“power to the people” – john lennon/plastic ono band (1971)

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Though Donald Trump has only been in office for two years, it has seemed excruciatingly longer than that.  The election cycle for 2016 was brutal as Trump eliminated a whole group of Republicans, one by one, though he was considered a candidate to write off as a joke, his victory in the primaries ensuring a win for the democrats.  That did not happen, and now it is the liberal side of the spectrum struggling to achieve unity within an overcrowded field of democratic presidential hopefuls, debating and arguing over not only who will defeat Trump, but who also represents the diversity of the party’s constituents.  The presidential election is 20 months away, and this dynamic of a seemingly endless parade of candidates is already proving contentious.

Like almost everyone on the planet, I was shocked when Trump won the 2016 election.  After that, I took a step back and began researching what happened.  I read nearly a dozen books, countless editorials, and monitored social media trends to try to find an answer in hopes of getting closure.  All this information about Russian meddling, third party candidates, poor campaigning, and so much more, it was a lot to take and made me feel really uneasy how everything fit together to create this perfect storm that engulfed all Americans.

What I had noticed was the complete lack of accountability from the left. Hillary not winning was because it was someone else’s fault.  It was the Russians for weaponizing social media to undermine our democratic institution.  It was the Bernie Bros for being so militant in their support that they would refuse to vote for Hillary.  It was the Trump supporters who are so comfortable with their racism.  Never mind the fact the democratic party had no platform other than the virtue of not being Trump, it was not their fault.

I was left with the impression that the democratic party has a unity problem.  And the reason behind that is that they suffer from the narcissism of small differences; where the left spends more time tearing each other down over minutiae than they do targeting our ideologically opposed enemies on the fascist right.  It is interesting that lately I have been social media campaigns suggesting “Vote blue, no matter who.” It leaves me feeling rather cynical, which is a feeling I despise, because my thought oscillate between “where were you last time” and “people will throw a tantrum if their candidate doesn’t win.”

This is why the primaries are so important.  This whole “vote blue, no matter who” mentality really only works in the general election, and only if you’re willing to lick your wounds and support the candidate that may have defeated your original choice in the primaries.  And it is the importance we place on the primaries that has made the whole affair so ugly, with people arguing endlessly online over the minutiae between democratic hopefuls.  I applaud their passion and support of their candidate, but you must realize that there is a strong chance you may have to vote for someone else when it comes to the final showdown against Trump.

This primary season has been fascinating to me.  We are still seeing people announcing their candidacy for the presidency, and people being vocal for why they support their preferred candidate.  It can be quite inspiring to see people advocate for their candidate, but it can be downright ugly as well.

I voted for Bernie in the 2016 primaries but voted for Hillary in the general election.  Sanders supporters were upset at perceived corruption within the Democratic National Convention and vocalized that support.  It fueled this public conception of the archetype Berne Bro, a Sanders supporter who is so militant in their advocacy that they negatively affected the election after Sanders’ candidacy ended in concession. Regardless that the Bernie Bro phenomenon is an exaggerated misconception, an idea supported by experts including Malcolm Nance, it seems that the admiration that surrounded Sanders in 2016 is being met with a lot more resistance in 2020 election cycle. And there’s an explanation for that.

In 2016, Sanders was the outlier. Someone on the fringes who had managed to achieve a lot of momentum through grass roots efforts, and really rattled the cages of the democratic establishment.  Sanders was fresh and exciting, and top brass in the party took note.  Now, as we enter the 2020 election cycle, presidential hopefuls are looking to capitalize on that Bernie momentum from 2016 which has shifted the establishment party to the left.  Now, you have a whole bunch of candidates who are campaigning on the platforms and ideas that have become popular since Sanders’ run in 2016.

This ideologically shift in the democratic party has ignited a peculiar debate, one exacerbated by the coverage on both traditional and social media; that people just don’t want Bernie Sanders anymore that that we have so many other candidates to choose from who share the same ideals.  I’m now seeing editorials and posts from friends to support candidates who are younger, ethnically diverse, and not a man. Now that there are candidates who are not old white men who say the same things as Sanders, an actual old white man, we can now find a candidate who reflects America’s growing diversity.

I think that kind of thinking is valid, and some of the candidates are admirable, but I’m not going to risk Trump getting a second term by playing identity politics with my vote in 2020. In the primaries, Sanders will have my vote.  And he’ll have my vote purely on the facts that he has been consistent in his views for several decades.  I like many of the candidates who are campaigning right now, and I find it inspiring that we have more women and people of color running for the highest office in the land.  However, many of these candidates have taken millions in corporate dollars and have sketchy voting histories.  If push comes to shove and one of these candidates become the democratic party’s nominee, I’ll vote for them.  However, in the primaries, I’m not letting identity politics stop me from supporting the old white guy candidate who has been consistent throughout his entire career.

