This week is a difficult one for anyone who identifies as left of very, very far right.
Every frustration is entirely reasonable; I felt shell-shocked myself. Now that we have had some time to process, to stew, to vent, it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with our vision, values and goals. It’s time we get back on the horse and fight.
Elections aren’t the only form of civic engagement, though our single-minded focus on them has led many of us to believe they are. When they are regarded as such, as winner-take-all affairs, huge segments of the electorate set themselves up for devastation when things don’t go the way they hope. But communities still require our participation and engagement. Those in need still require our generosity. Local economies require investment, and our chosen causes need our attention. Activism remains essential, especially when those with whom we disagree are in power.
When we believe that true change is possible only every handful of years, we despair and can inadvertently say hurtful things. We place blame and point fingers and alienate our neighbors. We blame them for their political views and imagine them to be at fault. We see them as our enemies rather than friends who maintain differences of opinion.
In doing so, we shortchange ourselves by losing sight of the true enemies of progress.
These include rigid election laws that limit attention to two candidates, unlimited flows of corporate money, institutional racism and more. As tempting as it is to think this, the perfectly good people who voted for the people they believed to be the best candidates are not the enemy, no matter how much we disagreed with the candidates they chose and their approaches.
By losing sight of that, we deprive ourselves of self-criticism, self-reflection, examination of our own approaches to making change and the policies we support. We oversimplify, and we avoid taking advantage of an opportunity to grow, to progress.
Between now and the next high-profile election, we should channel our frustrations and build toward our vision by engaging locally — being active participants in our communities. It’s time we invest in long-term change, which includes a series of exercises that are admittedly less sexy than a horse race but altogether important in the long run.
Many have expressed their frustrations with the supposed vote-siphoning of independent Eliot Cutler’s candidacy. To that point, though, the real issue is bigger than Eliot Cutler or any single candidate. It’s a system that allows for only two candidates to be taken seriously.
Fortunately, a petition effort is under way to enact ranked choice voting, a reform that would make more room for more candidates. Those frustrated with limited options should consider supporting these efforts with their volunteerism, activism and resources. When it comes to beating back the proliferation of outside money in elections, Maine Citizens for Clean Elections has a campaign underway to strengthen our election financing laws — another important, long-term effort worthy of investment of time and energy.
The tenor of the post-defeat narrative on social media suggests that many believe the impact of their online commentary is on par with the efficacy of community organization and engagement. It’s not.
A lot of that frustration and those post-election tantrums revealed among many an ignorance about who our neighbors are. That phenomenon itself is problematic. Strong community bonds are the start for effecting true, longer-term change. Through these bonds, we can make our neighbors aware of the scourge of corporate-backed groups — like the American Legislative Exchange Council — and their attempts to encroach on our laws and commandeer our legislative processes. We can help them make better sense of our values.
We accomplish that by being involved, not treating our neighbors with whom we disagree as strangers or villains and accusing them condescendingly of voting against their own interests. These are people with whom I disagree on approach. They are not scheming devils complicit in a plot to take over the country. The attitude that treats them that way gets in the way of our future progress.
If no one is doing it, start something new. Anger, shock and distaste toward the advancement of policies we abhor are important and real. But if it is not channeled into short-term action and is, instead, wasted in speeches to the choir, it’s a missed opportunity.
It’s time we channel those energies into making an impact in our communities. It’s easy to think of a midterm election as the beginning or end of the world, regardless of which side of the fence you stand on, but it’s neither.
The true tragedy occurs when we put all of our stock into an event that happens every other year.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager and is a former candidate for the Legislature. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Cornish.