I'm sure I'm not the only one who woke up this morning, feeling like I'd been kicked in the chest. Heartbreak; and I'm not even a Wisconsin voter. To have worked so hard, and come so close to defeating the dehumanizing, divisive corporate hate machine that currently dominates American politics. And then, in the end, to have come up short; and not just by a little.
But here's the thing: there's nothing new to me about the heartbreak. My earliest political memory is the 1980 election, the grim look on my father's face as he said, only half in jest, and not for the last time, "Maybe we should move to Canada." And after 1980 there was 1984, and 2000, and (most painful of all) 2004. And all of the smaller skirmishes in between. Of course, we never did move to Canada (well, actually I did for a couple years, but it was school and not politics that brought that about.)
And it occurs to me, as I nurse emotional wounds and try (rather unsuccessfully) not to wallow in the inevitable negativity and brain-dead punditry that follows an election like this one, that in the end, victories and celebrations, back-slapping and acceptance speeches, do not teach you anything. They do not demand anything of you. They're fun and great, but no one ever grew, or became more resolute in their cause, through winning.
It is only defeat that does that. It is only through adversity that we are forced to take a hard look inside ourselves and reaffirm our commitment to our core principles. It is only when you lose that you are forced to ask yourself, "Is all of this really worth it?" And you are forced to answer (and sometimes, it is an effort), "Yes it is." Why? Because you have no choice.
Everyone involved in recalling Walker, from the candidates themselves, to the canvassing footsoldiers, to the netroots activists and phonebankers, to the ones who could only send a few bucks or just their best vibes, knew (or should have known) that they were taking a huge risk. Loss would mean not only heartache, but fallout: a chorus of self-satisfied crowing from the usual suspects in the media, the apparent validation of Walker's out-of-state big money, divide-and-conquer politics. Risks sometimes pay off; and sometimes they don't. The only way to guarantee the outcome of an election is to give up, thereby making sure the other side wins. Wisconsin Democrats didn't do that, and whatever else happens, I hope they feel as proud of their effort as they feel crushed by the outcome.
So, not a diary to say "Oh, it'll be ok." Or even, "You tried, that's what counts." But rather to remind anyone who needs the reminder that this is what you signed up for when you became a progressive. Because, at its core, being progressive means rejecting the easy temptation of corporate money, ignoring the calculated adulation of a compliant media, and rising above the fleeting satisfaction that comes with getting more votes than the other team in the race as much as the fleeting pain that comes with getting fewer.
Being a progressive means knowing in your heart that, so long as the status quo values money over people, power over righteousness, and rewards individual greed at the expense of whole communities, you haven't yet won. Whatever victories we do have, whatever mountains we do climb, being progressive requires us always to ask ourselves, "What's the next mountain?"
I am not much of a pundit or political strategist. So I will leave the reading of tea leaves to others. I will just say this:
Fooling people is easy. More difficult is convincing they've been fooled. (Mark Twain said that, or something like it.)
Likewise, dividing people is easy. More difficult is bringing people together for the greater good, despite their differences.
Likewise, scaring people is easy. More difficult is telling the truth about the very real challenges our country (and species) face right now, no matter how insurmountable they seem, and still demanding that we act.
Likewise, enriching the few at the expense of the many is easy. Much more difficult is creating a world in which prosperity is broadly and fairly shared.
So don't fool yourself that today and the days to come are not going to be incredibly difficult and that the outcome of all of our hard work remains uncertain. Rather, remind yourself that you chose this. At some point in your life, you saw two paths: one flinty, narrow, twisting, poorly marked and always in danger of being lost, that leads up and down, from mountaintop to valley to mountaintop; and one broad and flat, paved and well-lit, never straying from the flatlands. You saw where the easy path leads, and figured there must be a better destination. You chose the harder and less certain path; and you are not alone.
11:54 AM PT: I'm grateful for the positive response. I wrote this mainly as an exercise in catharsis... I am happy if it has helped anyone else sort their feelings out.