Living in California and following national politics, whether it‘s the Occupy Movement or the presidential election, feels like standing on the sidelines. I know that we have our own issues here, our own politicians, and elections. We had a hell of an Occupy Movement in Oakland, which some observers have called the last radical city in America. Maybe it is. And maybe what happens in California politics is important, but it doesn’t feel that way to me, perhaps because I’m an ex-New Yorker living in exile on the Pacific coast, thousands of miles from Washington, D.C.
I tuned into the 2012 campaign and I stayed tuned. I watched the debates and I followed the returns on Election Day, but I didn’t lose sight of daily life. I harvested tomatoes in the field, celebrated the Day of the Dead with Mexican farm workers, and watched football on TV. At least a week before the nation voted en masse, it seemed clear that Obama would win. The Republicans kept telling themselves that they had it in the bag. They kept saying it over and over again, and they paid a lot of money to tell the whole country that they’d won and that Romney would be in the White House. They said it so often that they came to believe it themselves.
That’s what happens to people in positions of power. They believe their own lies. They lose touch with reality. They think that everyone else shares their view of the world. I know that about 57,468,000 Americans voted for Romney. That’s a lot of people. I believe that most of them were duped, that they voted against their own self-interests, that they bought the big lie that government is the enemy of the people and that the free market is the answer to everything.
In the weeks before the election, what I heard from friends and neighbors is that the nation is terribly divided. Some of them even fear a civil war in this country. I don’t think that likely, not in the foreseeable future, but on-going low-level insurgency seems likely. From where I stand in California, the nation looks like a big battleground. The Republicans are already regrouping and planning how they can retake the White House. Like the big bankers, who haven’t changed their ways of operating, the big politicians haven’t changed theirs, either.
I’ve taken part in elections since 1968, when I didn’t cast a ballot, but “voted in the streets.” I have cast a ballot in every election since then and I have never felt that this country has had a president I could be proud of and support one hundred percent. In my lifetime, I don’t expect there will ever be a man or woman of the people and for the people in the White House. In 1968, I thought that there would be a social, economic, and political revolution in this country. I no longer do. I think there will be profound change brought about by technology, by capitalism, and by climate change and natural catastrophes. As a nation, we will be more and more vulnerable to wind, air, fire, and the quaking of the earth itself.
I believe that protesting and organizing and activism are still essential and necessary. Too often I have seen radicals talk to themselves using their own language. Too many radicals don’t like the American people. But if there is ever to be radical change, someone, somewhere is going to have to start talking to working people and talking to them in ways they can understand. It takes a lot of courage and patience to reach out to working people, more courage and more patience than it takes to occupy a building in the heart of Oakland or any other city. Electoral politics is in large part the name of the game in the United States; if you're not in that game in some way, shape, or form even if it’s a third party you’re not in the ballpark.
Is anybody out there ready to play ball?
Jonah Raskin is the author of "The Radical Jack London" and biographies of Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsberg.