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    Views: Can elections 'change' anything?
by Marie J. Kuda

So the beauty contest is underway. Everyone is talking about change; change what? Change the party in power? Change the direction of our policy in the Arab states? Change the way the old Beltway elite does business? Make senators and representatives vote on a 'clean' bill without little add-ons and bits of pork skewered deep in the fat? Or does it mean more? Does it mean anything?

We hear with the ears of our oppression. To women, does change mean equality with men? To Blacks, does change mean an equal piece of the pie? As gays, what are we asking for? Are we all ( should we be ) asking for the same thing?

This country has never fully dealt with its racism, let alone its sexism or its homophobia. In all honesty, would the media and the messengers be playing the same song if Senator Obama was as black as our State Senator Emil Jones or Representative Danny Davis? Is he perceived as a candidate for national unity because he represents the best of the blend? What does it mean that Senator Clinton's 'womanhood' is subtly, constantly being reinforced by the media and the candidates? She is kissed, her clothes are commented on, chairs are held out for her, a moment of exhaustion ( read: weakness ) is national news. Her gender and his color are equally weighted labels. The media and their campaigns find ways to keep underscoring the labels of difference because their messages are so similar.

What is it that we want? An equal share of the power structure? When Harold Washington was elected the first Black mayor of Chicago by a coalition of grassroots and progressive elements, the old power structure stonewalled his efforts at change. Bitter years of 'council wars' caused a virtual political stalemate. Would a President Obama be stymied by the Washington 'old guard'? Election to the office guarantees nothing, confers little power beyond a veto. Jimmy Carter proved that. Would another President Clinton have the 'cojones/balls' to steamroll the 'old boys' on both sides of the aisle and get real legislative changes passed?

Why are committees spending days and dollars trying to get the Attorney General to speak out on water boarding as torture? What real change will that effort make? The torturers are always with us, regardless of the rules. The tortured have confessed to anything since the days of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition down through rotten Chicago cop Burge. Why didn't the Senate ( the Constitutionally empowered holder of the purse strings ) cut off taxpayer dollars to fund Iraq once the lies were known? Why has the Speaker of the House said that impeachment is 'off the table' for the current elected officials who thrust us into peremptory war for their own purposes? Imagine the 'changes' those trillions of wasted taxpayer dollars could have wrought.

What if anything can be done to bring about change? What changes do we want? Can politicians of any color, gender or stripe really effect change? In many ways America is, and has always been, a sick society with a power structure that measured out doses/degrees of 'equality' ( whether votes, jobs, or educational opportunities ) as if they had the right to bestow them. Women, Blacks, gays—with their tokens granted and their plates filled with a piece of the pie—only seem to agitate for more tokens and more pie.

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I think what we all want is to be who we are; we want our identity as full, complete human beings. Each and everyone of us, alone in our skin, equal to each and every other one, at home or abroad. Every life is as valuable as our own. Neither the idealist nor the realist can 'give' us our identity. A 'frequently asked question' these days as documentarians begin collecting our Chicago gay history is 'How different is it today from the early days of the movement?' I'm certain Blacks, Women's liberationists, etc. are all asked the same question. My answer is that in the 1960s we thought that real revolution possible in this country. Some who believed that died for their belief ( Miz Moon, Dr. King, Susan Saxe, Harvey Milk and a host of others ) . We won/were given small change, chump change, not real 'change'.

As Lorraine Hansberry ( woman, gay, and Black ) put it back in the early 1960s, we want 'total identification ... not a question of reading anybody out ... true and genuine equality.' Can this ever happen? Can it be applied to our foreign policy as well? Can America ever be that dreamed of shining city on the hill? I despair of it in my lifetime. I am not alone in echoing Robinson Jeffers in his poem 'Shine, Perishing Republic.' I only hope I don't live long enough to see 'the fire next time.' Radical changes in American society are needed. Changes that will only come at a price, most of us seem unwilling to consider, let alone pay. At the very least, vote.

Copyright 2008 by Marie J. Kuda

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