Personal Reflections on the Shape We're in Politically

“The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time is love.” Tennesse Williams –

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) once said, ”We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Photo: Madelyn Hoffman.

It certainly appears that way as I look out over the political landscape of the United States and New Jersey, from a vantage point hundreds of miles south, in Quindio, Colombia. I made this trip on December 23rd, one day before the airlines started canceling dozens and then hundreds of flights, due to an outbreak of a new variant of COVID-19, omicron.

I made this trip because I am in the process of deciding whether and how to relocate to Colombia. Yes, I have spent the past 4 years running three statewide campaigns for public office as a Green, including one against Senator Menendez for U.S. Senate, one against Senator Cory Booker, and the other for NJ governor, against Governor Phil Murphy. I am not campaigning for any office today and am not likely to do so again. But clearly, I have much first-hand experience with the current political landscape both from direct experience within and now looking at it all from a distance.

And it isn’t a pretty sight.

I am not looking forward to returning back to the New York and New Jersey areas. It seems the only thing that people can think about right now is the COVID crisis. We don’t seem to be able to have any civil discussion about what went right and what went wrong with official government policy. We don’t seem to be able to talk sensibly about what needs to be done now to address societal problems such as income inequality; universal, single-payer health care systems; rent and mortgage cancellations; immigrant rights; ongoing police brutality and reparations; and the damage the U.S. international policy, sanctions, and war, is inflicting on the rest of the world. Instead, the talk is only about how many more vaccinations everyone is going to need to be safe and where and how to get a test.

The problems we face are so much greater than this. In reading about how this process is going, I’m reading about so many problems with distributing the home test kits, looking at lines and lines of cars at mega-testing sites and reading about so many of my friends who have either tested positive for COVID or who are quarantined because they spent time with someone who had COVID.

From where I sit, it seems like the whole state and country are collapsing. This time no lockdowns are needed. So many are sick, or maybe sick, or are afraid of being sick, that the state and country may grind to a halt on its own.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to take my return flight back to JFK on the 19th of January, due to flight cancellations, nor am I sure I want to walk back into that hotbed of concern and increasing incidence of COVID.

And then I read about how the wife of Governor Murphy tested positive for COVID, yet he’s going to swear in the Mayor of Westfield on January 4th. This is emblematic of what has gone on from the start with the government response to COVID, both on the national and state levels. We continually receive mixed messages, even most recently with the outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID. When first discovered, the U.S. implemented a flight ban on people traveling from South Africa as Dr. Fauci infected the country with fear. About a week or so later, we were told that while the virus is more transmissible, the symptoms and impacts of it are much milder than the other variants, so oops! Let’s take our foot off the gas pedal and slow down. But the damage had been done.

In one respect, at least, this is also indicative of the problem of January 6, 2021. There just is no safe space to discuss our political differences anymore. We continue to witness partisan warfare – partisan warfare that didn’t start with Donald Trump and doesn’t seem to want to end anytime soon. As a former Green Party candidate for public office, beginning in 1996, I have always found it better to stand independent of both the Democrats and Republicans because while they insist on politicizing almost every issue, the people suffer.

Why is it that the U.S. Congress can agree to spend close to $800 billion on wars, death, and destruction around the world with almost no debate or regret, but argue incessantly about how much to spend on the people of this country?

What happened to a real, Green New Deal?

What of all the people in New Jersey who waited months to receive their unemployment benefits during the pandemic? Many are still waiting!

And what of the record 4.5 million people in the U.S. who quit their jobs last November? Can we stop playing around with a $13/hour minimum wage? Remember the $15/hour minimum wage was first fought for in 2009, 13 years ago. Let’s establish a living wage of at least $23/hour instead. Time’s wasted!

What about rent cancellations, instead of a moratorium?

And what about implementing true universal health care – as in a single-payer model or improved and expanded Medicare for All – so that people don’t have to choose between having a job or staying healthy? Why don’t we, in the United States, have the ability to take as much sick time as we need, instead of rushing ourselves back to work?

The President’s advisor, Anthony Fauci, admitted that he changed his point of view about quarantines and cut them back from 10 days, to 5 days, and now perhaps simply a negative test for COVID, to satisfy the concerns of businesses, in particular the airline industry. When all the nation’s infrastructure seems to be collapsing due to the incidence of COVID or fear of COVID or being sent these mixed messages, tell me, how are we going to extract ourselves from this mess?

