What to do?For months I've been ruminating: "What to do, what to do?" I've been ruminating about the direction the Bush administration has been taking this country, and wondering "What to do? What to do?" As I watched the U.S. government draw a line in the sand over Iraq, invade, occupy, and now struggle to create some semblance of normalcy, I've wondered, "What to do? What should I do? What can I do?"
As I watched huge tax breaks for the wealthiest segment of our population win approval in a complacent (or perhaps personally benefiting) Congress, I wondered, "What can I do? Congress is acting like a doormat, as if the sitting president had gotten a mandate, not less than a majority of the popular vote, and so, what can I do?"
As I read about potential government intrusion into privacy at libraries, again I asked, "What can I do?" As lip service to "no child left behind" and support for first responders failed to get funding from the Bush administration, I kept asking myself, "What can I do about this?"
While the Bush administration refused to cooperate with other nations to work on global problems, I asked myself, "What can I do, a mere lone citizen who feels ashamed that my government won't sign a treaty banning land mines, flip-flops on whether global warming is a reality but continues to refuse to take precautions just in case it's a real, climate-changing, sea-level raising, problem. What to do?"
Then the Democratic candidates began revving up their engines. Speaking out early against the Iraq war was Howard Dean. "Finally," I thought, "Someone is saying out loud, bluntly and unequivocally, the things I'm thinking." Invading Iraq is a new budget-busting policy of pre-emptive war - a humanitarian issue and an economic issue because its cost is part of a budget deficit of unimaginable size. Money is being spent on infrastructure, schools and health care in Iraq instead of here at home. We all know it, but again, what are we to do?
So, Howard Dean says things a lot of us are thinking and suddenly, not only does he have a presidential candidacy, but he's the front-runner. Other Democrats, apparently afraid to differ with Bush on homeland security, the Iraq war, or big tax cuts, finally realize there's a constituency out here. A bunch of people who are angry, concerned or even despondent, are ready now to do something, to mobilize behind a candidate who isn't "Republican-lite." (That comment isn't meant to disparage Republicans, many of whom I know are equally distressed by Mr. Bush's radical right-wing policies.)
So Dean runs, but clearly the mainstream press doesn't care for him. They talk about his style, even his wife's style or lack thereof, the tactics of the various campaigns, but seldom the issues. I watch and wonder how much the press' pronouncements on Dean's campaign "stumbling" influenced the Iowa caucuses. I read the articles, looking for specific examples and found little of substance ... except the general notion that Dean is an outsider and speaks too bluntly.
But, as the campaigns proceeded, other candidates began lighting their torches from Dean's. Suddenly, almost all the candidates were willing to criticize George Bush and his policies, talk about the overall problem of a sitting president who does not appear to have the welfare of the overall citizenry at heart.
So now I had an idea of something I could do. The Democratic precinct caucuses were being held and I debated attending. "What difference will it make" vs. "It's the least I can do." My hunch is "What difference will it make" is the attitude that has led fewer and fewer people to vote, an attitude reinforced by Ralph Nader's 2000 presidential bid. "They're all cut from the same cloth" has turned out to be unfortunately untrue. The major parties do pursue similar policies in many areas, but one party ran a wolf in sheep's clothing, the "compassionate conservative."
My "It's the least I can do," however, won out; I went to the caucus in Long Beach. Twenty-eight people from little old Ilwaco crowded around one of the tables in a room packed to overflowing. Energy was high, upbeat, convivial, positive. I realized the answer to the question, "What can I do," is not answered in the first person. We can do something. We can start "speaking truth to power" as they say in progressive politics. We can work together to get out the vote. We can reinvigorate the Democratic Party.
Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer from Ilwaco, which is admittedly a hotbed of Democratic voters.