BY CHRISTIAAN MITCHELL
We have a very nasty habit in this country of being die-hard, patriotic zealots for the few months leading up to an election and then, like some voter guerilla army, melting away into the forest after the clash. Presidential politics have a way of capturing our imaginations, and getting us to suddenly care about the direction of the country. But in the off years, our attention wanes as life’s other concerns take over the administration of our mental empires.
In this on-again, off-again zealous dedication to our political futures, we look rather more like terrorists than committed revolutionaries. We show up just long enough to wreck this or that pipeline of good feelings between friends, or to deface the edifice of some familial institution as we discover our strong opinions about marginal tax rates arguing with our uncles over turkey and wine. It culminates in an orgiastic explosion of patriotism as somewhat less than half of us show up to vote, and then we’re done until the next quadrennial opportunity for fanaticism.
In the meantime, the state of Oklahoma languishes under grotesque misadministration. Our police use force at the highest rate in the nation. We incarcerate women at one of the highest rates in the world. One-quarter of our children don’t have enough to eat. Our social and physical infrastructure is crumbling. Our state finances look more like those of a banana republic, than a modern state in world’s largest economy. The ground itself has begun to quake in revolt against our broken economic model.
Presidential elections matter. But in the two years that we will ultimately spend trying to sort out who we’re going to support for president, the Oklahoma Legislature will consider roughly 4,000 pieces of legislation, each of which could potentially have a direct and immediate impact on your daily life. Surely, whoever is on the Supreme Court matters deeply, but were our Legislature not committed to attacking the LGBT community, Obergefell v. Hodges would not have been half so important to Oklahomans.
State and local activism isn’t as sexy as national politics. It’s less often framed as some kind of a war of light against the darkness, and the TV spots look downright goofy alongside the slick Hollywood of the national campaigns. But if we are really fundamentally concerned about the direction this country is taking, then it is vastly more important that we be energized, organized, and disciplined about state and local matters.
Bernie supporters are often chided for not being realistic about his ability to get his agenda through Congress. He promises it can get done if we will create a political revolution. But the campaign has not exactly been clear on the details here.
On the other hand, the Clinton campaign has made her ability to get her program through Congress one of its center-points. And if the members of Congress suddenly decide that it is in their interests to work with the only political figure more reviled by the Right than President Obama, she may actually get something done. But assuming congressional recalcitrance is not going to evaporate overnight, it’s not clear that the Clinton campaign is even pretending to have a strategy for change.
For progressives, there are three potential outcomes to this presidential election, all of which require us to be more actively engaged in what goes on in our own neighborhoods and states.
If a Republican wins, we are going to have to become a political resistance movement. If Clinton wins, we are going to have to keep organized and active at the state and local level to push her to advocate for the change we really need, and to disrupt the paralyzed congressional status quo that will frustrate her. If Bernie wins … well, this is what the revolution looks like.
If we are serious about fundamentally changing this country, it frankly doesn’t matter what we do on March 1. The real test is going to be what we’re doing on March 2.
– Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds master’s degrees in philosophy and education. He lives in Bartlesville.