I have been calling this brief era American Dream Season - that perfect storm that brews every four years when the Summer Olympics bleeds into the US presidential election: chants of "USA," "USA," seamlessly blending into a pantheon of speeches, all ending with a hallow rendition of "God Bless America." This shift from summer to fall to winter jam-packed with all-American moments: September 11th, which has been re-named Patriots Day, Columbus discovered America Day, fucking October 16th National Boss Day. Really? Who wants to celebrate their boss?
During these six months I have been inundated with these narrow, ego-maniacal, nauseating narratives about what it is, and will be, to be an American. At the center of this conversation are two presidential candidates. They agree on the US of A's singular greatness. They agree on their precious America's right to have a monopoly on legitimate violence. Surrounding them are pundits vying for our attention. They argue the finer points of a unified national agenda which has shown no signs of including any true progressive, let alone radical voices.
Even America's second favorite black guy, the Jiggerman, rapper Jay-Z couldn't resist throwing his hat into the "what it means to be an American" ring. Mr. Carter criticized the Occupy Movement by calling the targeting and vilifying of the one percent un-American. (Yet another reason why I look at semi-woke people listening to Jay-Z like my progressive friends look at redneck Republicans voting for Mitt Romney. Don't you understand? You're voting outside your interests son.) To him, the America Dream is synonymous with free enterprise.
The sad thing - it took this focused, protracted era of stale discourse for me to realize just how narrow and psychotic the populous has become. How far outside of the human experience does a group of people have to be to have open discussions about “saving our sons' lives” by using unmanned drones to do our dirty work via remote control? Why do we continue to invest immeasurable time and energy focusing on political campaigns without making any political demands? When did we so fully and completely abandon real discussions about political power to mindlessly squawk about whether or not our guy "brought it" in the debate? Some of us know better. It is about time that we acted like it.
This summer I had the opportunity to perform Langston Hughes poem, "Let America Be America Again." It was during a student orientation at NYU as part of the "Voices of A People's History," project which brings historical texts to life. As historian Howard Zinn emphasizes in his historical approach, Brother Langston was speaking about a different American Dream. He spoke of the dream of the worker, the migrant, the servant, the builder; the brave and courageous dream of global citizens gathering in this construct know as America, simply fighting for common human dignity.
It is difficult to remember that we can be engaged in a different conversation. It is easy to get caught up in the stream of Facebook comments and status updates. We don’t have to settle for choosing between the lesser of two evils every four years. We can change the channel and turn off media that does not represent our interests. We can, and we must, change the discourse.