Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Origin Story

(Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Rage Against the Machine) 
Welcome 2013!

I, for one, am glad to leave 2012 behind. It was not a “bad” year, necessarily, but a difficult one. My work with the Green Party continues to be a valuable learning experience for me. This is good because, in the words of Drew Barrymore, “I never want to stop learning.” Indeed, Sagittarians like me are supposed to thrive on academic pursuits and intellectual growth. I can definitely relate to that part of my astrological sign.

If anything my work with the Platts and Stein campaigns this year further cemented my conviction in the power of citizens to make a difference. I often struggle to answer when people ask me how I got involved in political activism. Like so many things, it was a gradual process of one thing leading to another. Certainly my civic-minded, social worker parents likely helped foster my sense of social justice and compassion for the poor, the needy and the disabled.

In the interest of providing some sort of comprehensive summary of how I learned you can, in fact, fight City Hall (and sometimes win), I thought I would kick-off 2013 with the story of how I , in the words of Mission of Burma, escaped my certain fate.

I have been involved in activism for the last eight years of my life. Like most young people, my political awakening began in college when I was first exposed to new ideas and ways of viewing the world.

I can’t lie—the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks also did a lot to shock me out of my adolescent complacency and take an interest in world events. In fact, I was sitting in my very first college class as a freshman at Colby-Sawyer (Concepts in Communications with Professor Ernie Freeberg) when we got word of the first plane crash. About 15 minutes before class was scheduled to end, someone pulled Prof. Freeberg out of the classroom and whispered something in his ear. I will never forget his words when he returned to face the class with a concerned look on his face. “I’m going to end class early today,” he informed us. “I just got word the nation is under attack.” After 9/11 I got in the habit of reading a newspaper every day.

Those were scary times to be a progressive. While much of the chilling, “you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us” cultural atmosphere has since subsided, I can still remember how palatable the feeling of constant fear was. As the Bush administration scrambled to invade Iraq, I strongly felt the need to speak out against the impending war, but the pervasive rhetoric of militant patriotism kept me silent. Furthermore, I lacked, at the time, the knowledge and education to articulate my antiwar sentiments. It was really scary to speak out during those early years of the “War on Terror.” But, as I found similarly liberal-minded friends, and started reading authors like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Ralph Nader, I slowly found my activist voice.

I wish I could say I have always been a Green. Alas, this was not the case. Like many radical activists who eventually find their way to the Green Party, I too, for longer than I care to admit, drank the Kool-Aid offered by the Democratic Party. I voted for Al Gore in 2000, Kerry in 2004, and every Democrat on the ballot in the 2006 midterm election.

Ironically, it was that last election—not a presidential one—that finally and resolutely soured me on the Democratic Party. After the Democrats reclaimed both chambers of Congress in that noteworthy 2006 midterm election, they then proceeded to flex their new legislative power by doing….absolutely nothing.

Rather than ending the Iraq war, investigating the use of torture and illegal surveillance, and impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for their numerous unconstitutional abuses of power, the Dems instead continued to fund the war while doing nothing to curtail the practice of torture, spying or other Patriot Act-inspired abuses of executive power.  And party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Conyers made one pathetic excuse after another as to why nobody in the Bush administration could be impeached. It is precisely due to this failure to uphold the Constitution that Barack Obama is now able to carry out unmanned predator drone strikes in Pakistan and Somalia and maintain a targeted kill-list—executive powers far more frightening than any Bush and Cheney ever dreamed of.

Indeed, the Democrats’ complete and utter fealty to electoral aspiration and thorough abandonment of the Constitution made clear to me they are not an opposition party to the Republicans, but rather an enabling one. All those people who, years earlier, had been telling me there is virtually no difference between the two parties? Turns out they were right. After a vote for Nader in 2008 I went Green and never looked back.

Yet, as rewarding as my activist work is, it can come at a personal cost. I have been called all sorts of names simply for taking part in antiwar marches or vigils. One time, during a protest of one of George W. Bush’s many visits to Kennebunkport (my hometown, incidentally), a woman called me a “horrible person.” Let’s stop and think about that, for a minute: Standing up against a president who launched an illegal war based on lies and openly tortures prisoners including American citizens makes one a “horrible person”? If that is my only crime, I think I can live with myself.

Likewise, my colleagues and I in the Green Party are constantly subject to demeaning pejoratives like “spoiler,” or political “saboteurs.” The corporate press either mocks our candidates as illegitimate or unserious, or ignores them entirely. The local and national Democratic Parties routinely spread lies and disinformation campaigns that our candidates are “anti-choice,” or oppose gay marriage. (The Maine Democrats and Equality Maine did this to two of our local candidates this past election.)

The more involved in activism I become, the greater my detachment to liberals and progressives who ostensibly share my political values, yet routinely fail to act on them. (For the record, I no longer describe myself as a “liberal.” I consider myself a democratic-socialist.)
Any liberal who voted for Barack Obama cannot in good conscience claim to care about peace and social justice. That may be too reductionist an argument for some, but that is how I see it. I am not interested in playing political games or strategically voting for the candidate I think will cause the “least amount of damage.” I vote for the candidate who best represents my views on the issues.

Part of being an activist is putting oneself out there, and not being afraid to go against the grain. Consider the plight of the early abolitionists, or civil rights pioneers. They were constantly belittled by mainstream conservatives and liberals alike as “extremists,” or “unrealistic.” The “practical” people always resist progressive change.

As socialist labor activist, Eugene Debs said,

“If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves. Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.”

Going forward, Guerrilla Press intends to continue raking the muck, speaking truth to power and offering a unique, Green perspective on the issues of the day. We have a new Democratic Legislature in Maine, a new U.S. Senator in Republican, I mean "Independent" Angus King, and an ongoing showdown between corporate austerity measures and the social safety-net for the poor.

I look forward to comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Let’s make sure 2013 is the year we win all victories that are meant to be ours.

Famed Socialist leader, Eugene Debs, ran for president numerous times, once from prison.

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