to obama, or not to vote

By Adrienne Maree Brown Sep 01, 2008

ok. a full 72 hours after the end of the democratic national convention, and obama’s speech, i feel compelled to get the response off my chest. i took this leadership development course , and in it we had to do this amazing alignment exercise, where you made a statement that you felt was true, and then let every voice of opposition in your mind or heart respond. in this way you could come to truly know yourself, adjust your statement, stop lying, or understand the complexities but move forward with clarity. for example: primary voice in head: "i love italian food!" secondary voice in head: "but tomatoes make your tummy hurt…" primary voice: oh right. "i love italian food that isn’t tomato-based!" there…that feels better. responding to obama, to the rush of mixed urges i have around this election, requires similar clarification for me. here goes: primary voice: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: but change isn’t top-down, federal elections don’t change things for people on the ground, federal elections are just marketing and punditry and sales pitches and… primary voice: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: but he’s talking about smashing osama bin laden in his cave, and protecting israel…how is that any different from the current administration’s foreign policies? haven’t we been engaged in a misdirected bomb dropping search for bin laden for years, as our aggressive international behavior has grown bin laden’s ranks in ways he could never have done alone? haven’t we been investing in israel’s isolationist campaign in the middle east for even longer, helping them to build a massive wall and attempt to obliterate palestinian people and culture? truly i can’t support barack until he supports israel to begin a truth & reconciliation process with the palestinian people indigenous to that land, with all of it’s arab neighbors, and then become an international leader in demanding practices like this from all of our economic homeys around the world. i want nelson mandela to be the next president of the united states! primary voice: but he’s not running, so i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: would he be in the running right now if he had been raised by a single black father, a Kenyan, instead of by his single white mother? primary voice: you can’t go back, you can only go forward. i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: in one breath he just spoke of offshore drilling as a stop gap, then used the fantastical terms clean coal and clean nuclear! offshore drilling as a stopgap to our addiction to oil? come on B.O.! off-shore oil isn’t like methadone, its just a heroin source closer to the house. the problem isn’t where we get it from, it’s the addiction itself that is destroying the climate of the planet, aided by the pollutants of coal (which only comes in dirty, dirtier or dirtiest), and the toxic side effects (from keloids to two-mouthed fish to babies born without skin) of nuclear. primary voice: but he is at least talking about renewables, alternative energy and green jobs….i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: nuh-uh! you hate politics, and particularly conventions for exactly this reason, the insanity that makes you forget how flawed the whole damn system is. obama is brilliant at navigating this political ground covered in land mines, but you aren’t into brilliant politicians. you’re into small communities with community leadership, not slightly more or less peaceful military leaders. primary voice: but at this moment in time, someone has to be president! and i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: wouldn’t you be blown away if he mentioned protecting muslims and immigrants against the heightened racism that our country has actively engaged in (currently: building a border wall to replace the cold wall, making immigrants less than 3/5 of a people – able to till american soil and drive american cabs and babysit/nanny american babies, but not determine the direction of the nation, never be more than a burden, a terrorist, or the help). primary voice: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. even if he is saying familiar stuff that makes me ill with that same charming mouth that says so much that i agree with so deeply, that’s just campaigning, this speech is politically perfect, on a campaign strategy level i see him gently push and prod and dance and check off the points of perfection. comparatively, he will be a great president! i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states! secondary voice: you want changes closer to the root, and you can’t win an american presidency underground. you simply have to stay on the surface. primary voice: i will continue supporting the deep systemic changes, but in the meantime, i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: but he concludes that to be in the club you have to put our country first. and i don’t put the country first. (can i whisper that into the blogosphere? i feel nervous even writing it after watching the intensity of energy of people i know and love and respect as they become patriots. it seems impossible to be both a patriot and a humanitarian – to literally love and want the best for people, and yet place people who share your geographical coincidence and history first). my girl anasa says country is like family, my sister april says territorial practices are a natural occurrence in every species. i see that…still, i put life first, life; beyond borders and externally determined solidarity. at the root, any mentality of us vs. them is more of the same. our sense of common purpose should be to