change and then demanding that it come about, rather than hoping it is given to you by the lesser of two evils.
Inevitably the question then becomes: what do we attach ourselves to instead?
Given everything that is going on in the world, it’s easy to just stand outside and yell in anger. There is a lot to be angry about.
I think, however, that for that anger to make any sense, it has to be traced back to the love that exists at its roots. We are angry at the perpetrators of the financial meltdown because we love the families who were illegally foreclosed upon. We are angry about the drone program because we love the innocent people victimized by it and we love the concept of a foreign policy that is predicated on peace and not militarism. We are angry about wiretapping because we love the concept of a country in which civil liberties are protected and government is open and accountable. Without this love, the anger leaves us as participants in a pointless competition, in which each “side” tries to “win” and is angered at the other side’s actions. The pointlessness of that game as it plays out in the United States is made clear by the realization that, much like Oceania and its opponents in Orwell’s 1984, the two “sides” are really two halves of the same system. And it is that system that needs to change.
Which brings us to what I call “A Politics of Love.” If we are going to change that system, we have to remove ourselves entirely from the Democrat/Republican debate and start with a positive vision for the country and for the world. We have to invite everybody to contribute to that vision, even if we don’t agree with them on every issue, and we need to push our politicians to make laws that help make that vision a reality. This concept is not about singing Kumbaya and pretending that the corporations and politicians who profit from the corruption of the current system can be engaged in meaningful dialogue. On the contrary, the change we need in this country will come only through the force of our will, through determination, through a clear-eyed understanding of what we are up against. It will come through a lot of hard work. But it will only come through love. And if we are to transform the world through love, we first have to stop identifying ourselves by party and start identifying ourselves as members of a universal human family, particularly when the party with which we have been identifying is so demonstrably unworthy of our allegiance.
When Howard Dean said that “rednecks driving pickup trucks with confederate flags on the back should vote for me because their kids need health insurance, too,” he simultaneously intentionally and unintentionally illustrated how important this concept of politics is. Yes, we need to start a movement that recognizes shared values and human rights, that reaches across racial, ideological, and geographic divides and challenges the status quo. And no, obviously, calling people “rednecks” is not the best way to do that. But what Dean was getting at is that the forces that create inequity in our health care system are not the same as the people voting for politicians who uphold and deepen that inequity. That’s an important concept, and, perhaps just as importantly, given the policy record of Democrats, those so-called rednecks aren’t the only ones voting for politicians who wreak havoc on the poor and vulnerable.
In the coming days, I will be writing more about what a Politics of Love looks like. In the meantime, I am doing my part by removing myself from the false partisan dichotomy that leads a country to change its mind about the violation of its civil liberties simply because the President authorizing the violation has a different letter next to his name.
That (D) is no longer magical to me. It is, after all, of little comfort to the victims of American militarism, or to the Palestinians, or to the Congolese. It is of little consequence to ice caps determined to melt. It is not a holy symbol, not a badge of anything of particular value.
It is just another tool of division at a time when the 99.99999% of the world’s people opposed to the status quo need unity more than ever.
6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Politics of Love”
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Thank you for a thoughtful and refreshing post. We are residents but not citizens of this country and thus do not have the privilege or responsibility of voting, but we watch and experience the politics closely and with much dismay. A politic of love sounds utopian, but absolutely right. That is exactly what we would want for our children, who will indeed be voters in the years to come.
Thanks for the kind words and for reading. A politics of love is utopian in its aims, but not delusional. I am currently writing a follow-up piece that addresses this issue by noting that we are delusional only if we expect that our efforts will have immediate and dramatic impact. Archbishop Oscar Romero, for instance, argued that the work we do today is only the foundation for what is to come much later, that we are “prophets of a future that is not our own.” In other words, we should be utopian in our methods and measure our success in that way, rather than by compromising our values for the best short-term outcome. That applies to how we vote, just as it applies to how we engage in our communities, in our country, and in the world. It applies to how we eat, how we treat each other, how we live.
Thanks for reading and for the thoughtful reply.
First, your story about the “justice” handed out to your sons is a perfect example of the two-tiered justice system we have here in the states (and which it sounds like you have in Canada as well), which I wrote about here:
Confessed war criminals in our government and telecom companies that broke the law and handed over our phone records illegally face no charges or jail time or even fines. But the average person, particularly those at the lower ends of the socio-economic spectrum, are punished harshly for the smallest of crimes.
I also completely agree with you that it is tough for Christians who feel strongly about abortion to know how to weigh the various pulls of the Left and Right in politics. That said, I think abortion is a perfect example of the type of issue that people of conscience need to come together around and stop the divisiveness that benefits the people in power who use it as a wedge issue. There are lots of ways to reduce the number of abortions outside of criminalizing it, and in fact there is much evidence that criminalizing it isn’t even a good method of reducing abortions, which means we are really arguing over nothing.
I will have more in the coming days about the Politics of Love and what I think it entails. Thanks again for reading.
