The Audacity of Ambivalence


Twenty-three years ago, I was transformed by the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson.  I became the political animal that haunts this blog with sporadic amounts of humor and cynicism.  The campaign became a coming of age that should define a generation of us in our mid-thirties. The rhetoric of the campaign was uplifting and edifying in a spiritual way and inspired a new generation of African American politicians great and small.    

In his convention address, Jesse said, “No generation can choose the age or circumstance in which it is born, but through leadership it can choose to make the age in which it is born an age of enlightenment, an age of jobs, and peace, and justice. Only leadership — that intangible combination of gifts, the discipline, information, circumstance, courage, timing, will and divine inspiration — can lead us out of the crisis in which we find ourselves. Leadership can mitigate the misery of our nation. Leadership can part the waters and lead our nation in the direction of the Promised Land. Leadership can lift the boats stuck at the bottom.” 

After seven years of movement conservative disaster, America is looking for a leader that can heal our land and lead us toward what Dr. King described as the beloved community, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” The beloved community is an ideal founded on the biblical principle embodied by the commandment to, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The opening salvos of this Presidential campaign was a period of assessment in which we could go to our quiet place, commune with ourselves, and reflect on what it is that our President should embody besides white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.   

Over $100 million dollars has been raised by just two of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination and I find myself wondering, “is this it?”  “Is this shit all there is?”  I really don’t need to hear more deceptive rhetoric masquerading as courage and understanding. Quoting Big Mama’s favorite bible verse is not gonna cut it this year. I need to get a sense that there is a plan for progressive transformation behind the Machiavellian mask.  

Hiding deep in the recesses of their rhetoric should be some amalgamation of the hopes, fears, and wild aspirations of the average working class person.  What we’ve all been hearing for the last six months is the emotionless recitation of the same broken promises that we threw our votes away for the last four times.  Playing it safe in order to keep power is what got us here to start with and placating the establishment so that it facilitates the rise to the ultimate power of the Presidency is not my idea of radical transformation.   

Creeping up inside of my listless and dispirited soul is a powerful melancholy because we’ve been on the smooth glide path toward plutocracy for over a century and nothing in the last twenty-five years has slowed down the process.  Instead, what we’ve seen is an acceleration of the total corporate hegemony over our democracy.  

I am incapable of realizing the eminent death of our democracy and the moribund nature of national democratic leadership while smiling optimistically into the face of Barack Obama as the physical embodiment of my youthful idealism and the personification of my adult ambivalence.   

While Rev. Jackson paid homage to this nation’s diversity, America is not like a blanket — one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt.” 

“Even in our fractured state, all of us count and fit somewhere. We have proven that we can survive without each other. But we have not proven that we can win and make progress without each other. We must come together.” 

Obama tipped his hat to a white vision of race-less, class-less American-ness, “…there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”  

Common ground can never be reached by a pander bear reaching out to people blinded by willful ignorance and deliberate racial amnesia.

I am angry that  Rev. Jackson has bequeathed the legacy of his progressive imprimatur to a man with the audacity to deny the necessity for slave reparations.    

I am angry that Obama is content to go through the motions of opposition while leaving reactionary power arrangements intact. 

I am angry that Obama claims the mantle of the biblical Joshua and then secretly  dons the robes of a Pharaoh.  

I am angry that our system of presidential selection is a closed process of capitalist kabuki dancing that is all calibrated to telegraph the non-threatening intentions of the contenders to the white power structure so that they may choose the most willing corporate whore.  

I am angry that my voice no longer matters and that the hunger for true leadership is turned against us so that we’re forced to accept Wall Street’s favorite ventriloquist dummy as our President.  

I am angry that identity politics is no longer a means of empowerment but an instrument of our oppression.  

I am angry that my youthful idealism is in reality a childish delusion.  

I am angry that I am losing my willingness to stay in this country and fight the forces of reaction that are devouring our planet and killing our people.  

I am angry that my writing and local activism isn’t enough.   

I am angry that the one man that speaks to my frustration, Dennis Kucinich, is marginalized, belittled and ignored.

I am angry that I am still just one lonely voice as powerless after 225,000 site views as I was the very first day I posted over a year ago when nobody was listening. For me, the thrill of politics, the driving passion of my life, is gone.

20 thoughts on “The Audacity of Ambivalence

  1. I’m feeling you, SB. This is another thought provoking analysis by you, and I feel your loss. I don’t know what to say to you in order to keep you interested. I just don’t. I can only say that I enjoy reading your writing, and I love the discussion.

  2. Don’t feel too badly. The realizations that you are coming to can be turned into a juice that overturns this corrupt system. Seeing it for what is is incredibly important.

    Obama is a totem who siphons the legitimate hope of the people into a dead end street. I can’t remember someone who has said less while saying so much.

