1: Above the swill
I was well received the weekend I read in Ann Arbor Michigan. The poetry slam team there had me there for the fifth of March, and a more than decent crowd showed up to see me. My hosts were thoughtful and gracious. I was very moved by the architecture and the character of the people I saw in the city. My show was on an hour after the Hillary Clinton/ Bernie Sanders debate in flint, and a crowd of University Of Michigan students slowly came in as the open mic was going on
The afternoon of the show, I decided to take a walk around the city. I usually do it before a show to clear my head, and prepare myself, but around the city, students decided to find me. My poster was on the walls of several businesses, and random people stopped me to chat. A couple students saw me outside NYPD pizza and offered me a couple of slices for my ear. Everybody I talked to before the show needed to talk to an older adult who wouldn’t yell at them. They were 20-22 year old kids who didn’t happen to be swaggering, critically acclaimed rising poetry stars. I will respect their wishes for anonymity.
I’m still processing what I heard from them; but if they are reading this, I want to tell them they had the most sophisticated and complex discussions I have heard in this Democratic primary election. The also had the most agonizing ones. In them I witnessed two camps driven to their decisions by blood, a blood that outside forces forced them to swallow. The kids voting for Clinton knew of Bill’s shoddy racial history, but told me of how Hillary spoke to the mayor of Flint, got her people on the ground, offered proposals on how to fix their water, and put pressure on the federal government; while Sanders offered them nothing but stump speeches. The kids voting for Sanders weren’t that crazy about everything the people in their voting block were doing, but came from people and families that were brutalized by NAFTA. Because of stress in regards to politics, they didn’t want to be outed for their particular beliefs.
To this day, the complicated questions that arose from the 2.5 we talked kick around in my head. The Sanders supporters I met were different than the Bernie Bros I hear a 100 times a day in the progressive echo chambers of the Pacific Northwest ; and from them I got a picture more compelling than a dank meme. Their Bernie was the first person in their lifetime to speak directly to the primary issue in their lives: the decline in their standard of living; and he did so in a forceful enough way to make people believe he wasn’t another politician. And for his-and their concerns-a great mass of the Democratic Party told them they were a bunch of children. As repulsed as I was by some Sanders supporters, I couldn’t help but be moved by the stories I was listening to; for to do the opposite was to laugh at people’s genuine pain.
The Clinton supporters had a complex relationship with Obama, Respectability Politics and Black lives matter. They also told me that Sanders supporters shoved him down their throats like he was Macklemore or Justin Timberlake to the 10th power. Like every person who had directed basic methods of inquiry in regards to Sanders this election season, they had their share of abuse stories from Bernie supporters. They were young enough have un-rosy memories of the Clintons, and weren’t closed to the idea of a radical upheaval of the system. Yet every time they directed a question about Sanders’ revolution-particularly regarding to how he’s going enact this revolution if he won’t support down ticket candidates -they were met with racially tinged meltdowns.
I don’t know if I will ever be finished processing what they told me, but two things stuck in my head. The first was that they lived in world where they couldn’t make a mistake, and they lived in that world in the exact time that they needed to make mistakes to grow. The black kids I talked to were trying to handle a tremendous amount of anger, while operating under the fear that-if they handled it wrong in a student protest-they would be known by first name basis by every angry white liberal and conservative in the country. The white kids I talked to were struggling to deal with their own narratives and how that didn’t fit into neat race and class binaries, and the fear that-if they processed what they felt in the wrong words-they would be permanently dammed by a mass of people. They were kids barely old enough to drink, and yet were expected to be fully formed as intellectuals-letter perfect every moment of every hour; and for their troubles they were saddled with six figures of debt.
2: At the Swill
The second thing I got from the discussions I had was that each one of them deserved better candidates and constituency. And here I’ll state my beliefs: ill vote blue in November to protect reproductive rights and civil rights, but if you are EXCITED about these candidates, you make me fucking nervous.
I was excited about Hillary, until I heard Hillary was excited about Kissinger. This,
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/opinion/sunday/hillary-clinton-endorsement.html and this, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2016/04/11/what-hillary-clinton-gets-right-by-being-boring/ explain a great deal of her appeal: a wonk, a scrapper willing to play every political angle to get a plausible social good instead of an implausible ideal. Yet if 90 percent of the things said about Hillary from Bernie supporters have been swamp ball, dark id, bratty white boy fable bullshit, the 10 percent that I have heard from critics of her that has been true-especially in relation to foreign policy-has convinced me that-if elected- she will gut the Obama doctrine.
On top of that, another matter with her that hurt me personally. The primary family I have in Bellingham are two gay men in their late 60’s who saw San Francisco get decimated by the AIDS crisis. They supported Hillary in 08, but her comment about the Reagans and AIDS mentally broke them. They went from potential caucusers to people who want nothing to do with her.
And i’m just about done with Bill Clinton and his tortured, abusive southern white relationship with Black America. Yes, he has had personal relationships with us, but I knew he was slick shit heel at the age of 14 and 15 when he took Sista Souljah’s words out of context and kneecapped Lani Guinier, their former friend, when she was nominated for a judgeship. I know of his charm and personal touch, but dear god, I am sick of thinking what the next several years of tri monthly racial id outburst will be with a Clinton presidency. (and this isn’t even touching on the flawed aspects of the crime bill).
