You know, I really was content to go on bitching about Republicans for the rest of my mouthy, bloggy life.
And I was happy just to help out my fellow liberals with cool things like my handy voting guides.
But then, shamalam, oogity-boogity, thank you ma’am, out rolled the Great Shit Show of 2016.
It was a come-to-Jesus, a great awakening, and a really long and painful aha moment of an election season. And it was a big ol’ slap upside the head.
Watching my party run itself into the ground — and not just by losing the presidency in November, but losing nearly everything nationwide, was like watching the melting glaciers become a pitiful puddle at my feet.
But hey, why not?
My party had already been on a mega losing streak since the post-Obama midterm plunder of 2010 and just never did figure out how to turn the tides after that. I really couldn’t figure that out.
I know, I know, Republican obstructionism! And my god, I really, really wanted to believe everything was because Republicans hated Obama.
But it stopped adding up. The Democratic party has had one chance after another to get its shit together and get back to winning, but instead, it got stuck in reverse.
But then something good happened.
Bernie Sanders started gaining momentum.
And shoot, I’m not the only one to say he opened my eyes to what was happening in our nation and our politics.
I hadn’t previously paid much attention to Bernie Sanders because the utopia that I thought was Vermont didn’t have much to do with what happens in my neck of the woods.
And besides, Howard Dean had just about ruined it for me and Vermont politicians who try to relate to the rest of us.
But Bernie was different.
Bernie seemed like one of us.
He wasn’t just a walking, blabbing ego, and he wasn’t shifty or dicey or sketchy. Plus, he didn’t change his story every time it seemed convenient.
He said things that added up in a common sense way, not in a “This is America and we’re the best” kind of way.
Bernie seemed to care about actual people, and not his profit$ or fame or connections or hand size or false patriotism or smoke and mirrors or deceiving people or about one-upping or badmouthing another candidate.
People could see and feel this honesty.
Bernie’s straight talk about recovering what we thought was the land of opportunity made sense to me.
He pointed out that we’d become numb to after decades of lesser-of-two evils voting.
We’d become numb to our rigged economy and the intense unrest made possible by our greed-based, profit-obsessed, soulless, out-of-control version of capitalism, and by our corporate-controlled instead of human-controlled political system that favors a select handful over virtually everyone else in the nation.
Seriously, it all seems so normal to us now. We’ve gotten so used to this!
But how did we let this happen?
I began to hear what Bernie was saying.
I began to put the pieces together.
I began to ask many, many more questions.
I began to follow the money big time.
I began to see that being a cool president was Obama’s main accomplishment, which was bitterly disappointing—I thought I’d voted for more than just cool.
I began to see that my dad was right about Bill Clinton way back in the early 90s, even though I tried to argue otherwise because Bill Clinton seemed so likable to me at the time.
I began to see that Hillary Clinton’s gender was pretty much the only thing I liked about her, when I’d wanted so badly for her to be a good candidate.
In short, I realize now that I can thank the Great Shit Show of 2016 for being the catalyst that brought me my slap upside the head.
Because I needed it.
And shoot, we all did. In fact, many still do.
It became clear that the DNC had rigged the nomination in Hillary’s favor.
And once they did that, Bernie supporters watched the money we’d sent to his campaign get pocketed by someone who said the race was fair but had her fingers crossed behind her back the whole time.
We Democrats had been so smug and satisfied that our party was the superior one. The smart one.
But the party we smart people trusted had squandered our money, our confidence, and ultimately, our loyalty. We weren’t so smart after all.
And after all the cheating in the world, the party still failed, and we still lost the election.
Hillary Clinton was supposed to win the Presidency, the washer and dryer, and all the praise in the world.
Donald Trump was supposed to go back to his life as a weird, sideshow bragger with more money than much of anything else.
Instead, it was a bait-and-switch of the worst kind.
But now the blinders are off and I realize that the Democratic party is worthy of the same scathing judgment I used to keep handy just for the Republican party.
Same shitty puppet masters, different colored suits.
Same shitty song, different manipulative words.
Same shitty behavior, different blame-y excuses.
I was pissed off, sad, brokenhearted, outraged, confused, astonished, incredulous, and scared, all at the same time.
And now the party that was so sure it would win still can’t believe it didn’t.
The party that urged the presumably losing party to accept the upcoming election results can’t take its own advice.
What an election.
So I put on my cape, left my lil’ hamlet on a propeller plane crazy early one morning, and headed for the big city to go help save the world.
It was June, and I was headed to the People’s Summit in Chicago to represent my fellow heroes back home, and to meet some kindred souls and heroes from all over the country.
I made real-life friends with some of my online friends and made new real-life friends, too.
I talked to people from news outlets I already knew about, and ended up adding a few more to my list.
I met people I follow on YouTube, such as my favorites, Tim Black and Jimmy Dore (and his cool wife, Steph).
I found a new favorite YouTube host, Jamarl Thomas. Jamarl is a quiet, thoughtful person who’s not quick to run off at the mouth.
I met and spoke with someone I love, Thomas Frank, who wrote the book I recommend most if you want to know when and how it was that the Democratic party lost its standing as “the people’s party”:
It’s a fantastic book, and I enjoy listening to Frank whenever he shows up on YouTube — he’s as entertaining a speaker as he is a writer.
There were speakers galore.
We heard Bernie Sanders, Danny Glover, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and we heard Thomas Frank and Naomi Klein, too, and I was seated terrifically close to the front much of the time.
