I took the day off yesterday. I wasn’t physically ill and wasn’t on vacation. I didn’t have other plans. I specifically took time to reflect on the state of my country, my government and my society in light of the first anniversary of an event that I consider to be the single most vile and violent attack on what we all used to hold dear since 9/11/2001. And reflect I did on how far we have fallen and all that has been lost in the last 365 days.
Now I’m not going to lie; I have never voted for a member of the Republican party in my life. I was raised in a family where 100% of my family income came from public service at the federal and local level and several of my past jobs have been with government at various levels. The concept of public service in any form resonates so deeply for me, in my soul, that the classic Republican party policies of “running government like a business” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” have just not been relatable to me. Rather I have been called by messages of “we’re all in this together” and that the government has a vital role to play in setting the playing field for the rules of society and the economy and representing “the public” in conflicts within those systems. But I have always respected those from the other side and I truly appreciate hearing, learning and gaining understanding of other’s opinions and perspectives. In exchange, I freely offer mine and every once in a while, I have been known to build new forms of understanding with friends I have who spend most of their time on the other side of the aisle.
Over the last several years, political-based violence has been escalating across the board. Six years ago this month, armed extremists took over several office buildings in the SE part of my state at the federally-run Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. You can read details of the incident here. This occurred prior to my having my autism diagnosis, which is important to say because I had no frame to explain my reaction to this event. Much of what I remember is that I experienced extreme mental and physical stress and pain for the duration of the occupation, knowing that those who were there were actively desecrating several sacred Native American sites and artifacts and damaging nesting areas for endangered bird species. My personal spiritual connections to the earth, land and water, especially to that which is publicly owned, the natural wonders, set aside within the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture and within the National Park Service (created by a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt), reminded me in a very visceral way.
And I will not dismiss the violence that occurred sporadically in downtown Portland that spun off from the Black Lives Matter protests. I haven’t heard from any of my Republican friends that they feel the same type of spiritual connection to capitalism, banks or other businesses that had windows broken and fires set or buildings and signs that ended up covered with graffiti, but that doesn’t mean they do not exist. I have no idea what the national news media printed or showed in pictures from those nights, but I have some guesses and I’m certain it was not what was actually happening. Whatever your political persuasion, civil unrest is unsettling; I will just ALWAYS place my energy on the side of life, human, animal, plant and earth over man-made structures. Nevermind the fact that law enforcement retreated from Malheur for weeks and they were quite active, shooting “less-lethal” rounds at protesters downtown, causing debilitating injuries and forcing multiple financial pay-outs to victims. This IS NOT equal treatment under the law.
So now we arrive at January 6th, 2021, when thousands of “protesters” who have traveled from across the country, following the orders of someone who was not in any way affiliated with traditional republican policies, broke through police barriers, beat officers with makeshift weapons, broke windows in our (publically-owned) Capitol building, a building which when you see it in person almost glows with historical significance, erected a structure to hang elected public officials, smeared excrement on the walls, broke artifacts, terrorized Congressmen and -women (directly causing PTSD for many minority congresswoman in particular), threatening to upset the final step in certifying the election of their non-preferred candidate for the presidency. This action was so vile, so reprehensible, such a violation of what it means to live in a democracy. This act had nothing to do with policy; it had to do with violence perpetrated against that which we all own and we are all responsible for keeping: American democratic government.
And now we are once again in an election year, and for the first time, depending on where you live, you may not be able to feel confident that both/all candidates on the ballot in your local election believe in the rule of law for all citizens or that the election itself should be free and fair and that all citizens of legal voting agree should have the expectation that their vote will be counted. The label (R) could mean any number of things, including the dismantling of our entire government structure and elections as we know them, allowing state legislatures to choose winners if they do not care for the results of the popular vote. And right now, there are quite a few people who are convinced that their side should be in charge whether they are in the majority on election day or not. Do we even have a democracy now? Do we have to wait until November to find out?
Now look, do I think the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate have been stellar? Absolutely not. They have picked fights unnecessarily, focused on the wrong things at the wrong times and not been effective in executing on the promises they campaigned on, which definitely contributed to some hard fought swing seats in the House in Virginia, Michigan and others. You will not hear my singing the praises of Schumer or Pelosi. We need reform in Congress and they have not prioritized cleaning up their own house, when needed. I might say this is part the function of having to “clean up” Republican messes every time they take the lead, but I wouldn’t have to if I was feeling at all generous; the point stands.
So we have a conundrum and WE ALL need to be a part of fixing it. First, get off the internet/social media. Your best friends and family don’t actually know much and I can virtually guarantee your feed is filled with mis- and disinformation, both sides. Social media is akin to psy-ops, manipulating your thoughts about what is in the universe of thought, causing polarization which, in turn, leads people to live in separate realities, abandon the concept of shared truth and without that, the democracy will die. You can equally be a part of the solution. Even if you believe you do not care about politics, seriously, try to identify an aspect of your life that isn’t in some way affected by decisions that are made by an agency of the federal government. If you pay income taxes (IRS), travel on interstate highways (NHTSA, FHA), travel via any sort of public transportation (FTA), fly on an airplane (FAA), use pesticides on your lawn or garden or drink tap water (EPA), work for a business in a regulated industry (various), listen to the radio (FCC), visit Yellowstone (NPS), etc. You get the idea. Who we elect matters. And the fact that we are allowed to participate in elections matters. DO NOT TAKE YOUR VOTE FOR GRANTED! Do not disenfranchise yourself. Pay attention and educate yourself. And, if you find you care about the democratic process more than you thought, get involved, volunteer, help get others to vote, or support vote by mail (which Oregon has had as long as I have been old enough to participate in elections directly myself. Vote by mail is quite secure and remains one of the least error-prone or confusing way to participate in voting.
By the way, Republicans also seem to have little interest in allowing you to vote by mail, ostensibly because a certain cult leader says so, because this was not a partisan political issue until he came into the picture. I assume this is because many of the states that have been voting my mail for years, exclusively or not, are generally run by Democrats. But who is to say the opposite is not true? Voting by mail doesn’t cause more democratic voters turnout; Democrats just like to make voting easier for those who are registered. They don’t call us progressive for nothing.
So to me, January 6th, 2021 was not only a wake up call, it was a call to arms. If we want to save our democracy, we are going to have to fight for it. And it may get uncomfortable, but really, aren’t we pretty used to discomfort by now? We cannot fail here. Talk to your neighbors about these issues. Democracy exists precisely because our forefathers wanted to be free from kings and tyrants, but if we elect one now, we may never be free again. Are we a perfect democracy? No. We can form a more perfect union, where we are extending freedom and accountability to society where we haven’t in the past. It is vital we come together now. You have a role to play; get in the game!