Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hand to Hand Combat for Democracy

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

801 words

Saturday, I dragged myself out of the house to flyer for Segolene Royal. So what if I was bribed first with lunch and a glass of champagne? I went.

You wouldn't believe the smile I pasted on, the careful display of the pamphlet with Sego's face, and the polite, "Bonjour, are you familiar with her platform?" All because these French people require a polite, personal touch or they feel free to give you hell. Even the people on our side fire away.

The white leftists are the worst. One guy said he'd vote for Sego, but ranted on about how she was caviar gauche, part of the privileged left in her high heels, and designer clothes, barely better than the right. Sounded like the people I know who voted for that bum Nader instead of Gore, and got us stuck with Bush.

Then there was the woman who got mad because I handed her husband a flyer and not her, even though they were passing at the speed of light, him a few feet away, her half a mile down the road with twelve kids between. I'm a dirty misogynist.

They don't like this, they don't like that. They scowl and moan and wait for some bearded revolutionary saint like Che to sweep down from the Argentinean plains and carry them off to Nirvana. Instead, all they have is this, this... woman... who repulses them with her smooth skin and nice clothes and practical politics.

The people of color are different. Almost all the French Africans and Asians smiled at the pamphlets and took them even with suitcases in both hands. Sego's the only one they stand a chance with. "Keep it up," they told us, or, "I wish I could vote."

Some looked scared. One North African guy said, "I've been here twenty-five years. This is my home, but if Sarkozy gets elected I'll always be a foreigner."

Besides deporting kids from grade schools, Sarko's doing a dance with the ultra right-wing extremist Le Pen who wants to send all the non-white people back where they came from, and if that happens to be France, then to the land of their ancestors.

There's a similar trend in the United States, but it seems like everybody I know has retreated -- to the countryside, parenthood, despair, Gay Paree.

The election won't spark a revolution. Leading the Democratic pack we've got Clinton and Obama who are better than Bush, but every time they declare their belief in God, and parse words on gay rights it's like a cold shower.

The Iraq War and the erosion of civil rights aren't close enough to light any fires either, unless you're an immigrant or soldier. I imagine we queers could have ignored Reagan's America if not for the AIDS crisis that set off a train of reactions that converged in groups like ACT-UP and the Lesbian Avengers.

It's not just apathy. Americans just aren't much good at engaging national politics. Part of it is our sheer size. I shrink in front of the map extending practically from one side of the world to the other.

Then there's tradition. Growing up in Kentucky, both politics and religion were banned from polite tables. You'd ruin your digestion and offend your guests. Besides, the thinking was, all you can do is make a fool of yourself, and there are already plenty of politicians willing to do that. Leave the scoundrels to it. Even going door-to-door for Jesus is too much. All those holier-than-thou people do it more for that glorious burst of self-satisfaction than the glory of God.

We Americans donate money and stock food banks, but shy away from taking on our neighbors, eye meeting eye, hand meeting hand in exchange for what? Promises? Something for nothing? I never saved a soul even though I was a staunch Christian, but I sold plenty of Girl Scout cookies. Pay your money get your Thin Mints.

I'm jealous when I watch these French people, armed only with ideas, go out to convert their friends and neighbors. It's a kind of intimacy with their country that stands in contrast to our disinterested patriotism. We slap flags on everything from car lots to sheet cakes, but never in our hearts.

The left, especially, stakes few claims. One of the last times I saw familiar faces on the streets was during the massive demos in 2003 against invading Iraq. During the mid-term election I got a couple of emails. I'm not sure how much they work. Can you get fired up in front of a keypad?

Maybe the problem is we don't know what we have, and without fearing loss, who cares enough to risk hand to hand combat? My hand with a pamphlet. Yours turning it away.

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