I’m a pretty big political junkie. I follow the news for both parties pretty closely and I like to talk politics. Politics being politics those conversations often turn into (hopefully) civil debate and I enjoy that. I don’t think it changes many peoples minds when we debate an issue in person or on Twitter or Facebook but, if the conversation goes well, I think it changes the perspective on our “opposition.” It’s really easy to imagine that people that don’t agree with you are crazy fanatical “others” but in most cases people that don’t agree with you are just your neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. They want similar things you want. They just think there are different ways to get there. I think some of those ways are completely wrong ways but I try, like I hope a lot of us try, to see some common ground between us, even if the only thing we have in common is that we seem to enjoy debating politics.
2016 being an election year it seems like a lot more people are interested in the stuff I’m interested in pretty much all the time. There are memes and hats with stuff written on them and hashtags and people wearing very serious clothing talking very seriously on television about very serious things. This happens every four years. People get really engaged because the presidential election is like a super-sized edition of American Idol where the winner gets the nuclear football instead of a record contract. I’m not dismissing the presidential election. I’m not dismissing any elections (did you guys know they happen more often than every four years?) but I think that political engagement and revolution happens every day not just Election Day. Voting is not the only act of civil engagement you can and should engage in. It’s only just a little bit about what being a citizen is all about.
It seems like this year there’s a lot of division between pragmatic versus idealistic ideas. Candidates either have status quo shaking new plans to fix America or more centrist establishment-reviewed ideas. I was talking to a friend of mine about that divide the other night and I was talking about what defines my political idealism. I consider myself an idealist. I’m a big ol’ sappy optimist that believes we can change the world if we come together fifteen times before coffee. I’m a Superman guy, not a Batman guy. I believe that my fellow Americans, and really all of the citizens of the world, are inherently capable of good works and understanding. I think we can save the planet, feed the hungry, house the homeless, hug the bears, treat the sick, and have a really good Star Trek television show with Bryan Fuller as the show runner even if CBS thinks it should go on some silly digital subscription service that no one wants to have to get. And I think we should do those things and believe in those things even if they are hard or improbable. I think we should do impossible lofty insane-sounding things for no better reason than because we’re sincere decent people trying to do good in a world that doesn’t always make that easy. So that’s me, the idealist.
All that said, I don’t believe any of the presidential candidates can do a thing to really change the world for the better alone. I think that any movement that depends on a popularity contest of a single person is a movement that I can’t get behind 100% because it’s a game show between candidates pretending through strained smiles that they’re perfect in every single way and their opponents are evil. Sure, some candidates are more genuine and some are more fake but the same mechanism that picks a prom king and queen is what we’re working with as a baseline. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a candidate that I don’t wholeheartedly support now (or haven’t, historically) and it doesn’t mean I’m cynical. It means our system of government requires a majority of over 600 people to do anything of significance. That’s not cynicism – that’s high school civics. Our founding fathers didn’t want a monarchy. They divided government on purpose. They didn’t want one person with their name on the currency telling us how it’s going to be. They wanted checks and balances and yeah, some of the rules and ways those checks and balances exist are convoluted at best, but that’s the USA and bumper stickers and tweets aren’t going to change that. I see and I read so many of my peers getting very excited about THE candidate that can change Washington and I want them to be excited. I don’t disagree that their candidate has some smart ideas. But I want them to stay excited and stay engaged every day after November 8, 2015. I want the citizens of my country to vote and put that little “I Voted!” status thing up on Facebook and keep voting and going to rallies and donating if that’s what they want to do and then still not be done.
So, how do you stay engaged in politics outside of our election process? I think the answer is to create. I think creation is the ultimate form of revolution. Telling stories, making art, these things aren’t partisan. They’re not covered by CNN as events but they matter more than another in a series of shouting matches between people standing behind podiums. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the way a lot of people thought about civil rights with words, not a ballot box. Star Trek showed us a future we could aspire toward where old conflicts of race and religion were overcome in favor of a brighter, more optimistic future. Will & Grace showed Middle America that gay people are nothing to be afraid of. The idealism I talked about before, it sneaks into those works and into our minds. I said before that I don’t think civil debate or political rhetoric changes most people’s minds but I do think that stories and art can open them. Stories and art cut straight to our shared humanity. They appeal to our better angels. They inspire us and reassure us. They relate to our anger and to our hope. At a time when politics splits our country in half, there are still stories and art that we all connect with and through that connection to the work, we are connected to people we are so sadly divided from the rest of the time.
I create as an act of idealistic rebellion. I create to entertain and to educate and to challenge. I create because I have too much energy and engagement that one presidential election isn’t nearly enough to sate my passion for making the world a better place.
If you can’t create or don’t want to create yourself, support creators you care about, that you know, that speak to you. And support creators that haven’t created anything before, young people, or disaffected, marginalized people. Reach down past the vitriol and the slogans and feel that idealism, that sense of possibility, and give into it. Explore different worlds as a prism to see yours differently. This doesn’t preclude or replace supporting your favorite presidential candidate. It just makes our world better or at least more interesting every single time.