After the Jon Ossoff Defeat: Settling in for the Long Haul
For those of us who follow both U.S. and international politics, there was a poignant contrast between the positive news from France on June 18 about the stunning electoral victory of Macron’s centrist and youthful party (see op-ed piece by the former editor of Le Monde “America in Retreat, Europe en Marche”) and the news last night, June 20, that the young Democratic Candidate John Osoff has been defeated in the Georgia Congressional District 6 special election.
This election, watched nationally and with more money spent than any congressional election in U.S. history, had been cast on both sides as a proxy war. For the left it was a referendum on the Trump presidency, for the right it was a rebuff of the so-called “San Francisco values” which they fear and detest. Naturally, Democrats nationally are feeling quite demoralized this morning, and we feel our political polarization more than ever. Not only between the two parties, but within the parties between their centrist and left/right flanks. See Tom Friedman’s dispirited piece “Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?”
But wait. Let’s back off a bit and try for a larger perspective. Three ideas have come my way in recent days:
First, I heard a discussion on NPR about the coarsening and vitriol of our political speech. It’s truly sickening. and demoralizing. One historian on the panel made an interesting point. She said that if we look at our history, the extreme political rhetoric and the demonizing of opponents has gone in cycles in this country, directly related to the magnitude of the major issues that are being confronted by the nation. And that right now, the issues are of that kind of magnitude.
Second, I attended recent “Activists Unite” special event sponsored by the Democratic Party of Contra Costa County in California. It was inspiring to see so many activist groups together under one roof and to actually see the Democratic Party locally (usually, grass-roots activism and party involvement seem to go on parallel tracks rather than in tandem!).
Former Congressman Pete McCloskey, now 90, spoke to the group. He was a Republican Congressman from California 1967–1983. He had chaired the first Earth Day event in 1970 and co-sponsored the Endangered Species Bill, was the first elected Republican to oppose the Vietnam war and to call for the impeachment of President Nixon. Finally, in 2007, having had enough with what was happening to the Republican Party, he had switched his party affiliation to Democratic. His message was that it all starts with a small groups of grass-root of activists, like that small Earth Day band in 1970, and there is a lot of that kind of activity going on. Also, he said, uniting is important — across the many “shades of blue” that needlessly divide us. Ultimately, the many efforts to “Unite-Resist-Reclaim” have to lead to change at the ballot box. A good reminder that that’s the way things change in a democracy!
Finally, I had the good fortune of attending a service at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula. This is a community known for its long-standing commitment to social justice issues. The minister, Rev. Elaine Gehrmann, gave a remarkable sermon titled “Resistance and Revolution.”
She made the point that “resistance” is a defensive and reactive stance. Instead, she said, we should frame our political and social engagement as revolutionary work inspired by a vision of “bending the arc of history” in the direction of a more just and humane social order. Also, and this was a newer idea to me, we need to realize that it is in fact the “Take America Back” forces of the right that are the resisters — resisting the long-term “Take America Forward” trends and movements that so many of us are deeply committed to and that are the long-term future of our country.
So let’s take heart even when there are moments of discouragement. A single election disappointment does not a movement break.
[This piece was originally written on June 21, 2017]