We also heard from people who weren’t well-known but were nevertheless powerful speakers I’m glad I had the opportunity to hear and meet.
It was a jam-packed conference with hardly ten minutes to spare at any point. I mean, even up until midnight and beyond, there were discussions scheduled and films playing.
There were movies.
There were two featured films, along with other shorter independent films playing each day.
Waking the Sleeping Giant: The Making of a Political Revolution played on Friday night.
I made friends with Sabrina Schrader from West Virginia, who was in this film. West Virginia is going to save the world, y’all — pay attention to what’s going on there.
Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock played on Saturday night.
What happened at Standing Rock is incredibly powerful—we should all see this movie.
It was exhausting and exhilarating and empowering.
I’ve been to many a conference of one sort or another, but never have I been to one that packed in so much. This was no fluffy schedule, starting at 8:30 in the morning and ending at midnight or even later if you could stay up.
So I was running on very little sleep, and even though my contact lenses were none too pleased, I tried pretty hard not to miss anything. But never mind my bleary eyes, there was plenty of inspiration, and more importantly, the conference was ultimately action-focused.
In other words, it wasn’t just a Bernie pep rally or a just a bunch Trump-bashing or a #resist sort of thing, nor did I feel it was a Democratic party herding event aimed at throwing the rebels a fun little bone to keep us in line, all criticisms I heard.
It was a worthwhile meeting of minds.
It wasn’t perfect, though.
We didn’t talk much at all about our country’s insatiable hunger for war, or our country’s taste for invading other countries in the name of Democracy, nor did we talk about the supposed-to-be neutral DNC having rigged the nomination.
These topics should have been on the schedule instead of left to individual conversations.
Imperfections aside, though, here are some of the things we discussed in the general sessions, panel discussions, and workshops I attended:
- How the two-party system has failed U.S. citizens.
- How the Democratic party has failed the left.
- How the Democratic party has veered completely off the rails from its “party of the people” claim.
- How voting for “the lesser evil” has landed the nation squarely in a land of rapidly growing evil.
- The obvious problems with money in politics, with a focus on getting money out of politics.
- Racial inequality, both the obvious, and through the lenses of housing inequities, the war on drugs, police brutality, environmental inequities, and the prison system.
- Environmental issues such as rapid and radical weather changes, fracking, corporate pollution and waste, the privatization of public utilities, and the increasing water crises creeping through the country.
- The alarming increase in homelessness.
- Building momentum for progress and positive change in small and rural communities.
- Our flailing and failing public schools, and reeling them back from the brink of nationwide privatization.
- Internet neutrality, without which, for example, there will be no more cheap-n-easy Netflix, etc.
- Whether reforming the Democratic party is even possible, whether “taking over” the party is an option, or whether forming a third party is possible—there was no consensus on this.
All these problems and more considered, though, the thing I really got out of this event was something that came up several times in various ways.
We’ll create a just society when we focus as one people on the problems we want to solve, rather than which side we’re on.
In other words, we’re all in this together.
Yes, I went to a political conference and came away talking about unity.
And by unity, I don’t mean “blue no matter who,” and I don’t mean that everyone has to be on the same side or even agree on everything.
By unity, I simply mean that we can’t keep taking sides.
we can’t keep thinking that one side is better than the other.
We can’t keep falling into the divide-and-conquer trap.
Because seriously, we’re all in this together.
Instead, it’s time we look at what we have allowed to happen to all of us, and unite in our approach to righting the wrongs that affect each and every one of us.
By “things that affect each and every one of us,” I mean things such as:
- Clean water in our communities.
- Nurturing an informed, as well as educated populace.
- Teaching critical thinking. Very critical thinking.
- No longer sending our children to wars that benefit arms manufacturers but not U.S. citizens.
- Health care for everyone, not just the lucky.
- A reasonable work week and a livable working wage.
- A people’s voice against people-squashing corporate interests.
- Getting money out of politics so that we don’t have to rely on out-of-touch and out-of-reach “representatives.”
We’ve all been played for fools in our two-party system.
Generally speaking, neither party gives a shit about you and me and our neighbors next door.
Far, far too many of the lesser-of-two-evils representatives we’ve elected are some of the most self-serving Americans to walk the land, yet we fall for their fear tactics and propaganda again and again.
We allow them to pit us against one another again and again with their wedge issues and fundraising battle flags (gay rights! abortion rights!).
Yet it’s when we talk to each other face to face, regardless of and outside of politics and all its baggage, that we can reverse the diseases of injustice, corruption, and violence that threaten us.
In the wise and fiery words of Ohio State Senator, Nina Turner, “Be hard on the issues, and soft on people.”
I’ll repeat that:
Be hard on the issues, and soft on people.
This is everything, shiny you.
And it’s the only way we can save ourselves.
The People’s Summit wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t expect it to be—but it was damned good.
I did expect it to be worthwhile.
And it was.
So, thank you, I suppose, to the Great Shit Show of 2016, for the slap upside the head. Otherwise, I’d still be la-la-ing around thinking Democrats are good and Republicans are bad.
So with all that said, I’ll leave you with these final instructions for today and every day:
Follow the money.
Ask question, questions, and more questions.
Really, really listen to each other.
Don’t take sides, and don’t point your fingers very hard.
Be a good human.
Better yet, be a great human.
I mean, shouldn’t that pretty much take care of everything?