- What I learned is that the electoral process makes people complacent. It is not intended to accommodate those of us who are Black, or brown, or queer. To effectively represent my identities and communities is to be labeled “radical” and unelectable.
- I learned that a lot of my fellow Boys Staters were great politicians — but I don’t necessarily consider that a compliment. The program engenders a culture of stringent competition, chest-thumping and underhanded tactics. We were teenage boys whose only understanding of government was what we had seen adults doing. We were all participating in theater.
- In the premiere episode of “The Michelle Obama Podcast” last month, Barack Obama said of my generation that we “take for granted all the things that a working government has done in the past. The danger for this generation is that they become too deeply cynical [about] government.” ... But I embrace the cynicism, because with it comes brutal honesty.
- Boys State immersed me in a culture that refuses to criticize America, confusing praise with patriotism while ignoring the fact that with love comes accountability. I believe that to love America is to be as cynical about our political system as necessary until real change is made, because faith in what worked in the past won’t get us through.
- I learned a lot from my time in the youth civics program — namely that I don’t want to commit my life to electoral politics.
In her address at the Democratic National Convention this month, [Ms. Obama] echoed this sentiment: “You know that I hate politics, but you also know that I care about this nation.” She noted that “going high” and playing the game do not mean you can’t critique the system. This is where we align. Through my brand of civic engagement — marching in the streets, research, advocacy, education — I am marrying my cynicism with action.
"Civic engagement," though, which means enlisting with others to change the conditions of our lives for the better, should never be treated as if it were the result only of electoral politics. That is what René Otero tells us in his New York Times' essay. The opposite is the case. As we engage in direct struggles for political, social, and economic change - what Otero calls "action" - we will ultimately and inevitably transform our electoral politics to achieve the changes that the people demand. But focus on the changes, not on electoral politics.
I think Otero is dead on right about that!