January 2020

On Architects

2020-01-23T04:04:57+00:00January 23rd, 2020|Politics|

On the second floor of the King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, among the stately brown suits that Martin Luther King Jr. once wore, there is a dog-eared book. The text is Mahatma Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments With Truth. You can see King’s scrupulous notes in the margins. If you try hard enough, you can see King himself, deep in thought with a pencil in his hand, laying the intellectual foundation of the movement that he would lead.

Then try following King’s footsteps to India. To the Raj Gat in Delhi, where Gandhi was cremated and where King once laid a wreath before the eternally burning flame. To the Sabarmati Ashram in the city of Ahmedabad, where a diminutive Indian barrister cast off his Western clothes and fancy tastes and found the asceticism that he would keep until his death. You can stand in the small chamber where King also stood and where Gandhi once slept. And if you try hard enough, you can see Gandhi still, lying awake in the dark, his mind weaving the mythos that would come to be associated with freedom for 300 million people.

These men are remembered as extraordinary ideological architects. They are remembered as architects, in large part, because they are frozen in amber. They were killed before they could inhabit the things they built.


November 2018

A Dispatch from the Trail

2020-01-20T19:54:42+00:00November 3rd, 2018|Politics|

I am down in southeast Atlanta campaigning for Stacey Abrams. It feels good.

Four days from election day, there’s a vacuum in the air, like a beast the size of a state is taking a big gulping breath that it will soon expel all at once. The beast is Politics. With hope, it will deliver the nation’s first black woman governor and the first adamantly progressive southern Democratic governor in the better part of a century.

Campaign volunteering means putting your time and energy at the mercy of 21-year-old field organizers who—if they are good—exude the same steely authority as Ulysses S. Grant. The good ones act like Grant, too, throwing volunteers into a meat-grinder until the problem is solved and grinning and bearing it as the Main Office (for there’s always another, more Main one) changes its mind for the third time and erases thousands of hours of labor.


October 2017

Always Politicize Tragedy

2017-10-03T00:49:37+00:00October 3rd, 2017|Politics|

The internet renders us an immediate, intimate observer to tragedies in all corners of the world. But the internet changes very little in what we can actually do. We are largely as powerless as the audiences of a century past; we just happen to learn things an order of magnitude more quickly.

For most Americans, therefore, the only “good” that comes of national calamity is the way that it briefly sharpens and focuses our collective attention. For a few days, most people are thinking about the same thing. We learn about the disaster’s human cost, we consider its causes, and—ideally—we ponder what collective action we can take to keep it from happening again.

Always politicize tragedy. Unless you are giving money or blood or volunteering on the front lines, politicization is the one good thing you can do. Use Hurricane Irma to learn about the purposeful dismantling of environmental safeguards in the state of Florida; use the horrifying deaths of nearly 60 people in Las Vegas to familiarize yourself with the policies that enabled this gunman to acquire such a destructive arsenal so quickly.

A “thought and prayer” is nothing. It is something you can do, quite literally, in your sleep. Thinking critically about why something happened and how it can be stopped is the barest thing you can do. As an American, it is something you must do. And lest you think that the “don’t politicize” crowd is sincere in its beliefs, consider tonight’s take from Bill O’Reilly:

Public safety demands logical gun laws but the issue is so polarizing and emotional that little will be accomplished as there is no common ground.

The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned.

This is the price of freedom.  Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.

Already, the pundits of the American gun lobby are roaring to action. Because the shooter was not a man of color, they intend to preach a gospel of powerlessness. They intend to tell you that “this is just the way things are,” as if a definitive interpretation of the 2nd Amendment has been carved in granite. As if it is right or normal for an industrialized nation to bear more mass shootings than there are days of the year.

More Americans were killed last night in Las Vegas than were in operations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan combined. This is not the “price of freedom.” This is a conspiracy between moneyed interests and pliable politicians. It is distilled greed and cruelty. It has no place in a just society.

November 2016

What Will Come Now

2016-12-28T22:03:06+00:00November 10th, 2016|Politics|

First there will be the rain of op eds, and as you nod along, the words will taste like ash in your mouth. You will know that all the paper fury in the world will not change this. The people who mattered—the people with whom we lost touch—don’t even read these things anymore.

In time, the fury will fade, because no fire lasts forever. There will be nothing to do but accept it. This is how our nation works.

Accept the result, obviously, but not submit to it all it might entail. The things that he has promised to bring—deportation forces, an expansion of enemy targeting to include women and children, and the return of state-sanctioned torture—cannot be accepted. They must be opposed in every way we know.


May 2016

Upon Whom to Place the Blame

2016-12-28T21:37:54+00:00May 5th, 2016|Politics|

Donald J. Trump will bear the banner of the Republican Party in November. There is a not insignificant chance that he could become President of the United States. Many Republicans are upset. As #NeverTrump dies with a whimper, woebegone partisans will soon turn to recrimination, asking themselves just how it all went wrong.

In the process, they will strain, eagerly, to cast the blame beyond themselves — to find scapegoats and straw men that somehow trump the terror of Trump himself. As this #BlameOtherPeople movement swells, some members may even jump through the cognitive hoops necessary to cast a clothespin vote for Trump, reasoning that the bigoted insanity of their nominee is not really the fault of themselves or their party. Instead, they will say, it is simply the consequence of being dealt a bad hand. Nothing to do but make the best of it and hope, next time, for better luck.

We should not let them off so easy.


October 2012


2016-12-28T21:37:57+00:00October 21st, 2012|Politics|

Originally published October 21, 2012

I was sad when I saw that George McGovern had entered hospice last week, and I was sad to hear that he passed earlier today. We’re losing an important generation of American statesmen; McGovern ranked high on that list.

My dad gave me a McGovern pin when I was little and speaks fondly of his time volunteering for the ’72 McGovern campaign. For a lot of young people who had embraced 60s counterculture, McGovern pushed them to finally participate in the system they’d spent the last decade fighting against. His subsequent (crushing) defeat turned many of them away from politics forever.

Read a McGovern obituary and you’ll see that it was his principles and ideas, not his accomplishments, that earned him a place in American history. He was a champion of lost causes. He had supporters, but never enough. He was lauded and respected by both sides, but seldom listened to. I suspect that often, when McGovern would take the stage, more than a few in the (polite) audience were thinking, “There he goes again…”