Where Do We Go From Here?

Photo by Pete Shaw

Story by Pete Shaw

Judging from Facebook on the morning after the recent elections, it seems there are two very important things that need taking. One is that the proposed wisdom that we were watching the destruction of the Republican Party turned out to be false. Instead, it is the Democrats who have imploded, or as I would argue, further imploded. The Republicans gained the presidency and kept both houses of Congress. And while for the moment the Democrats will have enough numbers to muster filibusters in the Senate (assuming the Republicans don’t change the chamber rules, which is their right to do), the odds are very good that come 2019, the Republicans will seat over 60 Senators. As well, Republicans picked up governorships and state legislative branches.

The seed of liberal capitalism–or neoliberalism as it is called–was planted in Richard Nixon’s administration, sprouted under Jimmy Carter, grew and blossomed under Ronald Reagan, and then under Bill Clinton–who finally tore away the Democrats from its traditional, if by then nominal, working class political values–truly fruited, producing fantastic returns for the few at the expense of the many. The Democratic Party had remade itself into a corporate party, but one that at least had to give some scraps from the table to its base. And the scraps were few–if meaningful–wrung out of them by people organizing and struggling to get them.

In October 2015, I covered a rally for immigrant rights outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison on SW Macadam Avenue. It occurred a couple of months after Donald Trump first made his horrible remarks about all Mexicans being rapists and other sorts of violent criminals that had toppled the US from whatever great status he was projecting as lost.

It also occurred long after President Barack Obama had exceeded the number of deportations under President George W. Bush. I certainly don’t recall Hillary Clinton stepping up and saying those deportations were deplorable, particularly because many of those people left their homes due to US foreign policy, including trade deals such as NAFTA, which was signed by President Bill Clinton. I do not mean to paint Hillary Clinton as guilty by association. But she is guilty for her silence, as is much of the Democratic Party. Sure, they had some words against Trump, but their actions betrayed a bedrock support for his basic ideas, just without his rhetoric.

Obama pulled out DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in the run-up to the 2012 election. His hand was forced by the very real threat of not enough Latinos coming out and supporting him. That threat was largely due to the very visible and equally courageous actions taken by people without documentation, particularly the Dreamers who demanded they and their families not be torn apart by US immigration policies that completely ignored–actually, created–the conditions that led them to

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

leave home. Yet only a few years later, we saw droves of mothers and children fleeing rampant violence in Central America–brutality that was largely brought to them, once again, courtesy of US foreign policy, include support for a coup in Honduras while Clinton was Secretary of State. Those mothers and children were often taken to isolated prisons, treated like animals, and fast-tracked on the path to deportation despite the dire threats they faced upon their return.

Some remediation was achieved because a large clutch of dedicated lawyerly sorts, including from Portland’s own Immigrant Law Group and Lewis & Clark Law School (my apologies to others I have neglected), went to those prisons and did all they could to defend the rights of these people. Those rights were being trod upon by the ICE, and I don’t remember Hillary

Clinton or many other high level Democrats–including obviously the president–coming to their defense at all. In fact, considering how much this was kept in the dark until that group of lawyers found out about it and descended upon those prisons, it seems quite safe to assume they supported this.

That silence by those in power in the face of systemic racism and oppression is nothing new. It is as American as apple pie. The more vocal white supremacy on display by Donald Trump and his supporters is nothing new, although over the years it has been uncouth to be so open about it. Genteel and well-heeled Democrats and Republicans, for the most part, had been satisfied decrying overt racism while supporting policies that clearly targeted people of color, as well as other bigoted and misogynistic policies aimed at women and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and numerous other marginalized people.

As my friend Ahjamu Umi of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) has often noted–and frankly, as is apparent from any reading of history outside the managed version one gets through school textbooks and in the corporate media–this country has been racist since its inception. There is, for one example, a pretty clear line between how Black people have been treated in this country from slavery to today. First their bodies were used to profit plantation owners as slaves. Now their bodies are used to profit the plantations of the prison industry.

Locally, in Portland, which proudly bills itself as a liberal city, the issues at the core of the Black Lives Matter Movement–particularly that Black bodies are worth something more than targets for police who are rarely held accountable–were ignored as the City Council approved a new police contract that effectively says Black Lives Do Not Matter. Mayor Charlie Hales, Councilman Nick Fish, and Councilwoman Amanda Fritz would probably prefer other language, but that is where their liberalism has brought them and brought us. Nice language, same bullshit.