This has been a crazy week for me. Two weeks ago, I might have said it had something to do with the children in our family being unable to attend university. But part of the craziness is that those intelligent, impoverished children deprived of the opportunities for formal higher education but who are self-educated largely via the internet have guessed far more accurately than their educated and relatively privileged mom the real status quo of the political world. The revelations of Ed Snowden are no surprise to them. No more than he does do they consider him heroic. One son was tortured in mental hospital; both were targeted for harassment by a principal in grade school because their parents were part of a body investigating alleged abuses by a teacher. Later, those children were harassed by the police. One child was fined over one hundred dollars for setting down a pop can in a post office parking lot while he was helping his aunt with her dog; he forgot the pop can until the police were on our doorstep with charges and a fine larger than all the money he had ever handled in his entire life. Our sons have been charged with crimes they did not commit and brutally arrested without so much as being questioned about the allegations against them. Because he drove once under suspension because he could not pay a traffic fine, one son lost driving privileges for a year (a serious hardship to a rural parent of three children) and faces a fine of $3000. As there is little or no employment in this part of the world, someone else likely will have to find that money for him or he will go to jail. Our children have felt the boot of injustice and have tangled with the legal system and have come through that system somewhat less than fully justified because the system is rife with injustice, as one of their attorneys frankly acknowledged. Their rehabilitation, defense, and support has cost us a couple of hundred thousand dollars, removing us from the possibility of even modest comfort or the ability to educate their siblings. They long ago rejected as hypocritical the public posturing of the American President who I admired. They have no use for the Church that ran the school system that abused them. They have no illusions about the erosion of respect for civil liberties in police forces and other arms of his government or of the one we live under. They imagine that anarchy could be no worse than the systems in place. They believe in love and live by their principles. They know quite a lot about Jesus. They are Christians without a church.
I spent most of my growing up years in the US (New York state) pledging allegiance to the American flag as did my husband (in Iowa). I married an American; we lived together in American states (Florida and Arkansas); half of our family of three generations is American and resides in the US. As Canadians, we have political leanings left of the American left. As Christians we have beliefs that transcend political positions, such as the right to life of the unborn; pacifism; the loving support of the dying so that euthanasia is obviated; and civil liberties, of course. We have novel learning about brain function that could liberate captives of mental illness, learning disabilities, and the injustice system. With a sickening jolt I have come to the realization that the occasional and reprehensible violation of American civil liberties also is an illusion and that the pervasive violation of privacy of a totalitarian state backed by an unimaginably powerful and immoral military/industrial/surveillance machine affects not only Americans but every other citizen of every other country in the world. Does anything at all distinguish Americans from Canadians or from any other national identity when all are being spied on by a branch of the American government? This means, of course, that tens of thousands of young people similar to Ed Snowden have been inveigled into that pernicious surveillance network and that most of them lack his moral insight and/or his courage to act on his beliefs. It means that reason and sanity and moral values of all kinds essential to Christian thought have been abrogated in the name of a paranoia of terrorism that turns out to be a thin cover for megalomania. The insanity portrayed in, among other literature, CS Lewis’s That Hideous Strength has overcome the “brain” of the government that had been a beacon of democracy, of freedom of thought and of speech, to the entire world. I know crazy better than most people; crazy has invaded all of our lives.
Feeling liberated from a political party that has fallen from a platform of moral rectitude is a step towards greater intellectual freedom, but lands one in a social quandary. Leaving one political party for another is happening more frequently among Canadian Christians who have tasted the reality behind our Prime Minister’s supposed Christianity, who have felt the evisceration of benefits to the disabled, the impoverished, those seeking asylum from oppressive regimes, those struggling to obtain more education. The problem with political parties is that they usually contain a ringer — a departure from morality that turns the Christian away. In our country, it is the NDP support for abortion that confounds the Christian; the Conservative support for corporate strength that confounds the socially conscious; the straddling of issues and corporate leanings that makes one leery of the Liberals. But the attack on every citizen anywhere who uses a PC crosses every political, religious, and social boundary conceivable. Political parties have never before engaged such a monstrosity and are not equipped to deal with this one.
The Church has, from its inception, faced tyranny. But we are disorganized and fragmented and the institutions have already proven themselves inadequate to respond to the forces of social change. Many Christians, like my naive friends who only now are awakening politically, aligned themselves with the C of conservative politics or the L of liberals; the abortion issue blinded them to the tremendous strengths of the NDP. A move from C to L is unlikely to defeat the C in an election. I will be very interested to learn what strategies you propose for battling the Gorgon that has bred among the offspring of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates conceived on a beach in India and hatched in someone’s garage. I have looked casually into encryption programs only to find they are run by avowed anarchists. I do not approve of anarchy. I may be shutting down and reverting to face-to-face and snail mail and focusing on local issues and paying for magazine subscriptions. But I am infuriated that such a strategy will limit the range of my voice and will viciously behead blogs such as yours and a rich variety of voices and beliefs and ideas and life stories that inspire me in my mission and that have provided a classroom for our informally educated children and for such learners everywhere. Not that I have anything worth spying on except my essential beliefs in the integrity of the individual and the hope of that person for salvation from sin and for eternal life. As I understand salvation from sin to be the capacity for learning control of one half of the brain by the other and according to the teachings of Jesus, I will be working on His behalf towards ear health as an essential element to salvation among the marginalized. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear: Jesus will reign over all the earth and He will do so through people like Andrew and Jamie and through people like Richard (whose testimony is for sale on Amazon) and Laurna wherever they stake claim to The Estate of Christ and however isolated their spheres of influence. I will not forget you. Keep the faith. And if you figure out some way to defeat the new Medusa, let us know. We’re still in the phone book and we still have an address if the internet house of cards comes tumbling down.