For the past several months, I have watched my social networking sites become a hotbed of political expression, with folks sounding off about their favorite presidential candidates, posting arguments and critiques of the candidates they don't like, and getting into vivid sparring matches in the comments sections of one another's posts. To be sure, America is a divided country regarding many different topics, and the debates around these topics are very heated right now. The election provides a narrow-angle lens through which we call into focus some of the issues we need to examine as a nation: poverty, wealth, the role of women, race, criminal justice, unemployment, healthcare, debt, international relations, social welfare...To look through the lens of this election, one might nearly be convinced by the media frenzy that these candidates will somehow turn the tide in one direction or another about any or all of these issues in a lasting and meaningful way, and that it is absolutely essential that we all make certain to get ready for BIG CHANGES (in one direction or another).
These issues did not begin with this election, nor will they end in November. Nor will they end during or after the next four-year term of presidency. Nor will they even be resolved by any single American president. When ground is gained on these issues, it is typically gained by the people, not by the president. Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. Woodrow Wilson did not confer the vote upon women. Richard Nixon did not make abortion legal. In fact, even a cursory peek at American history shows us that these issues have ALWAYS been difficult and contentious among the American people. There has never been a time in the history of the United States when these issues have not been heavily debated, in smaller or larger circles. In fact, even if we look at the history of First Nations peoples, the founding fathers, or our widely varied Ancestors of many lands, we will find that most of these issues have a longer history of creating social outcry and polarization, globally. Therefore, it bears consideration that a lot of the political hoopla we see about what might happen if so-and-so gets elected is a strategic inflammation of the American public that benefits media outlets, those who thrive on campaign funds as a profession, and the government itself, in various ways. It is my personal opinion that it is naive and ineffective for anyone to position this election as the ultimate battle between good and evil, yet many people speak, write, and opine as though this were so. But instead of fighting about candidates in our desk chairs, why are we not out on the streets, in the boardrooms, and getting ourselves into office? Why are we not voting with our feet, our dollars, and our lives about the issues that matter to us, especially when that is actually the only thing that has created lasting change in this country? When food justice activist Vandana Shiva recently visited the US and was asked what words of wisdom she had for the Occupy movement, she answered, "Occupy your life." Justice starts with what we eat, what we wear, where we work, what we choose and refuse to be complicit in. Justice does not actually start with the president.
This election is not the be-all, end-all. Whoever gets elected will do some great things and some horrible things, as presidents always do. Whoever gets elected will definitely shape some movement in the longer historical procession of these issues, but will not be the final voice in any of them. Time will march on, fighting will continue, and these issues will remain problematic for at least another 10 generations, if not longer. I'm not saying you should not have a preference of candidate. I have a preference. I have a decision I have made to vote based on the options available to me and their likely outcomes. Preferences are free, and everyone should feel free to have one. More importantly, everyone should feel motivated to exercise their right to vote based on their preference, because the act of voting is democracy in action, and the act of voting is one piece of the current political puzzle that should remain even in a huge overhaul of how our government works. But I am also saying that regardless of who you might favor as a candidate, there are actually no wholesale villains or angelic saviours in this year's election. That kind of black-and-white dichotomy doesn't do us any good, and in fact might hamper the real potential of creating lasting beneficial change regarding any of the big issues. In other words, we might need to shift our perspective away from the either/or, good/evil dichotomy in order to actually improve things. We might have to replace ideology with humanity at the center of these topics in order to achieve even a modicum of resolution.
Resolution does not mean we all have to agree on everything. It does mean we have to loosen our minds around things a bit, seek to look at them in smaller parts, work on the smaller parts more simply and reasonably together as a way of establishing lowest common denominators. It means we have to acknowledge that, beyond this election and beyond these issues, we will all still be here, having to wake up and go to work together, sit at tables together, gather in temples and other public and private spaces together, and figure out how to still belong to the family of humanity regardless of who voted for whom.
