Urban Politics #250: On the Need for Hope and Action

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.


This being my 250th issue of Urban Politics, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on a broader topic than usual. In writing and thinking about Seattle politics I sometimes think about the similarities in the dynamics that occur on a local and a national one. Of course, at the core of each is human behavior and attitudes. In observing the battle between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to become the Democratic nominee for Presidential candidate the different notes that they are hitting with the general public get different responses.

I am the same age as Hillary and consequently we both lived through the late sixties when the US was embroiled in the unpopular Vietnam War, with hundreds of thousands of protestors marching in the streets. Today the US is stuck in the unpopular war in Iraq, although the number of protest marches is down. And unlike the thousands of protestors battling police outside the Democrats’ ’68 National Convention, there will be no mass protests at either party’s convention despite an ongoing war and an unpopular incumbent President.

There will be none for three obvious reasons. There is no draft and therefore college students, who formed the backbone of the Vietnam protests, do not have to think about trudging in a swampy jungle after trampling the trimmed lawns of their campuses. The number of soldiers in Iraq is a third of what we had deployed in Vietnam – 160,000 versus 500,000 – and that includes the latest “surge” of troops. Finally this war’s “embedded” media in our military limits opportunities to beam home images of civilian carnage and thus there is less anger and shock than accompanied the gritty Vietnam War photos from more independent journalists.

But most importantly there is another reason; cynicism has not corrupted our spirit. In ’68 there was a growing sense of cynicism, best expressed by the growing boomer population, which fed the nation’s anger and discouragement with politics. At the June 1968 national convention of the Students for Democratic Society, the largest student organization to ever exist in the U.S., the predominant attitude was that the up-coming election was a fraud that would only foster the illusion of democracy. There was little hope that electoral politics could end the war.

The chance for that hope was dashed when Democratic Presidential Candidate Bobby Kennedy was assassinated a week before the SDS meeting. He was on the way to winning over the doubtful, even anti-war folk singer Phil Ochs, known for his protest ballad “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” was a Bobby Kennedy fan.

In today’s politics, those that can express a sense of hope, whether it be local or national, generally have an advantage with the electorate, even when they may have less knowledge or experience than their opponents. To the chagrin of the Sen. Hillary Clinton and perhaps Sen. McCain, a relatively neophyte politician, Sen. Barack Obama, appears to be riding on the wings of this dove above the bickering which feeds cynicism.

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