    This thing is not reformable. Its not fixable. It has to be destroyed and built anew, differently, smaller, less toxic. What we have is a sham designed to put us to sleep, make us think we have power within the cage.

    We don’t have power as long as we believe in structures DESIGNED to fail us. If we are wise, we put our energy into creating authentic structures outside of the Matrix.

  3. SB,

    I am not going to say that I agree with your interpretations on a few things, well a lot of things. But I continue reading because I respect your opinion and the life experiences behind it.

    I’m not that old but I have lived a lot of life and I do know that things change, and change happens.

  4. Brother to brother; this burden is not solely yours to bear.

    You’re not alone in this. Your writing and strength in reasoning are inspiring people to move.
    The power of the press is you right now.
    You are the underground newspaper. You are the BPP newsletter. You are an online radio show that people use to keep their ear to the ground.

    DO NOT lose faith because the powers that be seem lost.
    They are the reason why you do what you do in the first place, right?

    The revolution will surely not be televised… but it’s spark may come in the form of a blog…

  5. Beautifully expressed, SB. I’m fully with you on this. This is why I’ve shifted most of my activism and attention away from national electoral politics, which I longer believe to be a location of any meaningful change; indeed the scene has lost linguistic/intellectual/financial integrity to the point of absurdity.

    Since the Democratic Party can no longer be considered a vehicle for populist aspiration, new political machinery needs to be constructed from the ground up, to either displace or fundamentally alter the existing machinery. Your local activism may not be enough at this point, but it still might be crucial to the future; and while the hard slow work of micro-regional organizing and movement-building is happening, lots of small-scale good can be done. Never underestimate the power of small but true acts.


  6. Denise

    Provocative post, SB.

    Never doubt the power of your voice as a catalyst for change. 225K hits suggest that folks ARE listening 🙂

    Keep doin’ the do!

  7. Michael

    Wow, I love your passion and points in this post. And I agree! However, we should not be surprised. Just becaue we think Obama is a black man (which he isn’t), we shouldn’t assume that he is “down for the struggle”, or has even come near getting his nice shoes dirty understanding or even being raised near real african americans. For whatever we think of Jesse, we was at least authentic. There is nothing authentically african-american about Obama (marrying a black woman does not make you black Obama), thereby nothing authentic in his views or ideas… so we should not expect those sensibilities. Obmaa has merely been thrust upon us. Packaged and advertised like any new product. And we are being trained to look past his inexperience, and book of platitudes, the fawning coverage and only accept him as a black man. I call BS!!!We won’t here those sensibilites out of him because they are not in him! I have yet to hear anyone talke seriously about this man’s total lack of experience or foreign policy instincts. Is as if we all think its good enough for him simply to be black (which he isn’t), than to have substance. And before you comment, please know I have read his book…and it is indeed a book of platitudes and feel good notions and certainly not something that makes me salivate at the thought of him being my president as some of my borhters and sisters think it should. Save the fawning Time magazine coverage, Obama is the latest in a long line of media-made Paris Hiltons. Obama can’t talk straight and authentic because he is NOT straight and authentic!

  8. metricpenny

    “For me, the thrill of politics, the driving passion of my life, is gone.”

    Skeptical Brother,

    While I’m saddened that your thrill is gone, as a member of the Turnip Posse, I am delighted that your anger isn’t. That anger signals to me that you still have hope.

    Even though the things you are angry about aren’t in sync with those that incense me, I still look forward to visitng your site and reading your work.

    My position remains that I’ll give Senator Obama the opportunity to make things better for all Americans, which includes Black Americans, because his call for change involves more than just changing the political party affiliation of the President.

    Congressman Kusinich is a man after my own heart, but my head tells me he doesn’t have a chance. I think Senator Obama does.

    During the political thrills of your past you must have recognized the importance compromise plays in the process.

    I’ve decided to compromise on seeing Senator Obama raising the black leather gloved fist of Black Power in the hope that he can BEGIN the process of relinquishing some of the power over me from those currently wielding it, who have no interest in changing the political process in this country and the manner in which we are governed.

    Read you again tomorrow. I hope.

  9. michael


    Here’s a longtime reader coming out of the shadows to leave my first comment. You’ve been a daily read for some time now, because of your honesty, passion, integrity and insight. While I share most of your feelings about politics and the Democratic Party these days, I just wanted to let you know that your writing has been a powerful force in my life for the past several months, and has definitely made a difference in how I see things. It might not seem like much in the big picture, but it sure has been important to me. So thanks for that.

    -michael (different than the Michael who commented earlier)

  10. I thoroughly enjoy each one of your posts, SB; might not agree with them all, but totally enjoy your perspective, your insight, your intelligence, and especially the ones full of humor (I think we’re due for another SB lyrical twist ;)).