Last night, I attended a presidential rally for Bernie Sanders at Navy Pier.  Thousands of people were there, and the energy was absolutely fantastic. The guest speakers were passionate, inspiring, and reflected the diversity of Sanders’ supporters.  Speakers included a renowned West Chicago poet, a young organizer from a Logan Square youth organization, one of Bernie’s former classmates, and one of the co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

When Sanders spoke, he reflected on his life’s work fighting for racial, income, and environmental equality.  Specifically advocating for things like an end to police violence, a $15/hour federal minimum wage, and real initiatives to slow down and reverse the devastating effects of climate change. I was certainly inspired by his words, and I cannot believe that people can be so cynical about a candidate just because he is older and white, especially when they support the ideals he campaigns on.  I know we want someone who looks and sounds different.  However, we are in the midst of an existential crisis in this country, and our biggest goal is to defeat Donald Trump.  And Sanders has garnered more money ad support than any other candidate, and that’s why his opponents are so loud and vocal. They’re afraid he will succeed.

The music at campaign rallies can be kind of monotonous.  They are powerful in their messaging and what they represent, but tend to lose meaning when you hear them all the time and they become nothing more than an election trope.  “Power to the People” by John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” is one of those songs.  Released as a single in 1971 during the sessions that would produce Lennon’s Imagine album (though this song would not be included), Sanders walked onto the stage to this liberal anthem. And I really felt excited by that.  Sure, it has been overplayed a lot of places.  Much of Lennon’s music is overplayed.  However, I really felt moved by the song last night, and that is a reflection of the context in which I heard the song.  It felt powerful because when it comes to Bernie, it isn’t just a trope.  The song means what it says, because Bernie means what he says.

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“jesus thinks you’re a jerk” – frank zappa (1988)

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The election season is gearing up to be in full swing. In just a few months, both the Republican and Democratic conventions will have chosen their candidates after what has become one of the most bizarre campaign seasons seen to date.   The circus that has been created in Washington and exacerbated by the media has been fascinating to observe, and a little frightening admittedly. It is just a very exciting time to be of voting age.

Illinois held their primaries on Tuesday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was declared the primary winner over Senator Bernie Sanders. As a Bernie supporter, I was a bit disappointed. In the last few months, Chicago has been a political hotbed of racial and social issues. The unjustified murders of several black men combined with the systemic corruption within the police department to cover up these hate crimes has made the people of Chicago’s anger so palpable. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has been the focus of this criticism and many people are urging him to resign. Emmanuel has also backed Clinton in her presidential campaign. I though the people of Chicago were sick of “politics as usual” and wanted something different. I was wrong. Witnessing this, I’m becoming aware of the fact many of our politicians do not have their constituent’s best interest at heart. At this point in my life, I’m ready for someone to shake things up; a true iconoclast.

I have a lot of respect for people who fight against the status quo in order to expose hypocrisy. Frank Zappa is exactly that person. Despite being a famous musician, he is largely unknown to most people and has many misconceptions attached to his career. Many saw the long-haired guitar virtuoso and assumed he was a hippie or abused drugs. Neither was the case. He abhorred the Love Generation and was staunchly against the use of any illegal substances. He was also a Conservative in the truest sense of the word. He believed in free enterprise and upheld the economic values associated with conservative principles; he was definitely a “pull up your bootstraps” kind of guy who valued hard work and earning your own way.

Zappa was not a conservative as they are defined today; people who use religion to manipulate voters into supporting them. During the 1980s, Zappa became very political and this was reflected in both his studio recordings and on stage. His orchestrations became sardonic and parodied the religious and political leaders of the day. He singled-out television evangelists for stealing funds from their supporters as well as politicians who criticized sexual promiscuity but then would be caught in a career-ending sex scandal. Zappa’s wit and hardened principles took his music in strange and interesting directions; themes that were a departure of his earlier work.

I became a Zappa fan around 2007. He was a figure I had heard of and had seen around, but never had the opportunity to listen to him. When I did, I was hooked. While many people gravitate toward the career highlights of his work with the Mothers of Invention such as Freak Out! or solo albums like Hot Rats, I really love his work in the late 1970s and 1980s. I liked the departure from the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and enjoyed his work on the synclavier. The sounds were incredibly interesting to me. Also, I was always a fan of political humor, so his musical commentary was welcomed.

In 1988, Zappa released a heavily over-dubbed live album entitled Broadway the Hard Way which contained a lot of tracks criticizing various religious and political leaders. Sting also joins Zappa for a jazzy rendition of The Police’s “Murder by Numbers” after Sting declares Reverend Jimmy Swaggart called him a son of Satan for writing this song. Broadway the Hard Way is an incredibly funny, political album complete with Zappa’s own orchestral style with hints of jazz and hip-hop.

The track “Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk” was an early Zappa discovery for me. Though I cannot remember how I came across it, I checked it out because the title was fantastic. Despite being a lengthy song, it goes by really quick and is the highlight of the album for me. It’s full of cultural and social references from the late 1980s with orchestral instrumentation that contains some polka elements and random noises like dogs barking. Musically, it is a bit of a mess in that it abruptly changes frequently. However, that was Zappa’s style. While a lot of other tracks from the album have better musical compositions, the allure of the track are Zappa’s vocals and commentary.

