As I watched Bernie Sanders’ speech last night at the Democratic National Convention, I was taken back to 1988, and the night Jesse Jackson spoke. I had voted for Jesse Jackson in the primaries, and was a big supporter of his that year. This followed two straight previous elections where I had voted for Ronald Reagan.
That’s right. I went from voting Reagan twice, to voting for Jesse Jackson. It tells you all you need to know about how people really can change. It tells you all you need to know about changes to my theology and my social views. Hearts can change. I’m living proof of that.
It had taken a lot to not only cross the aisle, but to cross it for a progressive candidate in the Democratic Party, for the first time. And I was devastated that he would not win. I remember Jackson saying “Keep Hope Alive.” And I wanted to believe in that ideal, but I remember crying that night, wondering if progressive ideals were hopeless gone forever….wondering how we could keep that hope alive.
For years afterward, I would listen to this Tish Hinojosa song, and tears would well. Would we keep hope alive? Was it actually possible?
I feel a great deal of empathy right now for the Bernie Sanders supporters, those crying in the hall last night, and perhaps also around the country. Those who are angry and feel they have legitimate reasons to not like Hillary Clinton. All I can say is: I feel your pain. I really do.
America is made more perfect, election after election, not by any one election. While he was never my candidate of choice this cycle, I’m grateful for Bernie Sanders. I’m grateful for how he has already pushed the Democratic Party. He has pushed the party to the most progressive platform ever. And I hope and trust he is not finished reshaping the party, and the nation. I’ve said for sometime that the nation needs a bottom-up political movement on the left, and Bernie more than anybody else I know could be the one to lead that. You cannot lead a bottom up revolution from the top down. But losing the nomination doesn’t have to mean the revolution is over either.
So, I feel great compassion and empathy for anyone who feels dejected, or angry, today.
In the 1988 General Election, I eventually voted for Michael Dukakis. I was not thrilled about him, but I understood why important it was to do so, and why it was important to understand America as a union that is made more perfect election after election, not in any one election. I did my best to keep my personal hopes alive.
And eventually I was pleased to vote for a president from a “place called hope,” and then, as if fulfilling Jackson’s dream, another who believed in the “audacity of hope.”
Hope is powerful, and necessary, for anyone who wishes to be involved in real social change. I hope and pray that Sanders’ supporters continue to push our nation toward a hopeful future. Jesse Jackson arguably revolutionized the Democratic Party in a way that led to Barack Obama. Jackson paved the way for a generation of African-American leadership in the Democratic Party.
As a Christian minister, one of the things I love about the Democratic Party is that it has, in modern history, always managed to do this…to broaden, to welcome in others.
The LGBTQ community.
It’s a motley crew. As we witnessed yesterday, and as we may witness all week, it’s never pretty. It’s messy, and it sometimes feels like it pits one group against another. There are political maneuverings and machinations. Will Rogers was right.
But it’s the most inclusive party in American politics, and has been since the at least the 1980s. And now, the new calling will be for the party to continue to open itself to the vision of young Sanders supporters. I’ve seen this happen with other groups who perhaps believed they’d never have a place at the Democratic table too. And now they do. Some of them lead the party now.
We got the first African-American president in 2008, twenty years after Jackson’s speech. That election did not put an end to racism in America, to say the least. If anything, racism has been rearing its ugly head more that ever during the Obama presidency. (A blog on the subject of “Moral Licensing,” inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s podcast, is coming soon…and helps explain this…)
I confess that for too many years of my adult life, I’ve labored under the false assumption that racism would “die out” eventually. Maybe that comes from my White privilege, I don’t know.
It also comes from seeing actual progress, and falsely believing that this change indicates permanent change. I think my elders even told me this when I was younger. “Don’t worry, all the old racists will eventually die…”
Eventually, all the Bull Connors will be dead.(1) And that certainly happened.
But then, the Charleston shooting happened too. A young White man, driven in part by racial hate, guns down innocent worshipers in their church. And if that doesn’t convince you “progress” is never a straight, unwavering line, I don’t know what else will. The calling to work for racial justice repeats in every generation, and will never end.
Tonight, Democrats will nominate a woman for President of the United States, following on the heels of nominating a Black man, twice. That progression is…progressive.
Yes, these are symbolic victories. But they are also signs of genuine progress. Progress moves forward, takes a step backward, then moves forward again. I wish this were not so. But it seems to be.
If Hillary Clinton is elected president, it will surely not signal an end to sexism. In fact, as my next blog will explore, we should assume quite the opposite. Therefore, I say the next thought with greatest respect for my progressive friends…
Bashing the first woman president, because she is “not progressive enough” is, in its own way and context, a very special kind of rareified “privilege.” (I say this in love to all my progressive friends, and invite us all to meditate on it, should the assertion in any way anger you…)
As I said above, I have every confidence that the progressive movement within the Democratic Party will continue to grow, and that this is a necessary and inevitable movement. This will take hard work, because as we’ve just been saying, no progressive change is “inevitable.” But the demographics are encouraging.
America, as I argued first in 2008, is actually a Center-Left nation. We are not a “left-wing” nation. But we are center left, and we are moving toward the left, and not away from it. Bernie Sanders’ movement helps prove this assertion once again.
I trust this continued progressive movement of the party and the nation will happen.
I realize that others reading this may not trust this, and see no evidence of this. Trust is, in fact, the major issue. Trust is what’s missing in all of our discourse all across the nation.
As a nation we are being taught —conservative, progressive, moderate, gay, straight, Black, White, Brown, Poor, Rich— not to trust each other. Again, you can point to a million true reasons why we should not trust each other. A million broken promises. A million squashed dreams.
Who knows what young leader will emerge to move Sanders’ vision forward?
We did not know the name Barack Obama on the night Jesse Jackson called us to “Keep Hope Alive,” and I cried big tears, believing that progressive values would never again make it to the national stage.
I trust, then, that new leaders will emerge, and that Sanders will also continue to lead this movement as well.
Despite our many problems, and they are real problems, I happen to believe the future of our nation is bright.
And, where ever your feelings are today, I pray that everyone can come to understand the truth of how we are #bettertogether
(1) I believe this same progressive optimism, and belief in the false narrative of the inevitability of change, is driving many in the United Methodist Church on the question of LGBTQ inclusion…that if we just wait long enough, enough people will change their minds and freely and willingly change our polity. Nothing, IMHO, could be further from the historical truth of either political or ecclesial change. But this view seems to be driving the actions of many, especially our moderate leaders.