Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My Worst Vote Ever

Today I voted, incredibly reluctantly, to re-elect Barack Obama. This is easily the worst vote I've ever cast. The sad part is that there were no good options.

Those of you who know me well know that I was all prepared to vote third-party. And in an ideal world, I would have. Rocky Anderson, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson are all better than Obama on a lot - really, most - of the issues I care about. But at some point during this election cycle I realized something - you can't make a symbolic gesture if no one recognizes your symbolism. And because there's no real anti-war movement, and no real pro-civil liberties movement, a protest vote accomplishes exactly zilch.

The point, for those of us who care about Pakistani children and possibly innocent Americans getting blown up by robots, is this: we lost long, long ago. We lost when the anti-war movement, which was so strong during Bush's second term, lost its way. We lost when we let Obama get bullied into keeping Guantanamo open with nary a peep. We lost when there weren't massive marches in our cities about the kill list, or dead Pakistani wedding parties. And so we can't possibly win now.

We have to work to get back to the point where war and civil liberties are actual issues over which elections can be won and lost. Which means we have to do the hard work of convincing others that the drone war is cruel and counterproductive, that the kill list is unconstitutional and dangerous, and that Guantanamo is unnecessary. And when we've done that, and when we've organized ourselves into a bloc capable of swinging elections, we can actually have an effect.

(The anti-War on Drugs movement is getting there, as evidenced by the presence of pro-legalization ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington this year, so I'm not talking about that as much. A broader reform of the criminal justice system, however, is long overdue.)

To extend a metaphor Mike and I used to discuss this: it doesn't matter if the good party serves better beer - if no one else is there, you're still drinking alone.  I'd rather go to the bar with all the people in it and get everyone to bitch loudly about how the beer is so damn shitty, and then maybe they'll change the keg.

Now I have no idea how to go about doing this. I'm no political expert and have no idea how to start/grow a movement. But I know it needs to be done, and that there's no point in casting a protest vote until such a movement exists.

And one more thing. It's about high time we, as an electorate, stopped trying to imagine the president with powers befitting a mystical king. The president cannot pass laws on his (or eventually her) own. Congress still exists, and it will pass a law or a budget or whatever when it damn well feels like it. The president can't fix the economy - or ruin it. The president can't keep us safe from everyone who wants to hurt us, nor should we expect that. The most important governments in your life are your local and state government. The more we lose track of these facts, the worse our electoral process will be. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ones Who Walk Away From Chick-Fil-A

How can I tell you about Chick-Fil-A? How to describe its chicken sandwiches, long considered the most excellent of all the fast-food chains; its waffle fries, its delicious lemonade. How it is a great (if a bit creepy) place to work, at least compared with other fast-food giants; how it attempts to do some good along the way...

But what about this: that charitable spirit has led Chick-Fil-A to give money to several unsavory characters, some of which are engaged in so-called "reparative therapy" for gay and lesbian folks - a practice which the British Medical Association has stated is harmful and which was described as psychological torture? If supporting the great system Chick-Fil-A built meant supporting a few torturers, could we still enjoy it?

If this all sounds familiar, it's because Ursula K. LeGuin kinda covered it already. In "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", LeGuin describes a utopian society where everyone is happy and fulfilled - it tends more toward the John Lennon vision of utopia than the Thomas More one, but that's not an important detail. The point is that the happiness and idyll of this society are dependent upon the torture of a small child in some basement somewhere in the city. Everyone in the city is told about it, knows about it, but most accept it. Some, however, just walk away from the city, unable to deal with the fact that so much pleasure is dependent upon one person's pain.

The Chick-Fil-A saga seems similar to me. Here we have an organization that is widely -and justifiably - praised for being a positive model of a fast-food chain. They make great food, treat their employees well, and encourage giving back to the community. But the same values that lead them to set up this positive model are the very same ones that lead them to support torturers like Exodus International. So do we accept that the price of our model franchise is some suffering from some gay folks somewhere? Or do we, like the ones who walk away from Omelas, abandon Chick-Fil-A as irredeemably tainted?
I don't have the answers here. Presumably that was the point of the story - to ask readers to consider the point at which negative externalities outweigh the positives. And when we consider boycotting Chick-Fil-A, we have to ask ourselves if it's worth giving up all the good that they do because of the bad things they do.

I haven't eaten Chick-Fil-A in many months. I gave it up during the Amendment One fight - crossed LeGuin's mountains out of town - and haven't been back since. But that's easier for me to do than for many others. Sure, Chick-Fil-A's spicy chicken and waffle fries are great, but basically next door there's an excellent turkey and brie croissant with sweet potato fries that's just as good, if not better. It's as if there were another town across the mountains that was just as happy, but didn't involve child torture to keep it that way. Leaving town is a no-brainer at that point. But if giving up Chick-Fil-A meant running into the arms of the rest of Fast Food Nation? I don't know.

Perhaps, then, that's the way out of the dilemma here. We should use this Chick-Fil-A debacle as an opportunity to investigate the options that keep money closer to home, that concentrate less wealth in the hands of rich anti-gay people. Perhaps even if the Village Deli people are anti-gay, they won't be able to do as much damage as would a larger corporation. And who knows, you might find an place that leaves our homophobic Omelas in the dust.