We all know that the current system is broken. It needs change. It needs disruption.
So last week I threw my hat into the ring to run for Congress in 2012. They’re redrawing districts all over the country; it looks like my house will end up in an open, Democratic-leaning seat, and I feel some obligation to do what I can to try to make a difference in getting our country back on track.
I want to talk about our future: about the future of America, about what will be asked of you, and about what will be asked of me. This is in many ways a tough conversation; we still haven’t really dealt with much of what’s happened over the last few years. Many of us are still hurt and angry and disappointed and frustrated.
Half a lifetime ago (in August of 2008 to be precise) I puttered down the hill from the house Mike and I had rented after the fire to the Starbucks and I got into line. All around me, people were talking about Barack Obama. They were excited enough talk to strangers, to share their hopes and their fears -- to believe in coming together to make big things happen. I remember thinking that what I was seeing was transformative.
In January of 2009, when we still believed, I went to DC for the inauguration and watched as the guy we believed in was sworn in. I walked by the Capitol building and looked up at the dome thinking how great our government of, by, and for the people could be. In DC that day, people of every skin color, of every age, of every socioeconomic background, men and women, gay and straight, from every part of the country stood for hours in the bitter cold and it wasn’t the cold that dominated but a feeling that we had accomplished a tremendous thing together – that we were in this together, and that we could do anything.
That feeling didn’t last long. Before we’d even warmed up again from being out in the cold, Republicans like Mitch McConnell made it clear that their top priority was destroying Obama; the fact that the country would be destroyed in the process was apparently mere collateral damage. However dysfunctional DC might have been before 2009, by every measure it’s been more deeply broken since. Everything we worked for, everything we’ve fought for… We have all been grappling with being frustrated and disappointed and angry.
I’ve been talking to a lot of people who are wary and tired of politics. They don’t want to believe again. They’re still hurt from the last time. They think that we can’t afford to hope anymore.
I get that. Some days I feel a little like I’m drinking a cup of spiritual poison before I get to my usual cup of green tea.
So then why would I decide to run for Congress? Denial would be so much simpler. I could say, “It isn’t my problem. Someone else can fix it.” Or I could say, “It’s not fixable.” Or I could say, “I tried.”
But none of those answers are good enough. We have to fix our country or no amount of denial will spare us from the consequences. And we can’t fix what’s broken with our country if we don’t fix Congress.
Our Congress is riddled with crooks who trade on insider knowledge, with people who have sold their souls to the very people who have broken our country. Even the good ones, the members who want the right things, too often give up too easily on important fights, or can’t figure out how to fix the deep structural problems that undermine us.
We need people there who are tenacious and who won’t give up when things get hard.
We need people who are going to fight relentlessly for the things that matter – for a country that works for people who work for a living, for equal justice for all.
And we need people who have the kind of deep analytical training needed to see below the surface of the systems of power in DC. Those systems need to be re-engineered so that they work once again for the people of our country. We need engineers.
So that’s why I’m running: DC needs to be fixed. I have a pretty good idea of how to fix it, and the right temperament and skills to get the job done. What I have to offer is what is needed now.
There are some people who are really uncomfortable with me running. This seems to be especially true of Republicans. I’m honored to be featured in the recent book Red Army: The Radical Network That Must Be Defeated To Save America. Don’t reward them by buying a copy. (You can read the interesting stuff by searching the preview.) But clearly I’m doing something right. The objections take a variety of forms, but they tend to be pretty emotionally-driven. For the most part, they come down to one thing: I’m disruptive of the status quo.
And it’s true, I’m not a big believer in the political status quo. I put a lot of energy into changing the rules of politics. I was a very early progressive movement candidate; together we changed the rules about who can become a viable House candidate and how a credible race can be run. I changed the rules about whether candidates should engage in substantive policy, writing A Responsible Plan To End the War in Iraq while Rahm Emmanuel and Max Clelland and a host of other people counseled me not to spend time on anything substantive, that it shouldn’t be worked on until after the election, because candidates just don’t do that. But we organized more than 60 candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to endorse it and we changed the debate nationally. I was told that the Congressional Progressive Caucus didn’t and couldn’t matter, but I’ve been honored to have worked with them over the past few years to change how progressives in Congress work with each other and with outside groups to get things done.
I disrupt. It’s what I do. And that means that for people who have some level of power in the existing system, I’m pretty threatening.
So I’m asking you to remember what’s worth fighting for. I’m asking you to remember why you’ve fought before. I’m asking you to visualize the kind of a world you want, and to be willing to come together shoulder-to-shoulder with your friends and your neighbors to make it happen.
It’s a lot to do, to suspend disbelief and put ourselves on the line for things. But right now there are thousands of people all over the country sleeping on the cold ground at the Occupy sites because they believe the fight matters. There are people wearing the American flag on their shoulder who have put their lives on the line because they believe our government of, by, and for the people is worth fighting for. And there are good people all over the country who have decided to run for office to try to make the difference that can make, despite the attacks they know are coming, despite the sacrifices required of them.
So pick yourself up and dust yourself off and decide on something you can do today to make a difference. If you can, go down to support your local Occupy for the day. And if you can’t take time to do that, then donate to a Blue America candidate or to Elizabeth Warren or to me. You can make a difference - and together, we can do what needs to be done.