|A 10-Step Guide to Surviving
-- and Fighting -- Bush's America
By Mariva H. Aviram
November 7, 2004
Leading up to election day, a giant ocean wave of volunteers from California had spilled over the High Sierras and into the Great Basin of Nevada. Thereafter, I experienced the stages of grief as half the country did. On the evening of Tuesday, November 2, at what was supposed to be a victory party at the Reno Hilton hotel and casino, I was in denial, which was pierced by moments of shock. I didn't sleep well. On the morning of November 3, I woke up depressed, felt more shock when Kerry conceded so early and wept through his moving concession speech. Reeling, reeling. As though someone I loved had died. The only comforts during the half-day's drive back to San Francisco were listening to Randi Rhodes on Air America Radio ("Get pissed! Pissed is good!") and watching the steady stream of cars with Kerry bumper stickers on I-80 West, heading back to the western Sierra foothills, Sacramento and the Bay Area.
When I returned home, the internet was full of articles and discussion boards apologizing to our international friends and asking what happened?, what the hell happened?! Gone was the perpetual call to action on MichaelMoore.com, only to be replaced by a single black page with the names of all the soldiers who'd died in Iraq under Bush's mismanagement, followed by "May they rest in peace. And may they forgive us someday." The Daily Show was atypically unfunny that night, with Jon Stewart's quip, "Apparently democracy worked…I miss voter fraud!", stinging more than making me laugh. Eric, having taken photos at an anti-war/anti-Bush rally in the morning, told me that San Francisco was a good place to be depressed in, because we had lots of company. I threw my Kerry sign (along with my Howard Dean sign, which I hadn't brought myself to take down throughout Kerry's campaign) into the recycling bin and taped a Post-It note to the American flag on my mantle that read "R.I.P. 11/03/04."
Glimmers of hope
In the last few days, however, I've noticed a shift from grief, despair, panic and paralyzing helplessness to the first signs of hope and creativity. A flurry of articles on how to move to Canada appeared in the press, followed by Common Dreams's "Ten Reasons Not to Move to Canada" and Mark Morford's sharp and poignant "Hello, Uranus? Got Any Room? Must. Move. Away. Cannot endure more Bush. Soul about to implode. Right? Not so fast." Organizations like MoveOn, America Coming Together, True Majority, Howard Dean's Democracy for America, Faithful America, Working for Change, Planned Parenthood and Mainstreet Moms Oppose Bush emailed their members somewhat navel-gazing but genuine lists of accomplishments: record-setting voter turnout, mind-bogglingly immense volunteerism and activism, Barack Obama's landslide victory. With his distinct wit, animated cartoonist Mark Fiore reminded us of the consequences of Bush's own actions that he is now faced with. Michael Moore sent his mailing list "17 Reasons Not to Slit Your Wrists," and the humor of The Daily Show -- particularly guest commentator Lewis Black -- came back with a vengeance. A musician friend was hard at work on writing a political song, Basetree has been slammed with hits all over the world -- and I started writing this article.
This quick turnaround -- within 24 to 48 hours -- from shock and depression to anger (a powerful form of energy), creativity and humor is not insignificant. It is a sign of who we are: smart, creative, funny, quick-thinking, organized, active, positive. We've talked ourselves off the ledge and we're figuring out what to do next. By next week, we might have a solid, multifaceted plan of action.
What follows is my own plan, a 10-Step Guide to Surviving -- and Fighting -- Bush's America, which I humbly submit to you:
1. Take care of yourself.
This is first and foremost. We've just been through political and emotional hell, and we need to be kind to ourselves. Take a break, breathe, laugh, cry, meditate, take walks, call friends, spend time with animals, read, watch enjoyable movies and TV shows, listen to the radio, rest. Enjoy the holidays.
Next, plan for long-term health. If you're already healthy and in good shape, great -- keep doing what you're doing. If you'd like to be healthier and have more energy, make time for exercising every day, preparing healthy meals and getting enough sleep. Schedule regular medical and dental exams, practice good sanitation and safer sex methods consistently and avoid drugs, including cigarettes and excessive alcohol. It's always a good idea to live a healthy lifestyle, but now you'll really need it for whatever follows, whether it's to emigrate to another country, lower your health care costs, or outrun the police at the next political protest. (Seriously.)
