A Plea to Disillusioned Progressives
I wanted Elizabeth to be the next president of the United States, the first woman president. I always liked her, even before she was a Senator. I remember her as a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart when she was a law professor. She was smart, articulate and funny — a real triple threat. She called out the corporate power structure that controls so much of American politics and democracy. She dropped out of the race before I submitted my primary ballot, so I voted for my second choice, which was Bernie.
I AM a liberal, a progressive! I am opposed to the corporate control of our democracy, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class keeps shrinking. I am for a government that provides services for the good of the whole. So, of course, I would vote for Bernie, even though it seemed that the majority of Democrats (not just the leadership)were steering towards Joe.
Joe does not inspire me, he’s pretty conventional, a moderate who, like President Obama and Hillary, plays nice with the corporate world, though not as flagrantly as the current administration. It seems that he will be the nominee and we will never know if Bernie would have awoken the sleeping giant of young voters, idealists, and revolutionaries. But the majority of Democrats think Joe is the best chance we have of dethroning our current POTUS, whose name I don’t want to sully my page with.
I worry about my fellow Bernie supporters who are angry at this move, as they were four years ago when Hillary became the nominee. One said she was so angry that she would not vote for Joe. The slogan, Vote Blue No Matter Who, is being widely criticized by angry Bernie supporters — like how dare they tell me that. To my fellow idealists, I plea with you to stay the course, take the long view. And read on for my story of frustrated idealism. Spoiler alert: I’m still an idealist and progressive.
I was a public school teacher and union activist. I got involved in the union because of my anger and frustration with what was called “education reform”, which was and continues to be a deliberate right-wing attempt to destroy public education. Our union rep at the time told us, instead of complaining, get involved. So I did. I was into it. I proposed resolutions and business items at our state conventions like a religion! I became president of my chapter and thus became a Board Director overseeing the union at a statewide level. I spoke up! I got involved in campaigns. I was a true believer.
I really really thought that Obama was going to “save” us from this scourge. When he won, I heard the news and cried. Alas! Though he was a respectable president, leading us out of the Great Recession, and making a wee bit of progress on health care, on “my” issue of public education, he pretty much continued the damage.
When I went to the National Education Association convention in 2011, we had learned that the Board of Directors was proposing that we endorse Obama for a second term a year before the election. This usually happens in the election year, so it was unexpected. I was so disappointed, angry, and frustrated that despite Obama and his administration continuing and worsening the policies of education “deform”, the union was endorsing him a year ahead of time. The line was — we have no choice and we need to get behind him early because it’s going to be a tough race. This was even before the Republicans even had a candidate. This was the beginning of my disillusionment with the NEA and union activism. Why endorse a president who is not listening to us, who continues policies that we oppose as a union (high-stakes testing, as a prime example)?
My idealism kept me in teaching. I needed to believe I could make a difference. If nothing else, I wasn’t afraid to speak up when mandate upon mandate came down. I wasn’t afraid to speak up when I disagreed with what I thought was unfair, unjust, or unsound, even in the union setting. I learned that this is not appreciated, even among fellow union members, especially if you are speaking up against the powers-that-be. Ultimately, this disillusionment led me to no longer being involved in union activism, but because I do believe in unions, I remain a member, now as a card-carrying retired member.
I did retire from teaching shortly after I quit my union involvement. It was an early retirement but the second best decision in my life. (My first was having my daughter). The year after I retired, the leadership at the state leadership level was upended by a pretty radical candidate, who remains president to this day. He did not rise though the ranks, as had been done in the decades of the history of this union. He was an outsider. Under his leadership, there has been more progress made in the issues I care about, though there is still a ways to go.
The union rep I most closely worked with when I was chapter president had worked for years with the Anti-Tobacco Coalition to get smoking bans passed into state law. When I got down on myself when I experienced a defeat, she reminded me that change takes time and persistence. Do I feel like a failure because I left — because I let the system, both the education and union status quo, beat me down?
At some point I realized that some of us have to be the way-showers, the light-bearers. Change isn’t easy. But some of us have to be the ones to say it’ll be better for ALL of us to make this change. And without us being the ones to show the way, we will definitely go the direction of the powerful, the ones who have an agenda to pursue their own interests, hidden or not. We may not see the results right away. In this case, it didn’t happen in choosing a progressive presidential candidate. But it’s not about the candidate, it’s about the ideals, the values. Elizabeth and Bernie were the way-showers, the light-bearers. It’s up to us to stay on the path.
Most people are in the middle, afraid of change, unwilling to take bold stances especially if it goes against the grain of what the authorities lay down. Those of us with ideals MUST keep pulling us forward, showing the way. And let me make it clear, if you have any doubt. The current president is on the side of the rich and powerful, not the people, and definitely not the planet. Vote your values. If you want a more just, more fair, more compassionate country, and a more protected planeted, you must vote against the current administration.