Watching the debt insanity these past few weeks, I've had one question ringing over and over again in my head: What do we do? Not what kind of short-term lobbying and marches and calls will save our economy. The question for me has been about the longer term: What do you do when your government can't govern?
As a Gen Y-er, a product of hip hop culture and a young person in this economy, I've been conditioned to determine my own destiny, and, for all intents and purposes, hustle. So the answer is simple: When your government can't govern, you govern yourselves.
I'm no longer electing representatives to create a vision and run the country on my behalf, since it appears that on average, they can't. No, instead I'm dreaming my own vision and electing people to work for me, doing what I tell them to do. That shift in outlook and on our role as master not servant in the political process, is a change both in the theory and in practice of our engagement. Fundamentally, it shifts how we view the election and what we do after.
It makes me confident that if I have a vision for a country -- maybe one in which education is affordable, people earn a living wage, health care is free, people pays their fair share of taxes, the economy works for everyone, etc. -- I have effectively written a job description that I now have the power, with my friends, family and community, and generation to hire for. And it is then our responsibility to be the boss and ensure that the job gets done.
That is the admirable confidence of the tea party. They shouted loudly and proudly "We want our country back!" And as frightening and divisive as their rhetoric has been, their belief that they have a stake in the future of this country and therefore a right to help determine its direction is dead on. Unfortunately their swag is unmatched on our side. Most progressive leaders don't effectively represent the constituents that will soon make up the majority of this country: young and/or of color. And conservatives know that when we do rise up and take our place as leaders, our sheer numbers, if put behind a bold progressive vision, can cause a true revolution.
That's why over the past year as Democratic pundits, operatives, intellectuals and organizations ran around fretting about Obama's approval ratings and whether or not they had been invited to the White House, Republicans were plotting out a 2012 strategy that has nothing to do with the issues. Instead of trying to win the young, black, and brown votes they focused on making it harder for us to vote at all. A "war on voting" is well underway, with Voter ID laws that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, disenfranchise huge numbers of people of color, the young and the elderly, popping up in states across the country. Republicans unleashed a targeted and deliberate strategy to chip away at a person's ability to vote, bit by bit. Why?
Because they understand that a vote is more than a show of support for someone or something. They get that a vote is more than a moment to claim your identity, raise your voice, make yourself heard, or any of the other corny, clichéd slogans that we hear around election time. They understand that a vote can be an indication that we're hiring who we need... to do the job that we want... for the country that we deserve.
Knowing that what's at stake in this election isn't the possibility of another year with a black president but instead the opportunity to make government work for the rest of us, should be enough to get us to push past all of the hurdles, help folks get their IDs, mobilize, turn out and do what we should have been doing all along: governing our nation.
The past two years, especially the debt ceiling debate, should have taught us a valuable lesson: Doing the work to hire someone -- knocking on doors, going to concerts, wearing t-shirts, making viral videos, and checking a box -- is a complete waste of time if you don't stick around long enough to train them, give them their marching orders, and monitor them.
So for me, Election 2012 -- and every single day afterwards -- is about taking back my power to move my country and my community in the right direction. "Hope" comes from my faith, not my politics, and I'm exhausted with the idea of "change." No more slogans, no more buzzwords. I'm tired of looking for "leaders" -- new crowned princes and princesses who are able to bundle Democratic dollars, make rich people love them, talk about young people and black folks and poor folks, and then do the same old same old. We ARE the leaders. And it's pretty simple: our vote is a powerful statement that from now on, we run this, in spite of every effort that's been made to prevent us from doing so. So let's gear up to do just that.
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