2. Dust yourself off.
It's true that things look dire. We've lost our three branches of government, which means there are no official checks and balances left. One left-of-center pundit said that we're adrift in a political diaspora, a political party without a home in the United States, strangers in our own land. Worse, we're sharing the land, culture and language with a nation of greedy sociopaths, nuts and idiots.
So what do we do next? A lot of people, including me, have indulged in blaming and finger-pointing. It's a natural response to our deep disappointment, our chaotic swirl of panic -- and it's only human.
Stop. Take a deep breath.
Now is the time to circle the wagons. While the Bush cult would love nothing more than to see us at each other's throats, and for our nation to devolve into a survivalist "every man for himself" mentality, the fact is, we need each other now -- more than ever before. The unbearably arrogant gloating of the G.O.P. is designed to make us give up the most powerful thing we have on our side -- our hope for a better future -- and we can't let them take that away from us. They've stolen our democracy in various sinister ways; let's not allow them to steal our souls and our humanity as well.
If you're feeling isolated in your despair, as I've been, realize that you are not alone. Half the country shares your grief and, in fact, we are with the majority of the world. So untie the noose and put down the cup of Jim Jones Kool-Aid. Reach out to your friends and neighbors, get outside and talk to people, both the hopeful and the depressed.
And if that doesn't make you back away from the abyss, then read your history. Where are the Egyptian, Roman, Ottoman and British empires today? How did the residents of the homelands of those empires fare after the empires started to crumble? Remember: the reigns of tyrants always end -- and the harder they come, the harder they fall. The arrogance of Bush and his cult is their Achilles' heel. When they're busy gloating, they're not working. Mark my words; this will be their undoing. And we'll be ready to take back our country once and for all.
OK, so what happened?
What happened, what happened, what the Dick Cheney happened?!
Most of us are familiar with the prevailing theories:
- Inaccurate exit polls -- mostly in precincts that just happened to use auditless electronic voting machines.
- The potential prevention of this scandal that never materialized (JohnKerry.com never linked to BlackBoxVoting.org, because neither the candidate nor the Democratic leadership took this threat seriously).
- Swift Boat Veterans ads.
- Karl "The Brain" Rove.
- The angry white straight male vote.
- "Moral values" -- i.e., the pervasive obsession with what other people do with their own private body parts, whether it's gay sex legitimized in the context of marriage or the sexual liberation of straight women without punishment (the risk of unwanted pregnancy or disease).
- The failure of the left to clearly define our own morals and values, such as protecting children from poverty or promoting responsible environmental stewardship.
- "Defense" and the so-called "War on Terror," a purely Bushesque construct.
- Stolen yard signs.
- Intimidated voters.
- The downward spiral of ignorance: an uneducated public voting to further defund education.
- The few in Iowa and New Hampshire deciding for the many who the best Democratic candidate was.
- Kerry's nuance, seen as flip-flopping by the right (or flip-flopping, seen as nuance by the left).
- The worldly but weird Teresa Heinz Ketchup. (While I admired her for being able to speak five languages -- especially since Bush can barely speak one -- she was a definite liability in the campaign. A widowed senior I stayed with in Reno posited that Kerry wouldn't do anything to help her with her mounting bills. "He doesn't care about people like me," she said. "I mean, look who he married.")
- A combination of all of the above.
Other questions to ask:
- What did swing voters like about Kerry? What did they dislike?
- Whom did Kerry listen to too much? Too little?
- What messages and strategies worked? Didn't work?
- Who helped us? Who hurt us? Why, and how so?
- Which successful strategies can we expand, and how?
- How and from whom did we raise the most money?
- If we build a new broad-based organization, who should be involved, and who should lead it?
4. Strategize and organize.
I had seen the writing on the wall years ago: though I'd continued to support it in some ways, I knew the traditional Democratic Party was dying. November 2, 2004 was the final nail in the coffin. R.I.P.
Please don't tell me about how the Democratic Party is "too liberal," or how we should reach out to the red-state churches more. We've been victims of our own squeamish caution for too long: the mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy, waffling pandering hasn't worked for us. Tom Daschle's fate made this glaringly obvious. Trying to out-Republican the Republicans led us down the Joe Lieberman road, and look how far that's gotten him. You've probably heard the much-quoted definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results means you're crazy.
We're in a new era, in which the reactionary right will stop at nothing to maintain and expand their power. This means that historical examples (FDR, JFK, Goldwater, Watergate) may not be entirely useful to us. We have to think forward, not backward.
