the end of democracy as we know it: why i’m voting 3rd party

You’re about to not like what I have to say.

I’m voting 3rd party.

Go ahead, criticize. Berate, vilify me. Tell me I’m about to bring the downfall of democracy as we know it. I’ve heard it already. From church people. School teachers. Trusted friends. My dentist. People I care about. All with good thoughts and reasons. Worthy of response. So I’ll try.

First, as have some of you, Bernie Sanders, my once and perhaps future political hero, has proclaimed “this is not the time for a protest vote.” But he knows better. He knows, because he has been a protester. He knows this is exactly the time for a protest vote.

It’s the time, for the same reason teachers don’t protest during summer break (that, and because they are probably working second jobs). The same reason Kaepernick didn’t wait to take a knee during the untelevised off-season. If you’re thinking this isn’t the time, maybe you’re also thinking that Black Lives Matter shouldn’t be shutting down streets during rush hour, and those bus boycotters back in the day should only have boycotted from 9 am to 5 pm – from just after they arrived at work until right before they needed to go home. Maybe they could have made a good enough statement by not riding the bus at all during the work day. (Except, of course, for the ones who worked nights and weekends, but they so often don’t count anyway.)

The right time, in fact, is precisely when there is most opportunity to have an impact.

But, say some, there is too much on the line. The hyperventilation is epidemic, as the party leaders try to save us from the sky that is falling (a little Munchausen-esque, if you ask me). Could you imagine Trump as president? No, but I didn’t nominate him. What about the Supreme Court? As my mother would have said about my own childhood bad choices, “you should have thought about that before.”

Then there’s my favorite: you have to work within the system. But the system is the very problem. The system is exterminating and imprisoning black men. The system is exploiting immigrant labor while making immigrants a perennial political punching bag. The system is feeding our ever-growing addiction to poor people, while pretending to give a damn that people are poor. The system is gorging itself on corporate wealth, while pretending to care about income inequality. The system is distorting, dismantling and manipulating our communities and populations, to ensure its own longevity. The system is broken. And for the record, we who voted in the primaries did try to work within the system. The system swatted us away like gnats and went back to what it was doing. The Democratic party part of the system anointed its candidate before the voters spoke, then demanded we pledge allegiance.

Perhaps, at this moment, you believe I’ve wandered from astute political observer to wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. That could be true. Maybe you’re just bothered that my vote matters more than yours. I live in a swing state, so this may also be true. Michigan is one to watch. And if you’re mad that my vote matters more than yours, please keep in mind that I didn’t create that reality either. My preference would be for all votes to matter (just as I wish all lives mattered, but they don’t). I especially wished that in the years I voted in South Carolina, Texas and Kentucky. But that’s not the system we have.

I keep thinking of Lucy, Charlie Brown and that elusive football. Or, less entertaining, a family, a dysfunctional family, in which a single unproductive member regularly spends the rent money on something that is not rent, and then begs for more. That family member isn’t likely to do anything different as long as the replacement rent money keeps appearing – as long as the system keeps covering for his bad behavior, even while believing that this time will be different. But why would he change anything? He gets to behave badly with no consequences. So a healthy family may have to make the very painful decision to change its own behavior, even if it means seeing the beloved child living on the street. (Now I’ve lost your endorsement as a parent, too.) If you want something to be different, you have to do something different.

Those who benefit from our poisonous political system can’t be expected to change anything at all. The DNC wants us to believe they have nominated the person most likely to reform the system, but that’s a lie. Secret speeches to wealthy donors and lobbyists should be our clearest assurance that the DNC is as committed as ever to the system we have.

And if that doesn’t convince you, consider the numbers of Republicans announcing they’ll vote Democratic this time. A testament to how far right the DNC has moved. Rest assured, those GOP loyalists are getting what they want: a candidate who speaks to their issues, far afield of the Common Good.

The party plea to “elect us so we can fix this,” or “give us what we want and we’ll change next time,” rings hollow; next time never comes. At some point, mentally healthy people just refuse to participate in a fucked-up system. If this were a family system and we were in therapy, you know that’s what the therapist would say.

Now, it is possible you’re blaming all this 3rd party talk on “young Bernie supporters” who are new to the political process, who don’t have any patience, who need to grow up and learn how the real world works. Folks are saying a lot of that. But that’s not me. I’m middle-aged. I’m not naïve or ignorant. I’ve been through some election cycles. I’ve been a faithful Democrat and I’ve trusted the party. But it just keeps getting worse, as the party keeps moving further and further to the right. And I’m tired of the same old shit.

