I recently had a friend on Facebook tell me, “It looks like the Democrats are lining up to lose this fall’s elections.” That immediately reminded me of a question asked every year at the Passover table in my family home. It comes from the Reform Jewish Haggadah, the book used to conduct the services, and is a story about four sons who ask questions of the head of the household about the symbols and meanings of the ceremonial meal:
“The wicked son inquires in a mocking spirit: ‘What mean ye by this service?’ As he says ye and not we, he excludes himself from the household of Israel. Therefore thou shouldst turn on him and say: ‘It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.’ For me and not for him, for had he been there, he would not have been found worthy of being redeemed.”
Framing is everything, and that wicked son gets a harsh lesson in that framing.
By talking about “the Democrats” as being separate and apart from himself, my friend firmly positioned himself as a bystander. He was watching the coming election as if it were a horse race and he was in the grandstands as a passive observer.
I don’t believe he really is so uninvolved, but the language he used will have several subtle psychological effects.
For one, it absolves him of any responsibility should the Democratic candidates lose in the fall. That allows him — or anyone else who takes that position — to do a lot of complaining without having to actually make an effort to win.
It is understandable, since the media treats elections much like horse races and delights in reporting on who is “ahead in the polls.” It is a compelling narrative that gets clicks, eyeballs and listeners for their outlets but does nothing to inform voters of the candidates’ positions or policies.
In addition, it reinforces the belief that “we the people” have little or no control over the political process. Folks seeking to keep voters home often use that narrative. It is a pervasive opinion, and it leads to the kind of results we saw in the last general election, where a man with no qualifications whatsoever became president simply because people were not paying attention and were believing a false narrative being reinforced on social media.
On top of that, it justifies doing nothing. It is the mental equivalent of throwing up your hands and just walking away and waiting to see what happens. Even if you do go to the polls, it is with a sense that your single vote doesn’t matter.
The truth is that maybe one vote doesn’t matter. But many votes do.
So rather than declare him unredeemable, as the words of the Haggadah do, I choose to ask him to change his language a bit and take some action.
Unless you are someone who backs the Republican agenda, I ask that whenever you refer to a Democratic candidate you use the pronouns “we,” “our” and “my.” Doing so shifts your thinking into a new frame, one that sees the outcome of the election as your responsibility, not someone else’s.
It means you have a bet riding on that horse in the race, and the results will matter directly to you.
Just a few simple actions can make a difference beyond anything you might imagine:
Get involved with a campaign. Find a candidate you like and actually contribute to their campaign. Volunteer to work for a candidate; make calls; block walk or stuff mailers.
Stop watching the polls and instead get out the vote to go to the polls. Find three friends who may not have voted recently and take them to the polls with you. Encourage your family to vote for your candidates, and let them know exactly why it matters.
Stop spreading the negative narrative and framing on social media. Instead, use the power of social media to encourage others to get involved in winning the elections in November. Let them know they all have a stake in the race.
The press will continue to follow the horse race; it’s an easy story to report and takes little effort. But you can’t be content to watch from the sidelines anymore.
This race is the most important one in your lifetime. And you have to choose whether you will be a passive observer or an active part of changing history.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.