We blue people can create a new democratic party (small d for democracy), whether it's a new Democratic Party -- a phoenix rising triumphantly from its own ashes -- or a loose coalition of decentralized organizations, or some combination of both. Gone are the well-meaning but second-rate candidates, those who try to be all things to all people but just end up boring their audience with long sentences. We'll find intelligent, progressive and charismatic leaders who are gifted communicators, straight-talkers who appeal to folks at a visceral level. For better or worse, the mythic trumps the intellectual.
- Organize a new series of Meetups with long-term political goals.
- Start fielding presidential and congressional candidates in 2005. While I admire Hillary Clinton in a number of ways, I don't think she's electable in a country that seems to hate women -- and her in particular -- so much. Look for charismatic progressives emerging in the Midwest, South and prairie regions.
- Replace Terry McAuliffe with Howard Dean in the Democratic National Committee. Keep McAuliffe on as a fundraiser, because that's the only thing he's good at -- and he is good at it.
- Reframe the language. Candidates from now on should hire linguists George Lakoff and Geoffrey Numberg as advisors, when they're not busy working in the organizations that we'll be supporting. Support progressive economists who see protected wilderness areas as an asset and accelerated outsourcing as a deficit.
- Grow our burgeoning Liberal Media: support Air America Radio, Pacifica Radio, NPR, PBS, The Nation magazine and other publications and the blogs.
- Focus on electoral reform: pass same-day voter registration and instant runoff or ranked voting, eliminate or circumvent the Iowa/New Hampshire primary process and abolish the electoral college, which favors the legacy of the slaveowning republic. This will take a while, so be patient and start now.
- Run for office locally, or organize support for local progressive candidates. Everything from school boards to tax assessor matters. Heck, even the local progressive dog catcher needs your support.
- Make money. We'll need lots of it. (See Step # 6 below.)
Some devious but still ethical schemes:
- Start referring to Bush as a lame-duck president now. This will start to isolate the Bush cultists into a margin of irrelevance.
- At the same time, follow up on the outstanding issues of the first Bush term: the Plame affair, Halliburton, manufacturing intelligence, the failure to prevent 9/11.
- If Republican Senator Arlen Specter will be heading the Judiciary Committee, consider sending him donations. Massive ones. Not because we like the guy, but because we want to own a large piece of him. This may be our last defense against the impending reversal of reproductive rights.
- Find a Republican loser who wants to run for president in 2008 and back him. Remember Bob Dole? Let's find another one. Consider registering Republican so that you can vote for the loser in the next Republican primary.
- Remind moderate Republicans that they won by allying themselves with political gay-bashers, women-haters, and Confederate flag-wavers. This is not an overstatement; it's literally true. They are accomplices to crimes against humanity, an idea they're not comfortable with. The wedge issues of the religious right may come back to haunt them, especially if we don't let them forget it.
- Lobby the Bush Administration to replace John Ashcroft with Rudy Giuliani as Attorney General. Giuliani is a jackass, but he's good in an emergency situation, and he is a moderate. He doesn't hate gays (he's lived with them, for crying out loud!), and he might even remove that ridiculous blanket from the statue of justice.
5. Form alliances.
Most people are comfortable with others like themselves. We tend to isolate ourselves in echo chambers of people who look like us, talk like us, think like us. Instead of becoming further isolated, see if you can find common ground with people outside of your group. For example:
- Third Wave, a foundation for young feminists, periodically sends vans of volunteers to regions not typically associated with feminist activity. (That would be the red states, in case you were wondering.) They offer workshops for local teens and come back with a plethora of contacts for future outreach.
- Planned Parenthood is careful to avoid partisan labels because there is a surprising number of pro-choice Republicans. The funding of reproductive clinics in Texas mostly comes from Republican women.
- Utne magazine published an article about "crunchy conservatives": fiscal conservatives who care about the environment and buy organically grown food.
- A Bay Area friend has been organizing the Garrison-Martineau Project, a series of open dialogues between atheists and religious believers.
Form your own unconventional alliances. Be creative. Invite someone of another ethnicity to dinner. Seek out liberal Catholics and evangelical Christians. And don't forget the rest of the world, most of whom were on our side. Learn other languages, join multinational organizations, find international pen-pals, travel if you can.
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