This weekend 25,000 troops are stationed outside the nation’s capital. The capitols of every state in the US are on high alert, anticipating disturbances near and far. The bridges to and from DC are locked down. More soldiers currently are in Washington DC than we have in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
I think about the over 71 million people who believed the election was an existential crisis for America, a turning point for the soul of the country: who were we? Who did we wish to become? For those of us who wished, begged, pleaded for the outcome we now have we what are we left with? Not a celebration of the good faith choices of Americans but a violent insurrection to attempt to terrorize or take over the capitol building. A transition of power that looks less like the valiant displays of American democracy and more like the scenes from countries we send our military to stabilize. We have an inauguration tainted, like so much else has been tainted, with the degradation of the symbols of what makes this country unique.
For those of us who still believe in the dream of a functioning American government the last few weeks, the last few years, has been tough. Not only because of the events we’ve witnessed but also because of the implications that these events only further incite the erosion of the things we want to believe in.
It is a tainting of what we wish would occur. There is little accountability for stoking the flames of misinformation for political gain. No reckoning for giving support to the belief that there was a fraudulent election. The reality that no one event will quicken a moment of conscious for those in power. If it didn’t happen when the first 100,000 people died then surely the 400,000 death mark will mean nothing. After a mob tried to take over the capitol and chanted “hang mike pence” a majority of one party in the country still voted to overturn the free and fairly elected winner because they were afraid of having their seat contested, or of real threats to their families. If it didn’t happen now, will anything be enough?
The problem is that what we are witnessing is a movement without ideology, without substance to ground its actions. It is not rooted in any tangible outcome outside of chaos or power of one individual. It cannot be reduced to a set of policies or outcomes. We try to reduce the political winds down to “small taxes, or limited government” but we are currently living through what happens when we have limited government. We have direct evidence with our eyes and souls of what happens when no one wants to be in charge.
People are dying in the thousands because we have no coordinated effort to reduce the spread of a deadly virus. The vaccines that we all hoped would be our salvation were not coordinated l necessary logistics never in place to roll out to 50 states. Alarming percentages of those in hospitals offered the vaccines are no taking them. Yet we are told that we are addicted to government but we all know that government will not simply disappear. Those who seek to reduce its power they rarely offer less, they simply work the system in their favor. Yet it is we who are harmed and pained when we see the impacts in hundreds of ways in millions of faces.
We are told to place our belief only in our faith, but my faith calls me to see the injustices the inequities and to use the powers before me to alter and change them. My engagement with politics has always come for me as an extension of that faith
The mission is to undermine all the things that bring us together, all the ways in which we can find community and solve our common problems of gathering and listening and learning and evolving. We make politics a dirty word, a place where the discourse is so toxic that we cannot even broach the discussion, which only allows the levers of power to be left open to forces who would use them only for power and never progress. If we can show that all mechanisms of change fail then the only systems we will accept are the ones we currently have.
We are forced to argue amongst ourselves because the people with the power to do something about it refuse to do so.
I am often caught between two pulls, wanting to bear witness to these moments and needing to disengage focus on what I can control. I feel the pull towards one or another, a voice that says this does not serve you — you are making yourself upset — pull away and look towards the things you want to do. But I also feel as though this is the design of things, for good people to stay quiet and look down and avoid it all. So that the game continues.
I feel torn. And the truth is I don’t know.
Perhaps our problem is that we’ve always valorized the narrative of the hero and not the tiny imperceivable shifts that turn heroics into a system. It’s why we cast narrative of leaders like Stacey Abrams instead of her organization or the hundreds of legal battles to restore voting registrations, thousands of workers getting people registered, and the kind of movement building that takes years when no one is paying attention. Systems aren’t sexy. You can’t move people with a system as easily as you can with the language of revolution.
Yet we battle against the message of giving up: see what that vote got you? Nothing. More of the same. Never mind how impossible it is to create meaningful change in 2 years when there’s political gains to be made by denying any momentum.
Still critiques to my thoughts arise. Is my sadness nothing more than an indictment in the myth that America is capable of anything more than chaos and inequity? I understand these critiques but struggle to accept them. How do I operate from that?
I still believe in America.
I want to believe in America.
For all of its problematic history it is still my home. I still believe that we can do more together than when we move in different directions to try and solve the same problems. I still believe in what we can do together, what we have done in the past and what we still need to do in the future. The realities of the problems before us have never been more mounting, more devastating to conceive, yet we also know that human beings are exceptional at creating order out of chaos. We adapt to survive.
What is there for us who still believe in democracy and collective action? I want the pagentry and the ceremony of America coupled with the truths of these symbols. I want an inaugural address and the feelings of we beginning to form again.
There’s a viral video going around of people singing shanty songs (sea songs from somewhere vaguely Irish?) and there’s something that happens when we hear people sing in harmony. When voices tune themselves together and the music snaps into place and you feel those goosebumps. It’s heavenly.
Maybe it will be like that for us.