during election seasons, it can get a bit murky trying to navigate other people’s political identities. i have recently been called someone who believes in the electoral process a few times, and i initially laughed, but then i thought it could be a great moment of clarification.
the first thing i ever wrote that was published in a book was “i hate politics.” that was in 2003, for an out-of-print book i coedited called How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office. i wrote about the compromise it was, to have radical politics but feel the need to navigate survival in the current political landscape. the book gathered examples of people who held their noses and harnessed election work as a tactic in larger fights.
my politics have changed a lot as new data and context has entered, but that fundamental piece has not really shifted that much – i don’t think nation is the way, particularly this one: a political system designed for exclusion while using the language of ‘the people’.
complexity guides my organizing priorities, still. i don’t believe our electoral system works, and i don’t believe we can completely abandon it while we practice governance elsewhere – i believe we need to move in ways that protect and center the most vulnerable as we reach for a dream of cooperative governance.
i find most of the work of u.s. politics to be cyclical in the worst ways, illogical, presumptive, illusory, performative and not actually useful in the work of improving lives. i left electoral politics for direct action, and then emergent strategy. but i continue to engage a multitude of tactics simultaneously, which i see many in our movements able to do well.
i just want to speak for a moment on the peace it gives me to be a post nationalist.
because most modern nation-states form within the context of the age of supremacy, nationalism often requires it’s practitioners to claim some supremacy. especially the younger and more immature said nation is. that’s how a warmongering, politically divided, arms bearing, death penalty practicing, pandemic petri dish of a nation, which has never fully (economically) accounted for its genocidal, enslaving foundation, can claim it is the best at anything.
is there magic here? of course. but traveling far and wide will show you that there is the potential for magic any time humans come together. across celebrated differences, yes, and in deeply monocultural spaces where we get to celebrate something widely shared. the magic comes not from an unfulfilled dream, or string-swelling theme song of a narrative, but from the miracle of life in proximity to itself.
i think the best thing that could happen to the u.s. is what has happened to other blustering empires – rome is delightful as a place of history, relic, food, art, commerce…it’s not the center of anything except perhaps a certain romantic narrative, and that’s fine. england is rainy, quirky, has lovely gardens, fantastic museums, and an excellent selection of mushrooms in camden yards. the sun sets on whatever is still british, and then it rises through a fog and life goes on. nation as superpower is definitely over.
but this nation, the u.s., can’t imagine the end of its empire phase and doesn’t currently have a coherent national identity. unless it’s rash compulsive rebellion and trolling? or ostrich tactics in the face of our impacts?
post nationalism gives me room to see the u.s. through a lens of compassion…it’s doing the best it can as a flawed structure. it’s a sum of disparate parts that actually don’t have an organic cohesion, and never did.
post nationalism helps me remember that i was never a part of the dream of this place, and that those i have dreamt alongside of have mostly been killed here.
i write this on the birthday of martin luther king, jr, who dreamed of something profoundly simple – a land where humans could be human together. for this he was killed, and then rebranded as a hero of and for this place, as if the dream slipped out on his last breath into the soil. i still share his dream, the seeds he cast took root in me. i water them with my work, which is not for this nation which has still not reckoned with its racism, materialism or militarism. i don’t expect humane and planetary dreams to manifest in spaces where they are continuously shortchanged, fed words without acts. i dream for the species, i dream for Black people.
post nationalism gives me room to focus on conditions. what are the conditions in which we learn to make our dreams politically possible? what conditions allow us to catch our breath and move beyond the desperate acts of survival? what are the conditions in which we create muscle memory around our humanity, around our relationship to the planet, around justice that transforms harm, around cooperation and collectivism, around liberation?
to create those conditions i use every tool in the box – the sharp clean tools of revolution and the rusted tools, like elections with a busted electoral college mess, which are still most accessible to the masses. i know that the hardest step is not getting people to choose the best tools, but inspiring people to want to build something at all. and then, growing the belief that there is a structure they could cocreate in which they could belong without battle. i believe people can and will demand better tools as they fall in love with their own possible futures.
being a post nationalist is feeling constantly aware that our species precedes our nation, and if our nation is not worthy of the miraculous, then it will be succeeded by those of us who choose to align with life oriented structures instead of institutions stagnant in their power struggles.
so, do i celebrate when the conditions allow us more breath, more room to practice; when the conditions allow more of the most vulnerable amongst us a chance to be a part of something beyond this? yes i do.
do i believe that this electoral system is a path to liberation? no i don’t.
do i judge you justice fighters for your patriotism or your anarchy? only if it is purely theoretical. if you are trying, truly trying to figure out ways this species of ours, and particularly my people, Black and Brown and queer and trans and weird and visionary and disabled people, get to perpetuate in ever improving and liberating conditions, then i can respect our differences. i promise not to flatten you if you are practicing a vision of the future that you truly and deeply believe in. and i promise to stay three dimensional at minimum in my own complex beliefs and practices.