Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Leaving Institutional Politics (It's Not Me, It's You)

My experience with institutional politics was wonderful, terrible, exciting, frustrating, embarrassing, was all the adjectives you can think of to convey emotion and now it's over.

In 2008 I decided I wanted to do something I believed in, something good and pure and right. I walked into the Democratic Party campaign office and asked if there was anything I could do to help. A year and a half later I was the Elections Chair, a position that I've come to call 'Blame Magnet.' It's a thankless job suitable only for egomaniac masochists with questionable tempers and a high tolerance for pain and grain alcohol. I fit right in.

I also took on the secondary responsibility of human torpedo. This is the thing I'll be most remembered for within that small group and probably the reason I burned myself out so fast. You see, a lot of conversations within these meetings start out with a person saying something stupid like: 'You know, someone needs to do something about...' or, 'It turns out that that legislator from the other side is a real scumbag both in his personal and public life, someone should...' and someone was me.

They're going to try and sell the nursing home, can you take the lead on this? Sure. Why not?

That Republican elected is turning county politics into Lord of the Flies, we have what we need to show folks what a disgusting human being he is, but no one quite has the guts to pull the trigger on this.... Give me the file and ten minutes to change my clothes; if I'm going for a roll in the gutter I don't want to be wearing these nice pants.

The Independence Party is bypassing local control and rigging endorsements through a high end elected official and our news outlets don't seem to care at all? OK, this should be good. If traditional media won't make these hog-fuckers famous then I'll do it myself.

That's how it went. Show me the bad guy, shove me in the tube and launch me headfirst at perilous speed. No one forced me to do any of this. I volunteered. I volunteered because nothing had changed in my own mind. I was still there to do some good and occasionally I succeeded in doing just that.

We won the nursing home battle, or at least we thought we did at the time. That legislator with questionable morality fought back hard, but he's gone. The Independence Party got away clean because one of my own decided personal comfort at work was more important than telling the truth. You can't win them all I suppose.

Who knows if winning even matters in these instances? After all, these are just the down-card fights, the minor skirmishes that get the audience screaming for blood before the Main Event of election season. They are just a part of the natural flow of politics that starts with issue advocacy and moves on to recruiting to balloting to campaigning to election night. It is a process that sucks out every molecule of your energy and will and on election night whether you win or lose, you feel like you could sleep for a thousand years just as soon as you're done laughing or crying or drinking. When you wake up the next morning you swear to yourself you're never going to put yourself through that again, or at least you're going to take a vacation first, but within a month or two you find out that that group of soulless, feckless cretins and morons the other side just got elected are preparing some new poison pill for their constituents to swallow.

It always happened that way. At least it did here. So I'd get my facts together and go to the next committee meeting, but the dynamic was changing. People were starting to treat me like a I was an angry cobra. Hell, I almost felt that way myself. I felt toxic and it was all self-efficacy. I was what these people said they wanted. I was the somebody who would when they couldn't and I was always upping the ante because when you pick fights with an entrenched power structure, detente is never an option.

As in most relationships, though, what people think they want and say they want is almost never what they really want. So many of these people liked the idea of what I was doing more than they liked the reality. Maybe the thought of someone stomping all over local politics shoulders hunched and scowling was fun at first, but when the time came for a real gut check no one else wanted to participate. I was still scowling, but it was at my own people and I knew I was going to have to leave soon.

The end came for me when I volunteered to help out with a local charity. I realized after I'd agreed to go that I'd be spending the whole night with people from the other side and I almost chose not to show up. This was an opportunity to do something good and pure, no sides, no battle lines and I felt like I couldn't go because of who I was. That was it for me.

So maybe now I won't have to drag my daughter to a campaign office on a Saturday, maybe I can spend some more time playing with my dog, maybe I can go on a date without worrying whether or not the girl is a damned Republican, maybe I can get drunk on St. Patrick's Day and not have to discuss school consolidation or the crooked IDA and maybe I can finally feel comfortable being critical of the people in my own party when we're the ones cooking up the poison pills (I'm looking at you Congresswoman Hochul, that CISPA vote was bull-shit,) and critical I will be.

There will never be another meeting with not-quite-gutsy-enough liberals who would rather save the whales than save their own neighborhoods.

I'll never be sold out again for thirty pieces of silver and a comfy office environment.

I'll never pay annual dues to organizations I didn't even know I was supposed to belong to.

And NO ONE will ever get to say to me, 'You know, someone should really...'

1 comment:

Russ Stresing said...
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