February 12, 2008

Bogeymen

I cannot tell you how many different ways I've tried to start this post, which I think is indicative of how big a topic this is.

Today, I want to talk about fear.

But let's begin at the beginning.

I was having breakfast with a young lady last week, and the topic drifted into the Presidential election. She commented that so many men who say they couldn't or wouldn't vote for Hilary Clinton are, ultimately, afraid of having a woman as President.


Now, of course, I've made no secret of my support for Barack Obama, but, at least consciously, I would never have thought that my opposition to her may be based in some latent misogyny. Quite the contrary, actually: the foreign policy position she's presented has seemed far more belligerent and, frankly, male than most of her Democratic contenders, to the point where, in some instances, she's starting to sound like the Republicans. My opposition to her has, at least consciously, always been based in my general opposition to DLC-style politics (i.e. "We're Democrats who want to beat up the same people as the GOP, so vote for us instead of those girlie-man Progressives"). Which is why I don't like guys like Joe Lieberman (even before he showed his true colors last year), or Evan Bayh, or even, in some instances, Harold Ford.

On the other hand, the Clintonistas will say the same thing that one of my cousins up in Milwaukee said back in 2004 on why he was supporting Bush: "Sometimes, you need a bully." After all, the world is full of scary stuff and scary people. Isn't it obvious that we need someone big and bad to go beat up the scary people?

And this has been the rapp on Obama - he's not tough enough. If he thinks he can talk to the Iranians, or Al Qaeda, or the North Koreans, or the lobbyists, or the big polluters and pharmeceutical companies, he's either a sucker who's too naive to be in office or a coward who's too spineless to get into a fight.

This is the same thing John Edwards was saying before he dropped out. You've got to be ready to take these people on. Because they're coming to get you. Hell, they may already have you.

And MY GOD, if Obama is talking this Hope crap now, just wait until the Republicans get a hold of him! None of us can possibly imagine the onslaught of character assassinations that will be unleashed against Barack by the likes of Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh and the Swift Boat Vets and all the other cogs in the Right Wing Attack Machine (tm).

And let's not even get into what radio host Stephanie Miller called "Right Wing World". If you thought WE had enemies to be afraid of, progressives, that's nothing compared to the enemies that the conservatives see.

I mean, let's take a step back for a minute. According to Dictionary.com, the definition of conservative is:
–adjective
1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.



And, once you get past the politically specific definitions, you get to my favorite one:
having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative.

Preserve.
Protect.
Defend.

The very definition of the word assumes a state of constant siege. Their enemies are legion.

It's not just specific terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah, in their eyes. It's not just specific countries like Iran or Syria. It's not even the whole of the religion of Islam. It is a clash of whole civilizations. Our very way of life is at stake. These people don't just want to kick us out of their countries. They don't just want to control the world's oil supply. They want to enslave us. They want to steal our God. And, barring that, they want to kill as many of us as they possibly can, for no other reason than the fact that we exist.

I think 9/11 is probably the first time that the average white person in America felt like there was a man out there, somewhere, who was plotting to kill them in the most newsworthy fashion possible, simply because of their identity, as opposed to some assumed grievance.

Which is probably way far fewer Black people in America had their world turned upside down as a result of that day: we've lived under the threat of random, indiscriminate identity-based violence & bloodshed for centuries. So what of Osama Bin Laden wants to blow up my office? The LAPD may shoot me tonight before I can even pull out of the driveway, ya heard?

When I was accepted into Princeton, my older brother pulled me aside and explained to me that, when I got to campus, I was suddenly going to be a "nigger", and subject to unspeakable affronts like the kind he experienced at the University of Maryland back in the early 80's. Things like being bombarded with so-called water balloons filled with ketchup, or having to endure regular racist cat calls from trucks full of his fellow students simply walking home from a late class. And that I needed to steal myself for what was coming.

But, see, the funny thing is, by the time he pulled me aside, I'd already been going to school with the sons of rich white people for the better part of seven years, and it simply wasn't the case. The worst racial incidents that I'd experienced there both came in 6th grade - in the first, one kid told me that I was the blackest Black person he had ever seen, and, in the second, another kid called me "Buckwheat". When I confronted him about it, he tried to spin it that Buckwheat was famous (thanks to the Eddie Murphy skit) and that it was meant as a term of endearment. Whatever. It stopped. And, as far as the first incident, hey, let's be honest - I'm a deep chocolate brother and I wear my complexion with pride.

And, in the one instance in my life where a white kid did have the nerve to call me "nigger" to my face, he was inches away from having a "come to Jesus" meeting with my fist before the host at that particular party, my token white friend at the time, kicked the offending child out while his mother pleaded with my mom for forgiveness for exposing me to such riff-raff.

