What To Do With One’s Hands After The Election
Horror, but not surprise. Dismay, but not anger — not exactly. Fear? A bit, sure, mostly for others. The flight instinct, certainly, but it wore off pretty quick.
How many people have told you how they’re feeling since the election? How many people have told you how to feel? Or what to do? Or what not to do? We’re coming up on three weeks of emotional policing, comment box quarterbacking, op-ed exhortation, non-profit pleading. Protest or organize? Both? In what order? Snap on the latex gloves for the Democratic postmortem or put your head down? Hell if anyone really knows right now.
With an addict’s shaky hands, anxiety demands control. We can’t control a president-elect who’s as easy to pin down as a jellyfish and as predictable as cosmic background radiation. Instead we try to control the speech and feelings and actions of those around us in unintentional gestures of everyday fascism. Doesn’t work too good, turns out, but what else is going to untie that gut-knot?
I write for control, to sort it out for myself as best I can. My fingers have been on the keyboard but I haven’t wanted to add to the noise. Forgive me for saying nothing until now. Forgive me for saying anything at all.
I spent several months on the Bernie Sanders campaign’s tech team at the start of the year. Just wrote some code, nothing big and strategic. I guess I was one of his top donors too, for whatever that means to a campaign run on small donations. Is it possible to be an optimist and a realist at the same time? Bernie’s campaign built more momentum than I expected. Still, I never assumed he would land the Democratic nomination. We aren’t there yet. Plus Bernie failed to reach minority voters and he knows it. He would also have failed to reach the wealthy white voters who came out for Trump. Moot points, now.
The Real Problem, they say, is that we’ve all been floating around in our little bubbles. In my little bubble it just seemed so plainly obvious — given the macroeconomic situation, given shifting political and cultural winds — that we’ve been rolling in high gear towards a fork in the road: authoritarian populism or redistributive populism, take your pick. That’s why I felt horror and dismay on election night, but not surprise. In my little bubble the DNC picked authoritarian populism for the rest of us when they nominated Clinton. Sure, I voted for her. Sure, I read the Princeton Election Consortium’s meta analysis, fixed their 95% certainty in my brain and hoped against hope. Winning the popular vote still isn’t winning, turns out. Here we are.
And now that we’re here, who to listen to? Hearing the tech industry’s reaction to the election induced in me a moment of blinding, searing frustration. Alongside other vocal critics, I’ve tried over the past few years to make clear what would happen if tech didn’t set an example by taking a hard left turn towards creating an economy of inclusion, redistribution, and democratic control. Shouting into my little bubble. I gave talks at tech events both high-profile and local. I wrote on my personal site and for other publications. I tweeted about these issues until arguing with people who I know ultimately share the same goals was no longer tenable for my time and sanity. Short of walking down Sand Hill Road with a bullhorn I’m not sure what else I should have done to raise the alarm.
I didn’t see anyone in the industry taking this shit seriously, not really. I saw some talk of funding studies on Universal Basic Income; great, necessary, love it — doesn’t win elections today. What to do on my own? I shifted the vast majority of my early stage investment dollars to startups outside the tech industry. I put money into affordable housing developments, non-predatory financing for worker-owned businesses, regional food hubs that link small farms with buyers in urban population centers. I helped get progressive businesses involved on a local level. I gave to worker organizing, Black-led organizing, campaigns to keep natural resources safe and public, a publication exploring other economic and political possibilities for our country. Big bets, little bets, local bets, national bets. Does any of that win elections today? Just fingers stopping up holes in the dam, maybe.
In sharing this I’m not scouting for moral high ground. “Effective Altruism?” Please. Impact investing, “Conscious Capitalism?” Horseshit. Capitalism, particularly as implemented in the US, is deeply and inherently fucked. If you haven’t accepted the role of capitalism in this mess I can do nothin’ for ya, son. Capitalism isn’t going away tomorrow, though, so in the meantime I’ve tried to support the least fucked-up things I can find with the money and experience I have, all the while knowing that an earthquake like this was coming, and knowing with even more certainty that the people who are going to get hurt in the short term are not wealthy straight white dudes like myself.
Sweat, Anger, and Running Out Of Time
I haven’t done enough. I can’t do enough. This is me putting my hand up to do more. This isn’t a moment for simply writing checks — or blog posts, for that matter — and hoping for the best. Holding on to what we had yesterday is going to require all our hands together, gripping tightly. We’re going to be pushing back so hard that it aches and bruises. This is a moment for sweat.
If you’re pushing back, I’m here to help. I can build technology. I can build teams. I like taking ideas from concept to hey-it-works. I like the hard stuff, the messy and ill-defined stuff. I’ll copyedit. I’ll build desks, sweep floors. Anything — and, yes, checks too. I’m here. Insufficiently radical, insufficiently pragmatic, but here. Willing to sweat.
This post hasn’t been the model of restraint, calm, and positivity that I promised myself I’d write. I couldn’t feel enough to be angry on election night but I’m angry now. I’m angry because we don’t have time for this, as a country, as a planet.
We don’t have time for four years of climate denial.
We don’t have time for the further degradation of minorities, women, LGBTQ people, poor people, and working people.
We don’t have time for the destabilizing effects of deportation, protectionism, cronyism, ever-expanding surveillance, criminal injustice, and unending war.
In the face of all this, I don’t know why people thought a gutless center would hold. I don’t know why isolating and ineffectual meme-packaged identity politics won out over solidarity. I don’t know why emerging leaders in racial and economic justice movements weren’t given fair standing in the heinous bloviating vortex that amounted to the “national conversation” around this election. Now that the worst has happened, I don’t know why people are clinging to the notion that if we had only just talked more or shared the right articles on Facebook it all would have been okay, but that’s why I am not a liberal.
So much I can’t accept, but I don’t have time to be angry about it, not at the exclusion of action. I’m not giving myself that time.
You don’t need another person telling you what to feel or not feel, what to do or not do in this eviscerating and potentially paralyzing moment. Everyone around me just wants to find the best way to help right now. Me too.
The core of the logo of the Democratic Socialists of America is two hands embracing one another in a firm, constant, reassuring grip. One hand white, one hand of color. My hand is up. My hand is out. That is the best I can do in this moment.