Reader Rant: Swearing off Politics!

by on May 20, 2011 · 24 comments

in Organizing, Popular, Reader Rant, San Diego

By Matt

I went to Representative Susan Davis’ (CA-53) Town Hall event Wednesday night (May 18). It was the worst experience I have ever had at a political event.

I had a table with Progressive Democrats of America signs; “Heath Care not Warfare”, and “Corporations Are Not People”. Close to the 6 PM start time, a young man in his mid 20’s, with messy hair and a beard (the same messy hair and beard I wore when I could grow hair. I am 47 now) came walking by with his girlfriend. I was the first person he passed on the way. I asked him if he would like a sign. He told me that he had a problem with the sign because it had the word “Democrat” on it, and that the Democratic Party was a lost cause.

I did not disagree, but tried to explain that PDA works within the party to elect Progressives, who can turn the Party around, finding their way back toward Progressive legislation. He cut me short and said that Political Parties did not bring social change, but rather people movement did. (Like as if I didn’t know).

I asked him if he was aware of the people movement in Wisconsin. I brought it to his attention, that this ground swell was toward putting Democrats back in charge in their state, and not toward electing Independent or 3rd Party Candidates.

I asked him “What SHOULD I be doing, if not lobbying my Representative for Universal Health Care, and ending the Wars”? He told me that I should be starting a social network, of like-minded people, who will work towards effective change. (That’s funny; I thought that PDA (DFA, MoveON and the like) WERE a social network of like-minded people who wanted to work toward effective change.) He said more specifically that I should join a “Socialist” movement.

I asked, “A movement like World Can’t Wait?” He had no idea who they were. I wanted to tell him that they are a true Socialist Party movement, for whom I worked with, organizing War Protests 9 years ago. (You know, like when he was only 15 years old). Forget about me Protesting President Reagan in the 80’s because he was not born yet, so therefore it does not count. Forget about Civil Disobedience actions at the Congresswoman’s office in 2004, where I sat in protest until 1 AM, risking arrest. (My fellow activists WERE arrested, but I did not have the finances to post bail, and did not allow myself to be arrested).

I asked him if he had a socialist movement that he was starting, or was part of. But he said that since I had the resources (I am not exactly sure what resources he thinks I have other than a stack of signs), that I should start one. And that I WAS the problem. People like me, not having enough sense to vote alternatively. (Perhaps he doesn’t realize that we do not have instant run-off elections. And that a vote for a 3rd Party is, unfortunately, a vote for Republicans).

I wanted to tell him that PDA helped to elect a majority of Progressive CA State Delegates to the State Party. That is, if he even knows what a State Party Delegate is. And how this type of action helps things like CA State to enact a single-payer (“socialist”) health care system.

But I never got to those comments, because this is when he decided to turn all of his anger on me. Personally criticizing me as an individual, on my character, and my actions. Blaming me for all Democratic, liberal, and progressive voters, for voting for Democrats. With a roll of the eyes, and a shit-stink grin on his face, he said… and I quote; “I just feel bad, that an ambitious guy like you, for whom we have so much in common, is WASTING HIS TIME with the Democratic Party.”

I was wasting my time!? You mean everything I’ve done for 9 years was a waste of time!? Helping to turn over Congress in 2006 was a waste of time, because the Republicans were doing such a great job governing. Getting Barack Obama elected was a waste of time, because we really should have let McCain and Palin win that election. Maybe we shouldn’t have helped Barbara Boxer keep her seat because she is only just Liberal, and not fully Socialist. Because, you know, letting Carly and Meg buy their elections would have allowed us to keep our Socialist ideological integrity.

Most profound of all; If lobbying my Representative for redress of grievance was such a waste of time, then what the hell was HE doing there!? I guess his sign “Tax the Rich” was a far more overwhelming message that will bring everyone together in a massive Socialist movement.

For some odd reason he felt as though it was okay, without knowing me, or anything that I have done for the past 9 years, to walk up out of nowhere, and JUDGE and CONDEMN me as a person, for what I was doing. It was a personal attack on me, and not the “movement”.

So of course I just lost it. I shouted to the people outside (which were few because by now the meeting was starting and most everyone was inside) “Hey everyone, we can all just go home, because trying to sway our Democratic Representative is a waste of time. This guy said so”. I ran toward the front door, and mockingly shouted inside “We can all go home now! It’s a waste of time!”

All the while he was saying; “I was just trying to tell you something” (but not listening). And, just like a Tea-Partier, when asked for his solution, he didn’t really have one, other than some ideological fantasy about a complete socialist reform of our government. But somehow, me tabling for “Socialized” health care, was the problem. I was why this country is in the state we are in. And what I was doing was pointless.

I was planning on going into the meeting. I was going to make a comment to the Congresswoman, about how we agree on 99% of the issues. But the 1% we disagree on, was costing half of all our tax dollars. But I was too pissed off to go inside. I packed up my posters and folded my table and left.