The point is, I'd been around white people for a while.

And I wasn't scared of them.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm some hero or that I deserve a "Profiles in Courage" award. Put me in the room with just about any kind of barking dog, and watch my inner punk flourish.

What I am saying is, fear is easy. It usually goes hand in hand with people who talk about being realistic.

But, personally, I'm tired of being afraid.

In her book, "The Game of Life and How To Play It", Florence Scovel-Shinn defines fear as having perfect faith in evil.

It's that other 'F' word that was key for me.

Faith.

And not the way Mike Huckabee means.

Like I wrote the morning after the 2004 Presidential Election in "....the sun WILL rise...", I suddenly understood that I had been a willing participant in a system that validated evil, even if it was only as the lesser of two.

And, in that moment, I decided that I would NEVER, EVER vote for someone because I was afraid of something ever again.

When I wrote "The California Democratic Party SUCKS" back during the 2006 Gubernatorial Election, I caught a lot of flak from my local progressive friends for saying that I would not vote for the Democratic candidate, Phil Angelides, even if that meant re-electing Arnold. They were all terrified of 4 more years of Herr Schwarzenegger. But I had faith that, by not choosing the lesser of two evils, I would get closer to the outcome that I wanted. In short, I put it in the hands of a higher power.

Two years later, I think most Californians will agree that, while he's been less than ideal, the Governator has been a fairly decent steward of the Golden State.

Everyone was so down after Bush was re-elected, and appropriately so. 2005 was an awful year for America. But didn't I say that that particular election was going to be the low point before a progressive surge in the American electorate? Look at the country now - Democratic primaries are seeing, in some cases, double the voter turn out than 4 years ago.... which was already a record year.

My point is, I stopped letting George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger steal my joy. And that was not blind faith. It was a belief backed by conviction and effort and wisdom. But it is also founded in the fundamental understanding that nothing anybody else can do to me can hurt me more than what I can do to myself.

Which is why I love this little mantra from Frank Herbert's "Dune:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.


What so many people may not understand is that Obama is offering the same message and operating on the same frequency as not just RFK or MLK, but of, ultimately, Gandhi.

It's not about Peace Through Strength.

My friends, it is about Strength Through Peace.

Not world peace. Inner peace. Spiritual peace. Human peace. Peace at the center. The peace that passes all understanding.

And folks, you know that I am very much a Prodigal Son when it comes to the traditional church. But the peace that comes from knowing that you are MORE than how a poll or an election or a pundit or an attack ad defines you, let's you confront the smears from the Hannitys and O'Reilly's of the world, directly, without malice, without hatred, and without fear.

The peace that comes from knowing that the true idea at the center of America is much older and deeper and fundamental and eternal and MORE than the political, social, and economic structures that have been put in place on this particular mass of land by these particular people over the last 232 years, and it would be impossible for a group of men in a cave with some explosives or a despot with an army of any size to destroy it - THAT peace lets you confront those with foul intentions with a resolve so steely and a strength so insurmountable that they wither in your presence.

The strength for those confrontations is the same that Gandhi used to dismantle the oppressor of a nation, or that Dr. King used to gain equality for his people.

Now, those who still live in fear simply cannot believe in the validity of any other kind of power besides that which is fear-based. And that's OK.

When it gets scary for them, the rest of us will hold their hands and whisper that it will be alright.

And, honestly, as long as the likes of McCain and even Hilary are preparing to wage war from a place that is ultimately based in fear, neither of them will EVER get my vote. Even if she is the Democratic nominee.

Like I've said before - I'm MORE. And until she realizes that she is, too, she cannot possibly represent me.

And I have faith that the world will unfold to my liking as long as I am true to who I am and what I believe.

Just like the State of California did. And just like the American electorate did.

In short, I think it's time for us all to get past our fear, and have the courage to hope for the world and the life we truly desire.

In all of the areas where you feel the tension to be secure, to be protected, to be safe from the Bogeymen... in every place where you hold your fear like a warm, soothing blanket:

Fear of Republicans.
Fear of Liberals.
Fear of Homosexuals.
Fear of Homophobes.
Fear of white people.
Fear of black people.
Fear of Bush.
Fear of McCain.
Fear of Hilary.
Fear of Obama.
Fear of Bin Laden.
Fear of women.
Fear of men.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
Fear of Satan.
Fear of God.
Fear of life.
Fear of death.

Let.
It.
Go.

Because you're already safe.

How could you not be?

You're MORE.
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