I live in a swing state now, and this is the most attention my vote has ever gotten. This may be the only time in my life that my vote matters at all. Of course I’m going to try to use it to change the system. Even if it threatens to bring down democracy as we know it. In fact, that’s pretty much what I’m hoping for.

It’s why I ever bother to vote at all.

star-spangled and all

This Wednesday, September 14, is the 202th anniversary of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner, a song that became America’s national anthem in 1931, more than 100 years after it was written, another bit of Herbert Hoover’s legacy.

I quit singing the national anthem more than 25 years ago. It is hard to sing, for sure; but moreover, I have had no taste for the militarism and dominance on which it is founded and which it spews. Plus, “the land of the free and the home of the brave” has never really rung true for me, as a lesbian lacking both civil rights and courageous political leaders who would be allies in the pursuit. America just doesn’t seem all that brave to me. We consistently avoid difficult conversations and strategic changes that would make life better for a lot of people, just because we’re afraid. “Land of the free, home of the brave” doesn’t describe America as I know it.

So I quit singing.

Colin Kaepernick is a pro football player who has also quit singing, choosing instead to sit or take a knee during each pre game rendition of the anthem. Colin has quit singing, and people are paying attention.

Two things have happened.

First, some people got mad. Began criticizing, vilifying, threatening him.

Second, some other people followed his lead. A small-but-growing group of athletes, some young students, run-of-the-mill Americans have seen a bravery and honesty in him that is inspiring them to ask questions, to review the lesser known lyrics of this patriotic song. People are paying attention. It’s how change happens.

This Wednesday, besides the birthday of this song, is also a little-noticed festival in the Church, Holy Cross Day, a day for remembering a key event of Christianity, the execution of Jesus.

But something happened to Jesus’ legacy along the way – much like so many other martyrs for causes: he got cleaned up. Co-opted. Reduced to bland, inoffensive nothingness. Our Jesus who resisted oppressive political systems, railed against unjust economic systems, demonstrated against military occupation, broke laws, rebelled against customs, cursed and called names, this Jesus was executed for conspiracy against the state, executed for being a problem. Crosses weren’t for swell guys that encouraged complacency. They were for troublemakers who weren’t going to take it anymore. That’s the paradox of Holy Cross. Sacred Insurrection.

Before the star-spangled banner, there was another song, several, in fact, all unofficially anthems of America. America, the Beautiful; My Country ‘Tis of Thee; Hail, Columbia. Maybe you’d prefer one of these as a “national anthem.”

In the African American tradition, the song often called the “Black national anthem” is “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which moves me to tears, so raw and honest it is:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our parents sighed?

And in the New Century Hymnal, there is this other that we’ve sung twice this summer:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine

There is a measure of humility in that song, which is not evident in the Star-Spangled Banner. How nice it would be to sing a song of national pride that doesn’t dwell on superiority, power or warfare.

This past Sunday, for Labor Day, we sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land,” with its equitable and hopeful refrain: “this land was made for you and me.” We even included the more stirring lyrics that usually get left out:

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple,
by the welfare office, I saw my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking:
Is this land made for you and me?

The thing is, we have choices. Things change. Life invites pondering. I’m appreciative of Colin Kaepernick for his brave act of sitting out this ugly song. Songs of country are not necessarily songs of faith in our secular nation; but the songs we sing tell us something about ourselves, about what we value, where we stand, how we live, the community we’d like to be.

Sunday was Rally Day at Woodside and so many churches, and it really all relates. Not in a “hate America” way, which some folks will assume from this writing; but in a “permission to figure it out” kind of way, which is the best kind of faith tradition. Permission to learn and grow and change and grow and change again and more. Including the songs that define our faith, including the songs that declare and command our greatest allegiances.

This Sunday, we began a new round of faith exploration for children and adults.The children continue learning the stories of faith; adults are exploring new connections between the faith we profess (faith which is ever evolving) and the lives that we live. In our worship, we continue to explore songs of faith, songs which help us express our deepest longings and greatest hopes.

Things keep changing. We keep singing.

But this doesn’t change: we are Woodside. And as always, you are welcome. Whatever your song.


(This first appeared in Woodside World, the newsletter of Woodside Church of Flint, MI)