The bar is on the floor! Let’s pick it up

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the white house. some shit has gone down in here wikimedia commons

Guys everything still sucks

There is another administration in the American White House now. In another piece published in the Carillon this week, Kamala Harris is described as a step forward for women in positions of power. It is also acknowledged that there are valid critiques of her policies. If I can be forgiven for belabouring a point, I have to stress that I disagree with the optimism of that article, and that it isn’t only Harris’ and Biden’s policies that I find less than hopeful; it’s the faith many have in institutions like these as a whole. It is far past time for us to be serious about what is helping us save lives and move forward politically, and what is holding us back. We need to be honest with ourselves about what is not working.

This is not necessarily an article in response, but it is a less impressed view on the same subject. Many of my friends live in the States, and I see the ripples of the American right in our own community so quickly now (the Trump rallies on January 6 right here on the prairies, in Red Deer, as one example), so I  feel I can’t afford to look away. Truthfully, I did not feel like celebrating at all when Trump left office. I felt exhaustion, not relief, as if the fire was maybe burning a little lower but it was still very much on. What made me more exhausted, though, was the resignment of so many people – the way people were treating Harris, AOC, Bernie and other democrats as celebrities and saviors. I caution myself against hero worship of any kind, no matter how much I admire someone’s contributions in the world, but in this case I didn’t even really feel like it made sense. There were people this year who were shot – had their eyes taken out – who got tear-gassed, who got trampled, who got run over in the streets to protect their loved ones or community members they didn’t even know. Despite all that senseless violence, people think that the spectacle of the inauguration is what’s meant to change everything?

When we watch white supremacists carrying, among other things, a cross onto the lawn of the capitol, and be all but welcomed by cops with arrests only occurring after a fact, we need to admit that this is not an institution where meaningful or brave changes take place. Much like Canada’s government that dresses its colonial violence in a friendly façade, the American government is more concerned with its image and symbolic power than it is with the rights of its citizens. If we measure success, in any state, by what’s going on in institutions like this, we will have neither an accurate nor a radical picture of the true state of change. Even things like the speedy cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by Biden are victories that it would be foolish to credit any president for. Those were victories hard-won by people the American and Canadian governments both did their best to suppress for years.

We do now have a Black woman in the seat of vice president. That is in fact unprecedented, just as it would have been unprecedented for Hilary Clinton to win the presidency years before. But we also have Black women outside of government who have been advocating for decarceration and prison abolition with far less material support. Meanwhile, Harris continues to support policies that support increased arrests and incarcerations, and target trans women and sex workers. It was also unprecedented to witness Barack Obama’s presidency, and this was culturally monumental in many respects, but it was not inspiring for him to win the Nobel Peace Prize with a record of over 500 drone strikes that lead to a very unpeaceful swath of deaths in the global south. We all deserve better than this, and this is no legacy for anyone to aspire to.

I truly understand, and have felt for myself, the need to be optimistic this year. It seems like everything is permanently terrible, everything is falling apart, and it would be so nice if for once there could be some justice. But loving justice needs to be what pushes us to demand more of our world, not to settle for the lesser evil when there is still fighting to do. A few years ago, I would have echoed what I had heard all the time: “let this radicalize you” – but by this time, radicalization is due. You should not be comfortable with the state of the world right now. Gestures like the ones made at the inauguration, or like the address on anti-racism made in our government this week, are surface-level acknowledgements of the problems that are in practice still occurring. Simply having someone in office, or having a statement made, is something we have a lot of evidence for being ineffective.

I know we are all depressed and hopeless as hell, and it’s likely that the more aware you make yourself and the more you pay attention, the harder it feels. But all the people I know who are both politically aware and fulfilled stay that way by divesting from institutions and investing in their communities. Whether or not people in settler governments represent you matters much less than whether or not you and the people immediately around you have each other’s backs. It may take you a while to build that trust – I know I’m not there yet – but I can almost guarantee that unless we express and fight for our own needs, we will be let down.

Also, the Bernie memes were funny for a while because I know we all needed a laugh, but it is time to stop now. I saw someone get a tattoo of it. He’s literally just sitting there.

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