Something I’ve hadbookmarked for a while that Jacob wrote back during the primaries. Go read and then come back.
Because what that looks like to me is a lot of the same thing, no matter if the word is “war” or “gay” or “abortion”: the second you let those words take over your brain, you’re letting them win. And if you read this blog at all, you know “they” are nobody you want to mess with, because they don’t really exist, because they’re just us, from the other side. Which is why I’m looking forward to the rise of the next Rush Limbaugh. Which is why, dear reader, forgive me — I voted for Bush.
Why? To make it worse. To get us to the point that our 2008 president will be Hillary or Obama. To help wake us up. To bring on the jackboots and the black masks and the closed-circuit televisions; so that FOX News’s particular brand of IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH would spread to every station. To get V For Vendetta made. To scare everybody under the age of thirty.
I’ve been kicking this around in my head for a while, for a few days now, as this nagging sense of depression and adrenaline hangover takes over and my Denver buzz finally wears off. I’ve been trying to figure out what happens next, because this already feels like Wednesday of next week over here, is how tired I am and how tired I know all of you are.
And all I’ve come up with is that it isn’t enough.
It isn’t enough, that we’re gonna get it done this time. It isn’t enough to elect Barack Obama president of the United States. (Howfucking crazy is it, to say that, that we are that fucked, that electing a black dude with a Muslim name to the highest office in the land on a platform of hope and change is not gonna be momentous enough to magically fix the world? I mean it, tell me, how fucked are we that this is the case?) It isn’t enough to say the pendulum’s swung back again, and it isn’t enough to say we get itnow. Now does then no good at all.
It isn’t enough. I want it to be. I’m tired, you’re tired, everybody’s tired. The country’s tired. The world is tired of us tying ourselves up in knots and demanding they pay attention to our little psychodramas; France and Germany are like, “We havestuff going on here if you don’t mind giving us a sec, dude.” Everybody’s tired and I for one want casting that ballot Tuesday to be enough. So that I can say okay, done, did my job, put my work in, wore outtwo keyboards now on this laptop and the straps on two carry-on bags and the soles of four pairs of shitty Target ballerina flats, now I get to go and lay down and wait for things to get better. Now we slap a fresh coat of paint on this broken-ass country and we get to start over, right? Right?
Now I get to stop worrying about the innocent people we’ve locked up in Guantanamo, and the guilty who still have no rights?
Now I get to stop thinking about the people who died in their attics, on their rooftops, in the floodwaters when the hurricanes roared through, whose former homes are still scarred, still broken, and still in such danger?
Now I get to stop seeing on the TV every night (not on the news, not ever on the news of course, but in commercials) people who are actually dying because they can’t afford medicine, losing their homes because they can’t afford doctors?
Now I get to stop thinking that if I ever do manage to get pregnant, my child has zero chance of going to college because I have zero chance of affording it for him or her, if tuition keeps rising?
Now I get to stop remembering the photograph I saw, of a woman lying prone on her soldier husband’s grave, because he went to war and didn’t come home?
I keep thinking that on Tuesday it’ll be enough, to vote for hope instead of fear, for truth instead of lies, for help instead of hurt. I keep thinking what a wonderful thing it will be, all these people, from the 109-year-old daughter of a slave to the 18-year-old first-time voter, coming together to say what they want with their bodies and their voices and their votes.
But it isn’t enough. It can’t be enough. We can’t give ourselves a pass starting on Nov. 5 the way I think we might have four years ago. I keep thinking about that campaign, about four years ago at this time, how sure I was that we were gonna turn back the tide, how that was going to be the break that would make it okay, a statement, loud and clear: YOU DO NOT DO THIS IN OUR NAME YOU BASTARDS NOT IN OUR NAME NOT IN MY NAME NO. And everything that’s happened since has been informed by the conviction that we as a country had a chance to stop it and we didn’t. It isn’t enough that on Tuesday we’ll stop it from getting worse.
Every coffin come home on a plane in four years was one that didn’t have to pass this way, every bill you opened from the hospital that only sort-of fixed you was one that didn’t have to be this high. Everyone shot, everyone starved, everyone lost, everyone scared, it isn’t enough that it’s almost over becauseit’s not almost over. It’ll never be over. And over doesn’t mean it never happened in the first place.
The dead are not less dead yesterday so we can have a better president today. The imprisoned are not set free upon Inauguration Day. You do not do a good thing and get to put down your weight. One good deed doesn’t clear you; two wrongs don’t make a right but a right doesn’t cancel out a wrong, either. Absolution isn’t cereal, it’s not something you can buy, no matter how much you stack up on the checkout counter. I don’t believe in retroactively assigning the purpose of the Bush years’ suffering as getting us to Obama, because it feels cheap, like we’re letting ourselves off the hook. The dead are still dead. The fires are still burning. The prison doors remain shut. And we are not absolved.
