“The role of today’s Democratic Party seems to be a stumbling point for some”

November 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


To my friend who invited me to the Dialogue. You asked me for my thoughts and here they are:

I have voted in every presidential election since 1972. I have been voting for governors and local representatives for even longer. In the early 1960s I remember freezing in below zero temperatures as my Mom dragged me from door to door, handing out literature in support of John F. Kennedy. Mine was not a “rah rah wave the flag for America” kind of voting, it was more “people must always be part of shaping the system” participation.  

Today, in 2014, I believe the “system” is worse than ever. I believe that participation of the people is more important now than ever. I believe that we cannot wait another minute to make real change.

So on this Election Day, November 4th, I wanted to do something more significant than ever to be part of the solution. No, I did not vote. Instead I booked a flight to New York City and bought a ticket to a dialogue between scholar and philosopher Cornel West and Bob Avakian, leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. I have come to understand that there is no change coming through the ballot box. People’s participation in the electoral system is not going to shape our common future. We must reexamine our situation, think beyond our daily concerns and commit our lives to working for a better world.

The event was billed as a discussion about religion and revolution but it was not limited to a narrow interpretation of those topics. Both West and Avakian worked off the principle that things must change. We cannot be afraid to look at the real failures of this current system and we must act together to make the future a better place—for real. We cannot wait for politicians and courts, we must be the change. Religion and revolution can work together for this outcome, they do not need to cancel out each other.

It is difficult to convey all the ideas and insights expressed during the four-hour dialogue. I will share three points that were especially important to me.

1. I am not the only one who is overwhelmed by the scope of the problem.

2. Turning to the ballot box or to a higher power may be the way that some people deal with being overwhelmed but those actions will not bring true change. In addition, people who vote, people who pray, and people who call for direct action should not let these differences separate us. We need to see the common problems and work together for real solutions.

3. Some people have a very hard time letting go of the Democratic Party.

Let me explain.

First, being overwhelmed by the scope of the problem is understandable. Many of the questions from the audience centered on this theme. This is a David and Goliath match. How can the poor and disenfranchised even begin to stand up to the well-oiled, well-armed U.S. government? People watch their sons, their husbands, their families shot down by police and no one is held accountable. People are not safe in their homes. The racial dimensions of mass-incarceration have soared to staggering levels. Audience members seemed to ask the same question in a number of ways: how can we fight these oppressions when we are, in fact, being weighed down by these oppressions?

We cannot do it alone and the struggle will not be easy. There is no short-cut but that cannot deter us. People who suffer abuse daily, people who have spent years in prison, old people who have been fighting for decades, students on campuses, senior citizens who have become fed up, people on the coasts and people in small towns all need to see the same truth. That kind of unity is necessary but it also does not come easy. For me and for others who are just now understanding the scope of the problems it all seems overwhelming. That is understandable but it should not stop us.

Turning to the ballot box or to a higher power may be the way that some people deal with being overwhelmed but those actions bring only short-term relief. Voting will provide an immediate fix to a problem. Turning to prayer and to the Bible may bring immediate comfort to some. Although neither speaker said this directly I came away with the idea that it may make sense for some but the problems still required more direct action.

Voting down a 20-week abortion ban or a "Personhood" amendment is an emergency measure, like triage or an ER visit. You have to stop the bleeding but that is not the end of the problem. Saying a prayer or reading the Bible may ease the pain. It may connect you to family traditions, loved ones, and memories that warm you but prayer will not end the problems of society.

Moreover the fact that some may pray while others do not should NOT divide us. There is room in the present struggle for everyone who wants real transformation and there is room in the future for everyone who wants to commit to a world of equality. Avakian is an Atheist, West is a Christian but they both see similar real-time problems and similar future possibilities. They will not be separated by their differences and neither should we.

Finally, the role of today's Democratic Party seems to be a stumbling point for some. Avakian made the point in several ways: Democrats have not offered any relief, Obama has continued the war policies of Republicans, and Hillary Clinton will be no different. From where I was sitting (in the middle of the main floor) those comments drew the most vocal responses. First, people seemed uncomfortable with talk of real politics at this event. Did he really say "Democrats"? Is he really going to talk about that now? I heard those comments from people around me. In addition some people seemed unwilling to question Obama or Clinton or Kerry. I heard a collective gasp the first time there was a critical comment about Obama. Many supported Avakian's comments but I was also aware of the other reactions. I am sensitive to this right now; I am just getting used to the idea that the Democrats will not save the day. I still remember going door to door for JFK. It is a tender spot, almost a betrayal of some kind. In my heart and in my head I know that the Democrats are not the answer but it is still hard to say it out loud. I picked up on some grumbling because I am just coming to terms with that point myself.

My three "take-away" points are all personal. I am overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, I am just coming to understand that my vote is not going to bring the change we need and that the current cast of characters is actually part of the problem, not the solution. My impressions reflect my point in a personal journey; I know that others in Riverside Church had their own experiences. I know that as time passes I will think of other points and consider other ideas. But the importance of this moment will always stay with me. Rather than being a single, isolated voter alone in a little booth I was one of hundreds, gathered from across the country, together to share questions, concerns, and ideas. Being together and sharing the possibilities is so much better than being alone and in the dark. That is probably the most important thing I took away from this experience.

(A woman who flew into New York for the Dialogue)


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