All politics is personal.
I’ve written about this idea before, and it’s been stuck in my head all morning since I read a news story posted by WCAX. More on that in a bit.
I first came upon the phrase via Ralph Wright, who served for a decade as Speaker of the House in Vermont’s legislature. “All Politics Is Personal” is the title of Wright’s autobiography, which he released in 1996, right around the time I was starting to understand there was a complex world outside of own self-absorption.
The idea of all politics being personal hearkens back to Martin Luther King, Jr. In his Christmas Sermon on Peace in 1967, King said:
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.
Of course this applies to politics. How could it not?
All politics being personal is quite different from Tip O’Neill Jr.’s flawed idea that “All politics is local.”
(In the interest of not getting side-tracked, here’s Charles Pearce’s 2015 analysis of that concept.)
Back to that WCAX story.
It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill, person-on-the-street piece about local reaction to yesterday’s attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Not a great piece by any stretch of the imagination, lacking enough sourcing and geographic diversity to make it valuable. It still managed to be revealing, though.
Asked about what was going on in Washington, D.C., one Vermonter said this: “We’re in Vermont, they’re over there I don’t really care. I don’t think either one should be president, honestly. But this protest doesn’t concern me really.”
Each time I read this, my stomach hurts.
It’s the sort of willful ignorance that gives me zero hope for the future.
A busload of largely unmasked Vermonters traveled to the demonstrations in D.C., interacting with untold and untraced numbers of people from around the country. Politics aside (and that can’t really be done with the pandemic at this point), the demonstration will most likely turn out to be a super spreader event. When that bus returns to the Green Mountain State, the divide between Vermont and “over there” will shrink pretty damn quickly.
Decisions get made daily in Washington, D.C. that have a direct impact on our daily lives. To harbor such disinterest and disconnectedness is nothing short of self-harm in this day and age.
It also reminds me of another favorite quote, this one from Howard Zinn: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
One doesn’t have to be concerned about something to be complicit in it. Apathy picks your seat on the train for you.