I don’t want to get to political in this space but this has been on my mind so I am sharing.
If you know me at all there is no question which side of the political line I fall on. I live in Chicago. I have worked in the arts most of my life. I was spawned from a mother who is a fire-breathing Democrat and had me cheering “Dukasas! Dukasas!” when I was in kindergarten (my first political chants clearly fell on deaf ears).
Four years ago I stood, on an unexpectedly balmy November evening in Chicago, in Grant Park surrounded by a few friends and millions of strangers as we watched the election returns roll in. By 10pm we were cheering because we had a new President. It was (regardless of which political party you were affiliated with) a historic moment in our Nations history and I was there in the center of it all, with the Chicago skyline as a backdrop. It will forever remain in my heart as one of the best nights of my life.
But I want to be clear, it wasn’t just an amazing night because I was a Democrat or because “my guy” won. It was amazing because I found myself filled with such hope. Such eagerness. Such pure patriotic pride.
Four years later, a few nights before the dreaded first Tuesday, I lay in my bed, eyes wide open full of fear. Full of anger. Devoid of all hope. The onslaught of negative campaigning (from both parties) filling my TV, my websites, my Facebook news feed was eating me up inside. It was such a profoundly drastic difference from how I felt four years ago and it simply broke my heart. As I lay there staring at the ceiling I thought to myself “there are people on the other side of the line, a line we have so violently painted between us, who I know are just as afraid as I am.”
This line. This intense division that has been created. It’s what saddens me the most.
Obviously we all know how the election turned out, and clearly I am one of the people who breathed a sigh of relief (and did some cheering), however there is a huge portion of this country who did not. And despite the fact that I felt a sense of victory and pride that evening, it was nothing like what I felt four years ago. I am still sad.
I am sad because I don’t want this country to be divided in the way that it is. The sorts of horrible adjectives we are giving to one another depending on if we vote blue or red does not sit well with me. In the end aren’t we all people? Don’t we all desire to love, to be loved? To be healthy? To communicate our thoughts and feelings to one another? To witness beautiful sunrises and sunsets? To stare out at an expansive ocean into a horizon that depicts endless unlimited possibility? To climb into a bed with clean sheets? To cheer loudly with reckless abandon for our favorite team? To laugh at a good movie?
You see what I mean?
We are all people, and I do believe that at our core we are more the same than we are different. But we live in a time of such finger-pointing. Of such labeling. Where information is pushed into our eyeballs and eardrums at such a frightening pace that we don’t even have time to process it, ask questions and form an objective opinion. Instead we are forced to make knee-jerk reactions and defend. What happened to the discourse? Where did the art of objective debating go? I though the whole purpose of a two-party system was to have differing ideas but to be able to come together, discuss, dissect and ultimately solve (which will of course require compromise from both sides) the nations problems?
(I should note that Rachel Maddow basically repeated this sentiment in a fantastic election recap. Google it. For real)
Now its all about proving the other guy wrong. Of saying No just because he said Yes. Not because he might have a point and you might have a point and two heads are better than one so why don’t you just TALK to each other for a second and work it out. Like in preschool when you were in the sandbox and little Jimmy had the toy you wanted, and you grab it out of his hands without even asking if you could borrow it. So your sweet teacher informs you that isn’t how we get what we want, instead you and little Jimmy need to work together to share the toy and then maybe, just maybe, you can build and even bigger sand castle than you ever could on your own. Then you go inside for snack time and life is good.
We are quite simply The Divided States of America.
If we ever want to be strong again I feel the only way is to fix this division. It seems unbelievably daunting and hopeless right now. I want so badly for the change to happen, but admittedly I don’t have the audacious hope that I once had. That makes me scared. That makes me sad. Very very sad.
If someone asked me how to fix the political system in this country, I am not sure I would have an answer, but here are some thoughts. To be clear none of these opinions of mine are based on a ton of research. They really are just what I feel, in my heart. I am not an economist and I remember very little of what I learned during AP US History. I am sure someone could point out all the reasons why my theories are wrong, or detrimental to society or just plain ignorant. But if I ruled the world, these are the changes I would make.
