now what do we do?

revolution (no image data available)
Mandate? Sea change? I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on in my country. When I lived in Humboldt, I used to see a lot of old pickup trucks with bumper stickers that read, “I love my country, but I fear my government.” I understood the sentiment. I understood how one could feel distrustful of the government. How one could look at our political leaders and get the sense that they were not acting in our best interests but in their own interests.

And then I woke up this morning and thought to myself, I fear them both now. I fear both my government and my fellow citizens.

I don’t know why Kerry lost. I don’t know why so many House and Senate seats went to the Republican Party. I don’t know why eleven states voted to ban same-sex marriage. My political sooth-saying isn’t that deep. But one thing is clear. Baring massive voter fraud on a scale that would have to be nothing short of a diabolically evil, grand conspiracy, at least half of the voters yesterday voted for the status quo. At least half the voting public believes that the Republican Party isn’t steering them in the wrong direction, isn’t looking them in the eyes and telling them one thing while consciously doing another. I used to give my fellow citizens a lot more credit. And yesterday I was proven wrong. Today I woke up feeling nothing less than despair.

But I can not give into this despair. And I can not advocate that anyone out there gives into despair either. I could easily list a dozen perfectly logical and valid reasons why the elections went the way they did. But I’ll leave that to the true pundits in the world. I need to remember my own strengths here. I’m a Buddhist philosopher. And at base, there’s really only one reason why the elections swung the way they did. The Three Poisons.

According to Buddhism, the Three Poisons are greed, hatred, and ignorance. And of these, ignorance is the greatest. I believe that ignorance is the single greatest threat to our country at present. I believe this ignorance is perpetuated by the media. Is sustained by our consumer economy which creates the desire for more material possessions and ease and comfort in our lives at the cost of true emotional or spiritual health and happiness. I believe that there are a great number of people in this country who, quite simply, don’t know any better.

It’s not simply a question of a “better education.” It’s not simply a question of “more money for schools.” And I’m certainly not putting myself on some sort of academic, liberal pedestal claiming to know all the answers to all the worlds questions. But I have a firm faith in the notion that if even a fraction of the folks who swung right yesterday knew two or three facts not garnered from Fox News or CNN or even the New York Times, we would live in a different world. It’s a more basic knowledge of which I speak. Not something that needs to be learned under the auspices of an ivy league school or at the foot of a self-important guru. It is a simple truth that anyone can learn.

For starters, the gulf between those who have money and wealth in this country and those who do not is growing faster and faster with each passing day. But what’s far worse is that those who have nothing, those who have no wealth, are still deluded into believing that they can become wealthy in their life times.

And that’s just not statistically possible. It isn’t going to happen. And any politician who tells you differently – whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat – is lying to you.

Secondly, we can not go it alone. And not just the War or the invasion. Not even this false mandate. We can not go it alone. We can not act on our own desires with no regard to others because no one is an island unto themselves. No one exist apart from everyone else on this earth. And our actions have repercussions on others whether we know it or not. Whether we like it or not. We simply can not turn a blind eye to those around us. And anyone who tells you that they are a compassionate conservative, a compassionate liberal – hell, a compassionate house plant – while at the same time waging a war, excluding people from happiness, taking away other people’s rights and freedoms, or creating economic obstacles to clean air and water or health services is simply not being compassionate.

It’s a logical fallacy to believe that a compassionate person would claim that a certain class of people are inferior to another. And any politician who tells you differently is lying to you.

These are simple truths. For a second, for a moment, forget everything you know. Forgot who you voted for and why. Forget work and bills and house payments and kids. Forget family and friends and the demands they place on you. Forget your fears. Even your hopes. And look deep into your heart. You know these things to be true. That all persons, regardless of their background, deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. And it is when we mistreat others that they feel compelled to react. And their reaction causes our reaction. And our reaction causes another. And the cycle of hatred and greed and ignorance and violence will not stop.

Until you make a choice.

It makes no difference who started the fight. We still have the power to stop. We have the obligation to take the higher moral ground.

At every moment of our lives we have the choice to stop this cycle. To act from a place of love and compassion and reject fear and animosity. We do not need to do what we are told.

And in this time of despair for folks like me, and even folks to the right of me who are afraid to take a stand, I urge you to remember one simple truth. At base, people in this country right now are being driven by ignorance and fear. And while the Democratic Party, the Greens, and progressives everywhere, try to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it, keep it in your heart that fear and ignorance can be overcome. That we have the opportunity, the right, the duty, the obligation to educate people.

If you’re a teacher, seize that power.

If you’re a parent, seize that power.

If you’re a student, seize that power.

Everywhere in your life you have the chance to educate those around you. To stand up and point out the holes, the glaring omissions, in the party line. Seize that power.

But do not forget compassion. Do not forget that no one responds to Bible thumping. Even if your Bible is the Bill of Rights. Teach out of compassion. If your unwilling student is Christian, talk to them about Jesus. Read the Bible and point them to passages where Jesus implores us to love our fellow men and women as family. If your unwilling student is concerned about saving more money on his paycheck in the form of tax cuts, talk about how those tax cuts create deficit spending that our children and our grandchildren will eventually have to pay back. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Educate, teach, from a space of love and compassion. Talk to people from their own concerns, not yours.

Walk in another’s shoes. Then show them that they don’t have to walk in those shoes. That they don’t have to walk that path. That there is another way.

Be an advocate. Not a zealot.

Some believe that things will get worse before they can get better. I don’t know. I can not see all ends. But to give in to that despair and do nothing is akin to voting with the party line without question, without freely thinking. To give in to despair, to give up all hope, is exactly what they want us to do. It will be a hard fight. There are many obstacles. But that is never a reason to quit.

We may be headed down a dangerous road. But if the Buddha teaches us anything it is that nothing lasts forever. And I’ll be damned if I will let the ship sink without putting up a fight.

Please, spread the word. Please link to this site. And please send me news and information that I can share. The World Wide Web is a powerful tool and it is ours for the taking. The fight has only just begun.

In peace and hope,

Scott Mitchell

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