work to be done

It is March 4th, 2009. Barack Obama has been president of these United States for exactly forty-two days. And it occurred to me this morning that since he took office, I haven’t written a damn thing about politics. If you look at the archives, you’ll notice that I have a category specifically for politics and, as of this writing, I’ve written more about politics than I have about Buddhism and religion combined. You might think that since my candidate won, maybe I’ve stopped worrying about politics, that I have no reason to write long missives about how the Man is screwing up this country.

Maybe I don’t have a reason to write long missives. Maybe the Man is no longer screwing up the country. To be perfectly frank, despite how much attention the new President has been getting, I prefer to judge a President’s job performance after he’s actually done something. And so far, he hasn’t really done anything. He’s only started to do things. Check back with me in a few months and ask me if I think things have improved. But really, right now, it’s too early to tell.

On the other hand… on the other hand…

Despite the fact that some things have changed — and will continue to change — some things haven’t changed a bit. And I know damn well that there are still fights to be fought, battles to be won. Or, to use less militant rhetoric, there are things we need to teach one another, lessons to be learned, hearts to be opened, minds to be changed.

I was watching The Daily Show the other day, and a couple of things struck me. First, I was struck by how it seems like the writers are still getting their footing. Some of the jokes landed pretty well; others didn’t exactly fall flat, but they didn’t seem to have the same punch as when they had such an easy target. But the other thing that struck me, the other thing that worried me and prompted this post, was their coverage of the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting (or, NAMBLA). It occurred to me that regardless of who’s in power, there are a lot of people in this country who still don’t get it.

The more these folks don’t get it, the more voice we give them, the more we sit back in silent complacency and think that since our guy won everything’s going to be okay, the more likely it’s going to be 1994 all over again.

Remember 1994? You don’t? Let me remind you. We had a Democrat in the White House and majorities in both Houses of Congress. Newt “the Grinch” Gingrinch and bunch of hawkish, science-phobic, right-wing nut-jobs took control of the message, took over Congress, and (a) made it extremely difficult for the more progressive-minded folks to do anything for the next six years, (b) decided to prosecute the President for getting a blow job, and (c) laid the groundwork for the “election” of George W. Bush and ushered in what I am hence-force going to refer to as the Dark Times.

Let’s not let that happen again. Let’s not let a minority of homophobic, close-minded, scared, and ignorant folks who unfortunately have major media backing take control of the rhetoric and conversation about the direction the country is headed in. We may have won the election, but that didn’t really change anything. We still have to find a way out of two wars; we still have to find a way out of this recession; we still have to find a way to slow and/or stop global warming; we still need to reestablish the scientific community in this country; we still need to fix public education; we still need fight against homophobia, racism, sexism, and the actual class warfare that the socio-economic elites have been waging against this nation’s poor for decades. None of these issues magically went away on January 20th.

I am reminded by simple-minded fools like Bobby Jindal, by the upcoming battle before the California State Supreme Court, and images like this one that there is still much work to be done.

I think, personally, I’ve been trying to find my footing since the election. I actually spend a good amount of time teaching my Japanese students about race issues in this country. How I do that necessarily changes as a result of President Obama’s win. (Or, to put it more precisely, what my students think they know about America has changed which creates a different set of expectations.) Moreover, circa October 2008, I was fairly obsessed with the election, with the news cycle. Once it was all over, I think I needed a mental break. And I think I’ve been a little reluctant to get back into the fray.

But that’s very likely to change.

And I take that less-militant rhetoric I used up there seriously. Now is not the time to scream, to sink to the level of certain conservative pundits and blow hards, and shout down at the people with whom we disagree. Now is the time to gently coax, to inform, to educate, to actually do the work of changing the world.

The election was only the start. There is ever more work to be done.