America: She’s Not Half Bad

posted November 4, 2004

On November second, I was joyfully optimistic. I wore my Red Sox cap all day and said, “God is smiling down upon Massachusetts.” I said, “We’re going to win!” and I believed it. I was ignoring the polls and counting on the fresh faced, passionate young voters I have encountered all over the country in the past four years. I was elated by the surge of interest in Democracy.

Tom got up at 5:30am to drive up to New Hampshire and volunteer for the Kerry campaign, standing with fellow Democrats in intersections with pro Kerry placards. A retired vet with a scraggly beard watched Tom and the other volunteers, limped into a nearby McDonald’s and came back with styrofoam cups of coffee for all of them.

The other thing I was saying yesterday was, “No matter what, about fifty percent of the country is going to wake up broken hearted tomorrow.” I was saying this to try to remember that even though it looks like we are a nation of red vs blue, Republican vs Democrat, insane religious fanatics vs thoughtful generous people, we are really all one. We really are; every piece of wisdom I’ve picked up over the years, from any and all philosophical or religious traditions, or even good old fashioned Yankee common sense tells me that.

Almost fifty percent of the electorate voted for John Kerry. He got 252 electoral college points and some fifty million votes. Heck, twenty five percent of the state of Utah voted for him! I’ll go with that! So even though today I felt so sad and angry and fearful that it was difficult to pick up a pen, difficult to put on a smile, I take solace in some things.

I take solace in the fact that in a wartime election, in a climate of intense (partially manipulated) fear, the Republican Smear Machine only just barely worked against our sensible candidate.

I take solace in that fact that John Kerry will have a much more pleasant four years now. This war in Iraq is an abomination. We have invaded a country that never attacked u, nor was it planning to. We have killed over 100,000 Iraqis and lost over a thousand of our citizens and there is no end in sight. This war is illogical, irrational and morally repugnant. We need to find a swift road to peace. Had John Kerry been elected, he would have inherited this mess, plus rising gas prices, a bipolar stock market, and a deeply divided electorate. Not a picnic. My astrology teachers say that when predicting who will win an election, you look at the candidates birth charts. Whichever one has a bigger shit storm brewing in the heavens is the one who generally gets elected. Now, I do believe that had Kerry been elected, he would have helped raise respect for the USA internationally, been able to build coalitions, but then again, what nation at this point would want to volunteer its army to help us in Iraq? If Kerry had been elected, my anti-war friends and I would have had to yell and scream at Kerry to bring us to peace. Now we can just go back to bashing Bush, which we all have gotten pretty good at doing.

This is easy for me to say: I live in Massachusetts. My gay friends can get married. I don’t have even have a single Republican friend to irk me. And the truth is, I didn’t care a whit about Kerry’s well being; I just wanted him to be president, to ameliorate the global threat of nuclear terrorist, to make some sense out of the health care and social security messes, to balance the budget, to give a face of reason and justice to our country’s figurehead.

And I’ve been close to despair. We worked so hard! We did everything right this time! We raised so much money! We registered so many new voters! It’s tempting to throw it all in, cancel my subscription to the New York Times and go dig in my garden, ignoring the rest of the world. It’s also tempting to follow my good friend, Charrette, and convince Tom to move with me to New Zealand.

One of my all time favorite quotations is by Mahatma Gandhi:

“When in despair, I remember that all through history the way of

truth and love has always won. There have always been tyrants

and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in

the end they always fall.” They always do. The mean part of me says, Bush will get his. Nyah nyah.

But at the same time, as angry and hateful as I feel, I also have to admit that this time around, I don’t think Bush stole the election. He was properly elected, it seems. So I will acknowledge him as my president, something I haven’t really done until now. I don’t think he’s evil. I think he’s troubled and confused. I think he had a hard time as a kid, was probably dyslexic and struggled in school and has a chip on his shoulder against the intellectuals he came into contact with at Andover, Yale and Harvard. He’s an alcoholic, who through his disease seems to have found a sort of spirituality. This I can understand and respect; after all, I am a Christian too.

But what I can’t understand nor respect is the way the Republican Right has misappropriated Christianity. Both parties and the media seem to buy this lie: that Christians believe in fighting terrorists and Muslims, gays and women’s reproductive rights; and that Democrats are Godless perverts who only eat French food.

My friend, folk singer Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker and an activist, told me this amazing fact last week during our Folk the Vote tour: The Bible has over 2000 references to the poor. If you were to cut out every time “the poor” are mentioned in the Bible, the book would literally fall apart. It would not hold together. By contrast, homosexuality is mentioned seven times. And never by Jesus. Jesus’s ministry over and over again is about caring for those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder: prostitutes, adulterers, lepers, thieves and murderers. Oh, and the poor.