    I think you’re just going through what most of us who do care passionately about our country go through in our thirties and forties: the burnout and disillusionment felt when the reality that our desires/activism/occasional naïveté from our youth (when we get to finally take part in our electoral process) is dashed as we realized each election we unfortunately just get the rehashed, spoon-fed political pablum those running think we’ll be pacified with, enough so to vote for them.

    Sorry if this doesn’t necessarily make sense but it’s hot here in SoCal, too, and the brain cells are wiped out. Just wanted you to know that “this too shall pass” my dear (been down the same road and found my way back), and your passion for politics shall return. It darn well better because we need folks like you to keep us all thinking and taking part! 🙂

  11. I second what most of your fans here are saying, bro. And it ain’t about the realization that your “youthful idealism” was a delusion, either. It wasn’t. The finest young people of every generation will always be the most impatient with injustice.

    Moving the world in a positive, progressive direction ain’t easy. If it was the revolution would be over by now. It’s the work of lifetimes. Remaining constructively, actively engaged in this process over the decades is one of the keys to having a great life.

    This blog is a good start, consistently insightful and well written. Be sure also to engage in some face-to-face meat-space organizing and cooperation with real people in your neighborhood, your union, your church, your city or wherever you happen to be.

    It’s morning here in GA. Have a cup of coffee, do some pushups or whatever and get ready to fight another day.

  12. Oh, and your comparison of Jesse and Barack, the juxtaposition of quotes is great stuff. Used the same two quotes in a book I’m writing in which brother O figures prominently.

  13. I used to be a “Democrat” because I identified with working people, etc. But it’s all a sham now. This election is about as credible as “American Idol.” The media doesn’t discuss issues. It’s all about whether so and so is “black enough,” woman enough, etc. It’s a total media sham run by large corporations.

    Anybody who actually thinks there is a dimes bit of difference between the top GOP and Dem candidates needs to have their head examined.

    You’d barely even know that we are occupying a foreign country.

  14. SB:

    What you’re suffering from is battle fatigue, pure and simple. It’s okay; sometimes you just need to step back and rest from your labors.

    When I feel like giving up, I think to those who blazed this trail before us, and who had less with which to fight with. Their motivation was us, this current generation. For me, I feel that I can’t let them down by not fighting for what they saw as the long journey to the promise of a better nation for us all.

    You’ve earned a rest. And to have a quarter of a million people reading what you have to say; you will be amazed at how many people you’re influencing. And I have a crazy suggestion about our future President.

    How many times we’ve heard “so and so isn’t electable” and that fired up a grassroots movement to the point that candidate had to be taken seriously? Think no further than Donna Edwards, who literally came out of nowhere to take almost 50% of the vote from a sorry Congressional rep named Al Wynn. And he’s running scared because not only Donna, but two or three other candidates are throwing their hats into the ring she opened to get rid of Wynn.

    So, if we could elevate Dennis Kucinich to the same level as Donna (no tv coverage, just good-old fashioned working of the blogs) and keep at it, it wouldn’t be long before Hillary and Obama realize all the money in the world can’t stop the lil’ train that could.

    I got your back, SB. Take it to the bank, okay?

  15. Tomorrow (or rather, since it’s after midnight, today) I’m participating in a blogger panel as a part of training of grassroots activists by the Democratic Party of VA. What you have written is a part of the reason so many are driven to blog: the system seems to be stacked against us. I agree with your thoughts on Obama and Kucinich. But I also know that the only way that we are going to make a change at the way things are done at the top is to change the way things are done at the bottom.

    All politics is local – and that’s where my focus is. I can’t worry myself to death that those folks in Washington – so far removed from my every day existence – do not listen to me or care about what I think. All I can do is to try to help get folks elected down here that will listen to me and care about what I think. And someday, if I live long enough, one of those people will rise up and become an electable, credible voice.

  16. SB, I’m right there with you.

    I’m tired of the cowardice from the Democratic leaders. I’ve been watching them abdicate their responsibilities for too many years now.

    Screw them all, I’m voting Kucinich.

  17. Obama is walkin’ & talkin’ bullshit. In trying to please everyone, he will have NO majority of any voters. He’d be better in Congress. And I hope he does run for Congress after he finds he cannot be Prez.

  18. SB, totally on point as usual. I remember being young and foolish and thinking that the world can actually change through a system set up by some forward thinking slave-owning Virginians more than 200 years ago. I remember when Jesse won the Michigan primary in ’88…it all seemed somewhat possible. Now it seems like a million years ago. And I feel old, very old…and cranky.

    If I were a little more ebullient I would invite you to join me in starting an armed insurrection somewhere in the Appalachian mountains a la John Brown, because there is NO WAY these mother(deleted)s are going to let go of their corrupt fiefdom peacefully. Meantime I am just gonna go throw my vote away on Dennis Kucinich, cuz there’s not a damn thing better to do. 😦

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