None of them, and certainly not Hillary Clinton (who once with the proverbial dog whistle referred to Black people as “super predators”) as far as I know, made mention of the racism that has always been inherent in police departments across the country. After all this time–after all these deaths, many of them now available for viewing thanks to modern technology–not only is this clear and painful reality left unsaid by those with power, but worse, in terms of policy, it is ignored, even applauded. In a capitalist society what else is a raise–and it was a very nice one the Portland police received–but an acknowledgement of a job well done?

I am sure you could fill quite a few books of such soft pedal white supremacy.

However, it is not in my nature to end things on such a low note. Sure, Donald Trump’s election is a stone bummer. I held my nose and voted for Clinton, and as the returns came in Tuesday night, I was not pleased. But it really didn’t change a thing in my calculus as it were because I see voting as a tactic and not an end. I would have probably written, with a slightly different angle, the same words had Clinton won. Well, sort of. In fact, I began writing something on Election Day–believing Clinton would win–about conducting near-terminal experiments with LSD so I could pretend for a few minutes that the world would, with a pull of a lever, change for the better. 

Photo by Pete Shaw

Photo by Pete Shaw

But I scuttled that idea, knowing damn well that at best that the change I wanted to hallucinate would be minimal, or more accurately, that it would, as always, not be gained without our collective demand.

And also, I have had no idea where to find good acid–or any acid–in years.

But the fact is this: when on Election Day my better 99% left the house and asked me if I was worried about the election I replied, “Yes, but regardless of the outcome, we will be doing the same work tomorrow. It just may be a little more uphill.” And so it is.

The other item that must be taken from this election–and which is far more important than a chronicle of the failures of the Democratic Party–is that if you are the sort for whom active citizenship means taking part in an election every so often as well as spending a good portion of your day posting inspirational items about Democrats and snarky ones about Republicans on social, you are not doing much (and a corollary to this, which I mentioned to my better 99% late on Election Day, is that if you were so keen on voting for someone other than Clinton because you thought she is evil incarnate no different than Trump, I have no idea why you are upset that Trump won). I cover a lot of activist groups in this city, and while some of the people in them are certainly upset about the results of the election–and for a lot of people in this country, namely marginalized people who are not white, heterosexual, Christian males, this certainly seems a dangerous turn for the worse–very soon, once they heal up, they will be back on their feet doing the same hard work of organizing people against the various injustices that occur regardless of which party is in power.  These are the people who truly make this country great, or at least drag it kicking and screaming to be something better.

There is no secret in this: organize, organize, organize. Educate and agitate as well. Push the system until it is stressed, and it bends to your will. This cannot be done alone by the mythical rugged individual. Take a tip from the 1% who are very well organized, so much so that a candidate like Hillary Clinton–who is worth millions upon millions of dollars, has been showered with Wall Street money, and has had President Obama’s ear when it came to issues of fragmenting children and other people by dropping bombs from drones on them–can be passed off as a candidate of the people.

It is hard work. It is often thankless work. And you lose an awful lot.

Photo by Bette Lee

Photo by Bette Lee

But it is also–and I write this as someone who even on his best days is often agnostic–god’s work. Find a group working on an issue that interests you. As I have told numerous people over the past couple of days, your problem is not going to be finding those groups. No, your problem is going to be dealing with a sense of guilt when you realize you have to pare down severely the number of groups with which you can work because there simply are not enough hours in the day to work with all of them. If you look through the articles here in the Portland Occupier, you will find a fraction of those groups in our stories.

And here’s something that might be a secret. Despite the hard, thankless, and often seemingly fruitless work, you will never regret getting involved in working with people to create a more just world. You will meet some wonderful people whose talents and capacities will bring you a unique joy as they amplify your own abilities. They will make what will often seem like a hopeless slog not only endurable, but enjoyable. You will be proud that you call these people partners, comrades, and friends.

Every once in a decent while you will win. Not very often, but if your goal really is a more just world as compared with a personal victory, often enough. And intermittently, you will win big. In a former life I was a history teacher. Every so often a student would ask me how I could remain positive in the face of some truly horrible stuff. Easy, I would say. We don’t have kings. We don’t have chattel slavery. While the world is replete with the awful, it seems to me there is less of it. That was not achieved simply by voting. Often, years and years of the hard work of organizing–including numerous losses that left little hope–doubtlessly seemed useless. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, WHAM!, a huge leap forward, but in fact a step just a bit noticeably larger than the many steps that led up to it.

But as Chris Hedges has said, you don’t fight because you might win, however wonderful that would be. You fight because it affirms your humanity.

And when you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you can take pride in saying you gave a damn and that you tried, and in the end, just perhaps, that you made a better world.

It is one of the most rewarding feelings you will ever know.

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