“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain
It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from the DNC in Philly. The usually easy-going affairs where the party anoints its presidential candidate wasn’t so easy going. It was intense. I slept little while I inundated with party messages. I took time each day to myself to write, just so that I could focus on what’s important to me, to keep my mind and heart centered while I rode this political carousel. Off the carousel now, I have a new appreciation for Democratic party politics and my position.
It’s all about conformity. The party designs the convention to sleep-deprive you and overwhelm your emotional and intellectual faculties with singular media and social messages. It is meant to conform its members. If you’re on the inside, it’s messaging. If you’re on the outside, it’s propaganda. If you’re a party whip it unifies us and breeds loyalty. If you’re a critic, the convention omits inconvenient points, rebuttals, and emphasizes the easy. It’s a parade of knock downs on your opponents or a bunch of straw man effigies. Now matter how you look at the convention, it “manufactures consent” as Walter Lippmann might have said.
But our factions pull on us. Yes, there’s the official message in signs, videos, speeches, and our orientation toward the elevated podium, that dais of common truth spoken from many mouths on faces of many colors. But as a Bernie Sanders delegate, the tug of shared disappointment filled me with anxiety. For some, the disappointment was from losing the first time and for others from losing too many:the disaffection of rising millennial debt and the dejection from years of having your home sacrificed to fossil fuel companies or being sold out by your own to predatory Wall Street managers.
There were times when the draw to resist felt like someone was pulling a cable in my body. To conform this way or that way? To the party? To my candidate? My candidate or the party’s candidate? Toward the official decision, one reached by the will of the majority of Democrats, or toward Bernie, my decision? The carousel would spin. How can one reasonably track when you’re on the carousel. Maybe it’s not possible. The world spins in red, white, and blue, the glory of being stronger together because “I am with her.” “But it could all be a lie,” whisper the Berners. “You can’t trust anyone. WikiLeaks,” they say. “She was before it before she was against it.” Anyone could just be a mouthpiece for someone else.
I was a few people on those days. At one moment open and another worried, almost paranoid. There is me, the activist and delegate charged with conviction and conscience and charged to represent the PA 5th-district Bernie voters. He was given money to get to Philly by people who believe in him. There is me, the person willing to hear Clinton’s and the Democratic Party’s message, eager to see a woman in the White House, to see an inordinately capable person assume the mantle of commander in chief, to stand with others united against Donald Trump the racist megalomaniacal know-nothing colliding with our politics, a person. There is me, the cautious and skeptical observer, a metalhead deeply suspicious of power, the one whose tendons get tight when he thinks someone is manipulating him, the one who sings Metallica’s “…And Justice For All”:
Halls of justice painted green
Power wolves beset your door
Hear them stalking
Soon you’ll please their appetite
Hammer of justice crushes you
There is me, full of empathy, feeling the hopes of Bernie supporters deflating and the welling up of pride among women of my mother’s generation and the young women behind me, the one sharing grief with the Mothers of the Movement, Mr. and Mrs. Khan, the families of Newtown, and the people of Flint. And then there was me, the patient observer watching these men move forward and back, rarely directing but just saying, “There goes Peter.”
Well, I’m not doing anything I wasn’t prepared to do before the convention. On the night of the California primary, I decided that I would vote for Hillary Clinton, but I was uncertain about if or how I would campaign for her. I will, and that is surely a result of being at the DNC2016. Today, I can serve as a mouthpiece in a way that I wasn’t able to before. This blog has already shown that I can. My ability to be a party knife has been sharpened. But the blade is double-sided. I can be a more insightful critic too. I know the platform and I can and will use it as a weapon.
Taking Twain’s maxim about patriotism, we can support the party and criticize it as well. These are crucial times for critical participation. It’s nice how that cuts. Will we, the Democratic Party live up to our commitments on health care, raising the minimum wage, and working to heal the deep racial wounds in this country? Will we do as we’ve said, and finally pay our Native American brothers and sisters back for the forced sacrifices we’ve foisted upon them? Will we stop handing charter schools free passes while demanding outrageous levels of so-called accountability from our public school teachers? Will we really stick to fairer trade deals? Will we actually fight for good trade education for those who don’t go to college? Will we ensure our social safety nets? Will we stop saying yes yes yes to big banks and big money in politics and unrig the economy and cut monied speech? Will we aggressively pursue renewable energy and the end of fossil fuel subsidies and putting a price on carbon?
Sure, #ImWithHer and we are #StrongerTogether. My kid was on CHIP and students like mine would benefit from the DREAM Act and praise the lord that Clinton and Sanders hammered out a deal to fund college education. But…
But what it really means is that I’m for the platform. It’s not the party. I’m too outspoken to be a party spokesman. It’s a character trait. It’s not the candidate. Hillary Clinton is brilliant, organized, strategic, and committed. But she’s not my candidate. Few people could be right? I’m not voting for my identity. I’m voting to get things done, and that’ll come through achieving the platform with people who’ve agreed to it.
I’ve met some people who crafted and voted on the platform. They worked really hard, staying up late and doing the hard exhausting work. They were tenacious, bull dogs with teeth sunk into the bull’s haunches one moment and Cassanovas with flowers others. That work matters to me, mattered to Sanders, and should matter to any progressive.
We will fight for that and those who will champion that platform because it’s so far on the right side of history. We will push for racial and economic equality, environmental sense, and transparent governance. Those who fail to do that will not receive my support. They would be failing my personal political tests and, by and large, failing to meet the standards of the party.
I was a Bernie delegate. I was a critical participant. Today, I am a green Democrat, ready to fight. Today, I am an even more critical participant.