Written by Brian Hassett // syndicated to str34m
A lot of people got discouraged during 2016 — first the Berners supporting Sanders in the primary, then most of the nation with “the perfect storm” of the November electoral college disaster. Twice in my lifetime has this antiquated 1700s electoral college voting concept resulted in the loser of the vote becoming President. And both those times resulted in the #1 and #2 worst Presidents in modern history (by a long shot) that this country ever had the misfortune to have.
There is no other elected office in America you can win without winning the actual vote — and it just happens to be the most important one. Maybe this was a good idea back in the horse-&-buggy days, but it sure ain’t democracy now that everybody can actually vote.
Citizen participation goes back to … well, the Greeks (if you were a white native-born male 2,500 years ago), or women in America for the last hundred years, and minorities kinda mostly since 1965 (except since 2013 when the Roberts Supreme Court dishonorably and despicably rolled back the Voting Rights Act), and all of us who choose to be involved in the primary process since 1972. A lot of (particularly young) people seem to think the political world started in 2016 … and for them it’s been nothing but a disaster.
This is a terrible thing — and we’ve got to collectively work to re-engage and fix as best we can a flawed system.
In these pages I’m going to share some Adventure Tales about engagement in politics. It’s a helluva fun pursuit — and the winner gets to run the country! And speaking of running, there was a great documentary in 2007 called Run Granny Run about the inspirational Granny D from New Hampshire who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 at age 94. In it she said a line I’ve repeated often — “Democracy isn’t something we have, it’s something we do.”
That should be carved into marble in Washington somewhere. At least I’ll carve it into this paper and maybe your brain.
“Democracy isn’t something we have,– Granny D
it’s something we do.”
And we’ve all got a lot to do! 4 in 10 Americans think Donald Trump is doing a great job as president. (!) This makes zero sense to 6 in 10 Americans, but what this book is going to hopefully help do is get those 6 in 10 back to being passionately involved in the grand experiment that is America.
We’re each here for only a small sliver of time. I have many friends who have been engaged in politics and governance for longer than I’ve been alive; and I’ve got many younger friends who are still going to be involved in it (hopefully) long after I’m gone. But we each have to be engaged proactive stewards for the wee window we’re here.
Perhaps this is a good time to talk about age. According to my birth certificate from Kenya, I mean Calgary, I am supposedly 58 years old as I type this in early 2020 — but obviously there’s been some mistake because I feel like I’m 18. And I think the same drunk clerk was in the records office for a while because I know a bunch of people older than me that will swear on a stack of On The Roads that they are not the age their birth certificate says they are.
One of them is my 80-year-old stage partner, George Walker, who just put a new roof on his house by himself while simultaneously rebuilding a 1939 Furthur bus called “Farthur” to take On The Road in 2020. I also perform regularly with Jack Kerouac’s principal musical collaborator, David Amram, who is a still-improvising & wailing jazz cat at age 89. And I finally tracked down and interviewed Locke McCorkle who had the house in Mill Valley where Gary Snyder and Kerouac stayed that prompted the Dharma Bums adventure, and he told me that even though he’d just stopped racing motorcycles at age 85, he felt like he was 35. So, everybody reading this book who’s under 90 years old, there’s no excuse for not having full engagement in this life.
And this also relates to the current leader of the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, who turned 80 in March 2020, as well as three of the four frontrunners in the Democratic primary — Joe Biden (77), Elizabeth Warren (70), and Bernie Sanders (78) — who are all bounding and bouncing with the same kind of vibrancy as Granny D or the jazz cat or the guy up putting on the new roof. 70 is the new 30, and 80 is the new 18.
The Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh also turned 80 in March 2020 and is actively involved in Get Out The Vote (GOTV) actions — as are all the members of Dead & Company.
If smart people in their 70s and 80s have not given up hope, have not become cynical, are still working hard every day to make the world a better place, that should be instructive to anyone in their teens or twenties or thereabouts that giving up is not an option. Or wise. Saying of candidates and political leaders “they’re all the same” is a cop-out and abdication of the rights and powers of citizenry. Just ask Granny D.
I was born and raised in Western Canada in a world with a mocking disdain for everything American, and anything from the East. I didn’t fit in in the least — left as soon as my “finish high school” box was ticked, never looked back, and became an American by choice as soon as I was able. I served nearly 30 years in Manhattan, and am now back in the land of the red-&-white outside Toronto, with the minute-by-minute madness of Manhattan no longer taking up every day of every week of every year, and time and distance to reflect on that massive round-trip road trip.
