I’ve been pretty politically quiet lately. I wrote a lot about politics in the aftermath of the election, but it felt like my political message was louder than my personal reflections. My sorrow at Hillary Clinton losing overshadowed my struggle to accept the election results. My depression drowned out my activism.
One of my non-depressed secrets is that I voted for GWB in 2000 and 2004. In 2000 I didn’t give a lick about politics. My mother took me to the courthouse in Tyler and I excitedly voted for who my parents had recommended after I asked for their help. I cared far more about boys and friends than about laws or elections. I was a pretty, young, middle-class, white Texan. Why should I have cared about laws? They all protect people like me anyway. I remember watching the results, too. I was in my dorm room. Two or three of my friends on my hall left in the evening on a whim to drive to Austin for the victory speech. Obviously things were a bit more complicated. I didn’t care. I was homesick and heartbroken.
2004 was different. I still didn’t care that much. My demographic info was basically the same. I had this boyfriend though who was both liberal and in the know. He told me about all the problems with the GWB administration. He hated them. He didn’t understand how the people around us didn’t see it.
All I could see and hear from him was that everything I thought I knew was wrong. My parents told me that GWB was trying to keep us safe. I didn’t believe that it was more complicated. I believed the fear. And to have the person I loved the most telling me I was believing lies was too much. We fought about it. We yelled. I cried because I felt so lied to by everyone. I didn’t know what to believe. I voted for GWB in 2004 simply because I was angry at my boyfriend for trying to tell me the truth.
But everything my boyfriend told me sunk in. I listened even though it was hard to hear. What it did was prove to me that I couldn’t trust other people to tell me how to act politically. I had to figure it out myself. Life wasn’t just about my heart and soul. I wasn’t just about finding happiness. It was also about pulling your head out of the sand and seeing that we’re in this together. I discovered that I had been hiding. I had been clinging to my shelter. I had been relying on my demographic information to get the kind of treatment we all deserve.
Grad school changed me. All of my grad school friends were more political than me and they were all liberal. The first thing I noticed was that I liked liberal people a lot. Way more than conservative people. Liberals have more fun, in my opinion, but that’s probably just because I am one. It was my break from Christianity that cemented my break with conservatism. When I thought about hell as something other than a real place; when I thought about what hell means in a larger context–how we use it in our culture and ideology–I realized how much of my life was lived in fear. I was afraid of hell, I was afraid of death, I was afraid of loneliness, I was afraid of evil. I was relying on Christianity to save me from all of those. But honestly, all I was really doing was using Christianity to fit my needs–the need to stay in the dark about how the world works.
That’s when I read Nietzsche. Things changed after that. I remember lying on my couch one evening in my apartment alone. I was reading Twilight of the Idols for a class. It was a dark epiphany, but it was good. I needed to pull away from everything I thought I knew and look at things for the first time with my own eyes.
All of this is to say that I chose love over fear. It’s why I’m a liberal and not a conservative. I’d rather crash this damn train than kick people off. it’s why I’m thinking of all this today. It’s MLK day. Martin Luther King, Jr is a political hero of mine. I love that he was a Christian, I love that he was an activist, I love that he was a brilliant speaker and writer, I love that he leaned toward socialism the longer he worked as an activist.
The quote of his I chose for today’s post is: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” (Strength to Love).
This quote makes me think about myself. I think about how I spent much of my teenage and young adult years with my head in darkness. I didn’t want to know what was going on. I only wanted to trust that God was in control–like divine right or some such nonsense. But sticking my head deeper in the dark was not the answer for our nation or for my personal life. I had to open my eyes and get informed; I had to listen to my boyfriend tell me the truth about WMDs in Iraq (or not, rather). I had to see that politics is a serious game but a game nonetheless. A game of people’s lives and large sums of money.
My hate for the truth couldn’t fix things either. My hate for my boyfriend telling me the truth or my hate for the GWB administration for playing on our fears only made me depressed and more afraid. Only love and light can drive out darkness and hate. For me, living in light means being informed (but not saturated). I read the news–watching is too much. I form opinions. I talk to friends about it. Knowledge is important. Love is harder. How do I tell you to love each other? For me, loving each other means equal rights–housing and food for all, marriage for all adults, healthcare for all, etc. Before you tell me how stupid I am, let me reiterate: I’d rather crash the train than kick people off. I’d rather go down in flames than burn others alive just to save myself. I don’t care if you think it’s stupid. I’m not a politician. I’m a silly idealist. I’m not running for office. I’m trying to figure out how to stay alive. What I want is for everyone else to have the chance to stay alive too.
I could tearfully tell you how deep my love for my fellow man is but how shallow and afraid I am to help more. I could cry about how human life and money are so regularly considered equally important in politics. I could tell you that every vote that prioritized money over human life tells me that I ought to die because I am financially flawed. I just want to live, but living is putting us in stupid debt. I just want to take care of my daughter’s needs, but I know I cost more than a nurse would.
I could tell you that Donald Trump makes me want to commit suicide. That it breaks my heart that people who say they love me could vote for him. It doesn’t make me question you; I know you believe just like I do that you’re doing the right thing. What it makes me question is love. Does it even exist or is it just a trick, a lie? You tell me that despite my inability to earn money, despite how much it costs just to keep me from killing myself, I am worth it. But I don’t believe it. If I am worth it then we are all worth it. If we aren’t all worth it then I am not worth it
I take things too personally. It’s my solipsistic world view. I hate myself for it. I feel dark. Love and light feels far away.
I want to put my head back in the sand. I probably will. This isn’t my bag. Politics is for smarter people than me. So I’m going back into the dark for now.
When I feel like the train can just crash, when I feel that the communal desire for my survival is a lie, is when I need the words of MLK more than ever. Love and light. We may be doomed. We may be able to be saved. But everyday I can search out love and light. Everyday I can shed light and spread love. Everyday when we put love and light out into the ether we are fighting darkness and hate. And if I ever doubt the impact of love and light on a dark and hateful world, I just remember that MLK did make quite a difference despite harrowing opposition. Keep fighting the darkness; I still believe that there is light on the other side.