Come Together, Right Now (Or Anytime Over The Next Five Months)

It's a tense day in California, as it's a fraught period throughout the nation, as it's a time of mind-numbing horrors occurring around the world. (And, as these things go, the horrors exist next to, amongst, and within the universe's smallest, and largest, wonders.)

I will cast a vote today, in spite of the unfortunate, rapacious, eyeball-and-advertising-dollar-hungry press reports that a nomination is already as good as locked up. And I hope record-setting numbers of others vote today as well. I don't even care who wins. It is a precious right, and an enormous privilege (which I believe should be an obligation; maybe someday).

Which might make my next statement seem incongruous. As the vote is a precious right, and an enormous privilege, it is also, by itself, the cheapest, laziest degree of involvement in shaping our society. It is where democracy begins. But it's hardly the epitome of how it functions, and it's anything but the crucible within which its battles are lost, and won. It's nothing but a starting point.

Maybe a story would help. This past year, I accompanied employees of CEH (the Center for Environmental Health), an environmental non-profit, to Washington, D.C. where we lobbied the offices of eight members of congress. Whether you know it or not, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) was renegotiated, and rewritten, this year. And whether you know it or not, those words, on those pieces of paper, probably play a greater role than anything other than your genes in determining whether or not you'll get cancer in your lifetime. Yet, you probably don't know anything about it. Half the congressional members we met with hardly knew anything about it.

The congressional members I met that day -- all of them Democrats -- seemed overwhelmed, depressed, exhausted, and all but defeated. Their attitude about our mission -- which was to alter one clause, in once sentence, that would have linguistically protected all Americans from increased exposure to unlimited amounts of toxic chemicals -- was along the lines of, "Best of luck to ya."

"We don't control anything here," we were told, over and over, in office after office. "The other side does."

"I see your point, and I admire your position," we were told. "I'll make a couple of calls. But, I wouldn't get your hopes up. The other side runs things now."

Or, we were lectured, "You think the chemical industry doesn't know that language is in there? That language is the only reason they came to the table in the first place. They're never going to agree to any changes in that language."

But, within twenty-four hours, the crucial language was altered in a unanimous vote. Because CEH exists. Because we traveled. Because we applied pressure. Because, representatives who weren't inclined to fight for what we were after, or to agree to it, were induced toward our position.

So, Hillary Clinton is going to win a nomination over Bernie Sanders, we're informed. Or else she's not. Again, I don't care. What I care about is getting everyone from one-millimeter left of center (or, every sane person from halfway over to the right, if any of them still exist) to understand that the vote, the election, is only the first step. As Hillary Clinton might not be inclined to protect your interests upon her election without unrelenting pressure, Bernie Sanders won't be able to do so, either, without your continued, unending, and unrelenting pressure upon those opposed to his proposals. The congressional members I met with spend their days grinding away in mind-numbing fashion, over punctuation-level minutia, battling to gain slivers of concession, and then working themselves to the bone to hold onto it, while others try to take it away. How many of you, I wonder, are aware that this is the process of our democracy? How many have seen it? How many have participated, beyond casting votes? Some, I know, have. But, I'm guessing, very few.

I am, today, on this tense, fraught, wondrously horror filled California morning, praying that everyone with any progressive inclinations whatsoever will realize that the real work begins the day after the election. That's when the grinding fights, the monotonous exchanges of commas, and clauses, and favors, begin. That's when a Hillary Clinton can be pressured, squeezed, and forced into adopting the positions that Bernie Sanders would also have had to beg for, bargain for, trade for, and...gasp...compromise upon. Hillary Clinton, should she win the nomination, can be forced to do nearly anything progressives would demand, if they demand relentlessly enough, in large enough numbers.

Regardless of how many disagree, there is no doubt in my mind about this. I have seen it with my own eyes. It all depends on how much pressure is brought to bear. Yes, there will be "moneyed interests" that she is beholden to. And, with adequate organization and effort, forces can be applied that overpower those interests. (Hell, there might even be issues over which she'd be relieved to be pressured away from.) That is democracy in action, equally important to the vote. But, it can't come into play at all if a regressive party obtains, maintains, or even gains, elected positions.

So, yes, as trite as it sounds, this is a plea for unity. It's a plea to band together. As I don't care who wins, I also don't care when -- so long as it's prior to November. It's a plea to accept disappointment, and even outrage, without determining that the system can't be worked, and won. It's a plea on behalf of my nine-year-old daughter, who will have a better chance at things that are important to her existence if a flawed Democrat (or, better yet, a slew of them) takes office. Not just because they were voted in. That's not enough. Because they were voted in, after which their feet were held to the fire, every second, of every day they're in office. That's what it will take, on certain issues (like saner gun control laws), even if Bernie Sanders becomes president. It's what it would take to overpower the opposition, once he's in office, on other issues. Will greater movement be required from a Clinton administration? Yes, on a number of issues. But I know, if the people who have supported Bernie Sanders apply the same energy they put into planning and attending rallies of 30,000 into pressuring Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party toward more progressive positions, they will succeed. That doesn't mean Sanders supporters will choose to do so. But it also doesn't mean they can't. It doesn't mean we can't, together.

To those who know me, I'm anything but a Pollyanna. I'm aware of Hillary Clinton's (and Barack Obama's) inclinations toward questionable, costly, and ghastly interventions. I'm aware of the money she's taken from dishonorable sources. I also watched, in my youth, as a groundswell of people forced politicians to end involvement in a Southeast Asian war. It took years. It took tens of thousands of deaths. It took -- to put it very mildly -- much more than it should have. But it was accomplished. I'm also in mourning for the world I wish we had, and disgusted by the realities of the one that exists. But I know that a vote is not all that's required to alter it. And I'm aware that no vote, by itself, ever will. But, it's an imperative first step.

I also know there are those who will launch a cavalcade of criticisms of everything I've said. "I'll never vote for Hillary Clinton," people will write. And, "She's just as bad as Trump," others will claim. If she does win the nomination, and you distrust and despise her so, I'd suggest the greatest revenge shouldn't be withholding your vote from her. It should be voting her into office, and forcing her to do your bidding. Make her your employee. Because that can be done. And that's democracy in action. Forcing politicians to do what they otherwise wouldn't have. And, if "lesser of two evilism" is too tawdry a notion for you, then I encourage you to reword the concept. If you don't get the leader you most want, make sure you get the one you can most influence, and control.