Challenging the Status Quo in 2020

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

By Robert C. Koehler

Reparations for slavery? Upending militarism and waging peace? Taking climate change seriously? Getting carbon out of the atmosphere and fossil fuel money out of the EPA? Valuing healing over punishment in our disastrous criminal justice system? Ending mass incarceration?

Bringing all this up — and much, much more — in a presidential race?

“Join with me for a year,” cries Marianne Williamson. “of talking about things that matter!”

Williamson, best-selling author and long-time political activist (and a friend I’ve known and respected for many years), is, indeed, running for president of the United States, bringing into her campaign a burning commitment not so much to winning as to pushing past the consensus of know-nothingism that has long dominated American politics — and certainly the Democratic Party — at the highest level.

“Our democracy has stage 4 cancer,” she says in her campaign video, “and all the traditional politicians are offering is a topical ointment.”

Can this actually happen here? Can American democracy dig to the level of the national soul? Can it burrow beyond our superficial “exceptionalism” into our past and truly look at what we’ve done over the last two and a half centuries? Can the nation hold itself accountable . . . for slavery, for Native American genocide, for wasting trillions of dollars and murdering millions of people by waging endless war?

Can America change?

How, I asked her the other day, did you decide to run for president?

“One day I was sitting on my bed in New York and the idea just popped in,” she said. Her first thought was: “Are you insane?” She spent a year and a half processing the idea before finally making the commitment to such an arduous undertaking: to run not simply as an isolated individual with a strategy and a bumper sticker, but as part of a movement, determined to bring the aspirations of that movement into direct confrontation with the forces of Big Money.

Join the evolution!

“I’m doing this,” she said, “not just to elevate the conversation but to begin the process of making it happen. Why assume the American people won’t do it?”

Williamson says on her website: “There is a groundswell of Americans seeking higher wisdom, in politics as well as everywhere else. . . My campaign for the presidency is dedicated to this search, for wisdom of the heart has been absent from the political sphere for far too long. Together we can reclaim both our democratic principles and the angels of our better selves, expressed not only in our personal lives but in acts of citizenship as well. Politics should not be a pursuit disconnected from the heart; it should be, as everything should be, an expression of the heart. Where fear has been harnessed for political purposes, let’s now harness the power of love.”

This is not how a presidential candidate is supposed to talk. A word like “love” ignites cynicism. It’s soft. What about our enemies? What about the interests we need to pursue in a hostile world? Politics is supposed to be tough and hard, or pretend to be, as candidates spout clichés about “a strong defense” and dance away from any real challenge to the status quo.

Suddenly, as I was talking to Williamson, I thought about the John Kerry campaign of 2004 and how, when I received a call from a Kerry fundraiser one day, I got hung up on when I kept pestering the guy about Iraq. At that point, we were a year into the carnage and quagmire. He refused to discuss the candidate’s position and finally rang off. I was so disturbed by this I called Kerry’s central campaign office, where a spokesman did nothing but spout Bush-lite truisms. Even though the heart of Kerry’s constituency thought the war was a disaster, the spokesman could speak only of “crushing the terrorists” and “building a democracy” in Iraq. He too hung up on me.

This confirmed what I pretty much knew. The country had become no more than a spectator democracy. The government’s agenda is none of our — the public’s — business. We get to go shopping and watch the bombing on TV. But . . .

“There is a groundswell of Americans seeking higher wisdom, in politics as well as everywhere else . . .”

Yes, I believe this as well. American democracy has not been completely undone. There’s something happening here. Evolution — the creation of a world beyond war and environmental exploitation — has grabbed hold of the political system and is no longer irrelevant to it. In 2016, Bernie Sanders scared the DNC to within an inch of its corporate life. In 2018, a wave of progressive change flooded Congress.

Williamson told me she wants to confront the gatekeepers with “the necessary audacity to keep democracy alive.”

Visit her website and imbibe some of her audacity:

“America should embark on a 10- to 20-year plan for turning a wartime economy into a peace-time economy, repurposing the tremendous talents and infrastructure of our military-industrial complex in such a way as to leave us strong enough to deal with America’s legitimate needs for military preparedness, yet moving on to the urgent task of building a sustainable society and sustainable world. . . . (It) is time to release this powerful sector of American genius to the work of promoting life instead of death. . . .

“In many ways, America has continued the process of racial reconciliation begun in the 1960s. Yet in other ways, we have actually slipped backward. Yes, there are no more colored bathrooms and separate drinking fountains. But we now have mass incarceration; racial disparity in criminal sentencing; lost voting rights; outright voter suppression; and police brutality often focused on black populations. . . .

“Criminal justice has become both a political and moral disaster. . . . Trauma sends people into the criminal justice system, and then the criminal justice system too often heaps more trauma on those incarcerated or facing incarceration. If we are serious about breaking the cycle of violence, we need to be sensitive to these traumatic experiences that lead to violence, and by doing so, we have a chance of addressing both.”

And there’s so much more. Her goal is to cry truth at the American political consensus. To get into the debates, she must receive 65,000 unique donations. She’s about two-thirds of the way there right now.

The political groundswell is just beginning. Democracy does not mean business as usual.