But is the opposite choice any better? I came into this a election with warm feelings about Sanders. He handled the BLM protest better than I thought( only afterwards, however). I imagined that-from his speeches-we could have an audacious Rooseveltian figure. Bernie’s fundraising created more of an opportunity to bend the Democratic Party to his will than any democratic candidate since FDR; he could have a grassroots network that supports like-minded candidates that could help get his revolution going. More than any politician, I thought he had the chance to have a “gang of 15” advisory team that could be as audacious as his rhetoric.
I thought all that, and then I read about him. 10 years ago, if you had a proposed a Bernie Sanders character to be in a Joe Klein styled political novel, you would have been laughed at “ Don’t be silly. A presidential candidate who won’t give a single dime to his down ticket candidates, and in an election where they direly need it? A kook so far to the left that he unabashedly praised Castro after the student massacres, the Sandinistas after the massacres of 14,000 and the breadlines after history has show they ended up being a factor in the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people? A man who has a pathological inability to give a detail as to how he is going to enact his plans? Somebody hired a gangster rapper as his chief surrogate to get a majority-female black liberal base to vote for him. And you want to make this man a vital presidential candidate in your novel ? By god, you must hate liberals!”
And here we are. And here we also are with part of the Sanders coalition that can’t
be ignored. You don’t think there has been sexism in this election? You think Clinton supporters haven’t had any problems expressing their beliefs? Find one
who agrees with you! Never mind the avalanche of evidence, the numbing daily
social dank meme swill, and the way Elizabeth Warren was treated by Sanders
supporters. Never mind even Belligerence of Sanders who mentioned that Clinton was
“unqualified” for the presidency, and too ambitious in her goals. Find me a Clinton
supporter or anyone who has expressed a basic need of verification about Bernie
who hasn’t been met by the business end of some gas lighting and abuse? And
while you are at it, give me a detail of why I should vote for him other than
telling me how “Hillary’s a murdering bitch” or telling me that I am the next H
Rap Brown for not thinking he’s Gandhi.
After the swill?
As I was going to my show, I told the pizza group “Whoever you vote for, you will have to account for the nightmare of history in regards to the democratic party and gender. You might not think it meaningful that Stokely Carmichael gutted the networks of SNCC by saying “the place of women in the movement is prone”. You might not think that the SDS and the Weathermen fixating on taunting feminist groups then building coalitions to help end the Vietnam war doesn’t apply to you. You might not think Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver being rapists and murders should have precedence to the fact that the early Panthers had community minded had breakfast programs. You might have been told to believe all these things by your professors”
“But what you have to understand-as intellectuals and students-is that each one of those progressive movements died, and died for a reason. And whatever perspective you have, you have to come to terms with the similarities each of those movements have with the Bernie revolution. Twain said ‘history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes’, and if you don’t come to terms with that, you will be bedeviled by it.”
If you have gone this far without throwing something at your computer, you probably know where my sympathies lie. I have more disdain for Sanders and his revolution than I do for Clinton and her deeply problematic cutural demons. Many of you reading this dislike me for saying this openly, and have emailed me and said it to my face. Many of you live in bubble worlds where you can throw five fits a day at the DNC, not support democratic down ticket candidates, and not have it affect your life.
I do not. A lot of people I love do not. A lot of people in this nation do not. And because a generation of voters has had pee pants tantrums and no showed in midterm elections; a lot of people in this nation have been brutalized. Stand your ground. Stop And Frisk. The Voting rights act. Women’s reproductive rights. LGBT rights in North Carolina and several other states.
Because of this I have curdled at the rage of Bernie Bros in the Pacific Northwest. I view social media and read so many white people scream and scream at Debbie Wasserman Schultz, scream at her for not treating someone who is hemorrhaging her party on state levels with kid gloves, and I start to ask questions. What other layers of hell will we have to go through if the #bernieorbust brats do not get their toy? What other layers of hell will we have to go through if they do? How much more of my and other people’s humanity and human rights will be taken because a progressive social circle did not get their way all the time.
And for all that, I can’t get Michigan’s Sanders voters out of my head. And I shouldn’t. I didn’t see any soft core white nationalist insult comics, belligerent obsessive hipsters, or phony male feminists trying to gaslight every person without a penis in regards to the conduct of their Bernie tribe. I saw a lot of people who had so much more skin in the political game, who had every reason to vote for the candidate that they voted for, and who deserved someone who was willing to work for them as much as they were willing to work for him. Those kids deserved a New Roosevelt, a revolutionary with a work ethic as big as his mouth, and not the vengeful boomer narcissist who has turned too much of this campaign into new left street theater, and done so at one of the most inopportune times in this nations history.
I also saw people that, on so many accounts, may easily be written out of history. For the progressive movement’s pattern of making saints out of chic demagogues has a flip side: how it’s most noble believers are brutalized. The women who were ushered out of SNCC management positions. The people in the SDS and the Weathermen who truly wanted a movement against the Vietnam war. The people in the black panther party who wanted a healthy and black community free from the violent patriarchy of it’s leaders. In the corrective backlashes to their said movements, they were written away.
What will happen to those kids I saw-and the kids who have adjacent stories throughout this country-if the stanzas of history do indeed repeat here. For all the daily crowing I see about progressive politics, we are a terrible Clinton campaign or a Sanders coalition sit out away from a liberal nuclear winter. And just like the Democratic leadership council wiped progressive concerns in the name of neo-liberalism, and did so for almost two generations, a fearful Democratic party will usher out both black lives matter and the Bernie coalition for my adult life. I view the daily tantrums that come up on social media and feel that day cannot come fast enough. I think of those kids I talked to in Ann Arbor and start to cry.