I have just one comment for the snot-faced, naive, and ignorant “Activist”… I’ll be checking the Huffington Post for the day I see that article about how a Socialist movement overthrew our Jeffersonian Democracy.

Oh, and a big FUCK YOU too.

In closing, I hope all my Progressive Activist friends understand when I say, that I will no longer participate in any Political Action, ever again. If all I am going to get from the next generation is that I didn’t try hard enough, and wasted my time, then I will leave it up to them to change the world. I have better things to do than attend meetings.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Shane Finneran May 20, 2011 at 10:07 am

“Matt,” I hope you don’t stay away too long. I understand how the attitude you ran into could frustrate you and warrant a cooling-off period. But you sound like an accomplished activist, and it would be a pity if one unfortunate exchange kept you on the sidelines for an extended while.

Could it be the points the young man made hit home? It sure has driven me nuts to know I’ve supported Obama and Davis and other Democrats who say all the nice liberal things in speeches but have continued Bush’s wars, failed to kill Bush’s tax cuts, saved health insurers without providing a public option, and on and on and on. Yes, it’s better than Bush was and McCain/Palin woulda been. But that sure ain’t saying much.

The “lesser of two evils” defense is wearing thin on many people out there. But as you point out, picking from two evils might be the only choice we’ll ever have to work with. Which is rightfully frustrating for me and you and the 20something you ran into the other day.

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avatar Susannah Casey May 20, 2011 at 10:17 am

Matt: Don’t give up! Please. I live in an area of the country where it seems like I am beating my head against a brick wall trying to exist in a sea of tea party mentality (or lack of mentality). There ARE young people out there trying to make positive change. Check out some organizations like Climate Ride (which will be hosting a 320 mile bike ride from Eureka to San Fran in September). Green America, 350.org. Find out what Americorps volunteers are doing in your area and go plant a garden with THEM. You will feel much better. Also I recommend visiting a site called Living Liberally. Started in NYC I think. We have a chapter here that is still called “Drinking Liberally” where we get together once a week over a pint and commiserate or celebrate or organize rallies against the Neo Nazis who choose to move to our too white place.

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avatar Anthony Yushinsky May 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Matt, it seems there are two sides to this story and perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’m not convinced that you are 100% innocent in this exchange. I love the fact that you immediately took issue with the “long hair and beard”, which sounds va lot like the Conservatives to me. You get into a confrontation so you immediately go after someone for how they look.

As a Union Activist, a Progressive and someone who leans more toward socialism, I can tell you both political parties are failing us. As a public servant, my collective bargaining rights are next. Is one party better than the other? Of course they are, we all agree on that. When both parties are shilling for Corporate America and throwing the rest of us under the bus, it’s time to take to the streets, call them all out and elect people who will listen to us.

We all have common ground, common agendas. Some issues are more important to some than to others, I get that. It doesn’t mean I’m wrong, or he’s wrong, or you’re wrong. It just means we’re different. We’re willing to tear it down and start from scratch. I’m hopeful that some members of Congress will realize that and come back to their roots. Showering them with our adoration and cash certainly isn’t working.

There were many different factions in the civil rights movement. Most believed in peaceful civil disobedience. Others wanted violent revolt. The fact is, religious leaders, labor leaders and civil rights leaders joined together to affect the change. If we cannot leave our egos at the door, if we cannot show each other that we truly are the people of the “big tent”, then we may very well be doomed. If you can’t stomach that, well then you’re probably right. It might be your time.

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avatar barbara May 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Matt, it’s me,Barbara. I can relate to Shane’s comment that maybe some of the things the guy said to you hit a nerve. I am done with democrats. Not sure where to go or how to get there but my conscience can no longer allow me to support this party. I no longer believe one word that exits Obama’s mouth or any of them in leadership positions for that matter. Find something that you have concern for,animals,environment, homelessness,

You have a lot of energy , smarts and passion. Let us know when you find your niche.

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avatar mr.rick May 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Just when things were going along smooth, the train missed a beat. First the economic melt down.Those idiots on Wall St got greedy and had to be bailed out. Scared the shit out of the populace. They were so scare they elected the first N-word president. As fear can focus the mind like nothing else, the people saw they were getting screwed. So the Koch Bros.(generically speaking) had to put their plan into overdrive. First the tea party and the birthers, now bust up whatever hope they have to have a say.The unions, voter rules for the poor and deficit cutting. Like Cheech said in Up in Smoke, “Recession,Repression, it all the same thing. Now the “PIGS”(in the classical sense) are gonna go for it on all fronts. Buckle Up! The next few years are gonna get “Nasty”

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avatar blaw0013 May 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Dear Matt,
What does it feel like to now be the Man?