The big issues are so pervasive, painful, enduring, and powerfully motivating because they represent basic questions of freedom, worthiness, autonomy, ownership/territoriality, and in some cases, spiritually constructed beliefs. There is no way that all of humanity will ever reach agreement on these issues, and in seeking that kind of wide scale agreement, our arguing, persuasion, and coercion place the ideology over actual humanity. There is no way in this country there will ever be a complete 100% agreement around, say, abortion. Although many of us feel that this is a no-brainer, and that naturally all women should be completely free to have full authority over their own bodies, there are many people who argue that a woman may have full authority over her own body, but has no rights over the body contained within her body. And then the religious zealots get to work, quoting scriptures, launching fundraisers, carrying shocking and disturbing signs, screaming threats, and killing abortion doctors. They don't actually care about the worth of the bodies and lives of the women they are terrorizing or the doctors they have murdered. And then the scientific zealots get to work, trying to prove what constitutes a body by dissecting bodies in a lab, not actually caring that much about the bodies they are dissecting in order to figure out when a body becomes a body. And then the politicians get to work, trying to convince the public about what constitutes a body, what constitutes an abortion, what constitutes sentience, what constitutes the right to live, what constitutes pregnancy...and around and around they go while the actual bodies of many of their constituents are ridden with curable diseases if only people could get proper healthcare. But alas, the politicians have now spent all their money on a campaign about abortion, or a new bill about oil, or a war, and there are no funds left for healthcare, so people die. Meanwhile, women still find ways to have abortions. And some die from that. And very few of the arguing zealots, scientists, and politicians care enough about the bodies of those dead women to stop arguing about why they died and try to extend compassion toward those who still suffer. The act and cost of engaging this eternal debate renders inhumane results, not actually blamable on any single position within the debate. How might we occupy the abortion issue outside of the political sphere? It's not actually just about abortion at all. It's about whether or not we ACTUALLY value LIFE- the lives of the women who cannot afford another child because of finances or health; the children who spend their lives unwanted, under-served, and lacking in options.
What would happen if we began to carefully, mindfully peel away the layers of what we think is ideologically right and wrong about any given issue, and instead examined the naked evidence of the issue itself? Can we do that? Or are we too blinded by our ideologies? I once had a purple-faced man on the street scream and spit in my face that JESUS LOVES YOU, YOU HORRIBLE WITCH. He could not even see me, because he was so incensed that I had respectfully declined his offer of being saved. I had explained that I belonged to the Earth, not to Jesus, but that I respected his right to believe whatever he chose. He could not see that I was a real live person standing in front of him. He only saw me as an obstacle to the dominance of his ideology. Honestly, why would he care if I was saved and we were in heaven together someday when he could not even stop for a moment to see me as a person worthy of respectful treatment in this Now moment? In short, he didn't care about me at all as a human. He cared more about my soul as fodder for his ideology. He cared more about his ideology than about actual humanity. This choice to place ideology over humanity is the root of many of these problems we see played out on the big screen of global history. I feel critical about that trend, and skeptical about its perceived efficacy. Namely, placing ideology over simple humanity has not actually worked yet, anywhere, ever, to improve the lives of real people who are suffering. What does alleviate suffering is for one person or several people, regardless of ideology, to reach out a hand and make an effort to help the other person(s) standing right in front of them.
I feel this same level of critique about the heightened anger, stress, and ideological conflict surrounding this election, as well. I have a few friends, both actual friends and "friends" who I do not really know except via social networking, who are planning to vote for Mitt Romney. They post about it. They feel strongly about it. They will not change their views for me, nor will I change my views for them. Occasionally they come along and post snarky comments about their views in response to my own views. I do not see the point in this, so I do not participate in it, nor do I think it will solve anything for us to argue about our views in ideological ways on the internet. Instead, I take control of my focus and my own actions. I make the choice to focus on thinking about the reasons I care about these people, why I love them in the first place, how much I will still love them after this election is over. I choose to be love, and I plan to be love rather than planning my next argument with them. I know that if there came a day when their ideologies failed them (and for some of them, this may happen), my love will be an enduring force that transcends ideological concerns, and I will be there to reach out a hand to help them. I am fully aware that these people might not feel the same way about me. But I don't choose to hold love at the center of my life because I expect the same from others. I do it because it is the most human thing I can think of doing in any given moment. I do it because I would not be able to look at myself in a mirror and feel whole if I didn't. I do it because I lead by doing, not so much by arguing. In setting an example of love beyond the boundaries of ideology, I embrace the idea that there may be a day when we are all free from these ideological conflicts, and that love is at the center of that day.
So, as we go forward toward the election, what might happen if we chose to lead with love, even to argue with love, rather than merely lashing out from behind the veil of ideology? What might be different if we choose to be humans first, before being members of a political party? Whenever I start to feel frustrated about the possible future should this one get elected, or should that bill go to Congress, I exercise my preference by voting, I continue to do as much good as I can right here right now, and I dream of a better future where love is the center. I act like I would act if that future was already here. I know that the more people who do this, the more likely we are to manifest that future of love beyond ideology. I don't necessarily think we all need to agree on everything- that feels impossible. But by even taking a moment to center love before we launch an argument, post a comment, or get angry about someone else's views, we are that much closer to agreement on the most important thing we all share: the naked truth of our mutual humanity with all of its suffering and potential for good in this Now moment.