I’m not trying to be a downer here or call anybody fired up about Obama (hell, the minute I get some sleep I’ll be fired up about Obama again my own self) a chump or a sucker. It will be wonderful that given the chance, we didn’t continue the bullshit artistry we’ve been practicing on ourselves the past eight years. It will be wonderful to say, now we get it. It just won’t make it any less horrible that there was a time when we ever, everdidn’t get it. To paraphrase some dead Christian bastard whose books I read when I can’t sleep which lately is all the time, the pain then has to be part of the happiness now. Otherwise it’s an excuse, and there is no excuse for the past four years. None. Not even in the hindsight of an Obama victory. Not even then. It isn’t enough.
Jacob goes on in the piece I quoted above:
If I could go back, I wouldn’t do it. Understand that I was voting in Houston, TX — no matter who it was I voted for, I was voting for Nader — so there wasn’t a measurable civic result. And my aims were accomplished. But if I could go back, I wouldn’t do it, and the reason for that is that there are enough bad guys in the world already, put there by cruel circumstance and scarred history and greed, and posing as one of them, just to get the best out of everybody else, isn’t worth the cost. I would tell myself to shout, and beat against the wall, and scream in the face of anything bigger than myself. I would explain over and over again to myself that people don’t need your intentions or your love, they need your strength, and your bravery, and that no matter how little difference it made, the price you pay for giving in takes more of a toll on you than anybody will ever see.
So what’s the answer, if this isn’t? I’ve spent the past week in a state of advanced exhaustion, the kind where you stop in the middle of a sentence because you can’t remember what you were about to say or who you were about to say it to and that’s AFTER three cups of hot chocolate made with espresso instead of milk. I am dragging, every day, from the back door out and home again, with the effort of keeping my pessimistic shield of We’re Gonna Blow This Somehow raised against the world. I’m an obsessive planner; I believe saying things like, “It’ll happen” is what you do when you’re too fucking lazy to make an outline, so I’ve been planning. What to do if McCain wins this. A lot of open threads, maybe a stockpile of money and warm socks in a box in a safe place somewhere. I’ve been building a mental bunker, and it’s been wearing me out. The year is dying. There are yard signs all over, in piles of leaves, and a sign in my window I look at every morning.
The fight to keep up against the rising tide of hope is too much. The fight to stay afraid is too much. Saying it isn’t enough is too much. That Obama sticker won’t get me into heaven but neither will it send me to hell so on balance, I’m putting it on and kicking through a pile of leaves on my way to the polling place. I don’t have any other choice. The point isn’t that voting for Obama isn’t the answer, it’s that it isn’t the whole one. We won’t be done, after Tuesday. We won’t get to kick back. We cannot undo what has been done in our name. But if it isn’t enough to hope, it isn’t enough to despair, either; what we can do is what’s in front of us.
If I went back to my first presidential election, in 2000, at twenty-two, I’d tell him I was right: Bush would make things worse. So much worse than that little guy could ever imagine. And 9/11, and the war, would change us all so much, and change the shape and character of our country so much, that it would appear as a singularity. That after the war, in this new time, when all the words we speak are words of hope, that I would be unrecognizable to him, that the world, that the country he loved, would be entirely different places, tired, wiped out and scarred by fear and violence and anger. And I would tell him to be brave, and to be bold. I would tell him about the French Revolution, and Charlie Wilson, and all the angry, beautiful art and men and women that the war and this darkness would make, of all of us.
And then I would hold him as fiercely as I could, and tell him it always, inevitably swings back the other way: that it’s always already changing. That the best we can hope for is to be strong, and to be present and aware, and keep the balls going in the air as long as it takes, to learn what we can from the downtimes and remember them for the uptimes, or risk destruction on either side. I’d tell him about war: how it’s always awful, but like most awful things, you’re better off adjusting to it than denying that it exists, or that it will always exist.
“It takes an ass to fill every seat,” I’d say, because that’s what I always say: “Just make sure what side of the aisle you want to be photographed on.” I would tell him that we are all on the anvil, and that every second that passes marks us, and that — Hillary and Obama and Gore willing, the electoral college willing — eventually we’d find our way back to peace, and find ourselves in an America where the only word we can agree on right now, is change.
It isn’t enough, but it isn’t nothing, either. We won’t be done on Tuesday; maybe the point is that we’ll never be done. You do one hard thing and you fail, that’s kind of easier than winning, because failure means you get to go home and lick your wounds a while. Success means you have to keep going. It means you have to keep moving, you have to keep fighting, you have to keep pushing because in this job we’ve assigned ourselves there’s no final deadline. There’s no final anything. The dead are still dead, and maybe the only way they absolve us is if we do not seek their forgiveness. If we don’t pretend we’ve made it okay. If we just recognize that “okay” doesn’t mean what it used to, doesn’t mean what we think it means.
It’s isn’t enough.
Maybe we hear that as encouragement, instead of rebuke. Maybe we hear that, as the country has begun to hear it, as hope instead of hatred. I say all the time in my meatspace life that you do not lose people because you ask too much of them, you lose them because you ask too little, you put a task in front of them that they do not consider worthy of their great strength. The task shifts; the closer you get to the mountaintop the louder the wind howls.
You pull me up, I’ll pull you.