Friday, September 19, 2008

Cynic with a sign

So today I went to a rally for Obama on Temple campus. He wasn't there, but Howard Dean was, along with Mayor Nutter (whom I not-so-lovingly refer to as M. Nuts).

Political speeches are mostly all the same, but I've got a warm spot in my heart for Howard. I volunteered for Dean back in 2004, and wrote piles of emails to the DNC begging for his chairmanship. I still think sometimes that he would've been a better general election candidate than Kerry, but I absolutely do NOT want to argue that point here. Suffice it to say, it was nice for me to be able to shake his hand and tell him that I supported him four years ago and have him say thanks and look like he meant it.

The girl behind me in line actually said that she wasn't going to vote--I think I terrified her when I turned around and asked her why. I doubt I was very nice.

But what I really wanted to write about was the guy outside the rally with a sign. The gathering was in a big room in the student center, and of course there were a couple of protesters.

This particular guy had a sign that said "Billionaires for Obama" and had a list of corporate logos from companies that have donated to the Obama campaign. His friend had a sign that said "Vote McCain/Obama, More of the Same."

Now, they had a point to some degree. I obviously don't agree that McCain and Obama are the same. There are plenty of substantial differences at this point that I didn't see back in 2000 between Bush and Gore. But to be fair, back in 2000 I was the same age that these kids probably are now, and it was easier to be rebellious.

On the way out of the rally, I asked the guy with the sign what his message was. He said "I'm encouraging people to vote for McCain or Obama!" I asked again, "But what's your message?"

He didn't have an answer.

Now, I'm a huge fan of the First Amendment, as everyone here probably knows, and I absolutely support your right to protest, and occasionally, as my friend Denise says, "To make a total ass of yourself in public."

And I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Not only that, I wrote Op-Eds and donated money and slapped Nader stickers up around town.

But this guy, today? He wasn't encouraging a Nader vote. He wasn't encouraging a McKinney vote or a Bob Barr vote or a Ron Paul vote or even for people to write his own name in there.

His sole purpose in being there was, apparently, to point out to people like the girl in line behind me, already inclined not to vote because "it's pointless," that they have company in their cynicism. He was just there to be a cynic with a sign.

At that point, I wanted to ask him, like Ren does constantly, "But what's the plan?"

I mean, I probably agree with most of what that guy thinks. But at this point, I'm going to go with trying to change what I can actually change. And I'm not just standing outside with a sign. I'm walking door to door, knocking, calling, donating, writing, working my tail off to change things.

Now, maybe that kid with the sign is working that hard on something. He certainly spent time making his sign and standing outside and probably being subject to much more obnoxious comments than my simple question.

But at some point, I think protest and pseudoanarchism is just a cover for cynicism, so you don't have to get involved in a race that you have any chance of winning.

I knew Nader wasn't gonna come even close to winning back in 2000. Yeah, we were gunning for that 5% of the vote, which we didn't get. But I didn't have anything invested in election day. Not like 2004, where I volunteered for Dean and then for Kerry and spent all election day knocking on strangers' doors.

And not like this year, where I've traveled farther and given more hours to Obama from the primaries on.

When you put that much into it, there's the risk that you fail. That you wake up the day after election day feeling like you've had your heart broken. It's easier not to lose.

And it's certainly easier just to sit back in your safe middle-class white life and not think about the real humans that suffer while you wait for perfection in order to what, take maybe an hour out of your busy middle-class white life to VOTE?

Howard Dean, at the rally, said "You get a D for voting. That's the minimum effort." And he's right.

These kids today had the energy and the motivation to show up with signs to protest outside of the rally: GOOD. But when asked, they couldn't tell me what they wanted to come of it?

It makes me think of the All song:

You're tired of being pushed around
Want to tear the system down?
Hey bro - let's go!
Just quit your bitchin' about the situation

It's not that tough and it's not enough to point your finger
And I don't know why you should listen to me 'cause I'm just a singer
Your open mouth don't make you tough
I see you and I'll call your bluff

What are you for?
I want to know, why don't you tell me so?
What are you for?
Quit giving me negative, what makes you want to live?
What are you for?