Although Americans love to pride themselves in being “#1” at everything — their system is the worst for democracy. In Canada (and the U.K. and a lot of other countries) a national election is called — and the whole thing’s over in six weeks — and costs 1/1000th what 2020 will cost America, not to mention the thousands of hours of print and broadcast and social media reading about the bickering between any two people.
But what America has is characters, drama and stakes. And as a friend said at the end of yet another great Grateful Dead show back in the Jerry days — “That’s why I keep comin’ back.”
Who wins these elongated and compromised elections gets control of the biggest property on the Western World gameboard. And when I say “compromised” — what I mean is gerrymandering and voter suppression and the candidates’ requirement of taking big money from big business (codified by the anti-democracy “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision of 2010) in order to buy media ads and hire staff in 50 states to coordinate more fundraising to pay for more fundraising.
America is leading the world in democracy-destroying gerrymandering — at least in the 37 states that allow it — where the state government fences in all the voters of the opposing party to one or as few congressional districts as possible, then gives the whole rest of the state to themselves. This is reason #1001 why getting involved in your state government is as important as engagement in a presidential election. And I may as well say it — it’s actually more. And you know what’s even more important than your state government? Your city government. I know it ain’t sexy, and it ain’t gonna be all over the TV and social media, but who your mayor and city council is makes a bigger difference in your life than who your president is.
I know in people’s heads they see the face of the president as the political person overseeing their life. But the counterintuitive truth is your quality of life, in general, is determined far more by your city council than your federal congress. Whether your water’s clean, your power’s on, you don’t get robbed on the way to the store, you’ve got paved roads to drive on, whether the literal and metaphorical trains run on train, what your property taxes are (which generally takes more of your income than your income tax) — all that stuff that really is your life is more your city and state governments than it is federal — so if any of this sinks in at all let it be for you to give as much of a damn about who runs your city as Washington. Sadly, municipal elections usually have less than half the turnout of the already low federal election participation — which was 61% of eligible voters in both 2012 and 2016. Those people whose names you probably don’t even know, get elected by about 20% of your neighbors, and have more to do with your day-to-day quality of life than all the presidents of your life combined. Or thereabouts.
But of course if this book was about mayoral elections, you wouldn’t be reading it. It’s about “the show.” Which we love. It’s the big one … with the leg-kicking Rockettes and half-time rock stars and fireworks of exploding heads every night on the TV sets of America. Not the preseason. Not the regular season. Some people watch that stuff — but everybody tunes in for the playoffs. Which, in U.S. Presidential politics, means from the summer conventions through the November elections. Or many don’t really tune in until the first Presidential debate in late September (usually) — but it’s the same four years as every Summer Olympics when we wave our flag and wear our team jersey and celebrate the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
And every election I’ve lived through was (rightfully called) “the most important election of our lifetime.” I dunno why that is or why it’s true, but it is. Well, maybe ‘96 wasn’t when Bill Clinton was just holding serve against the Roll–Hemp ticket. I mean, Dole–Kemp. We’re always at war or some damn thing. But in 2020 there is a proudly overtly racist fascist sociopath in the White House who’s cultivated a cult of straight-arm saluting devotees committed to re-electing “the greatest president we ever had.”
And so here we are.
25 different men and women from all demographics and backgrounds and philosophies threw their lives into the ring to be the 2020 Democratic nominee. At least this part of the grand game is a healthy democracy. Voters can choose from longtime socialists like Bernie, or longtime businessmen like Bloomberg, or practical centrists like Joe Biden, or non-politician outsiders like Andrew Yang.
I’ve been On The Trail on way or another since first seeing third party candidate John Anderson in 1980, to catching every candidate in New Hampshire in 2020 — 40 years On The Road as another Adventurer coined it — and you’re holding a good chunk of it in book form for the first time. Throughout this process of writing lots of new pieces up through March of 2020, I also found old clippings of stories past, old photographs & buttons, rediscovered old memories, and followed a paper trail of typed tales back to when computers were only props on Lost In Space.
Now there are trolls and bots and memes and apps, and as the old saying goes — “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on” — is more true than ever. We are all living through a redefining of what democracy and even “truth” is.
I’m glad you’ve joined in this Adventure, and hopefully reading this book will inspire you to get involved and create your own stories for eternity.
Here’s where you can get Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy.
Here’s the first show for the book — a live stream on Facebook — where I perform a part of this live —
Here’s where you can get the first book in The Beat Trilogy — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.
Here’s the second book in the Trilogy — How The Beats Begat The Pranksters.
Here’s the third book in the Trilogy — On The Road with Cassadys and Furthur Visions.
by Brian Hassett
firstname.lastname@example.org — BrianHassett.com
Or here’s my Facebook account if you wanna join in there —
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