From the Book of John, chapter 21, verses 15-16:

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Jesus never once mentions homosexuality.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus died on the cross to show us that salvation is possible, and that it is ours if we only believe. But what that means to me is this: what Jesus proved was that if we can show up and actually be present even in the worst of circumstances, we will not die that particularly gruesome death of detachment that almost every human suffers, many many times a day. This includes tuning out, being in denial, sticking our heads in the sand. What Jesus did, and what He alone could do was to be absolutely present for his own life, his own experience. He said both, “My God, why have You forsaken me,” and also “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He was with his own anguish and he was with his murderers, with compassion.

WWJD about 9/11? The scriptures are clear: “if anyone hits you on your right cheek, turn and offer your left also.” (Matthew 5:39).

In the restaurant in Lenox where Tom and I had lunch today, my fellow Bay Staters were furious.

“We should secede!” said one woman. “The People’s Republic of Massachusetts!”

Patty said, “Let’s get all of New England and the west coast to join Canada.”

Dave Hower said, “My friend Mike says the goal should be to get George W. to leave the Oval office in handcuffs.”

I say this. This is our country. Remember those 25% in Utah, the 48% in Virginia, who voted for Kerry. For that matter, think of the 41% in Massachusetts who voted for Bush. (Where are they, anyway? I never see them.) Even though we are in the minority, it’s just as much our country. Thank God for the Constitution which protects minority rights. There is much in the country to love, much to be proud of. So I plan to go out and buy a huge American flag and hang it from my flagpole. Then I will hang some Buddhist prayer flags along side it and get a huge lawn sign that reads: NO BLOOD FOR OIL. It’s my flag. It’s my country.

This is a time for stout hearts. This is a time for a long view. This is a time for courage, my friends. Invite a bunch of people over to your house and tell them to bring their best story of the campaign of 2004, their most hopeful encouraging story. Share food, share music, share Bush jokes. And keep planning the revolution.

The Comments

Join the Conversation. Post with kindness.

  1. When it gets dark, we have to light candles. They have won in the short term, but if we continue to struggle for peace, justice, and health, we will prevail.

    We overcame Nixon. We overcame Reagan. The forces of darkness are more powerful than ever. But we can overcome this too.

    Don’t give up. Let’s win back Congress. Let’s start now.

    No retreat. No surrender.

    Jeff from Charlotte

  2. That was beautiful, Nerissa. Once again, you’ve hit the nail right on the head. Thank you for your inspirational thoughts. You rock so much and you make me proud to be a Christian.

    (who goes to John Kerry’s church in Boston)

  3. If John Kerry had come out with a MORE anti-war stance, he would have won in a landslide. Dennis Kucinich had the brains and backbone enough to oppose the war and lost in the primary due to a smear campaign from his own Democratic party. This 2004 election was not a referendum on the Iraq War. Both Bush and Kerry are in lock-step agreement about the Iraqi question. That’s what turned real Dems off from voting for Kerry. The nation has voted, and several States had questions on the ballot. Massachusetts and San Fransico think differently and the population in those places will grow as a result of the 2004 election.
    I myself and so upset the Ralph Nader did not win. Now everyone who voted for Kerry now knows: YOUR VOTE WAS UTTERLY WASTED ON BUSH LITE. Now you guys have to live with that for the next 4 years. I’d feel sick too if I wasted my vote. The 2 party system is utterly corrupt and wont change until people wake up and start voting for anyone BUT the Republicrats or the Demicans.
    Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving. luv, MOWHAWK MAN

  4. Last night, I had a Small Church Community meeting, and someone in the group mentioned the same statistics that Carrie Newcomer did. I wish more people of faith would realize that. The thing that upsets me the most about this is that, when polled, the people who voted for Bush said that they agreed with his morals. What moral values do these people focus on? Surely, a war where many are losing their lives, an escalating poverty level, lack of healthcare, and a struggling education system are more morally reprehensible than the marriage of two loving people of the same gender.

    I saw a quote on CNN that said “A post-election poll indicates most of those surveyed are hopeful the country will be drawn together during President Bush’s second term. Just over half — 51 percent — said they were pleased with the outcome of the election.” Well, duh – look at the margin of victory. It’s statements like this that make me wonder if CNN is sliding down to the Fox level.

    Sorry for the digression…. I am very upset about the outcome of this election – not only about the presidential race but everything down to the ballot proposals. I have read many e-mails from people indicating that they want to leave the country and live somewhere else for the next four years. We can’t give in to fear or despair. We need to focus on the things we as individuals can do. We need to work very hard in these next four years to educate and challenge those who voted for Bush. We need to foster communication with people who have different viewpoints than we do, because unless such a conversational approach is taken, I don’t believe change can happen. We need to volunteer and help those groups that this administration won’t. As Nerissa so rightly said, we need to have courage.