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avatar Elizabeth Fattah May 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

–Hi Matt,

Although I do understand your frustrations, you must be aware that the Democratic party is being funded by corporations, the same ones that fund the Republicans. What we have here is a duopoly that Ralph Nader so aptly described. Boycotting elections is the only answer for those on the Left. If that is too radical a proposition, vote for one of the Green or Socialist candidates. Movement building is what will eventually bring about the changes that we all want. In Sand Diego and in other parts of the country, there are many such groups. This is where our energy should be focused. Here are two articles by Chris Hedges that might be interest to you.

In solidarity,

Elizabeth

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_prophets_like_cornel_west_make_liberal_sell-outs_attack_20110523/

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_obama_deception_why_cornel_west_went_ballistic_20110516/

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 23, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Elizabeth, the Democratic Party is also where most progressives are these days. Boycotting elections only makes the rulers smile – it does not help anybody or anything. Leftists have been promoting third parties and/or calling for electoral boycotts for several generations now – and last I looked – they are not that appealing or followed. (I voted for Nader in 2000 and he totally failed to stand up as a statesman during our Constitutional crisis.) Our energy needs to be focused where our peoples are – and there is no “only answer”. Leftists need to work, again, where our peoples are, and aid in helping them understand the contradictions and the fact that there is a fascist movement in this country. We need to make friends and allies against this movement, not shut out our communication with only those who agree with us. It gets down to the fact that leftists need to work with folks to our right. A united coalition against the fascist movement is what is needed, and we need all those progressives within the DP.

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avatar blaw0013 May 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm

To accept that Obama is, as West said, a mascot for Wall Street means having to challenge some frightening monoliths of power and give up the comfortable illusion that the Democratic Party or liberal institutions can be instruments for genuine reform. It means having to step outside the mainstream. It means a new radicalism. It means recognizing that there is no hope for a correction or a reversal within the formal systems of power. It means defying traditional systems of power. And liberals, who have become courtiers to the corporate state, must attempt to silence all those who condemn the ruthlessness and mendacity of these systems of destruction. Their denunciation of all who rebel is a matter of self-preservation.

http://bit.ly/mdp5ga

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Chris Hedges does not appreciate the historic moment that our country is in right now. He and others who seem to stoke their ‘more revolutionary-than-thou’ views have in a sense, jumped the gun on ol’ history itself. We are in a period of time where the dangers of an extreme right-wing movement wanting to trash the Constitution is ascendent. Working people a la Wisconsin have begun to push back. But over the last several years, the racist tea party movement has linked up with militias, extremist think tanks and politicians, with billionaires who want to see what’s left of our democracy in the circular file. We have been under the onslaught of extremists who have trying very hard to capture the Republican Party and use their dictatorial and autocratic powers against the rest of us.

It’s a time for developing allies, friends, and ourselves in enveloping as many of our fellow citizens in a movement to thwart this fascist one from rising up and complete its conquest. It is a time for unity against those who want an extremist, corporate America war-machine. It’s not the time to be oh so politically right-on that you can’t see the forest for the trees.

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avatar Elizabeth Fattah May 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Frank, we already have an “an extremist, corporate American war machine”
and electing Democrats will not change that. Clinton bombed the then Yugoslavia with depleted uranium weapons and Obama has increased the troops in Afghanistan, increased the use of drones, the killing of innocent people in Libya and instituting again, a policy of assassination. I don’t think a Republican could have done any better.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 25, 2011 at 9:09 am

Oh, yes they would have. Note the Supreme Court. They would have killed even more people. What’s your stance on the American fascist movement?

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avatar Elizabeth Fattah May 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

Really Frank, are we arguing about who is going to kill the most people. Democrats and Republicans both support US imperialism.

Elizabeth

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 25, 2011 at 11:14 am

Sometimes it gets down to that. (See my earlier comment.)

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avatar Juice May 25, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Frank, most people don’t care about voting and don’t give a shit about politicians. They don’t trust our elected officials and neither do I.

The movements happening in Spain (and spreading to France and Greece right now) have involved far more people in them than progressives ever will precisely because they oppose all politicians.

Popular fronts have always been the favorites of the most unscrupulous parties because those parties always stand to gain the most from them. It’s not about being right-on, it’s about looking at what the people in this country have gained by voting for democrats in the last 30 years: NAFTA and living standard declining less quickly under democrats than republicans.

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avatar Elizabeth Fattah May 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Frank, if most progressives are with the Democratic Party then there seems to be little hope for change. However, I do still have hope for change with young
people who have realized that “voting” has become a joke. In Spain, young people took to the street publishing their own manifesto and calling the present “Socialist” government a fraud. It will come here too.

In the mean time, we can always work together, but not in the voting booth.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 25, 2011 at 9:07 am

We need to work in the voting booth, outside the voting booth, in the streets, in the suites, everywhere. Don’t limit yourself… or us.

