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C-SPAN vs. the kitchen table.

As critical national elections loom, I find myself strangely bored and uninterested in any of the candidates. For a political junkie like me, this is very unusual. I have always loved politics--the clatter of candidacies, the way a few votes can tip the balance of ideological power in any legislature, the wheeling and dealing to get concessions.

But in this fin de siecle moment, I feel numb to the national scene of politics, distracted by the far more interesting local and state races, the ballot initiative elections, the creative lawmaking of state legislatures and city councils. I find myself worrying what lethargy like mine regarding Al Gore, Bill Bradley, George W. Bush, or even the Democrats' Take Back the Congress movement might mean to the short-term prospects for progress on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality.

There is no doubt that the fall 2000 elections matter enormously to the Left, the Right, and the middle in our communities. On the one hand, leading gay activists on the Democratic and Republican sides have been mobilizing energetically to leverage their positions within both major parties. On the other hand, most progressive activists have been working primarily locally, racking up impressive victories--from the groundbreaking efforts of Tim Sweeney and Matt Foreman at the Empire State Pride Agenda in securing millions of dollars in state funds for GLBT services in New York to the recent defeat of the antigay marriage bill in Oregon's state legislature, led by Jean Harris and Basic Rights Oregon, to the victories engineered by GLBT activists in Kentucky, led by brilliant organizers like Pam McMichael, Carla Wallace, and Maria Price of Kentucky Fairness Alliance.

Of course, I know that it is false to set up an either/or trajectory. To advance, the GLBT movement needs it all: a national, state, and local presence. And electorally, it needs a multiparty movement--not just a rubber stamp for any one national party. Indeed, the lack of progressive, independent alternatives--for example, the failure of the Jesse Ventura wing of the Reform Party to articulate a message that could reach GLBT independents--results in a dull national debate between parties that often play it safe rather than play it right.

More than politics, here is what matters to me these days: finding time to be with my lover, the quality of my friendships; dealing with the caregiving responsibilities my lover, her siblings, and I have to her aging father; worrying about the health of any number of friends who are living with HIV, cancer of all types, kidney failure, and other life-threatening illnesses; getting angry at the innumerable examples of homophobia or racism or sexism--all of which pop up in the daily lives of my friends and family; worrying about physical safety and violence in my daily life.

Indeed, the issues I find myself worrying about are not those framed in the C-SPAN broadcast debates of the Senate or the House but those being argued around the kitchen table and in the state legislatures and city councils. Issues of how family is defined, in marriage and domestic partnership; issues brought up by the large numbers of my friends who are parents; worries about what it means that so many gay parents put their kids in private schools; worries about financial insecurity (hey, I have spent 20 years working in the nonprofit sector, the boom-boom economy has done little to allay my credit card system of financial management).

The candidate and party that best tap into this real, material, and largely underanalyzed shift in the focus of what matters to ordinary GLBT people like me, rather than what matters in the poll-driven world of Washington, D.C., are the ones that will ignite my passion and interest in American politics in the next few months.

Ironically, the shift from the more traditional ideological polarities to a more values-driven, cultural politics has been roundly criticized in the GLBT world by both progressive and right-wing gays. Such critiques are grounded more in outdated feuds than they are in the realities of people's lives. Defined in terms of the spheres of personal life, family, neighborhood, community, and quality of life, cultural issues dominate the GLBT agenda and will for the next decade. A politics that can recognize this truth matters a great deal.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:a boredom with the political process
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 14, 1999
Words:713
Previous Article:Relax, it's just sex.
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