16 ‘Ilm 167 B.E. (Baha’i calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: The English Beat, “Save It For Later”
With this being election season once again, politics is on almost everyone’s mind. It’s on my mind, too, but perhaps not in the same way as it is with other people. Many of my friends worry about how the Tea Party can be held at bay. As for me, though, I wonder whether participating in political activism is akin to drilling for oil while the dinosaurs are still alive and roaming the earth.
I wasn’t always this way. I was active with a number of different progressive political organizations in college. In 1992, when Bill Clinton and the Democrats swept the elections, I remember going to a Democratic victory party in downtown Chicago. With champagne bubbling in our bloodstreams, my roommate and I got up on top of a couple of chairs and led the crowd in a chant of “No more years! No more years!” in mocking reference to the chants of “Four more years” for the defeated President Bush. But within a few years, I realized that the Democratic Party was not going to save the world.
I hate to say it, but the deck IS stacked, especially with the recent Supreme Court decision equating money with speech. Six-figure checks written to a politician and deposited in his personal bank account are called bribes and are illegal, but six-figure checks written to a politician and put in his campaign fund are called donations, and they’re considered legal. Money buys access to the mass media, which enables the candidate to get his message to more people. It doesn’t matter which of the politician’s accounts the check is deposited–if the politician wants more easy cash, he’ll do your bidding. And pretty soon, unless the FCC acts, money will also buy access to the fast lane of the Internet, confining others (including many entrepreneurs) to the slow lane.
That’s one reason why my passions have been drifting away from politics for the last couple of decades. But the other reason is this–what constitutes real change?
Even if the best possible laws are written, there is still the question of implementation. Many agencies selectively enforce laws or aren’t given the resources to enforce them. Even if you had the perfect political system that guarantees justice and economic comfort for everyone, it won’t work if people don’t make it work. To twist around a popular slogan, systems don’t help people, people help people.
What’s becoming more and more clear to me is that the greatest change comes from human change, not political change.
What makes people change? I think it starts by being clear on your values and practicing them. I try to do that with my efforts to live simply and live in community. I don’t own a car, and rent one only when I clearly need it. When this fact comes up in casual conversation, it frequently stimulates people’s curiosity, and if it doesn’t, no words I can say to them likely will either. Did legislation bring about the organic food movement, or did it start because people wanted to do things differently? Is it enough to support civil rights legislation and tell yourself you’re not racist? Or is it better to get to know a person of color well enough to learn what it’s REALLY like not to have white skin in this country, and truly reflect on the times you’ve given a person of color on the street that “funny vibe.”
So that’s been my thinking lately. Of course I’ll vote on November 2 and I’ll vote my conscience. I still keep informed of the issues, and I do write my state and congressional representatives. But I’d rather make an effort to be the change than agitate for change. The latter is just too agitating.