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avatar Elizabeth Fattah May 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

Voting legitimizes the system. The system is broken and the sooner we all understand that, the sooner it will collapse. Elizabeth

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 25, 2011 at 11:13 am

Theoretically Elizabeth I agree. But leftists have been saying this for … what? since the middle of the 19th century? The leftist critique of capitalism and imperialism has been around for a long time. But just saying it doesn’t make it change. Meanwhile, people’s lives are in the balance. There used to be a brand of leftists in England who said ‘don’t feed the poor, it’ll only make them complacent and then they won’t rebel.’ This is a morally bankrupt position.

What makes change is the struggle by humanists on every front over the decades. Did the struggle for unions in the thirties help the system from breaking or changing? Did the struggle for civil rights help or hurt the system? Did the struggle against the Vietnam War help or hurt the system? Does the on-going struggle for women’s rights hurt or help the system? And again, as Malcolm X said, ‘by any means necessary’ – this translates into working on every front, in unions, in communities, in schools, in workplaces, in mass movements, even in elections if necessary. In this period of our history, it is still necessary to do electoral work. But it’s not electoral work instead of anything else, it’s electoral work in conjunction with everything else. We really do need to be everywhere. There is still a widespread belief that the electoral system is legitimate and that Barack Obama – no matter how or where you disagree – was elected legitimately.

Unless you’re one of those leftists who have “totally” given up on the system and refuse to participate. Yet, you participate in the system whether you like it or not. You work, you collect a paycheck, or somehow come up with the dough to live and spend that money – propping up a corrupt system. When Bush II was in the White House, many of us were genuinely doubting his legitimacy – and obviously there was much more of a basis to believe that.

We are not in a “revolutionary” period, are we? The right-wing extremists who do work and thrive within the electoral system are really putting the screws to our peoples. Do we just sit and watch it all happen because it’s taking place within the electoral system? No, we can’t. Perhaps the sleeping giant has been awakened by these extremists. What our peoples do in response to this onslaught on their/ our rights will determine where we are.

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avatar blaw0013 May 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Brief note: the passage above is directly quoted from the Chris Hedges article at the website linked above.

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avatar buddy t May 24, 2011 at 10:03 am

Matt, keep on fighting your fight brother–we need you. The progressive front needs people that know what they’re doing, who can navigate the political landscape and actually get some progressives into the system. I can’t imagine where we’d be today without you guys.

But we ALSO need young, overly idealistic, bearded Socialists to keep the dream of alive. Sure, the kid was an asshole… but where would we be without the young assholes?

Thank god for the reformers, for the people that know how to work the system we’ve got–and thank god for all the asshole anarchists, socialists, and grown-old Abbie Hoffmans out there.

Sorry Matt, but you need that young dickhead just as much as he needs you. We all need you.

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avatar Patty Jones May 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Nicely said, Buddy.

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avatar Frank Gormlie May 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Ditto on Patty, buddy t- great to hear from you! How’s R’side?

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avatar Juice May 25, 2011 at 11:30 am

Matt,

Campaigning for democrats, from a strictly utilitarian point of view, is a waste of time for anyone who wants a better world. Both parties in USA (and all parliamentary parties around the world) primarily represent the interests of capitalists. Those interests are contrary to our own interest. This is not because all politicians are evil – it’s necessary result of how our world is organized: as competing states, each trying to attract capitalists to invest locally. Capitalists are attracted by conditions that are favorable to capital accumulation. Those conditions could be high consumer demand and social stability (the left wing proposal) or low wages with low taxes (right wing proposal) Any state which can’t attract capital will perish in competition against those who do.

Progressive politicians survive off the illusion that a state can facilitate capital accumulation in a way that ultimately benefits all people who live there. This is false, because growth of capitalist economy is also a growth of dispossession – larger portion of total wealth becomes owned by a small minority. This is why corporations are steadily becoming more powerful. The only balance to this trend are massive social movements for our own interests, but these movements are more harmed than helped by the Democratic party and by elections.

Getting democrats only smooths things out for us. We don’t get screwed quite as sharply. If you think that’s a valuable use of your time, go ahead with it. My opinion is that the worst results of pro-democratic party politics are worse than small gains. For example, the anti-war and immigrant rights movements were demobilized by Obama election (a necessary outcome of trying to unify everyone behind a capitalist politician) which left the field wide open for extending the war efforts and attacks on immigrants . Unions’ loyalty to democrats means accepting similar cuts that are done in Wisconsin without a fight when it’s done by democrats (like in NY for example).

To conclude, you have to accept that at the moment there isn’t much you can do about capitalists hegemony and the world it has created, but if you’re serious about ending it you have to agitate and organize for class struggle in your workplace and in your community. This means struggle against your boss, against your landlord and against politicians.

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