Term limits for Senators and Representatives. Why is it that the president has term limits but they don’t? I don’t know about you but I don’t trust a person (donkey, horse or whatever animal you are) who has been in politics for the majority of their life. How can they have any true sense of what the common man in going through? Why do Senators have six years terms and house members have two-year terms? We have set ourselves up for failure already because this means that the minute a member of the house is elected they immediately have to start thinking about fundraising for their re-election. So where are there heads? They can’t actually be in the room because they are worried about acquiring donors and not doing anything bold to get themselves noticed or in trouble. Meanwhile Senators sit cozy for six years? Something is amiss with this system. All members of congress should all have term limits.
Campaign Finance Reform: It sickens me to my core when I think about the amount of money spent on getting someone in, or more often out, of a political office. Can you imagine the amount of good this money could do if directed elsewhere? Days before the election the East coast was ravaged by Sandy, just think what those billions of dollars could have done for the relief efforts. Instead it was used to slander people’s character, make false promises and report half-truths. We live in a digital world where social media affects all of our lives. There are so many resourceful ways to get a message out there for little or no money. politicians should be more creative and spend less. In fact there should be a limit to how much they can spend. I don’t care if they have to do it old school and break out the poster board and Crayola’s a la 6th grade. But seriously these multi-year campaigns and multi-million dollar spending has got to stop.
Campaign Length: Six weeks. Seriously I think all we need is six weeks to make a decision. Six weeks before a primary and six weeks before a general election. That’s the time you get to make your case. It really is plenty. Especially now that we live in an age of 24 hour news. The fact that we have been discussing this election since 2010 is , well…it’s just annoying if nothing else. I went on CNN the day after the election and already at the top of the page was “ELECTION 2016” Seriously people? Can we give it, I don’t know 24 hours?!? There really is a lot happening in this world, let’s focus on those stories. There are people making amazing medical discoveries. Teachers inventing creative ways to inspire learning. Artists sculpting their next masterpiece. Children winning spelling bees. Let’s tell these stories. Lets focus on some good things. On some human things. On these ties that binds. I don’t care about your political insight about a campaign that is four years away. Can we live for right now? Can we do that?
End the Electoral College: I understand there is a theory that popular votes are too easy to buy and influence, but I have a problem with the system as it currently stands. Right now we live in a country, a FREE country, and not everyone’s Presidential vote counts. Yes when it comes to local government matters along with state Representative and Senate races your vote does count, but when it comes to the President they only get your vote if your State is on “your side” So my Democratic parents living in Kentucky never get to see their vote go to their candidate. My Republican in-laws in Maryland never do either. I have an inherent problem with this. If you are a citizen, your vote should count. The Electoral College was created a long time ago, it’s an archaic and antiquated system that no longer serves us. We have put men on the moon, we can harness the sun’s energy to power our houses, we can do all of our banking from our mobile phones. Times have changed. We have changed. Why are we still using a system that was created back when the Chicken Pox could wipe out a town? I recognize it may not be as simple as simply switching to a popular vote, but lets put our heads together and come up with a solution.
Let’s put our heads together and come up with a solution. I beg of you.
I sincerely hope these next four years show us that people can reach across party lines and make decisions which will make our country strong again. Both sides will have to bend. Both sides will have to listen. Admittedly I am doubtful that anything will change. However I am going to choose right now not to live in fear. It’s not going to serve me in any way. I have a voice and I just exercised it right here. In my own little space, and that is exciting. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t but perhaps we can dialogue about it. Perhaps we can all be open to some new ways of thinking. We all have voices. I encourage you all to share yours in your own way.
I mean hey, check out these guys. They used their voices and ultimately got what they wanted.
(During times of political tumult and strife a good laugh can go far).