When I was in college, undergrad that is, I was politically active, some might say very active. I was part of the student government, protested the first Iraqi War, and worked pretty hard on getting students registered to vote. I actively campaigned for the Democratic candidate for the US Congress seat in East Lansing and I volunteered for Bill Clinton in 1992. You would think moving to a political city like Chicago I would still be at it and you would be wrong.
Though Chicago is a political town, it is also a very insular town. The old saying for an out of towner is, “you couldn’t get elected dog catcher in this town” which is used even when not discussing one’s candidacy, but something as simple as one’s opinion about a local issue. It is a quick and easy way for locals to dismiss anything you have to say. What’s more, politics in Chicago is not very competitive, really. For the better part of my seventeen years (yikes!) here there had been only one mayor, love him or hate him it was a forgone conclusion that Richie Daley was the mayor. Same goes for the aldermanic seats, the only way to see a change in those positions was by federal indictment. Also, all things being equal, especially in the 1990s, the city was booming, my neighborhood was in good shape and I kind of liked Daley.
The same can’t be said for the congressional candidate I worked for in 1992. The guy was a jerk, pure and simple. I didn’t feel particularly good about volunteering for a guy that I just didn’t like but agreed with on a number of issues. I don’t prescribe to the idea that a candidate has to be someone I like that, “I can have a beer with” in order to vote for them, but at the same time I think it is an ok criteria for devote ones free time to a campaign. As I’ve aged, more and more candidates fall into that second category, not particularly good people, but fill the seat and act according to what I find important. Even so, after the 1992 election I haven’t felt compelled to give of my time to help someone get elected. The one minor exception is that I will sign a petition for anyone seeking to get on the ballot. Yes, anyone. I firmly believe that the two party systems is incredibly stacked against a true exchange of ideas and if more nuanced, and yes, more diverse views were made acceptable we would have a more productive legislature and a more informed public.
Speaking of the informed public, this is probably the major reason of why I don’t get involved in campaigns and protests these days. The idea that the media is inherently liberal is a shibboleth that isn’t even up for argument, though the most watched news station is Fox News and CNN seems hell-bent on becoming TMZNN. What’s more, actual news organizations, ones that try and fact check, confirm with more than one source, you know journalism, are treated as equals to any website that trades in rumor, innuendo and conspiracy theories. The discourse often gets to such a realm of absurdity that the better option is just to ignore it and move on, or like my friend Plucky, decide to quote Measure for Measure each time a political rant appears in his Facebook timeline.* His last update had him through Act One I believe.
*I really like that he is doing this too. I did something similar on twitter after Gabby Giffords was shot. It seemed like the calls for unity and national compassion were immediately drowned out by partisan debates over gun laws. I felt unity was a better message and my 150 followers were treated to ‘Leaves of Grass’, quoted every hour on the hour. That seems like a good idea again too.
It is this lack of willingness to engage in any real discussion that I truly miss. In college, I recall with great fondness some of the debates my friends and I engaged in over political issues, societal issues and other events of the day. Maybe it was better because I was younger. A lot of things were better when I was younger, a product of age I suppose. Maybe I’ve just become lazy and don’t care as much as I once did. I do think, however, that part of the problem is we don’t discuss much face to face anymore. I always find it much harder to insult someone when they are sitting in front of me, not impossible, but harder.