  5. I just wanted to clarify one of my previous statements, lest it be misconstrued. In my discussion of morals, I did not mean to imply that “the loving marriage of two people of the same gender” was morally reprehensible, but the way I phrased that sentence might cause some to think that’s what I meant. It was not. I voted against Michigan’s Proposal 2, and am very upset that it passed.

  6. Nerissa, you expressed so many of my thoughts more eloquently than I ever could.

    I spent a good part of yesterday angry, upset, frustrated and nauseous. I get so very angry about the whole Christianity debate! I am a practicing Roman Catholic…I believe that I do not live my faith with my words, but with my actions. Supporters of President Bush who vote for him based on “morals and values” can never show me how those “morals and values” are reflected in his policies.

    I am angry at the Democratic party. I think John Kerry is a good man. A smart man. But he did not convey a *message* or an agenda to the American people. We did not really know what he stood for…except that he was anti-Bush. That is not enough. Bill Clinton (no matter how we feel about him, though I think he was a great President) had a message. He did not let anyone in a campaign take him off his message. The Democratic party needs to stop playing a reactionary, defensive game!

    Last night, however, I was energized. I have been an educator for 4 years…I am considering going into social work. With this administration, or any Republican administration, in power though, it is tough to be in social services or education. It’s depressing. So my epiphany last night was that I need to spend the next 3 years working for the DNC. I dislike politics, but I think the DNC needs to be revitalized…I need to feel hopeful and productive…maybe that’s the way.

    I’m with you, though, Nerissa…this is my country, and the ideals and values She was founded on cannot be tossed aside by this administration. I will fight for that.

  7. Thank you, thank you, Nerissa!
    I’ve been looking for something that would make me feel better and everything was falling short. I knew MoveOn would try to find some bright spot, but they unfortunately failed to come up with an inspiring enough message for me. Even Barack Obama wasn’t enough to lift my spirits. Thanks to you (and Gandhi) for the inspiration!

  8. Mohawk man: why didn’t Nader run for congress? He might really win, and he would be able to make a huge difference. He’s eloquent and he’s passionate and we need that.

    I think we need to focus on our houses of representation, because the more power we concentrate in the hands of a president and his administration, the more “half of the country” will be heartbroken, the more polarized we will become, and the less we can really accomplish.

    And the good news is, some good folks won seats this time! Go Barack Obama!

  9. Nerissa, I love your music and your musings on this blog. But I’m a little nervous about this last one: can it be that you’re suggesting that, although the Republicans have gotten Christianity horribly wrong, it’s still desirable that we run our country on the principles that faith puts forth? I think there’s a lot that’s beautiful about lots of faiths (especially my own! 🙂 as we all do…) but I think we have to stay out of quibbling about “the right Christianity” and “what Jesus really said” when it comes to national politics. It’s not germaine.

  10. I don’t mean to answer for Nerissa, but I will anyway, about the comment on Christianity in Government…I think she meant that those who point to Bush’s “Christian values” are getting the idea of Christian values wrong, and that Christian values do NOT mean go fight against Muslims, wage war on the “axis of evil” and refuse constitutional rights to homosexuals, not that the government should look to Christianity for guidence in making policies.

    Anyway, thanks Nerissa. I think I’m taking my first real breaths since Tuesday now.

  11. Hehe, the delete function actually works. Cool. Reposting here:

    Et tu, Nerissa (New Zealand)?

    Don’t think you’re alone. That is the only place I know of on earth that seems like it’s an oasis of sanity. It’s western, it’s beautiful, it has an economy, and the politics don’t seem so dedicated to escalating the death rate on the planet.

    Do post more about NZ when you find interesting facts about it.

  12. Hi Nerissa! I love your blog. (And I have since it started;
    I just haven’t thought I had something to contribute before now.)

    You say you can’t understand how the Republican Right has
    misappropriated Christianity. I think you identify some of the
    answer in your next sentence: it’s at least partly that that the
    Democrats (or at least, those that call the shots in the national
    campaign) have let them.

    I’ve been a pro-life Democrat for a while, and this past year I’ve felt more
    lonesome politically than any other election cycle I can remember.
    There was a definite chilling this year on each of those camps towards
    the other. Not just disagreement– that I expect and can deal with–
    but an incredulity from much of each camp that one could be affiliated
    with the other camp and be a decent human being, or someone worth
    listening to.

    Okay, so maybe I’m just saying yet again that this year’s
    electorate was unusually polarized. But, it takes two to polarize.

