The Election Needs You, Broken Heart and All

| 9/28/2010 5:11:26 PM

Paul Rogat Loeb“OK, so your heart’s broken,” as the old song goes. So’s mine. But we have to get over it—now—and start taking action for the November election.

Granted, we’re far from where we thought we’d be when Barack Obama was elected and people danced in the streets. Change was on its way, spearheaded by Obama’s soaring words and by the millions of ordinary Americans who got involved as never before to help carry him to victory. We thought we’d finally created the opening for a historic transformation.

Now, too many of us watch morosely from the sidelines, feeling disappointed, spurned, and betrayed, wondering if anything we can do will matter. We’re angered by the gap between Obama’s lofty campaign rhetoric and his reality of half-steps and compromises, and by his failure to fight passionately for his policies. We’re angered that we dared to hope for more. We’re angered at scorched-earth Republican obstructionism, a Supreme Court inviting corporations to buy our democracy at will, and a public all too receptive to blatant lies. In response, we decide not to let our hearts get broken again by taking the risk of working for change, at least not in the electoral arena. We feel this way even though most of us have done little since Obama took office to create the kind of sustained grassroots movements that could have actually pressed him and a resistant Senate to take stronger stands.

So how do we act in the upcoming election despite dashed hopes? How do we do this in a way that builds for the future?

Granted, it’s far easier to take a stand in those moments when, in the words of poet Seamus Haney, “the longed-for tidal wave of justice” seems to rise up, and “hope and history rhyme.” Yet unless we decide that our democracy and the planet are all simply doomed, we can’t afford to succumb to cynical retreat.

We might start by acknowledging our disappointments. We don’t have to be delighted about Obama’s Presidency to get involved in the fall elections. We can talk honestly about areas where he and the Democrats have fallen short, while still making clear the major differences between their positions and those of the Republicans. In fact, people may respond even more positively if we admit our mixed feelings, some of which will reflect their own. This approach may not be quite as time-efficient as simply repeating whatever standard talking points we’re given, but it lets our conversations do justice to reality.

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