When I was in South Africa last year, I was interning with a constitutional law and international human rights organization that provided pro bono legal services and brought high impact litigation up to the Constitutional Court. This organization is incredibly successful and respected and has been around since before apartheid was dismantled. The organization started in 1979 and began fighting apartheid by chipping away at it through the courts - especially in the area of worker's rights. The lawyer who was head of my office when I was there, he had begun working there in the 1980's, and had been a tireless anti-apartheid advocate even before he began bringing lawsuits against the Nationalist government.
I worked with this gentleman on an op-ed about the complete disaster that was the land-redistribution program. It was published in the newspaper on my last day there, and to celebrate, and say goodbye, he took me out to lunch. We were talking about what a mess government in South Africa has become - the rampant cronyism and corruption, the power-and-ego trips, the silencing of dissent, the lack of dialogue going on in the ANC, and the failure to improve living conditions for millions of poor South Africans.* Some South Africans maintain that living conditions are still almost exactly the same as they were under apartheid, no matter the promises from the African National Congress and the momentum for change inspired by the belief that everything would be better once apartheid ended. We talked about how sad it was, that the party of Madiba had become what it had become. And how disappointing it was, when the promise and the hope and the potential of a post-apartheid South Africa had at one time seemed limitless, but in reality wasn't enough to bring actual change for so many.
I asked the lawyer what was the hardest, or what had he been least prepared for, in this post-apartheid reality. And he looked off for a second, thinking, and then said, "I wasn't prepared for our government to become A Government."
Maybe Machiavelli was right, about power. Because not promise or hope and change or a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or dreams of an entire oppressed people can make a government do right in the end. Promising hope and change is all well and good. The corruption of power, however, is a mistress with which it seems few governments do not lie down with eventually, no matter their lofty words.
Next election, I won't be voting for Obama. And I know people will give me the: but what about how awful it will be if the other person wins, and your ideals can't trump reality, and you have to be pragmatic, and whatever. But you know what? I voted for Obama because he was the lesser of two evils. And in the area of the law in which I work, he wasn't even less evil - he's been MORE evil. So fuck it. I am not playing the evil game anymore - the dice are loaded, we can only lose. If there is going to be evil, I want no part in it. I opt out. I don't want to reward the kind of behavior that has allowed liberals to lose every battle they have waged since Obama took office, while yet some keep screeching that we need to just fall in line behind the party. I believe in holding people RESPONSIBLE. And while I love the hopes and dreams and promise, I want to believe in a world where we can meet our own expectations. I believe we can do better. I don't just want the inevitability of A Government. I want to create a world where Machiavelli is not right.
And that will start with my vote.
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*The book that was recommended to me when I asked to read more about this was After the Party. It isn't the clearest book (some things aren't quite linear in it, and I think if you don't know the actual timeline of events, you can get slightly confused), but it really highlights what has gone wrong in the ANC and why things are the way they are now. I recommend it.