survive and evolve, not to be the winning team of the biggest baddest best country in the world. i think perhaps what i am seeing is the fundamental flaw of the american promise, maybe that’s the part that feels off to me. the promise, to me, is not distinctly american. what obama and the rest talk about is people being good to each other, people having hope for better lives, people wanting to escape devastation caused by greed and inequality wherever they are, wanting opportunity. our americanizing the human dream makes it impossible for so many other people in the world to live, much less dream. primary voice: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: the money he has raised for his glittery marketing campaign has gutted much of the progressive movement and no one is able to talk about it for fear of losing the 15% of their annual budgets they have been able to secure! who is going to make it through to next year? without campaign finance reform, he’s had to raise and spend a Hollywood budget and the only groups thriving right now are those that promise to deliver their base to him in partisan or non-partisan ways. primary voice: is that his fault? at least make the financial hardship worth it…i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: the election is going to be a mess – he’s never going to win! no serious strides have been made to address election protection problems from 2004 and 2006, and the one thing that could make those problems even worse is increased turn-out, which everyone is expecting for obama. there are some terrified and racist folks out there who are gonna play gutter ball to stop his votes from being counted, and folks have not been investing in election protection…why put your eggs in a basket full of holes? primary voice: so let’s work on election protection! cuz i kind of really want barack obama to be the next president of the united states. secondary voice: yeah but the election isn’t about him, its about us, right? even though it is deeply about him…i’ve listened to friends say its about the people, but those people are galvanized by this leader, this leader who makes it seem possible to bridge our differences. if he means it, if he believes in the people’s capacity to make change…this possibility is what has kept bringing me back around to feeling ok that so many people i love and respect are dedicating their lives to getting him elected. that line is the truest thing i’ve heard from a politician, its not what a politician in washington does, its what we do to bring the accountability to bear on decision makers. i could go on this way indefinitely, but what i realize is simply that i feel like two people watching this. one sees this strategic, dynamic, mixed race man, skillfully touching all the bases on his way home to the white house. that self drinks the kool-aid as much as a cynic can, i am impressed by his grasp and execution of community organizing and mobilization, how he has crafted himself as king and kennedy and more. he seems to have been made for this moment, even for skeptics and community organizers. i lean in when he speaks, trying to disguise my own smiles at some of the lovely lines that slip in between the ones that hurt me, or disappoint me. the other side sees the parts i disagree with, the special interests, the effects of a broken and at this point actively stupid and elitist, capitalist, empire-protecting system. i see how he has to say things that are morally reprehensible if he wants to consider being elected to this position, and god knows which of his values will have to be compromised once he’s in office, that place most distant from the people of the nation. i believe that we would need 50,000 baracks or people more radical than him running at the local level to experience any changes based on leadership like his. and yet… what the rest of world will understand with this shift! i am not on a fence between republican or democrat, i am not tempted by green at the federal level. i want a multi-party system with permanent records of voting (paper ballots), same day registration, a vote for anyone paying taxes, and proportional representation, but i don’t think the path to get there is by placing us in john mccain’s fragile, feeble, maverick hands by splitting the progressive vote. i specifically want barack obama to be the next president of the united states, in spite of all my doubts and cynicisms and fears. i like how he splits the difference on the hardest issues, i like his (or his speechwriter’s) ability to find a common sense middle ground, and i like that he is passionate and visionary at a time when the easiest space to occupy is debilitating and isolating anger. and because it scares me to feel even slightly authentic in my excitement about a candidate, understanding what i do about the history of candidate failures, disappointments, flip-flopping or sheer incompetence, the broken system, the inherent flaws of humanity that makes us desire hierarchy so…i will not hit the streets stumping for obama, i will not start a little fundraising page for him that spirits more money away from the projects i work on 365 days a year election or not. i will continue to pour my energy into election protection, and raise money to support grassroots organizations who make sure candidates who are willing to listen have organized bodies to hear from. but behind a closed door, rereading the transcript of his speech on race, delving into his organizing analysis from his early years in chicago, seeing parts of my story in his own, and wanting to debate him about those issues on which i deeply disagree with him, i confess: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states.