Why I’m with her (even though I didn’t start that way)
When I was in graduate school, I had, what I have come to believe, a holy experience — I heard God. OK, maybe not God, and not even God’s actual voice. Maybe I just heard the word of God, spoken so clearly, so sparely and with such devotion that I could not help but take them in and know that, at last, there was God.
The events that led to my epiphany were profoundly prosaic — a colleague arranged for some hot shot guy from New York to speak on campus. I’d never heard of Michael Harrington before. Then again, I’d never heard of a lot of things. Who knew? Thankfully, I was a fast study.
So, on a spring day in 1985, in a faculty lounge with large casement windows that spilled soft gold light onto plush carpet and stiff-backed chairs scattered haphazardly around the room, I first heard God speak. As a convenience, God used voice of Michael Harrington to make his message heard aloud. Michael Harrington, speaking the truth of God (I swear) had this to say:
We can create a society that is not rooted in inequality and discrimination and power and wealth. We can create a just society, based on the premise that our Founding Fathers meant rather than wrote: that all of us, men and women who are black and brown and yellow and white, who are gay and straight and anything in between, who believe or don’t as they see fit, we are all of us equal, and we have a voice that, when joined with others, will always speak louder than the tyranny of gross power and grosser injustice.
Michael Harrington, a professor of political science at Queens College, and the co-founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, a writer and radical and sometime Voice of God, spoke my truth to me — money may be power, but the people — together — could be more powerful still.
Well sign me up!
I joined DSA then and there. Not surprising, I left graduate school not long after, PhD be damned. I went to work for a national poor people’s organization. I was out to fight the good fight, to rouse the rabble and give people a voice.
No, not give. Give is way too condescending and noblesse oblige-y. My job was to remind people that their voices, joined together, were a power to be reckoned with. We had all been silent for far too long. Now was the time to be heard.
For five years I fought that battle. I moved 15 times back and forth across the country; everything I owned fit in the trunk of my car. The cause was my world and I thrived in it. Even when I left to wander the halls of Corporate America, I didn’t lose my ideals. If I no longer fought in the trenches, my feet and my hands and my threadbare wallet strove as best they could to keep up and change the world.
You can imagine my delight the first time I heard Senator Bernie Sanders speak. His gravelly voice and brusque New York accent was beautiful. In it, I heard the Voice of God, just as I had decades ago. Sanders, too, urged us to defend the poor, care for the needy, work to build a society of justice and equality.
I know, I know — Sanders, and Harrington before him, are not the Voice of God. I’m being dramatic and somewhat flip. Still, their words, their ideas, their insistence that we are all responsible for one another, that there is an inextricable link between business and people and money and the earth that must be carefully maintained — these seem to me to be an echo of everything I’ve been taught about God.
I sent in my $27 and wished I could give more. I volunteered. I cast my vote for Sanders in the Illinois primary with such hope! I watched and wondered and cheered him on, and at some point I knew, in that icy pit that resides in my belly, that some invisible corner had been turned, and that sweet moment of victory was all too short-lived. Sanders would not win the nomination.
What to do? What to do?
You must understand — this was never a question! What to do? In the holy words of Michael and Bernie (and paraphrased by me) — defend the poor, care for the needy, build a just society.
Look — Michael Harrington wasn’t perfect, nor is Bernie. They aren’t God. I was lucky enough to have heard the voice of God whisper through their words — words, so I believe, so powerful, they have made their way into the DNC platform. What choice is there — really — but Hillary Clinton?
Is Hillary Bernie? No. She has her own voice. She fumbles around, makes mistakes. Sometimes she even cops to them. She’s a politician — just like Bernie. It just so happens I like Bernie’s message more, hear the whisper of God a little louder, look past his foibles a little easier. I’ll tell you, though — have you ever heard the passion and the fire she can kindle when she stops running for President and just talks? God is there, too, when you listen, and she shines. She’s not Bernie. She’s not Michael. She’s not my first choice. And while I think the path towards that just and equitable society will be a little more layered than I’d like, still, I have no doubt that she will walk this path, too.
For all you “Bernie or Bust” folks still out there, now is the time to remember what matters — joined together, our voices will always speak louder than the tyranny of power and injustice. For all of Hillary’s shortcomings and sins (real or imagined), to vote for anyone else will destroy that vision of a just society. I’m with her — not”in spite of.”
I stand with Hillary because I believe that my voice, added to hers, and yours, and millions of others, will always be more powerful than insatiable fear and monstrous hate.