I spent a lot of mental energy for a couple of days this week composing a rant. The rant isn’t aimed at many of my friends who support Bernie Sanders, but at quite a number of people I’ve had interactions with lately.
A sizable number of Bernie supporters have spent a lot of time working on progressive causes (both within and without the Democratic party) for years. They’ve found a candidate who most closely represents their positions, and good for them. I disagree with them, but I respect them.
No, this is aimed at the others. The Facebook warriors. Those who think of themselves as keepers of the flame of pure progressivism and who view Bernie Sanders as the only hope our country has. People who think this and have never done a lick of political work — other than pontificate on social media — in their lives. The people who, often, can’t even be bothered to vote.
As for me…
I first voted in the 1980 election, when I was 19. I was a registered Republican, not because I agreed with the Republican positions on anything, but because my area of Florida was single party, and the only way to affect any office on a local or county level was t0 vote in the Republican primary. I intended to vote to get rid of all the incumbents on the school board, who I viewed as idiots. After the 1980 election, I reregistered as a Democrat, and have never looked back.¹
I have voted in all the elections over the resulting 43 years, including special elections, except for three, two of which were special elections about parcel taxes for school districts. I felt guilty every time for missing the elections.
In college, I wrote letter after letter to Congressional representatives, both from Florida and Massachusetts, in support of abortion rights. On my graduation gown I had buttons in support of both abortion rights and gay rights.²
In law school, I wrote letters and made phone calls to derail the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.³
In 1992, I sat at folding tables on college campuses registering students.
Kids tend to put a crimp on things4; nonetheless I consistently wrote (and occasionally called) my state and Congressional representatives about important progressive issues.
On Mother’s Day in 2000, I walked around Lake Merritt in Oakland in support of gun control.
In 2004, I flew to Florida on my own dime to volunteer for the organization Election Protection. I worked as a poll monitor in Tampa.
In 2004 and 2006, first in my LiveJournal and then in this blog (don’t search for the entries — I took them down because they have become irrelevant), I posted deadlines for voter registration and absentee ballots, and lists of voter’s rights, for every state in the Union, including links to all fifty state websites.5 You can go to one website now to find all of this information — back then you couldn’t.
Again, through all these years, I continued to write letters and emails to my elected officials, from City Council through President, with the occasional letter to the Mercury News.
The Rocket Scientist and I have always discussed politics; in 2008 those discussions became so heated (he supported Clinton, I supported Obama) that we had to impose a moratorium on them.
Over the past three and a half years, I have worked on efforts to elect local officials and pass ballot measures for a progressive organization. Yes, I was paid for these efforts — at least most of them. I still wouldn’t have done it if I had not believed in what I was doing. I phone banked — which is most often a pretty thankless task — and walked precincts. I have written post cards and entered data.
I am not saying I’m all that and a bag of chips; I’m not. In the great scheme of things, I have not done much. I regret not doing more.
But I have come by my liberal credentials honestly. Maybe I haven’t done all that much, but I have done something. If nothing else, my voting record — both the consistency and the candidates I have voted for — speaks for itself.
But some of you… I’ve talked to you on the phone, before. “The system is corrupt,” you say, while not doing a damn thing to change it. “I only vote in Presidential elections,” refusing all attempts to convince you of how important local elections are. “Why bother? It’s not like my vote makes a differnece,” poo-poohing suggestions that individual votes matter a great deal.6 And now you have latched on to Bernie Sanders as your one true political savior.
You attack those of us who are Hillary supporters as being morally bankrupt, or stupid. You lecture us — some of whom have been in the trenches for a while — that the only way to change our country is through a “political revolution,” refusing to believe that we may have good reason to question whether that such a revolution will be successful, and that we worry whether it will have unintended consequences.
You hide behind hashtags — #neverhillary was the most recent one I had thrown in my face. You proclaim your purity of purpose, while at the same time pretending that the only thing that matters is that Bernie Sanders is elected president.
Do you know the most important race in the Wisconsin primary? It wasn’t the Democratic or Republican presidential primaries; it was the election which confirmed a rabidly homophobic and anti-choice judge to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
You want a political revolution? There have been two this year: in Cleveland and Chicago, incumbent district attorneys7 were thrown out of office after being targeted by Black Lives Matter activists. This is political revolution at its finest — local, with the potential to change people lives right now.
All too often, I think you view the Democratic Party as simply a vehicle. You’re not invested in us — I think after the election you will drift away into your cocoon of indifference. You want to be a Democrat? Be a Democrat. You don’t like where the party is headed — you think it’s not progressive enough? Work to change it.8
I want you involved. I want your passion. But I also want you to recognize that politics is messy. I want you to understand that sometimes the best you can do is tread water and work to swim next cycle. That making the country better for all people is a constant battle.
And for God’s sake, stop lecturing and insulting us.
¹Except 2000, when I registered as a Republican to vote for John McCain in the primaries. I wasn’t voting for McCain because I thought it would be easier for Gore to defeat him, but because Bush scared me. I think I was right about this.
²My staunchly Roman Catholic parents were not happy. “I paid all that money for you to go here, and you do this?” said my father. I think he was particularly unhappy with the button which had a coat-hanger surrounded by a red circle with a slash through it.
³Whether or not this was a good thing is an open question at this point.
4At least for me; a lot of women are able to combine motherhood and activism — and good for them.
5Many state websites were generally speaking very badly designed — some of them are better now.
6Just ask Al Franken: the junior Senator from Minnesota was first elected by 321 votes. Over the entire freaking state of Minnesota. Damn.
7Many very important elected positions — especially in the justice system — are allegedly nonpartisan. Progressives ignore these at our peril.
8The Republican party is in thrall to the most dangerously radical conservative elements of society. This is not by accident. The Tea Party didn’t arise from nowhere. There was a concerted fifty year effort to slowly gain control of not only the US Congress, but state legislatures and governorships. We can take them back, but it may take just an effort on our part.