As the daughter of community activists, I have spent my life being suspect of American culture, media and politics. As a product of the Reagan '80's, I learned that our government is not to be trusted and the worst things I suspect of our leaders are probably true. As a witness to the 2000 election, I learned that the powers that be will do as they want, regardless of even the results of a good old American election. When even the formerly sacrosanct right to vote was ignored by the Supreme Court's appointment of George Bush as president, I in large part gave up on American politics. Why bother even paying attention? There was nothing I believed I could do to make any difference.
Last fall, purely as the result of having too much free time on my hands, I joined Dennis Kucinich's campaign. I knew Kucinich didn't have a donut's chance at a church social and I knew the Democratic Party's chances of taking back the White House and/or Congress were slim to none in this era of the Rabid Right, but it was a way to kill time until I found something better to do.
After the Illinois primary, I didn't think I was going to do anything else politically. This careless attitude was consistent with my growing indifference over the last two decades. During the 1980's and '90's my apathy took root and grew as I watched my government lie to me in increasingly shameless ways and I saw the power of the left wing dissolve into embarassment over the term "liberal." I, and millions of disillusioned Americans, sat by while the right wing consolidated its power and re-drew the lines of conflict by enveloping conservative fundamentalist forces and claiming God as their ally. After the Federal Supreme Court stepped into the democratic process in January 2001 and rendered it inconsequential, I gave up.
But here's what happened next.
In the past few months, Move On, an organization dedicated to bringing more voices into the democratic process, began emailing me with things I could do to support the Democratic Party. They weren't just asking for money. They had concrete suggestions for me as an individual. Emails from them and the Kerry campaign had me planning a "Kerry House Party" fundraiser, rallying my friends to go see "Fahrenheit 9/11" and standing outside a movie theater with voter registration materials. A Move On meeting that included a discussion with Michael Moore gave me clear ways to stay involved which included hosting an event that registered voters in swing states. And tonight I just came from a house party that screened Robert Greenwald's film "Outfoxed" which offers evidence that Fox News participates in advancing the conservative agenda of the right wing.
After watching that film and signing up for more political activities, I feel a new enthusiasm. I've gone from desultory and apathetic to mildly interested to excited about what we the people CAN do to get George Bush out of office. John Kerry's campaign is being funded in large part by individuals like me making contributions of $50 or $100 or even $10 over the internet. Move On.org is mobilizing thousands of people to do what we can in our communities to chip away at the power of the right wing, which functions not only in the White House, Congress and Supreme Court but the in the news media and entertainment industry (like Disney trying to block the release of Michael Moore's movie).
Tonight I watched footage of Jeremy Glick, whose father died in 9/11, take on Bill O'Reilly as O'Reilly attempts to stop Glick from pointing out that the U.S. government funded Al Qaeda in the past. I listened to Robert Greenwald give credit to hundreds of volunteer hours that made his film possible on a $300,000 budget. I listened to Al Franken declare Air America Radio the second most listened-to talk radio station in New York. I saw dozens of us ordinary people raise our hands to sign the petition supporting Move On's lawsuit against the Fox network, demanding that Fox's trademark of "fair and balanced" be revoked and that Fox News stop using that tagline unless it begins giving (real) liberals equal air time.
Coming home from this gathering, I have hope again. I have hope because grassroots organizing like this doesn't just turn the tide of an election, it gets people involved. It pulls people like me out of our chairs, into an informed discussion and out to pull others into the tidal wave of activity that is changing the landscape of this election. Because John Kerry is hugely supported by individual donations, when it comes time for him to answer to his political contributors, he won't be answering to large corporations and a few wealthy families. He'll be answering to ME and all of us little people who send him donations every day. And because we are waking up to the way the media withholds some information and distorts the rest, we can now demand that networks and news programs present more than one side to any given issue. We have that power.
We have a lot of power. Oh my GOD, we have power. We just forgot it. I just allowed the media to forgive the worst offenses of the Reagan and Bush administrations (I and II) and forgot that I don't have to take pre-digested opinions from sources that claim to be unbiased. I believed in the impunity of people who twist foreign policy for their own ends and forgot that corruption only grows when honest people don't do anything about it. For two decades I have accepted every affront as further proof that the U.S. government gets to do whatever it wants and forgot that the only force big enough to stop it includes ME.
Tonight I am realizing that the world is a much better place than I thought it was. Tonight I can see that there's still time to change things and all the energy in the world to do it. I have seen that people DO care and we WILL respond when given the chance and it doesn't take the coming of the Messiah to do it. It's a matter of simply giving us an alternative to the roll-over-and-eat-this treatment we've been getting. The reign of the right wing has not been founded on the dead corpse of American liberalism. It has only been propped up against our paralyzed minds that have been anesthetized by increasingly shocking lies and manipulations.
I am personally committed to doing whatever I can to make sure that George W. Bush does not win OR steal a second term. I will do all I can to make sure that all registered voters get to vote, and that all votes are counted. I will do all I can to mobilize people to vote Bush out of office, protest a slanted news media, and help others realize how much power we have to change our country.
I have hope and, god damn, it's been a long time since I did. I have hope and it's based on real people with real power and a real vision of a much better world than our apathy has created. For the first time in my Johnson-administration-born life I feel proud to be an American because I now believe that being an American is following your vision and taking action and working to make your country the best it can be and not giving up. I now believe that to be an American is to have hope. And hope, I'm realizing, is good.