In 2008, I was as angry as you are now

People will make different decisions about voting this fall. Among us on the left, I am reminded lately of my own feelings in ’08 when Obama won the nomination. I was a devoted Clinton supporter through the primaries, donating and volunteering. I was proud to support a woman candidate but also really agreed with her general “I’m so bullsh-t about the Bush years, aren’t you?” campaign theme. At that time, working on Katrina recovery, studying urban politics and inequality, I could not get my mind around a message of change driven by some vague hope and everyone coming together, la la la, when there was clearly one political party to blame. I read Obama’s memoirs and was moved by his humanity and honesty, but my politics skew confrontational and not at all conciliatory. Even when I attended Obama’s inauguration, a first for me, I mostly felt agitated, so pissed off about what he was inheriting and that someone should pay. (I also hate crowds, so it was a big stretch for me just to be there.)

I don’t have as much of that anger now in my life and work (although injustices at CUNY have their impact), and I’ve been moved by the optimism of the Democratic convention — especially compared to the GOP option and message. Obama has been a flawed president — especially in his first term repeatedly willing to reach across the aisle to legislators who would as soon spit in his face if they thought they could get away with it. I see my friends and colleagues working for immigration rights and take seriously their labeling of Obama as “Deporter in Chief,” and as weak, even terrible, on reproductive rights. We continue to be an excessively militaristic nation, at mortal expense and at the expense of education, housing, healthcare, and social spending here at home.

But if I may pivot to a contentious issue in the current election — as someone who worked on Lower Manhattan recovery after 9/11, in the trenches of rebuilding the communities and businesses around Ground Zero, Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq War seemed very of the moment politically — just as the 1994 crime bill and reprehensible language like “super-predators” was at that time. I was opposed to the invasion, and I know there were worldwide protests (I taught undergrads about them in 2010, and they dismissively told me they were “12” when the protests occurred — why should I expect them to know about them?). We’re still paying for Bush’s actions and will be for the foreseeable future. But I was living a daily life where small business owners felt they had to re-open their stores downtown to not “let the terrorists win.” This was real; this was in Sen. Clinton’s state. We weren’t all enlightened pacifists (though I wish we were).

But now…even with all the gun violence here, the bifurcated economy, terror attacks abroad, the refugee crisis, I see tremendous progress in our increasingly diverse country and a chance now to fight for a better world for future generations, in which whites will become a minority and thus ought to be working tirelessly now to redistribute benefits and chances more equitably, instead of angrily and violently griping about our loss of privilege and trying to hoard whatever spoils we think we deserve and are “ours.” In our two-party system, I see my vote for the Democratic nominee as the best next step now — in this election — for continuing to move forward for racial and economic progress. Politics is not just about voting — it is about movements like #blacklivesmatter, it is about policy advocacy for better legislation (like repealing the mortgage deduction and re-appropriating that money for affordable rental housing), it is about organizing and collective bargaining, it is framing and agenda setting and building coalitions and alliances. So voting for the President in a two-party system like ours is actually one of the more minor individual acts we can make, but collectively is hugely important. A free rider problem. For me, voting for an exemplary woman, voting for the Democratic candidate, are small acts on behalf of progress in a much larger system of much more impactful political activism of which we should all be part.

I have been fortunate to build relationships across the political left and center and am well versed in alternative arguments to this. I appreciate this insight and it keeps my politics vibrant and reflective. This essay began as an exercise in empathy — I am reminded of 2008, and I remember those feelings. Therefore I resist the (extremely strong) urge to prescribe how people should vote today. But if my perspective helps anyone clarify theirs, then this typing into Internet oblivion has not been a total loss.