Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: The next steps through chaos

Friends, I remember one presidential race that had a very narrow margin of victory. When the President-Elect was asked afterward if he would move toward a more moderate agenda because of that, he said something to the effect of, “No, we won.” 
This has been the attitude of politicians during my lifetime, with only a few exceptions. Whichever party wins an election tries to enact laws to push the U.S.A. in the direction that party wishes. So our overall direction seesaws back and forth as first one party has control, then the other. Lately, this has been getting worse as one party enacts legislation and the other seeks to remove it when they are next in power. We are no longer “united” states.
Looking at the history of the world, every state or empire that grows to a certain size, or acquires enormous power, sees its time of triumph and then its decline. The desire for power leads to corruption of the leaders. The empire collapses or breaks into pieces. Or when it gets bad enough — bad enough to overcome people’s inertia and a natural desire to stay safe — its overlooked or tyrannized or enslaved people rise up and overthrow it. 
Has our government become corrupt? Do we have “government of the people, by the people, and for the people?” Which people? All the people? People of color? Poor people? People in prison? Women? Old people? 
Haven’t people been suffering terribly from the inequities and cruelties of our government for many, many years? We have government of the people, by some of the people, for some of the people. 
Yes, we have made a lot of progress in the past 50 years, but that progress hasn’t been initiated by the government. Change never comes from a government down, it comes from the people up. Suffrage for black men, then suffrage for all women, civil rights, gay rights, abortion rights, and on and on, happened only when people demanded it of the government. Sadly, people can still win high office without accepting the legality of those rights.
Political scientists and historians have proposed all kinds of possible changes to improve our system of government. But at this point, with the way power is controlled by multinational corporations and the wealthy, with the way so many people believe what they are told without being able to think critically about it, is radical change possible? 
Whether or not one voted for Joe Biden, we can realize that he was content with how things were before, he was not out in the streets calling for the abolition of the electoral college or our two-party system. His is not a new way nor a rebirth of the ideals that founded America. 
The falling of the U.S. “empire” has been predicted since the 1970s, so if we’re seeing the corruption that precedes it, the divisions in ideals, we need to prepare to go through it.
At the same time, can we rejoice for the people’s love of each other that is accelerating this time of change? Can we rejoice even while we mourn people’s sufferings, both past and present? Can we look forward in hope for what, in the long term, might be a much better life for many more of us?
In one way, it’s excruciating to be here now. In another way, it’s an honor because we can help. We can remind each other to love. We can work to make sure everyone survives the painful chaos of change. We can end up a strong, loving, compassionate people united in mutual respect and support.
Vermont is small enough that we can steer it, we can influence our legislature. Our government is “us,” not “them.” In Addison County, how do we want to get through the coming hard times? 
In Quaker life, when we disagree we sit in silence for a while and turn our hearts toward God. We try to discern what is the right thing to do. We govern ourselves not to get “what I want,” not to win “what’s best for me and mine” and then work forever to hold onto it, but to find the solution that will most benefit everyone, now and in the future. 
Can Addison County keep its own peace despite opposing views and fear? Can we talk things out as intelligent, mature adults? Do we need to spew our hatred and fear on our neighbors, or can we learn to live peacefully together as a community? Can Vermonters govern ourselves so as to find the right things to do, even if they are not what we individually might prefer? 
We all want the same things: happiness, safety for ourselves and our families, food, health, warm shelter, education, a sense of belonging, useful work so our lives have meaning, and a mind and voice that is heard — not a fist raised against us — as we find our way forward together.
Barbara “shulamith” Clearbridge offers interfaith spiritual direction in person and by videocall. She lives in Middlebury. She is the author of Finding God/Prayers & Spiritual Practices from Many Traditions and other books about wellbeing and health. Her website is: FeelingMuchBetter.org. 

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