    So, if I can add an item to your wonderful list of suggestions at the
    bottom of your post: maybe those of us without Republican friends
    to irk us can go find some. We can alternately irk and delight one another
    with our stories, our music, our jokes, and our heartfelt concerns.
    And maybe we can feel more like we all are part of the same country.

    John Mark Ockerbloom

  13. Thank you, Nerissa. I was looking for hope from people like yourself and Holly Near. It wasn’t so bad holding a sign next to a man who told me I was a heathen and I eat babies. But watching my sixteen year old go to school with her head hung low mumbling “later Nader, viva New Zealand” was harsh. For all of your readers, though, a beacon of light while standing on a bench in Copley Square in the rain surrounded by a sea of young voters gave me hope. They were so well-versed, respecful towards one another and had such a great energy it reminds me not to fear the future.

  14. There’s clearly something good in your life that is keeping you sane and clear of the dregs of despair. I commend whatever that “good thing” is. I feel a lot better myself, having read what you wrote here.


  15. Hi Nerissa —

    Here’s my presription for post-election distress:
    Acknowledge those feelings of depression, or anger, or exhaustion; recognize that desire to collapse or to run away — and then use those emotions to *do* something.

    1. Step outside your door. Look around. Find something that you can do, *today*, to make the community you live in more of a place that you would want to live in.

    Pick up the litter on your street. Give something away — clothes, toys, books. Write that donation cheque you’ve been putting off. Volunteer. It doesn’t have to be something huge. Small actions have meaning too. Yesterday, the kids (ages 2 and 4) and I went out in the rain, and cleared the drains at the bottom of our street, where rain and leaves were flooding the intersection.

    2. Repeat *every day* for the next four years.

    3. When you go to your polling place next time, look around you. Think, “This is *my* community. I’ve put myself into it. I’m making it better.” And do that by voting, again.

    Sure, it’s comforting to contemplate the imminent heat death of the universe, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, emigrating to Canada or New Zealand, etc. etc. etc. It’s tempting to curl up and wail “Oh no, four more years, I voted and now there’s nothing I can do!” I’ve felt and said that myself — it’s *easier*. Let’s not “go gentle into that good night.”

    Hugs to all, Mary Mark Ockerbloom

  16. You know, as a wayward Bostonian living in Toronto, I should have been more excited when the Sox won. I figured it was a sign of things to come and I’d do my real celebrating once Kerry brought this election home.

    As devestated as I was for the state of my home waking up on Novemeber 3rd, my heart really was with Kerry, hoping with all my heart that he was looking for the same beauty in the election process that Nerissa and all optimistic Americans found–48% of our country wanted a change, and for what shaped up to be a rather impossible battle, I think that’s pretty amazing. I don’t think that solidarity is going to go away any time soon. And I agree, Bush won it fair and square; he rightfully inherited this second term, now let’s see him earn it.

    I regret to admit that I think we all placed some false hopes on what Kerry could accomplish. I love the guy, I think he’s a true hero in every sense of the word, but we all secretly hoped that he could have culturally and intellectually raised the level of America, that we would now be awash in music and art and fine wine, that all of America could be like Cambridge, MA. It occured to me how truly lucky I am to have grown up in such an environment, to have the means to appreciate what Kerry could have offered. Massachusetts is so far from the majority of the country…amazing how I keep forgetting that.

    I look forward to returning home to my native republic, with gay marriage and liberals abound, folk music a-playin’, and Kerry as our personal president.

  17. It’s refreshing to read this from north of the border, where elections — even the majority government ones — are won by minority vote and the political landscape is not defined by party A and party B.
    As a journalist and a Nields fan, this latest U.S. election was quite a learning experience. Reading this post was a nice touch to the oodles of news stories which ran across my screen a few weeks ago as America voted.
    I’m happy to live in a country where although the politicians are faithful, the politics is secular. Where due to history, referendums (or votes on issues) are uncommon and disliked. Where the Supreme Court isn’t afraid to give parliament a spanking when it doesn’t follow the constitution and charter passed by every provincial legislature save one 23 years ago.
    But I’m also happy to know that south of that line on the map, there are people who worry about the same things that I do and ask the same questions of those politicians. As what they stand for and question their platforms, all while strumming a guitar during a rocking Beatles workshop with the Kennedys and that other guy — not to mention the annoying graphic artist.

    Thank you.

  18. Thank you Nerissa, that was lovely, especialy when you quoted Carrie Newcomer and talked about the Bible. I used to go to church every Sunday, but I lost some of my faith as I got older. But I do remember all of those stories about Jesus. The Good Samaritan is one of my favorite stories, as well as the sermon on the mount, where Jesus tells people to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give medicine to the sick, visit those in prison, um, I can’t remember the other ones right now, but you know which part I mean. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

    Thank you for sharing these comforting words with a reader who is poor in spirit. -Emily

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