And why, (yes, I’ll go here), do we continue to blame the unvaccinated for all our pandemic woes? Why are we dividing our country along these lines as well? Don’t we already have enough division along economic, racial, gender, and religious lines, among others? Do we really feel comfortable creating a whole new group of people who are discriminated against because they want to protect their bodies from these unproven vaccines? I know many people who hold that position not because they are selfish, or have a knee-jerk reaction to vaccines, but because, like black and indigenous communities, they have valid and historical reasons for distrust of pharmaceutical companies and Western medicine. These communities have often suffered from medical apartheid. Additionally, they have a whole array of traditional medicine to draw upon. Some have studied the issue from all angles, despite the attempted censorship of information related to non-pharmaceutical treatments and attempts to limit the discussion of viable options to nothing but products created by pharmaceutical companies. And yes, even despite valid evidence of people who responded negatively to the vaccines.

Surely, we must also continually return to demanding that this country stop prioritizing profits and business, instead of allowing people to stay home when sick, and creating a way, such as universal basic income, to pay rent, put food on the table, and survive during difficult times like these. And here, let’s praise the efforts of community organizations like Mutual Morris and so many others throughout the state who understand that since the government won’t take care of us during times like these, we must step up to take care of each other.

When will we stop yelling at each other and try to create a safe space for these conversations? We have to reject the model of hyperpartisanship and allow a civil exchange of differing ideas. We cannot look at every issue only through the lens of either the Democratic or Republican political parties.

Senator Bob Menendez’s recent comments in response to the one-year anniversary of the events of January 6th about how people who are very angry voicing their opposing viewpoints need to “tone it down,” or head somewhere else, exemplify this.

@SenatorMenendez Jan 4

Governing isn't a sport. If you're here to fight for your constituents, let's tone down the rhetoric and get to work. If you're just looking for a fight, go somewhere else.

Are we really writing off at least ⅓ of the country and their rising frustrations with the way things are, those beginning to think a violent response is appropriate? That’s not my responsibility, nor the chosen form of response, but should we be telling those folks to leave instead of engaging in real debate, discussion, and resolution of important issues?

Does anyone remember the time when one of the most common responses to protest was, “America, love it or leave it?”

Many may very well be leaving it (the country or the political process) because they feel there is little space for someone who thinks differently about many of the issues at hand. The two-party system is so deeply entrenched that one can’t enter the New Jersey gubernatorial debates without raising $490,000!! Internet-based publications don’t dare venture too far away from the political prattle of the Democrats and Republicans lest they lose access to the decision-makers. Activism in New Jersey and around the country is mainly directed toward funneling people into Democratic or Republican party politics, this, while the country is burning with COVID and activist movements split over the issue of mandated vaccines and democracy, is, in fact, dying – but we won’t recover democracy by trying to shut down those with whom we disagree.

We have to rescue love, a love for each other, a love for our state and country, and a love for the world and talk to those who disagree with us. Allow for more voices to be heard, not fewer. Create a new political system or way of getting things done, that doesn’t depend on existing political infrastructure or political bickering and shouting, to do so.

As more and more people voice frustration with the direction of our country (and, I have to say, our world) and more say that there are circumstances in which a violent response is justified, we must re-examine how we’re interacting with each other. As more wildfires start spontaneously and icebergs break, because of how we’re treating the environment, and the world collapses because we’re all getting sick or fear getting sick, we must find that love Tennessee Williams describes. That love must overcome fear.

Main photo: Madelyn Hoffman.

Editor's Note: Madelyn Hoffman, a seasoned activist, was director of the Grass-Roots Environmental Organization and director of New Jersey Peace Action. She was Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential running mate in New Jersey in 1996. The following year she ran for New Jersey governor as a Green. In 2018, she ran as a Green for U.S. Senate,

receiving 25,150 votes, and ran for the same position in 2020, receiving 38,288 votes. In 2021 she ran for Governor of New Jersey, coming in third for the third successive time in a statewide race. This piece contains her personal reflections on the current political situation in N.J. and the U.S. You can read more about Madelyn's achievements here.

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