It seems that the modern political trend is to never unchain ourselves from the madness of American election cycles. The moment the ballot box is emptied and the winner declared, campaigning starts anew. This leaves little time for say, governing and serving the people, which is the ostensible job of legislators. More and more it seems that our politicians look at messaging, photo ops and pandering toward the “middle” as their full-time jobs.
Thus every couple of years, we are treated to divisive, nonsense “issues” that are designed to unite each respective party’s base and distract the electorate from the truth – that since the last time we cast our votes, in effect, nothing has changed. In 2004, we were treated to Republican rhetorical humdrum about attempting to rewrite the Constitution to formally outlaw gay marriage. This was a lot easier than having to account for the systemic intelligence failures and increasing body count of the Iraq war of choice. Though the effort to insert discrimination into the Constitution would never have worked, Republic strategists got what they wanted. Their base, newly mobilized and energized by the terrifying thought that the mechanics of romantic partnership might be above their pay grade, turned out in droves to re-elect W. Because nothing, not the impending burst of the housing bubble, the long practice of corporate off-shoring that disemboweled opportunities for the American work force, or the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on unnecessary combat, is scarier than same sex couples running around willy nilly without the blessing of the far right.
I know I am coming off rather partisan here, and admittedly I lean pretty far to the left in comparison with the right-hooking trend of today’s voter. But I am equally disgusted with Democratic leadership. As it was in 2004, they have assumed the defensive position (has nobody told them they actually WON both houses of Congress in 2008?) and allowed their foes across the aisle to determine the talking points.
Instead of using the run-up to the November elections as an opportunity to clarify their positions, to explicate the complicated pieces of legislation passed in the last two years – really important work in the areas of health care and financial reform that John and Jane Q. Public have yet to fully comprehend – they are allowing the conversation to veer once again toward disharmony. Thus instead of conveying in clear bullet point fashion what health care reform really means for the average American family, how their lives and balance sheets will improve incrementally, Obama and the Democratic leadership are permitting themselves to be dragged into the Tea Party trenches. When conversation turns toward repealing the 14th Amendment say, or the current outrage du jour – the “Ground Zero” mosque plans, Democrats inevitably fumble. How happy was I when Obama stood up and declared that the planned center was the very essence of freedom of religion and unity that makes this nation great? Yet how soon that pride turned into sadness the following morning when the President flinched, bullied by Fox News into clarifying that he was not commenting on the “wisdom” of following through with the planed mosque.
Sometimes it gets so that I lose my sense of reality. Following the news cycle, reading punditry online, watching the President who was elected in a wave of “change” enthusiasm, punt on the potentially politically unpopular, it is easy to get sucked into a demoralizing listlessness. Have we all become so angry and dogmatic that there is no room for a true dialectic anymore?
However I was witness to ample evidence this past weekend, in my own backyard, that perhaps many of us are just tired of talking. It appears that if there’s one thing we can all get behind, in a mutually respective and tolerant way, it is the right to party. I watched the happenings of a two-day street festival from the comfort of my balcony. Rather than experience the event on the ground, my bird’s eye view of party goers acted as nectar for the writer’s muse.
I live in a rather eclectic and diverse community by any standard, one of the northernmost neighborhoods in the City of Chicago. The vibrant area is marked by a huge population of recent African immigrants, Latinos, artists, musicians and a sizable LGBT enclave. I wondered, given the toxic socio-political environment in which we wade, if any of the current intolerance and anger would find its way to the streets of Rogers Park. I sat for two days like an armed sentry guard, on high alert for the first signs of unrest. I was people watching until my eyes hurt. I was determined not to let anything escape my notice.
You know what I saw instead of the looked for disharmony? Good fathers with healthy children of all races and sexual orientations, with excited youngsters running into their arms. I saw older men of every religious bent drinking too much and embarrassing their wives with outdated dance moves. I saw an energetic member of the counterculture perform an impromptu rhythmic hula hoop routine to the delight of the neighborhood children. I saw kids of every conceivable background, uniting to do what kids do: chase each other around and throw trash into large puddles of water. No angry, bigoted word emerged from any corner of this raucous event.
And that’s when I wished with all my heart for recording equipment and my own national TV station. I wanted to capture this colorful embrace of summer, and life itself, and make this the headline story on the evening news. “This just in! People still know how to get along and have fun! Film at 11.” Sadly, this has become the untold story in a nation that has lost its appetite for setting the standard of civic engagement in the free world. But maybe, just maybe if we could release ourselves from the chokehold of politicians and the media, the habit of being told who we are and what we want, we could learn to enjoy each other again. Maybe if the rancor were cleared from the air, we could begin to start solving the numerous problems facing our nation. The energy is out there, and some of it, lo and behold, is hate free.