I went on a blind date last night and almost immediately started talking about the likelihood of the Democrats taking back the House of Representatives in 2018. This is the kind of person I’ve become these days: boringly political, singleminded, and lacking creativity in connecting with people about the things I used to love. My richest conversations with everyone but my two or three closest friends have been synthetically analytical and marked by the nervous cadence and diction of an academic who fears he is not smart enough to know how to solve all of society’s problems. I stood in my bedroom yesterday for ten minutes just biting my nails while I looked at my James Baldwin poster and my Lila Watson poster. I keep picking up my latest issue of Jacobin Magazine, reading two pages, throwing it across the room, laying down on my bed. Every time another person tells me they don’t know where to start, they don’t know what to do, I become further embittered about the way economy demands we work eight hours on some bad, distant or tangential thing before we can devote one hour to a Productive thing. For some of us that means we spend one hour of activism undoing the damage of the past eight hours of professionalism. For others it means never being allowed to realize that political activism can be synonymous with work.
My date told me she gets stressed out because she knows that no matter how much she’s doing she knows it’s not enough. I countered to say that I wasn’t stressed about not doing enough because I know how important it is to be a real human who understands the limitations of his powers. That was a lie: I am very insecure about the possibility that I am not doing the right thing to help take back our government from those who want to unleash racial capitalism and militarism to its full destructive potential. Each day the news publications I read smack me across the face with an electoral-political analysis of change; that is, I feel only the urgency of getting a simple non-Republican majority in Congress so that lawmakers can start restraining the president and his dark cadre of henchmen who don’t give a fuck about the earth or its citizens. Yes: though in some cases the Democrats are just as bad, they could help in the short term. These days Republican law has been doing things like illegally detaining and deporting brown people, trying to increase military funding while drumming up imperialist aggression and antagonizing foreign countries, scaling back already weak regulations on Wall Street, school privatization, fossil fuel energy practices, etc. So the need for more Democrats in Congress to obstruct this radically misanthropic, racial and extractive project seems imperative.
Lots of people on the left have been thinking about the 2018 midterm elections. Organizations like Swing Left are pumped up to flip some 60 Congressional districts that they feel are vulnerable to the historical trend of voters’ disenchantment with the party that just assumed the presidency. Me and a lot of my friends are thinking about going all out for political organizing this summer and the next so as to make this happen–Republicans only control the House by 40 seats right now. One way to do it would be to simply start knocking doors in these locales. In the New York City area, for example, there are nine districts within a three-hour drive that pundits contend are up for grabs. Another way is to organize from afar–smother disengaged people’s Facebook feeds with political educational memes, perhaps, or phonebank the shit out of them. These kinds of plans smell and feel like action, and that’s enticing, especially if the result is 219 Democrats in the House or 51 in the Senate to block Trump’s every move.
As previously stated, the big problem is that the Democrats SUCK TOO. Don’t tell me about how we don’t have the luxury to level critiques of liberalism right now as our country gets hollowed out by parasitic ultraconservatism. Don’t tell me about how Hillary-was-a-far-better-alternative-to-Trump-so-stop-complaining-about-her. All that shit doesn’t matter when you’re working with an opposition party that still wants to pander to the white middle class to get votes, that refuses to get real on how conciliatory, conservative, corporate and racial Obama’s reform agenda was. I’m not trying to say that the Democrats don’t go in the right direction; I’m saying the Democrats are tiptoeing for change when they need to drop their shoulder and bulldoze through. And I am afraid that if I and millions of other excited leftfolk throw all our energy into getting some Dems into Congress next year we will be supporting a tepid band of politicians who care less about structural overhaul and more about protecting their unchecked white moderate ideologies.
This critique, though, doesn’t write off electoral organizing as a viable outlet for our political engagement. It’s simplistic to just say fuck the Democrats for their bullshit without trying to fundamentally change the Democratic party. That’s why I’m still interested to hear people talk to me about organizing for 2018. I can envision a successful political movement on the left where activists don’t merely get Democrats elected to upend the Republican government, they actually flood the Democratic agenda with a radical analysis of what is wrong. In my mind, that abstract intellectual endeavor translates into a concrete need to get Democratic politicians to stop answering to the exploitative corporate interests that fund them. I think that’s a tough ask for these suits on the Hill. But on the other hand, the promise of this new movement of political activism on the left is that politicians have to start answering to civically engaged citizens as much as they’ve always answered to elite businesspeople. We get in their meetings then maybe we get on their to-do lists.
Or is it a waste? Is the Democratic party insulated from mass politics? Is the two-party system not worth devoting one’s life to empowering? Is my free time better spent reading socialist magazines, writing blogs, organizing my building against our seething landlord, and baking oatmeal cookies for my radicalized students? Should I phone bank or should I cultivate critical thought against the bank, from which I’ve divested? (Or should I do both?) Should I go to the town hall meeting or should I fight for the organization I already work for, that I already believe in, so that it can wield more influence in society? (Or must I do both?) Can I do it all while still being a good friend, a creative thinker and a well-rounded human?