Thursday, November 20, 2008

AV: Perspective from San Diego

From time to time I post the column that I write for the monthly newsletter of the San Diego Democratic Club, which has been fighting for LGBT rights for 35 years and, at present, is the largest club in San Diego and one of the largest LGBT clubs in the state. That said, boy howdy, politics ...

President's Perspectives: Nov 2008

So much has happened since I last sat to write this column and yet, some things haven’t changed. I, like many of you, am still reeling from the aftermath of the election. And, like all of you, I’m heavily conflicted about the results. Torn. Kinda messed up, actually.

On the one hand, wow … President-Elect Barack Obama. Those are words strung together in a crazy wonderful sort of way, aren’t they? It’s almost too marvelous, but I’m catching up quickly to the reality of it. Did you hear he’s doing the traditional Saturday Radio Address on YouTube? President Barack Obama. Nice.

This is the result of a politics of hope that combined innovation with structure and discipline. It’s the ascension of a way of thinking that includes rather than excludes and allows for the idea that maybe there’s enough for everyone. Enough hope. Enough voice. Enough change. Enough equality. Enough.

But on the other side, there’s the fallout of politics as we have come to know … and loathe … it. It’s a politics of fear, of scarcity, and of polarization. It’s a politics that calls to our darker impulses and tells us there’s not enough. There’s only so much to go around. And if that’s true, then there’s only enough for “us” and we can’t let “them” get to it because “they” will take it all and leave us with nothing but our fear for company.

Proposition 8 was won with exactly that sort of politics. It is based on scarcity. There is obviously not enough equality to go around. In the fearful hearts of our staunchest opponents, there’s only one sort of “special” and if we are allowed to share in that specialness – the dignity of marriage – then it would no longer be special for them. Spoiled. Diluted. Not enough.

Perhaps we, as individuals, as a community and as a country, have grown too used to the lexicon of fear and mistrust over the last 8+ years. We have become accustomed to the behavior and spiritual/mental patterns of fear and defense. For some, that fear and defensiveness is in response to the unknown and the perceived danger of the Other. For some the fear is one of the known – the already-experienced – such as the prevailing of discrimination made law with the passage of Proposition 8.

All of this is held together with a dangerous expression of duality. Us vs. Them. If “Us” is good, then “Them” is bad, evil, or at least highly suspect. It becomes about our own tribal affiliation, law, and ultimately it becomes about division.

In the “Us” camp, to continue in the familiarity of our own mythology means to necessarily deny the complexity and humanity of our opponents. But sometimes our “opponents” are simply competitors. Regardless of how far afield or similar our ideologies may be, our tribal mythologies require that “we” form a separation from “them” and furthermore, that the difference must be reinforced, no matter how small.

We experienced this as a nation and as Democrats during the Primary while the Clinton and Obama campaigns spiraled into bitterness and divisiveness – and not because there were substantial differences in policy, perspective, or politics. These were two excellent candidates, both of whom many Democrats everywhere were delighted to have as potential Presidents.

We saw what happened and rather than focus on the weeks and months leading up to the Primary, I think it’s much more important to review what has happened since: a unity among Democrats that many pundits said could not happen. Democrats everywhere stood and listened to our better angels: the progressive values of expansive hope, increased opportunity, welcome diversity, full equality. An end to the politics of fear and scarcity.

And today, a little more than a week after the stunning contrast of one ecstatic victory and one desperate defeat, reports of 20 thousand marching in the streets of San Diego and many multiple thousands across California and the nation in the largest civil rights actions in decades.

Ah, this has done my activist heart good. As a longtime friend remarked to me as we walked the march route last Saturday, I knew barely a handful of the 10 thousand that were there. What a marvelous thing!

So many of those marching, rallying, and standing up have never done this sort of thing before. The organizers themselves are new to this kind of activism, most having never marched or demonstrated for anything anywhere anytime in their lives. How’s that for Democracy?

Next steps? This is surely part of the continuing path to justice for all and to the dream of shared equality and dignity fully realized. We heard many times over the last year that we were standing at the edge of history. How true that was. We just didn’t know it would look like this.

This, my friends, is an opportunity to reframe and reform into the sort of movement that includes, dignifies, and believes without question that there is enough for everyone. This is an opportunity to rediscover and reinforce a new politics of respect, of complexity, and of diversity of approach and perspective. An opportunity for so many more to engage deeply and passionately in all that we and those that came before us have worked for.

This is our chance for change. Hope, anyone?

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