Zappa and I do not align much politically. I’m more of a leftist than he ever was. However, I truly respect him for his commitment to his ideals. He valued freedom of speech and a person’s right to express themselves without their rights taken away by people with a skewed and uninformed agenda. He fought against the “Washington Wives” who helmed the PMRC and demanded censorship in music. Before his death, he was also gearing up for a presidential run during the 1992 campaign. Based on his interviews and debates on shows like Crossfire, that truly would’ve been a site to see. Here’s to a strange and exciting election in 2016!

“armagideon time” – willie williams (1979)

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This past weekend, I attended a Bernie Sanders rally in Chicago.  The crowd had met at Daley Plaza where several guest speakers were scheduled to address the crowd before marching down La Salle towards the Chicago Board of Trade.  This was my first official political rally in years.  The last ones I had attended were minor campus ones when I was still in college.  It was 2008, and Barack Obama was the front-runner to the Democratic nominee to run against John McCain.  I was only 19 and this was to be my first presidential election.  The feeling of engaging in the political process on a national level was electric.  After eight years of war, America was ready for a change “Yes we can” became the slogan for young people wanting to make a difference.  Promises were made and we held tightly to them like emotional life rafts.  Eight years later, the political landscape has change drastically becoming more extreme. Continued wars, new wars, the National Security Agency, bailouts, recession, political gridlock, and denied equal rights were to follow.  The tone had changed from “Yes we can” to “Maybe we could.”

I have personally changed a lot in the last eight years.  Finishing college, moving to Chicago, and getting my first real jobs were all experiences that shape your outlook.  On your own, you tend to be more practical and pragmatic.  When it was only Hillary Clinton who seemed like the only viable contender in the 2016 race, I wasn’t mad.  At this point, the liberals had seemingly no options, but one option was better than what the other side had to offer.  I was never really fond of Clinton, but I knew I needed to vote for her when the time came.

In recent months, I had changed my outlook on the race and have committed my vote in the primaries for Bernie Sanders.  However, I do so with some reservation.  Sanders has become increasingly popular in the last year and has transitioned from being a fringe candidate to a contender for the Democratic nomination.  His opponents view him as a socialist, but he s a Democratic socialist.  He is pushing for single-payer healthcare, free college education, immigration reform, equal rights for LGBT, reorganizing Wall Street, and other ideas that give power back to the people.  Clinton has voiced some support for these ideas, but in a more conservative way.  Perhaps it would be fair to say in a more practical way.  The game of politics can be very slow and promoting sweeping change on a grand scale can be very scary for people even if it will serve to benefit them.  Jumping on board with an idea is like jumping into a pool; some people need to warm their toes first.

Despite my support of Sanders, I am skeptical.  I am remembering my 19 year-old self when I voted for Obama the first time.  I would eventually vote for him again in 2012, but I have since become disappointed in him.  I don’t want that in my support for Sanders because I want to believe.

The Sanders rally was really emotional, but positive.  The speakers were diverse and passionate.  One woman made a strong stance for immigration reform because she had a husband who was deported.  A friend of Laquan McDonald provided youthful energy and vigor demanding racial justice and peace.  When we marched, there was no violence or destruction.  People were angry, but an anger that fueled positive change because this is what democracy looked like.

It seems with each new election, people talk more and more about the end of days.  That if the candidate they hate gets elected, then it will bring about the end of our country and the world as we know it.  Both liberals and conservatives are guilty of this hyperbolic speech.  Each side is moving increasingly away from each other and becoming more extreme leaving no room for bipartisan support.

Perhaps we may be coming to the end of the human race.  I do not know.  No one does.  With climate change and our reliance on a technological infrastructure, it does seem we could be close to a complete meltdown.

This week, I was reminded of one of my favorite reggae tracks.  Willie Williams’ 1979 single “Armagideon Time” is a masterpiece.  The song is about injustice and rising up against oppressors in the final days; the perfect end times.  Williams sings about people not getting the justice they deserve, but praising Jehovah and fighting for what you want will bring you peace.

Reggae music at that time also had a habit of recycling backing tracks.  The backing track for “Armagideon Time” originated in a 1967 single by the Soul Vendors called “Real Rock.”  It can also be heard later in “Nice Up the Dance” by Papa Michigan and General Smiley.  I first heard the track as a cover by the Clash, but I’m partial to the original.  It sounds more authentic.

The theme is about overcoming struggles and I feel it is very relevant today.  In the U.S., there are people systemically oppressed by racist overseers that serve in the interest of those who line their pockets instead of their constituents.  The American public has lost faith in their leaders, so is it any wonder why we cling to easy promises of massive change?  The anger and frustration is more palpable now than ever before.  We could be on the first steps towards a revolution.  It isn’t enough to say you support an idea, but you have to fight for it as well.  Williams said the battle would get hotter but with faith, we will win.