The Death of Cool Starts Here
I am a typical Gen Xer, though I’d rather peel my skin off than say it. Labels are not cool. Logos are not cool. Mainstream political candidates are not cool. Risking not being cool is most definitely not cool. A long time ago on the porch of my old house, I watched two friends get into a fist fight over which was the best Ramones record (Rocket to Russia, duh) and I mean that literally. A fist fight. That same afternoon one of the bloodied confessed quietly that he had a thing for Enya. Willing to brawl on the street for the Ramones, willing only to whisper for Enya, this is the hallmark of my generation in many ways.
For many of us, cool was a primal need. Branding and promotion did not come naturally, especially regarding mainstream figures. Put simply, it is not cool to get out the pom-poms and cheer for your team. To look like a fan, is to look stupid.
I have always feared that cool may kill us.
Let me step back. Once, I was a union organizer. I worked primarily with hospital workers wishing to organize. Hospitals are much like our electorate — politically and racially diverse, stratified by class and education. As a rule of thumb in an organizing drive, there is always a third for, a third against, and a third in the middle. The election is won or lost on the third in the middle. As the vote approached, people tended to go one way or the other, but up until the morning of the election, some were still maddeningly undecided. No amount of information or quiet time solved it. And in a tight campaign, these people decide the outcome.
Over the past few presidential elections, we have witnessed something similar. News channels go live to “undecideds” after every debate. Viewers pull their hair out and pound shots at home trying to understand how these people can remain so unconvinced of anything. Some say they have no knowledge. Some say they have no issues they care about. And some say worse.
In organizing, we saw these remaining undecideds differently. We didn’t view them as confused or ill-informed, so much as conflict-averse. Let me be clear. They are not cowards. They are not fools. They just want everyone to get along, which is a pretty sane social attribute. In the end, they almost always voted for whoever won because siding with the winning vote promised the least amount of conflict. If it was a victory, they made it a landslide. When the house was strongly divided, and the outcome unsure, sensing no clear direction, they waited. And if the house polarized and tensions rose sharply, as is common in a fifty-fifty race, they didn’t vote. It seemed easier to live in a future in which they had played no part, than risk making a mistake they would have to defend to half of their friends.
I would argue that many first time voters in this election feel the same. They are not wishy-washy or lacking in information, but simply uncomfortable with tension in their intimate social circles. It’s not that they don’t have issues, but that a peaceful social environment is one they prioritize. Seeing it through this lens, the picture changes.
In this election, many of young millennials are voting for or leaning toward Gary Johnson. Yes, you might say, but Johnson is only a protest vote. True, but they could break to Stein and they are not. Why? I’ll take a stab at it.
Gary Johnson has a sign around his neck reading, “I hate conflict.”
Everything in Johnson’s demeanor says, “Can’t we all just hang out?” He doesn’t get defensive, even when blasted for not knowing what’s happening in Syria or being able to name a world leader — stoner, rock climber, affable libertine calling for a hands off policy to everything? There is no better pin-up for those of us who are conflict-averse.
And believe me, I understand the instinct. Despite my own bluster, I have a twitchy bunny heart and hate tension. I get nervous when I state opinions publicly, especially when they derive from something fraught. As I write these words, my anxiety flares. Here’s why I’m doing it.
Recently, I received an email from a twenty-two-year old who has never voted. He does not know what to do because he doesn’t believe in voting. He sees it as the cause of conflict among friends and fears it is all a corrupt gig anyway. Yet he’s wondering if he is wrong, and afraid he might make the wrong choice. Who in his position wouldn’t be? Many young people are eligible to vote for the first time. We need to show some respect for the gravity of the political moment they face. They may decide this election and imagine that burden. Do the right thing or the country tanks? Is it really a surprise so many think it’s safest to stay home on election day?
While there are many reasons for how one’s vote gets cast, I worry that those of us in my generation that have made the decision to vote for Hillary are letting our sense of cool drive the tone of our conversations. I fear that our ingrained habit of railing against corporations and the elite bully boys of this world, might have the unintended consequence of reinforcing younger millennials’ reluctance to vote for Hillary, or maybe even to vote at all. Our words, in this case, may have more effect than our actions. We are on the cusp of a decision that might lead to a strong man culture and put us on the road to fascism. It is not the time to worry about whether our indie cred is intact, but to take up our place in the community and bring our experience to the table.
What I know from organizing is that nothing moves people like one-on-one conversations with those they trust. If you are that person for someone else, talk to them. If you are someone who is unsure if you will vote, or for whom, look around at the people you trust and respect. Find someone with good information and an open heart. Nine out of ten times that person will not steer you wrong.
To my generation, I beg of you, lead. Go back to the real word of mouth. The one we all knew before the web. Lead. You are somebody’s cool Aunt or Uncle. Somebody’s vegan cousin in a blue state. You are somebody’s manager or mentor. Lead. Yes, I know you might hate that term and have built business models on undermining it. Lead anyway. Only one of the two major candidates will be president. We are days away. May I suggest that the time for spouting off at work or over Thanksgiving about emails and servers and the Illuminati has passed. Find another outlet to ease your discomfort. Instead, say you’re voting. Say voting matters. Say who you are voting for and why.
If you are voting for Clinton, don’t hide it. Don’t whisper. Shout. If you made the decision on a 60/40 call, let that 60% of you speak. Say: I’m voting for her and here are the things I like about who she is and what she does. There are those who look to you. Don’t be cool. Lead with a compassionate heart.
I believe in voting. It is not all I believe in, but it is the very least I can do for the country. I don’t believe in taking my marbles and going home. I don’t believe that refusing to take the ball because you can only get it five yards down the grid iron is honorable behavior.
I don’t see my vote as my “brand” or as something sullied by compromise. I see voting as part of a collective act. It is a personal choice we trust each other to make. Sometimes my issues don’t make it to the election. When that’s the case, I vote for what means the most to other people, particularly those in a more vulnerable position than I am.
I am proudly voting for Hillary Clinton. With all her flaws, I believe her to be insanely smart, more than qualified, a fighter for women and children. I also believe she listens to others, knows policy, and weighs options carefully. She does not flinch when faced with a hard choice or quit when bullied. Most importantly, I believe that if we elect her, democracy gets another four years. With all my heart I believe that this election is not about the lesser of two evils, but the more immediate of two threats and, ultimately, the better of two countries.